How qualified is our early learning workforce?

Published on Wednesday, 15 July 2020
Last updated on Wednesday, 21 October 2020

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Early childhood educators play a key role in our little ones’ learning and bring expertise and enthusiasm to the job. 

At high quality early childhood education (ECE) services, educators develop their own learning on an ongoing basis and use effective teaching methods to engage children and extend youngsters’ thinking and other skills.  

That said, not every adult at a teacher-led ECE service will necessarily be a trained teacher. Here we look at the qualifications currently required in the ECE workforce and explain how things are changing, going forward.

What qualification levels are mandated in teacher-led ECE services?

The Ministry of Education says that, ‘50 per cent of the adults who educate and care for children [at teacher-led services] must be qualified and certificated as early learning services teachers,’ and this rate is often higher. 

Education Minister, Chris Hipkins says that 96 per cent of early childhood teacher-led centres employ 80 per cent or more qualified and certificated ECE teachers. Only 135 out of 3,305 teacher led-centres employ less than 80 per cent of adults with a recognised ECE teaching qualification.  

When it comes to home-based services, the government requires every service to have a coordinator who is a qualified and certificated ECE teacher. These coordinators provide support to educators, and the qualifications needed by educators themselves depend on the funding rate of the service. 

Licensed home-based care services are eligible for a standard funding rate or a quality funding rate, and although educators at standard rate services don’t have to be qualified teachers, those at quality rate services are required to have completed a Level 3 or higher ECE qualification, or be working towards a Level 4 one.  

What action is the government taking around ECE qualifications?

The government recognises the importance of quality early learning for children and it has big plans for the next 10 years of ECE. 

The government’s Early Learning Action Plan sets out a number of objectives and actions to ‘raise quality, improve equity and enable choice of service type’, and there are some key changes proposed around teacher qualifications.

Specifically, the Action Plan’s third objective is that, ‘Teaching staff and leaders are well qualified, diverse, culturally competent and valued’ and it is taking steps to:

  • Move towards a fully qualified teacher workforce in teacher-led centres through incentives and regulation. 
  • Raise the levels of home-based educators’ qualifications. 
  • Support qualified teachers to return to early learning teaching. 
  • Provide a range of scholarships and grants that will help unqualified early learning workers to gain initial teacher education (ITE) qualifications, with targeted support for Māori and Pacific enrolments.
  • Improve ITE to ensure teachers are well qualified to implement the curriculum in collaboration with other professionals.
  • Develop a planned and sustained approach to professional learning and development that will benefit of children’s learning and wellbeing and grow educators’ leadership skills. 
  • Develop innovation and research hubs so that early learning teachers and services can access expertise, resources and partners.  

How is the government moving towards a fully qualified teacher workforce in teacher-led centres?

The government is taking a staged approach to, ‘Incentivise for 100 per cent and regulate for 80 per cent qualified teachers in teacher-led centres, leading to regulation for 100 per cent.’

For starters, it has reintroduced a higher funding rate for teacher-led centre-based services that employ fully qualified and registered teachers. 

A new ‘100 per cent funding band’ will apply from 1 January 2021 and Mr Hipkins says, ‘This initiative rewards centres offering the highest quality education by ensuring all of their required teachers are fully trained teachers.’ 

In 2018, 13 per cent of teacher-led centres employed a fully qualified and certificated workforce and Mr Hipkins says, ‘This new funding band will encourage more centres to use fully trained teachers and keep them in work.’ 

It will also benefit a large proportion of children because teacher-led centres comprise 82 per cent of all enrolments. 

In dollar terms, the funding rates from 1 January 2021 will be:

Service type Funding band Under2s 2+ 20 Hours ECE

Kindergartens (all day)

100% qualified $15.19 $8.91  $14.51
   80-99% qualified  $14.61 $8.14   $13.78
Education and care centres (all day)  100% qualified $13.34 $7.83  $12.77
   80-99% qualified  $13.02 $7.20  $12.28
Education and care centres (sessional)   100% qualified $12.46 $6.19  $7.50
   80-99% qualified $11.58 $5.25  $6.76

If a centre already employs 100 per cent qualified and certificated teachers, then the Ministry of Education says they can use the extra funding to do things like, reduce fees for parents, increase teacher salaries and maintain and develop the centre. 

Going forward, the government proposes to change the regulations ‘To require 80 per cent of teaching staff in all teacher-led services to be qualified teachers and, where children are grouped in separate spaces, at least one qualified teacher will be located with each group.’

What changes are proposed around home-based educators’ qualifications?

In 2019, there was an increase to the funding rate for quality rate home-based early learning services, and the government says, ‘In future years, cost adjustments will only be directed towards services on the quality rate,’ not the standard one. 

This rewards services with qualified educators and the government says that eventually there will be a single quality funding rate and, ‘All home-based educators will need to hold, or be in training towards, a Level 4 ECE qualification, or Te Ara Tuarua [the Level 5 kōhanga reo qualification], or hold a higher ECE or kōhanga reo qualification.’ This will apply to au pairs, too. 

In summary, this focus on qualifications in the ECE workforce is good news for our children. 

The Action Plan recognises that, ‘Teacher qualifications make an important contribution to quality practices’ (e.g. they allow educators and children to have higher quality interactions) and research shows that, ‘High quality ECE can improve young people’s learning and developmental outcomes’ particularly if they’re from a low socio-economic group.

Early learning has lifelong benefits, so it’s great to see the government investing in the education of both children and teachers. 


The Ministry of Education: Different kinds of early learning services


The Ministry of Education: Budget 2002 – 100% funding band restored for early learning

Conversation: Review of home-based early childhood education

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