Early Years Learning Policy

Creating Caring Communities for Teachers, Whānau and their Tamariki

NZ was once a world leader in early education, but changes to education policies over the last decades have eroded our Early Childhood Education (ECE) to a factory farming model. The emphasis has shifted to prioritising profits by squeezing as many children into the smallest spaces allowable, rather than prioritising quality learning and relationship building. Our young children deserve more than factory farming day care! We believe they deserve meaningful relationships, nurturing, play and community, and our educators deserve respect, empowerment and quality resources to achieve this.

The TOP Early Years Learning Policy will return NZ to being world leaders in early education. TOP respects our children are naturally curious learners with a right to nurturing relationships that support their development.

We believe educators aren’t just physical caretakers but have a right to embrace a diversity of teaching styles that lead to real-world learning, foster well-being, and give children a secure sense of self. TOP respects that qualified educators (not business owners) are best placed for managing risk, centre conditions and capacity. Our policy changes will allow centres to explore outdoor natural areas and be culturally responsive by developing a strong sense of community.

TOP Early Childhood Education Policy pledges:

  • to provide a Universal Basic Income of $13,000 for adults and $2080 for children to every NZ permanent resident.
  • to implement a ‘quality-based contracting model’ which reflects quality holistic real-world learning rather than the current licensing model under which providers can get away with providing substandard care.
  • to bring back free play time, outdoor play and risky and loose parts play to support development. We want to bring back the grass, the vines, rolling down hills, climbing trees and muddy puddles for their enjoyment and physical development.
  • to return power to educators for making qualified informed decisions about education, enrichment and community involvement.
  • to implement a model of partnership between early childhood services and families by allowing teachers, parents/whānau and student teachers to be equally involved in the development of children.
  • to improve the transition systems between pre-school and school by encouraging schools to hire early childhood teachers for years 1 & 2 at least.
  • to delay formal structured learning until age seven; instead focussing on letting children embrace curious learning for strong social and emotional development which sets them up for success in the later school years. This approach is considered best practice with more than 31 countries around the world delaying structured learning until 6/7 years.
  • to require government agencies to talk to each other when assessing early childhood issues, education and care.
  • to raise the quality of early childhood education in disadvantaged communities by creating culturally sensitive, community-based connections between centres and families.

At TOP we believe that every young child has a right to quality care and learning that supports their natural individual curiosity, development, and wellbeing. We believe the best people to deliver this care and learning are empowered communities, whānau and teachers with access to quality resources, fair pay and self governance.

The TOP spokesperson for this policy is Dr Naomi Pocock.

Download the policy now

Education Policy Statement

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Page last updated on 4-Jul 2020


A number of experts across various disciplines provided input into this policy, including a neuroscience educator, a psychologist, an ECE healthcare specialist, a social scientist, a social and political geographer and a post-graduate Early Childhood Education (ECE) student. A number of teachers across various service offerings, including Kindergarten, Playcentre and private services, were also consulted. The main author of this policy has a doctoral degree and a Playcentre Diploma in Early Childhood and Adult Education - Level 4.

There is a need to fix the current system in terms of regulations and sub-standard services that are detrimentally affecting some of New Zealand’s youngest children. This policy has a model that will address issues with the current system, including concerns around quality.

TOP values trained teachers as educational professionals, and is therefore committed to fair pay for ECE teachers, in-line with kindergarten and schools. TOP also advocates for ECE teachers to be employed as professionals within schools, to build the social and emotional capacity in the early primary-school years. ECE teachers will also be integral to building community capital, as ECE services integrate with communities.

Not currently, which is why this policy aims to grow whole communities. We need parents and teachers to understand child development, as both are influential educators of children.

TOP wants to give decision-making power back to the teachers and communities for centre-based services. We acknowledge the power imbalance between qualified teachers and owners who don’t have the healthy and holistic development of children as their primary driver. We will review the qualification model for owners, bearing in mind that some corporate ECEs are owned by multiple shareholders, in which case the centre manager’s qualifications are more important for child outcomes.

TOP will implement a quality based contracting model that puts quality first. With this model, business owners, even if commercially driven, will work to the advantage of children, in conjunction with their teaching staff. Ethical employment practises will also be built into this model. Nuanced concepts of ‘quality’ within ECE are discussed in depth in the policy document.

TOP sees an opportunity to rethink the early childhood degree. In the early years, the focus should be on social and emotional wellbeing, and fulfilling the promise of Te Whaariki, rather than having ‘teaching’ as a leading outcome. Early childhood specialists may choose to teach, but graduates may also contribute to a range of fields of practice and learning. TOP wants to improve society’s understanding of child development, and place more value on the Early Years.

Children will not fall behind, as they will take an interest-based approach to reading, writing and maths in the Early Years, rather than being told by an adult what to learn and when. The care and community approach acknowledges that a sense of safety, comfort and security is needed for learning to occur. Stressed children do not learn as well, because their brain is in fight/freeze/flight mode. Emphasising care and community enables children to feel secure in their surroundings and relationships, so that cognitive learning can take place.

