A specialist team of investigators targeting suspect early childhood services for breaches that include health and safety rules and financial fraud, is back-on-the-beat following an April announcement by the Education Ministry.
The Provider Assessment Group (PAG) had been in operation for three years and made surprise visits to early learning services that had repeated and serious non-compliance issues until it was disbanded in October last year.
“While historically the PAG has focussed on home-based services, the knowledge and risk identifiers that the PAG developed have, and will continue to be used across the ECE sector.
We have found that services identified by the PAG as having high-risk financial indicators often also have poor health and safety processes in place,” said a ministry spokesperson.
The ministry identified future outcomes for PAG as being:
- Reduce potential fraud and mismanagement of service delivery
- Create risk profiles of providers and ensure those providers that appear to be the highest risk are conforming to regulations
- Ensure new laws impacting on the safety and wellbeing of children are implemented by services
- Scan the sector to ensure risk levels are not rising or identifying areas that need further support
- Respond to emergency and high-risk events, particularly regarding health and safety.
The ministry is currently finalising the appointment of a manager for the PAG team who they say will have ‘risk and compliance experience to further support their capability development in this area’. Once a manager is hired, 12 staff will be appointed to work at the Wellington head office and in regional locations.
“The PAG team will complement our regional licensing staff by providing specialist skills in financial fraud, and complex risk assessments relating to regulatory and licensing non-compliance,” according to the ministry.
While the PAG team is targeting high-risk early learning services it is a reminder for all ECE services about the importance of staying abreast of new regulations and holding regular reviews on policies and procedures.
The rules governing early childhood education
The rules that govern licensed Early Childhood Education and Care Services are divided into three tiers:
- First tier – the Education Act 1989
- Second tier – the Education (Early Childhood Services) Regulations 2008 applies to all licensed services and the regulations require services to formulate certain policies, processes and procedures
- Third tier – the criteria, based on the Regulations, these are the day-to-day standards that services must follow to retain their licence or certificate. There are different criteria for different service types.
Part Two of the Education (Early Childhood Services) Regulations 2008 are the standards by which established ECE services must comply. These are described as the ‘minimum standards’ that services must comply with and their purpose is to ensure the education, care, health, comfort, and safety of children attending licensed early childhood services. Many services actually go beyond these ‘minimum standards’ to ensure quality care and education for children.
Service providers can talk to their local Ministry of Education office to find out more about early childhood regulations and criteria.
Regulations are an essential tool to safeguard children's right to safe care and a good standard of education but as these haven’t been re-written since 2008 – with some regulations that have been ‘revoked’ and often replaced by updated criteria – the Ministry of Education has begun The Early Learning Regulatory Review.
The Review’s purpose is to ensure the regulatory system is clear and fit for purpose to support high quality educational outcomes for young learners.
The early learning sector has changed significantly since the regulations came into force in 2008. The number of children participating in early learning has increased, and children are participating at younger ages and for longer hours. This has led to a rapid expansion of early learning services, with different levels of growth between service types. The review is expected to continue until the end of 2023.
Benefits of self-review in ECE
Early childhood services are required to undertake review and evaluation as part of their licensing requirements (GMA6). Criteria to assess the governance, management, and administration standard specify that an ongoing process of self-review can help the service maintain and improve the quality of its education and care.
The licensing criteria requires early childhood services to document:
- A process for reviewing and evaluating their operation
- A schedule showing timelines for planned review of different areas of operation
- Recorded outcomes from the review process.
Taking self-review and evaluation beyond the required ‘minimum standards’ will provide services with a process to identify strengths and opportunities for improvement, confirm or address compliance and better outcomes for staff, children and families.
Te Whāriki defines self-review as the deliberate process of preparing, gathering information, making sense of information, and making decisions in order to bring about improvement.
Self-review offers opportunities for early childhood education services to evaluate the impact of practice on children’s learning.
The key purposes of self-review are:
- Improvement: it enables us to improve our practice to ensure it supports children's learning in the best possible ways.
- Accountability: it enables us to ensure that we are meeting our legal requirements, responsibilities, and accountabilities. This is called compliance.
Reviews can address any activity or area within the service and should include questions such as:
- Are Health and Safety systems and practices up to the standard required by law or to the higher standard we have set?
- Are teaching methods and results up to Ministry of Education's (MoE’s) or other standards?
- Do we systematically look at future risks our service might face and plan now to avoid or reduce them?
Developing a regular internal review process can ensure your policies and procedures maintain relevancy within your service and is an important practice because:
- Key legislative requirements are met
- Allows for identification and minimisation of risks
- Supports staff to understand their role and responsibilities in your ECE service – this is useful for new staff members and leads to more efficient and effective service delivery
- Provides ongoing working documents to guide high quality practice across all aspects of service provision
- Enables consistent and best practice to support staff, families and children
- Provides information for families to prevent uncertainty about how particular situations are handled in your ECE service
- Provides opportunities to discuss policies and suggest change and relevancy to your service.