It might be the year some childcare centres were quoted up to $4000 for food safety inspections the Ministry for Primary Industries said would cost $300.

It might be the year so many Police vets of new childcare staff were delivered late, it was common for newly-employed teachers to have delayed start dates.

It might be the year the Government extended its Communities of Schools project to include early childhood education (ECE) services in Communities of Learning, something that had little impact right away, but succeeded eventually in bringing early childhood, primary and secondary schools services closer together.

It might be the year the Government moved further toward a new funding system for ECE, a system that was implemented finally in about 2020.

If there’s one big thing that people might stamp with 2016, however, then maybe, just maybe, it will be the Government’s draft update of the ECE curriculum, Te Whāriki - with the final document still impacting service delivery in 2026 and beyond.

A significant achievement in the education sector this year has been… The most remarkable achievement in the ECE sector this year, and every year since 2011, pertains to political management. The current Government has managed somehow to reduce per-child funding year after year, and do so with very little attention from journalists or parents.

The 2016 Budget’s failure to compensate centres for inflation has for example, cost the average 50-place centre $13,000 a year, with the accumulated cuts, over the past five years, now costing $90,000 a year.

The significance is clear to those running ECE centres: budgets sheared to the bone, big cuts in professional development for teachers and services for children, and big increases in parent fees.

And yet… there has been very little news coverage or negative reaction from voting parents.

This is a remarkable achievement of political obfuscation. Amazing really… and a case study worthy of a university thesis.

The issue New Zealanders were most concerned about in 2016 was… Most preschool parents are ‘most concerned’ about the same issue every year. And it is this: ‘Are my children safe?’

That’s why headlines about childcare accidents can be so powerful. The first thought is: ‘It could have been my child.’

That, I think, is why two news stories, in November 2016, caused great concern. On November 7, a tree fell and injured children at a Newmarket (Auckland) childcare centre. And on November 18, a child died in an accident in a Takapuna (Auckland) ECE centre playground.

These incidences, back to back, gave many parents that stomach-tightening sense that maybe they were doing the wrong thing entrusting their little ones to childcare centres.

This is the context in which it is very important, I think, that childcare professionals help parents to understand that New Zealand ECE centres are among the safest in the world.

We should be explaining that centres must comply with detailed Ministry of Education safety regulations or lose the right to exist. That many things must be checked daily. That licensing criteria include accident prevention, minimising the spread of infection, the safety of furniture and fittings, and fire evacuation processes … right down to the hygienic laundering of linen.

We should explain centres must also pass rigorous Education Review Office (ERO) inspections, and be graded from one to four, with these grades, and detailed comments, available online for all to see.

And we should explain the difference between perceived risk and actual risk - that the average NZ ECE centre is safer than most other locations children inhabit, including very often, their own homes.

We cannot, of course, guarantee that mistakes will not be made. Not with more than 200,000 children in NZ ECE services. And we should, I think, acknowledge always that parents have every reason to be cautious about the care and welfare of their children.

The most effective way to address the childcare care issue that most concerns NZ every day? Invite parents to talk to their teachers about their centre’s approach to safety. Be open. And answer the questions.