The Government has agreed to a $4 million package in 2019/20 to ease teacher supply pressures for Early Childhood Education. The package could not come a minute sooner for many ECE centres facing a critical shortage of qualified staff.
A survey by National Party ECE spokesperson Nicola Willis found that 71 per cent of ECE centres have “had to hire an unqualified teacher as a result of the lack of qualified teachers available”.
Michelle Pratt, director of New Shoots, told the Herald that qualified staff across her 10 centres had dropped from around 96 per cent of teachers to 82 or 83 per cent. And Kindercare has reportedly raised fees by $1 or $2 a day for 4200 families across its centres to attract and keep staff.
Last week NZ Kindergartens Te Rito Maioha, Montessori Aotearoa New Zealand and the Early Childhood Council met Education Minister Chris Hipkins to discuss their growing concerns about the sector’s challenges.
The Minister responded with a teacher supply package aimed at attracting more people into ECE.
“It’s important that we find ways to provide short term relief as we work to address long-standing issues that built up over recent years,” says Hipkins.
The package includes a targeted marketing campaign to attract people into ECE as a career; a recruitment campaign targeted at overseas trained ECE teachers wanting to move to New Zealand to teach – and New Zealand trained ECE teachers wanting to return home to teach; and a Relocation Support Grant (RSG) to assist with the actual and reasonable costs associated with relocation.
The package will also include an increase in the discretionary teacher hours allowed per funding period, from 40 hours to 60 hours. This will take effect from 1 October 2019 and be in place until 31 May 2020.
NZ Kindergartens Chief Executive Jill Bond says the teacher supply package is a good signal for the sector.
“[The] announcement is encouraging and we appreciate how constructive the Minister was,” she says.
Bond is hoping to see the Minister reinstate funding for 100% qualified teachers, as a next step.
NZEI Te Riu Roa has also welcomed the package but says lifting pay for ECE teachers is the fundamental solution to the crisis facing the sector.
NZEI National Executive early childhood representative Virginia Oakly says severe under-funding of the sector had made ECE teaching an unattractive career option, and the $4 million package was a positive step to attract people into the profession.
“However, the lasting solution to the shortage will be fair pay for all qualified teachers across the sector.”
Te Rito Maioha Chief Executive Kathy Wolfe agrees, saying there is still some way to go for the early learning sector to recover.
“We need to ensure that all ECE qualified teachers are paid at the same level as their primary school peers. People who put in the time and effort required to become qualified in ECE teaching should be properly paid.”
“We will continue to work in partnership with the Minister to develop a sustainable funding, resourcing and support model for the early learning sector.”
The sector is eagerly awaiting the Minister’s final announcement on the Early Learning Strategic Plan later this year.