Yes, there is evidence that participation in ECE benefits children, but no evidence that increased hours means better outcomes. Yet, some studies have shown the opposite effect. Most importantly, small groups of children and ratios that enable children to develop meaningful relationships with their educators and with each other are crucial. In the current funding model ECEs make their money based on the amount of hours a child attends. Many parents are encouraged to have their child attend for more hours than would be in the best interests of the child.

No, TOP is not criticising working parents. TOP believes parents should have the choice as to how much formal ECE they'd like their children to attend. They shouldn’t be forced into putting their children in non-family care for long hours due to other financial pressures. TOP has other policies to address, for example rising house prices, rising rent prices, quality of rental properties and fairer tax distribution. These policies aim to make living costs more reasonable for families to live modestly if they choose to invest time in the child's early years.

In particular, TOP will deliver a Universal Basic Income (UBI) of $13,000 per annum per adult and $2080 per annum per child to assist with family decisions around work. This UBI is not taken away as people return to work, unlike current benefits. TOP doesn’t tell parents how to spend their UBI, but provides them with better opportunities to make decisions for their families.

Not when it’s combined with TOP's UBI and Tax reform policies, which will make all families better off financially.

All ECE services will move to a quality-based contracting system, rather than the current licensing system. This will enable government to remove contracts of poor-performing services more easily than the current system. Quality will be measured based on a range of factors, such as quality of care, quality of environment and added value for learning and development.

Being an evidence-based party, TOP is best placed to keep abreast of new developments in science and technology. For example, neuroscience is uncovering new knowledge around plasticity (our brain’s ability to change), and has recently discovered the importance of the stories we tell being the drivers of our perceptions. TOP believe such knowledge needs to be shared among our families and communities, rather than being held by trained professionals or academics.

All children will have equal access to quality ECE, as communities will be integrated with ECE and will dictate the quality parameters. TOP believes that community-led initiatives are better placed to care for diverse social and emotional needs, especially in vulnerable communities that have been under-resourced in the past. Such integrated services grow the wider whānau and community in the process of caring for the children. The current policy of removing children from family relationships implies a superiority of care that in many cases simply isn’t justified. TOP aims to keep children with their families for as long as possible, while investing in community-led initiatives to enable whole communities to thrive.

No, TOP has a separate Education Policy that discusses higher learning needs.

TOP would improve the working conditions of teachers by further reviewing the child to teacher ratios, reviewing the qualification requirements for owners, reducing the maximum number of children per licence, increasing the minimum space required per child, creating an environmental standard that regulates where services can be located, protecting non-contact hours, reducing administrative requirements, encouraging connection and memory-making, rather than an ‘assessment for justification’ culture, and reinstating professional development subsidies.

TOP will create a system that supports, trains and values educators (parents, whānau, communities and teachers) to care for the whole child. With families and ECE services working together, the burden on teachers being the primary educators of children will be eased, and communities will be more integrated with their local ECE service.

Yes, especially those with a strong community connection. Corporate ECEs will be required to take a more community-minded approach.

Yes, we would like to see more community members accessing ECE training as part of the integrated approach. For example, rather than teacher-led services comprising 100% qualified staff, TOP would propose that a proportion of the staff (up to 20%) be parents/whānau members in training or student teachers, and that these members are viewed as equal members of the education partnership/collective/team, so that a diversity of perspectives is celebrated.

Yes, there will still be a requirement for quality and professionalism, and this policy defines more clearly what is meant by these terms. They will be measured through the quality-based contracting model proposed in the policy.

Then they would be encouraged to explore these interests, as child-led learning is a fundamental remit of this policy, whereby teachers offer learning opportunities based on the interests of the child.

Yes, schools will continue to offer a range of learning experiences for children, and those who are interested in more formal approaches would be enabled to pursue those interests.

No, children will still be able to attend school from five years old. Schools will be encouraged to employ more ECE-trained staff in these earlier years. Some primary teachers may seek deeper understandings of social/emotional learning as part of their usual professional development budget.

Yes, these are becoming increasingly more common, especially since 2018 when NZ National Standards were removed for primary schools.

The UBI and Tax Reform Policy – by reducing income tax, with the aim of improving inequality, many New Zealanders will be better positioned to make the choice to be with their children if they want to. Only 20% of New Zealanders (the richest people) will be worse off under this policy. Over time, renting and owning houses will become more affordable.

The Affordable Home Reform Policy will provide security of tenure to tenants and improve the quality of the housing stock, and thus make home-based care a more viable option for tenants.

TOP will provide fair pay for ECE teachers, in line with kindergarten and schools, and improve working conditions for teachers.

Small centres with small outdoor areas may need to adjust their group sizes to accommodate improved space allocations per child.

No. This policy is about enabling the sector to deliver the promises of Te Whaariki.

If TOP is elected to Parliament, some changes can take place straight away, while other changes will take longer. TOP has a long-term vision for New Zealand, and most policies are integrated with each other. By simply publishing this policy, TOP aims to raise awareness of the issues within the sector and provide solutions to be considered by the current government.