Budget 2018 will not increase qualified ECE teacher numbers.

Budget 2018 will not increase qualified ECE teacher numbers, says Te Rito Maioha Early Childhood New Zealand Chief Executive, Kathy Wolfe 

Don’t get me wrong.  Budget 2018 is a small step in the right direction for the early childhood education (ECE) sector. However, it does nothing to help address the severe shortage of qualified ECE teachers. 

In the latest Education Gazette, there were 181 vacancies for qualified ECE teachers. New centres are opening to meet increased demand, which is eroding quality. I know of several centres that are at capacity and do not have enough qualified staff.  With the shortage of qualified teachers comes the pressure to work longer hours or come in when sick, which also has a negative impact on children’s care and learning. 

To meet growing demand for places in ECE centres, and ensure that children are well cared for and have the strongest start possible to their education, New Zealand needs more qualified ECE teachers, pure and simple. 

To attract people to ECE and retain them once they are qualified, we need to make the profession more attractive and do something about the barriers that have built up over the past decade. 

To start with, qualified ECE teachers are fundamentally no different to their qualified primary and secondary school teacher peers. ECE teachers have to achieve the same three-year Bachelor’s level qualification and undergo the same registration process before the Education Council registers them as teachers. They also have the same student loans to repay. 

Most ECE teachers do not have the advantage the school term structure offers.  In addition, their contact time with children can be over two hours more per day than their primary and secondary school teacher peers’ contact time. This is because, to meet whānua needs, children are often in ECE for longer periods each day than children in primary or secondary schools are. 

Yet, qualified ECE teachers are paid much less than their primary and secondary school teacher peers.  This situation obviously does nothing to attract people to ECE and is plainly unequitable. 

Not having enough qualified ECE teachers can also compromise learning by putting pressure on teacher to child ratios and group sizes, particularly for those centres who would like to do better than only meet the Ministry of Education’s minimum requirements. 

To reverse this trend, it is quite simple: more qualified ECE teachers are needed so that the norm is 80 – 100% qualified teachers in all ECE provision.

However, Budget 2018 does nothing to increase the number of qualified ECE teachers. It only bulk funds more places for children in ECE.  There is no funding to improve ECE teachers’ pay and conditions. 

There are many ECE centres that would like to reward their ECE teachers for the amazing work they do but are constrained by the fact that per child funding rates have not increased since 2008. The 1.6% increase in Budget 2018 is no-where near enough and will probably not even reach the teachers. 

The government has suggested that money is being held back for wage negotiations.  However, this only affects the ECE teachers who are on the ECE Collective.  This does not address the large number of ECE teachers who are not employed under the ECE Collective Agreement. 

The current ECE teacher shortage needs to be addressed with some urgency.  We can only hope that the outcomes of the Early Learning Strategic Plan, Workforce Strategy, Home-based Review and other education reviews will ensure that Budget 2019 delivers something much more substantial for the ECE sector.

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