Home truths – why home-based services are popular with early educators

Published on Tuesday, 04 May 2021
Last updated on Monday, 03 May 2021

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A New Zealand Educational Institute survey has revealed the growing toll early childhood education teacher shortages are having on staff and services around the country. This recent research shows that 80.3 per cent of both employers and employees think staff shortages have affected their ability to teach, with over three quarters of those surveyed feeling it was harder to maintain the minimum required teacher to children ratios. 

This growing concern around increasingly difficult working conditions for early childhood teachers has become a big reason for qualified teachers making the move from teaching in centre-based services to setting up their own home-based services.

Erin Maloney, Founding Director of Tiny Nation, a home-based early childhood education service, says there has been a notable increase in enquiry and demand from qualified teachers who are looking to move from centre-based services to running their own small group home-based service.

“What we are seeing are teachers who are feeling exhausted by issues of short staffing and untenable working conditions. They want to get back to remembering why they started and to be able to plan for and document the learning of children in their care in a way that allows them to be connected and authentic.

Home-based environments allow them to do this – with no more than four children in their care and the ability to set-up their own service based on their passion and early childhood philosophy,” she says.   

Kylie McLean, who recently transitioned from head teacher at an early childhood centre to home-based educator with Tiny Nation, said she couldn’t be happier with the change or her choice.

“I have been a teacher at a centre for 11 years - eight of those as a head teacher, but I was craving a bigger connection and greater independence,” Kylie explains. 

Kylie advocates this opportunity for teachers, emphasising that she remains a teacher, in fact a more productive and fulfilled one and says she can focus on quality now that she isn’t so concerned with the quantity of children. She feels that she can offer the children in her care more than she could in a centre environment, due to the smaller 1:4 ratio.

“The connection you can create with a child that is one of four is far greater than one of many. That connection is everything you value as a teacher; it allows me to enhance my programme and I feel I am making a genuine difference to individuals.”

Kylie says that closer relationships with children has already shown tangible results – within four weeks it became noticeable how much more she could offer, including being able to identify individual needs earlier and address specific learning opportunities much faster.

The connection extends to families too, instead of managing relationships with 30 different sets of parents, Kylie can instead focus on quality relationships and be more flexible for parents who are also juggling busy lives.

Kylie is enthusiastic about the benefits of being self-employed, including being able to have control over her service conditions and choose her own hours. Making the change has enabled her to not only remain in the sector, but to add more value to the work that she is doing with children and families in her own community.

She feels so passionately about her decision that she can’t see herself returning to employment in a centre. She is sure that she has made the right choice and is in this for the long-term.

“I am still doing what I love – teaching, being a home-based educator has not meant that I have given that up,” affirms Kylie. “Instead, I am in my own environment, I run the programme, I own the business, I have decision making ability and I can make an impact.”

Erin Maloney says that the move for teachers from centre-based to home-based services highlights the opportunities that exist to reform the education system in the early years to focus on high quality outcomes for everyone involved – children, families and teachers.

“You can’t pour from an empty cup and some early childhood teachers have been forced into working conditions that just don’t enable them to be able to give the best of themselves to the children in their care.

Being able to offer a range of different early childhood education choices, for both families and teachers, is a huge strength of our education system here in New Zealand. Now is the time to look at how we can address growing teacher shortages and industry fatigue by reviewing how we provide tailored support, choice and funding.

At the end of the day, it always has to be about how we can retain great teachers and enable the best outcomes for children,” she says.

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