Playcentres under threat of closure because of dropping roll numbers

Playcentres have had a steady decline in roll numbers, and its leaders have told the Ministry of Education they need ...
ROSS GIBLIN/Fairfax NZ

Playcentres have had a steady decline in roll numbers, and its leaders have told the Ministry of Education they need more funding to survive. From left, parent helper Kirstin Gibb, with Jamie Kristensen, 5, and Lorna Clarke, 4, at Island Bay Playcentre.

Playcentre is trying to stop the slow death of its centres in the face of a 12-year low in enrolments. 

The numbers of children attending morning or afternoon sessions at Playcentre fell from 14,297 to 13,565 nationally during 2013, the latest year for which data was available.

Wellington enrolments in 2013 were the lowest in 12 years, with only 1727 out of 22,355 children participating in early childhood in the region attending Playcentre. That was  about 90 fewer than in 2002, and almost 400 fewer than in 2011.

Twelve centres had closed in the past year and more were under threat, but the movement was not dying or about to give in and shut up shop, New Zealand Playcentre Federation operations manager Veronica Pitt said.

"The drop was unfortunate, but ... Playcentre is still thriving and provides an amazing start for children and their families."

The 74-year-old institution received a $400,000 cut in its total funding for the next financial year, and Pitt said parents were bombarded with messages that children should be in early childhood education run by qualified teachers, not by parent volunteers.

"Parents are having to make difficult decisions around work and income and childcare that may not reflect what they would prefer for their family.

"[They also] receive many messages from society and governmental policy that children should be in the regular care of someone other than their parents."

She said that was reinforced by the Government now requiring beneficiaries to go back to work when their children turn 3, instead of 5.

Last year Playcentre told the Government it needed more funding to keep up the level of services it offered, but nothing was forthcoming in the Budget announced last week.

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It was planning to implement a new structure to make the best use of the resources currently available and ensure the sessions had a future, Pitt said. It will merge the adminstration of its 32 regions into one model and will discuss higher funding options with the Government in the near future.

Rawiri Brell, the Ministry of Education's early learning, parents and whanau deputy secretary, said the Government was spending more on early childhood education, but because that funding was based on enrolments, the total amount for Playcentre had decreased.

"Working parents are increasingly seeking full-time education and care for their children... [but] Playcentres are highly valued by the parents and families whose children attend them, and the part they play ... is important."

The ministry would support Playcentre's efforts to review its operations.

Greens education spokeswoman Catherine Delahunty said that she was concerned that Playcentre had not received more funding from the Government in response to last year's cry for help.

"Playcentre is an iconic organisation which has never been more needed. They provide children and families with a fantastic early childhood opportunity. They need to be properly supported so they can expand."

NATIONAL ENROLMENTS AT PLAYCENTRE

2009: 15,171; 2113 in Wellington

2010: 15,049; 2136 in Wellington

2011: 15,112; 2137 in Wellington

2012: 14,297; 1823 in Wellington

2013: 13,565; 1727 in Wellington

2013 is the most recent year for which data is available.

 - Stuff

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