It’s no secret that many of our early childhood education (ECE) centres are operating under ever-increasing financial pressure, and it’s putting our children’s education at risk.
This pressure is directly due to inadequate government funding, so in election year we are stepping up our efforts to highlight this crisis and the urgent need to restore funding to our sector.
We know from our members that a substantial number of ECE centres are in deficit, or close to it.
We know that many are dipping into their reserves so as not to pass on costs to parents.
We know they are having to defer professional development, equipment maintenance and buying new learning resources for the children.
And we know they are facing increased costs, imposed by things like the Food Act, Police vetting, insurance and now the impending increase in the Education Council’s teaching registration fees.
We also know that ECE centres want to have fully qualified teaching staff, that they value their staff and want to pay them accordingly. Why? Because they want to provide the very best for our young tamariki.
To get these issues addressed, we are taking action.
On 6 June Te Rito Maioha joined with New Zealand Kindergartens and NZEI Te Riu Roa to express the collective will of those involved in ECE to press for changes. Together we met the Minister of Education Nikki Kaye to reason our case.
It should not be a difficult position to debate. The Budget was developed around the knowledge that early interventions for children at risk pay big dividends in later social, health, justice and education outcomes. We applaud the government for the $80.4 million investment in addressing children at risk of underachievement, behaviour services, the Incredible Years Programme targeted at autism and oral language development.
But we also know that high-quality, teacher-led childhood education is crucial in giving all children the best start to their lifelong learning journey. It is the right of every child to receive the best education we can give them and a great childhood.
Yes, we can demonstrate the returns for government investment and address the focus on early intervention; however, we believe that this investment should flow on to all children.
According to US economist Professor Jim Heckman, investing in ECE is a cost-effective strategy for promoting economic growth; for every $1 spent in ECE, there is a return of $9 in the learning life. Recently Children’s Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft made an address in which he reiterated the positive returns in children’s later lives if investment was made in their 0-5 early years.
And research in New Zealand has long shown the educational benefits of high-quality ECE. The NZCER Competent Children, Competent Learners longitudinal study found that 12-year-olds who participated in high-quality early childhood education did better in reading and maths than those whose early education was of a lower standard.
This is about the child experiencing the best education. It is about laying the foundations for later success in learning. Why then is the government underfunding the per-child hourly rate in the ECE sector?
We pointed to research released this year by Infometrics and commissioned by NZEI Te Riu Roa that showed the ECE sector is $260 million worse off in 2017 due to the funding cuts for qualified staff in 2010 and the failure to keep up with inflation. According to the research, ECE services were each around $58,000 worse off per year than if the funding had been maintained and had kept up with inflation.
This is an imbalance that we will strive to address during this election year and we call on political parties to pledge these key policies:
- Restore the per-child hourly rate to account for inflation since 2008. The current rate is lower than it was in July 2008.
- Reinstate funding for 100% qualified staff – our youngest children are worthy of specialised, qualified teachers.
- Improve the under-2 qualified teacher-child ratio – reduce to 1:4 on the way to 1:3. Babies need highly responsive caregiving, which requires better ratios along with small group sizes.
- Invest in funding for professional development for ECE leaders and teachers.
- Recognise and respect ECE teachers as equals alongside primary and secondary teachers.
Meeting the cost of qualified teachers is, of course, particularly important.
While we know that teacher-led ECE services employ as many qualified teachers as they are able, and aspire to 80 per cent, the reality is that centres are only required by law to have 50 per cent fully qualified staff.
Yet qualified teachers have a particular understanding of cognitive learning (personal, behavioural and environmental) and are adept at recognising cues for the different ways in which different children learn.
Present government policy targets participation in ECE at the expense of ensuring all teachers are qualified to deliver excellent, rich and varied learning experiences that nurture and support children. The knowledge our tamariki experience in their early childhood makes a difference for a lifetime.
The question has to be asked: is there a hangover here in which ECE staff are seen merely as ‘babysitters’? The Ministry of Education requires all primary teachers to hold a degree-level qualification, so why should it be any different for ECE teachers working with our youngest children?
The election looms, and it’s time for us all to make our voices heard.
We will continue to lobby for the very best for our tamariki in ECE, but you too can make a difference.
You can write to your prospective MPs and highlight the ECE issues that are of importance to you, your whānau and communities. You can write to political parties’ ECE spokespeople, and you can make powerful cases by inviting your MP or candidates to visit your centre and see all the great work you’re doing – and why it’s essential that investment funding be restored.
Together, let’s ensure every child has the right to thrive and learn.