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Wages, Training & Grants

Why Teachers in the Early Childhood Education Sector are Poorly Paid: Wages, Pay Rates and Conditions of Work

© ChildForum

By Dr Sarah Alexander
Chief Executive
ChildForum Early Childhood Network

Last updated on 1 April 2018. Please let us know if you have further information or updates not shown here. 


thinkingWhy early childhood teachers are poorly paid

The youngest children in NZ are given less value by the Government than older children, adults and the elderly. As early childhood teachers we are regarded as little more than babysitters despite our training and qualifications being equivalent to primary and secondary teachers. 


Over 20 years ago the Kindergarten Teachers’ Association (industrial union) drew comparisons between pay rates with nursing and other occupations such as the police. One argument was that cleaners got paid more than kindergarten teachers!  

Kindergarten teachers however got more than what nursery school or crèche workers got in those days. Both Kindergarten and crèche workers got more than those who were parents working in Playcentre.  

At-home parents got no financial recognition for their role as their child's carer and early educator.  Note that in 2012 parents of disabled children won a battle after the Appeal Court dismissed the Ministry of Health’s appeal against a finding that its current policy of not allowing parents of disabled children to be paid carers is discriminatory - this ruling could have implications for parents who choose not to use ECE. In 2013 a case was taken in the court for pay equity for rest home workers (read more) and more recently we've seen the benefits for rest home workers in higher wages.


Early childhood education is a female dominated industry. This in itself is not the reason why people in the early childhood sector are poorly paid in comparison to other education sectors. But it does mean our workforce tends to be more accepting of its situation, putting the needs of everyone else first.

Successive governments and the Ministry of Education have supported this. Gender diversity policy has not been brought into education law for the early childhood sector (read more).  And it has been 20 years since Dr Sarah Alexander's ground-breaking research on male teacher experiences in childcare and kindergarten services that pointed to the decline in male participation.  A more recent national survey of the ECE sector showed majority support for including more men in teaching. (read more

State Sector Support and Unionised vs. non-unionised teachers

In 2002 NZEI Te Riu Roa negotiated pay parity for kindergarten teachers with Primary School teachers. This had a flow on effect for staff working in other parts of the sector, with childcare and other ECE service providers realising they needed to pay higher wages to compete for qualified teachers with kindergartens.  

Kindergarten teachers are covered by the State Sector Act 1998.  Kindergarten Teachers, Head Teachers and Senior Teachers' are paid under a Collective Agreement (KTCA).

Qualified and certificated early childhood teachers may:

  1. be protected under the State Sector Act if working in a free kindergarten
  2. work at an early childhood service that is signed up to an ECE Collective Agreement under NZEI.
  3. be employed at another early childhood service with no union or state protections (the majority of NZ's early childhood teachers and staff)

Our sector has a diverse range of providers from corporate and business run early childhood services that are focused on the bottom line to services that invest what they earn straight back into the service.   

Minimum Rates

Minimum wage in NZ

Under Employment Law the minimum hourly wage rate is $16.50 per hour (in 2018) and no worker should be paid less than this.  

Minimum pay for certificated teachers 

Many people do not know that the Ministry of Education sets a minimum rate of pay for teachers working in early childhood centres that employers must pay all certificated teachers if the centre claims a higher rate of funding (not just up to 80% of certificated teachers but all certificated teachers - including relief teachers who are certificated).

Go to an earlier news story for more background information - "Good news: funding for qualified and certificated teachers secure

Employers must keep records confirming salary or wage levels for each employee, and the records must show the:

  • annual salary or hourly pay rate
  • time period of employment and
  • the employer and employee’s signatures.

Certificated teachers are defined by the Ministry of Education as those who hold a current practising certificate (as issued by the Education Council) that is categorised as one of the following:

  • full certification
  • provisional certification, or
  • certificated subject to confirmation

... and holds an ECE or primary teaching qualification that is recognised by the Education Council.

An early childhood service that does not pay all its certificated teachers (including relief teachers) at at least the minimum rate is not entitled to receive a higher rate of funding from the Ministry for having certificated staff. The higher rate of funding for having more than 50% certificated teachers is paid to services on the proviso that the funding is used to pay certificated teachers at least at the minimum entry level rates as specified in the NZEI union Early Childhood Education Collective Agreement.

