By: Caroline Fleming

More than 20 early childhood centres have opened in the Tauranga in the last three years, according to Ministry of Education.

Yet industry experts say some centres still have long waiting lists and struggle to find qualified staff.

Figures from the Tauranga City Council revealed consents valued at $18.8 million have been issued for new childcare centres since 2012.

More than half of those were for centres being built in Mount Maunganui and in Pāpāmoa.

Bright Beginnings Pāpāmoa centre manager Roz Gray said the demand for early childhood centres in the area was still growing.

She said over the last seven years, a large number of early childhood centres had opened within a five-kilometre radius of Bright Beginnings.

Even though parents could ”shop around”, rolls were still full.

Seven years ago, waiting lists could be as long as six months and although lists had shortened, the population boom meant some families still had to wait, she said.

According to Education Counts figures, 11 out of 101 services in the Bay of Plenty had a wait time for three-year-olds of over six months in 2018. The majority had wait times between one and six months.

Katrina Casey from the Ministry of Education said the Tauranga, Pāpāmoa and Mount Maunganui areas had experienced high population growth over the last decade.

“Given the growth in the region, some early learning services do have waiting lists and in some areas there is pressure for places for children under two years old.”

BestStart Coast Boulevard opened in Pāpāmoa last week.

BestStart Educare deputy chief executive Fiona Hughes said the centre assessed the demographics of the area and the competition to satisfy there was a need.

She said the extensive building activity had attracted lots of young families to the area.

Rising numbers of early childhood centres may also be contributing to a shortage of qualified teachers.

Nationwide, early childhood enrolments grew by 1.4 per cent in the three years to 2017, but the number of services grew by 7 per cent and qualified teachers increased by 11.7 per cent, according to Education Counts.

Virginia Oakly, the early childhood sector representative on the New Zealand Educational Institute Te Riu Roa National Executive, said there was a growing shortage of early childhood teachers around the country, a situation exacerbated in places such as Tauranga that had high housing costs.

Centres that want to hire qualified teachers struggled to fill roles, she said.

“In many services, up to 50 per cent of the staff at a centre are unqualified – the maximum legal level of unqualified staff.”

There were 14 early childhood teaching positions advertised in Tauranga on Trade Me yesterday, and another four on Seek. The Education Gazette had 20 across the Bay of Plenty.

A survey by the Early Childhood Council in October found 30 per cent of childcare centres nationwide had unfilled vacancies for qualified teachers.

Last year Education Minister Chris Hipkins announced, as part of a 10-year plan to improve the sector, that the Government wanted all early childhood centres 100 per cent staffed with qualified teachers.

The Pro Vice-Chancellor of the education division at the University of Waikato’s Tauranga campus, Don Klinger, said the demand for early childhood education teachers was still well above the supply.

Source: NZ Herald

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