On Wednesday, the Minister of Education released the Early Learning Action Plan – a plan for the Early Learning sector over the next 10 years. Advocates for Early Learning Excellence commends the Minister for many of the 25 Actions contained in Wednesday’s release of the Early Learning Action Plan 2019-2029 which we support. We believe that many of the new actions will raise the quality of, and increase equity of access to, early learning opportunities for children across New Zealand.

We are particularly excited about the reductions in ratios for children under the ages of 3 which we see as a significant milestone for ECE in New Zealand, along with a commitment to improve teacher education to ensure teachers are well qualified to implement the curriculum in a meaningful way.

A concern that we believe needs to be urgently addressed before we go to 100% qualified is the extreme shortages of qualified teachers. We estimate that the current plan, once fully implemented, will require an additional 8,000 to 11,000 ECE teachers on top of the current 22,000. This is a 35-50% increase on the current levels and the existing training pathways do not provide for this sort of increase in teacher numbers in the immediate term. Similarly, the current pay problem for teachers in non-kindergarten ECE centres that has been widely discussed reduces both the ability to retain teachers and the attractiveness of our sector for young New Zealanders, and means that any growth in teacher numbers is increasingly from immigrant teachers who lack the background in New Zealand’s bi-cultural curriculum.

Both ourselves and our teachers favour a solution where teacher supply is addressed through funding initiatives including incentives for training and equitable pay.

There is also the possibility that the “incentive” for 100% registered teachers leads to a short term reduction in capacity as centres struggle to find enough teachers and find it more viable to run with fewer children, leading to challenges for parents in finding education care for their children.

Developing advice and guidance around centre design and wider environmental factors and the improvement of quality standards we applaud and look forward to participating in this.

What the Action Plan does not outline is how the Resource Management Act implications of these changes will be handled. Centres are consented for a particular number of staff and car park ratios. Larger numbers of staff at New Zealand’s 4,000+ Early Childhood centres will lead to requirements for new resource consents adding further significant compliance costs to struggling centres.

We appreciate the tone of the document and its intentions to consult with the sector and implore the Minister to engage with us to understand the potential impacts of this Action Plan. The Early Learning sector is already stretched, and well-meaning initiatives could have significant negative impact on the quality, availability and affordability of early learning options for New Zealand families.

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