Survey reveals new wave of ‘despondency’ in ECE

Published on Tuesday, 06 July 2021
Last updated on Monday, 05 July 2021

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Prior to release of the 2021 Budget, a survey on the early childhood education (ECE) sector revealed grim results, showing confidence in the Government’s plan for improvement in the sector has ‘taken a nose-dive.’

Undertaken by ChildForum, the survey found the percentage of people who believe the Government is taking ECE in the right direction has almost halved from 30 per cent in 2019 to just 16 per cent in 2021.

With 55 per cent of responding they felt the Government was heading in the wrong direction.

ChildForum described the results as revealing “a new wave of despondency” through the ECE sector and there is “low confidence that things in the sector will improve or that the government will assist.”

The survey was completed by 1000 people in the ECE sector between April and May this year, and asked respondents about the Government’s performance in implementing some key policy commitments and whether they expected things to improve, worsen or stay the same over the next 12 months.

Ratings were requested on government performance in implementing some key policy commitments:

  • Lifting the quality of ECE
  • Putting the “free” back into the funding policy for 20 hours ECE
  • Boosting support for parent-led services such as Playcentre and KĊhanga Reo
  • Lifting teacher pay

Key findings:

  • 64 per cent of respondents were not confident pay parity would be delivered by the end of the Government’s term, and concerns were raised about staff retention – ECE teachers have been earning as much as $17,000 per year less than their kindergarten peers with the same qualifications and equivalent work
  • 54 per cent expected things to worsen over the next 12 months, 38 per cent said things would stay the same and only 8 per cent expected an improvement
  • The Government did not receive an average rating of 3 (satisfactory) or better (top score was 5 for outstanding) on any of the four key policy areas: lifting the quality of ECE, putting the “free” back into the funding policy of 20 hours free ECE for families, boosting support for parent-led services, and lifting teacher pay.

The survey also revealed the number of enrolments in ECE fell by more than 11,000 between 2016 and 2020 and teaching staff numbers have dropped from 32,065 in 2019 to 30,346 in 2020.

In response to the Budget, ChildForum chief executive Dr Sarah Alexander said, “Minister Robertson has handed the ECE sector the equivalent of a cheese roll – a bit of fat – that will do nothing to address the health of the sector.”

Dr Alexander highlighted teacher retention in ECE becoming a greater problem as a result of the Budget. 

“While higher pay for beginning teachers might help to attract a few more people into ECE teaching, it's experienced teachers that we are very worried about losing. 

Losing well qualified and experienced teachers has seriously negative repercussions for the quality that services can provide and children’s learning outcomes," she said. 

On the issue of pay parity, education union NZEI Te Riu Roa welcomed the pre-Budget announcement committing $170 million over four years toward increasing pay in the ECE sector.

The union’s National Executive representative for early childhood education, Virginia Oakly stated that, "Pay parity is an essential pre-condition to valuing all teachers for the work they do. Most employers want to pay teachers their worth and now they can. But there is still more progress to be made.

"Funding the first six steps on the kindergarten pay scale for employers that opt in to do this is good, but pay parity is for everyone.

"Ultimately, we need to centralise payment of teachers rather than bulk fund services. This will remove the incentive for employers to pay teachers less to maximise profit and give the public reassurances that money is going straight to teachers' pay packets. Until that happens, collective agreements are the best way to ensure that funding increases designed to lift teacher salaries go directly to teachers,” she said.

This view of ‘more progress to be made’ is echoed a news story by Stuff who reported ECE sector experts saying in response to the Budget announcement that “… it will take widespread changes to address the issues – such as class sizes and child-to-teacher ratios – to stop ECE teachers leaving the profession.”

Viv Shearsby, A Christchurch-based education consultant who has worked in ECE for 30 years, said although the Budget announcement was a “step in the right direction” towards pay parity and equity, there was still “a long way to go.”

“The Government is clearly focused on bringing up the low-waged workers, and early childhood is chocker with those people, so that’s a great start,” she said.

However, many of the issues in ECE related to conditions, not salary, she said.

“Increasing pay is not going to stop them leaving.”

The Ministry of Education estimates that from 1 July 2021 “around 1,250 full-time equivalent (FTE) positions will receive a pay increase as a result of the change to the minimum salary attestation required of education and care services. We think this is likely to affect about 2,500 actual teachers, regardless of the hours they work.”

References and further reading

Stuff: ‘Absolutely broken’ preschool sector needs more than just cash

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