Should an early childhood centre be claiming a higher rate of funding but not paying its certificated teachers at the minimum rates (or higher) then the Ministry of Education should be informed immediately of this.  

  2015 minimum rates 2017 (from 1 July minimum rates 
Q1 & Q2 rates
(eg. a Dip Tchg or equivalent, or Higher Dip Tchg, or a Dip Tchg and 2/3rds of a degree)
$40,458 $41,067 or $19.74 hour
Q3 rate (eg. a recognised 3 yr teaching degree, an Advanced Diploma of ECE teaching, has a 3 yr diploma and done a one year upgrade to a Bachelor Teaching degree) $44,373 $45,041 or $21.65 hour
Q3+ rate (examples of quals at this level:  a 4 yr B.Tchg degree, a B degree together with a recognised ECE qual, a Bachelor of Teaching degree together with a relevant level 7, 120 credit graduate or postgraduate diploma) $45,680 $46,368 or $22.29 hour

To calculate the equivalent hourly rate using the salary rate, divide the annual salary rate shown above by 2080 (52 weeks x 40 hours).

Key to abbreviations 


  • a bachelor degree together with a recognised early childhood teaching qualification, or
  • a 4-year Bachelor of Education degree, or
  • a 4-year honours degree in teaching, or
  • a degree completed conjointly with a Bachelor of Teaching degree, or
  • a Bachelor of Teaching degree together with a relevant 120 credit specialist graduate or postgraduate qualification assessed at level 7 (or higher) on the National
  • Qualifications Framework (NQF) or equivalent, or
  • a Diploma of Teaching (ECE) plus an Advanced Diploma of Teaching (ECE) together with a relevant 120 credit specialist graduate or postgraduate qualification assessed at level 7 (or higher) on the NQF, or
  • a Bachelor of Teaching degree together with a relevant level 7, 120 credit graduate or postgraduate diploma.


  • a recognised 3-year early childhood teaching degree, or
  • an Advanced Diploma of Teaching (ECE), or
  • the Diploma of Teaching (ECE) or its equivalent, and they are attested as fluent in te reo Maori with a knowledge and understanding of tikanga Maori.

Where an employee has completed a 3-year Diploma of Teaching (ECE) and has done a one-year upgrade to a Bachelor of Teaching degree, this means the employee is classified as Q3, not Q3+.


  • the Diploma of Teaching (ECE) or its equivalent and two-thirds of a degree as defined in clause 6(a)(viii) of the Early Childhood Education Collective Agreement of Aotearoa New Zealand (except a 3-year pre-service teaching degree); or
  • a Higher Diploma of Teaching (ECE).


  • a Diploma of Teaching (ECE) or its equivalent.

Primary qualified teachers must be paid in accordance with the minimum level shown above that applies to their qualification.


Pay Rate Comparisons for Staff on Union Agreements 

Compare the pay rate you are currently on with  (a) what a person working in an early childhood education and care service that is not a kindergarten and covered by the ECE Collective Agreement would receive, and (b) what teachers are paid under the KTCA agreement in the Kindergarten sector:

  • Senior teacher/employed centre manager salary range starting at $73,572 and going up to $97,260 for a senior teacher with 50 or more children enrolled and 16 or more staff (the salary range for Kindergarten senior teachers is $88,681 to $96,219)
  • Centre Head teacher and Home-based team leaders from $73,396 to $79,249 depending on staffing responsibility (a kindergarten head teacher receives $78,269).  A Head Teacher is a qualified and certificated early childhood teacher who is directly responsible for staff, whether within a single location or a location separate from their Senior Teacher/Tumuaki, and who has delegated responsibilities from their Senior Teacher. Not every centre employs a Head Teacher
  • Assistant head teacher and home-based visiting teacher from $70,420 to $73,396 depending on roll size
  • Early childhood teacher 1st year salary with a Diploma of Teaching ECE $41,067 (Kindergarten teacher $36,692 or if the Kindergarten teacher also holds a higher dip of teaching or 2/3rds of a recognised degree then the salary is $39,513)
  • Early childhood teacher 1st year salary with a recognised three year early childhood teaching degree $45,041 (P3 scale Kindergaten teacher $47,980)
  • Early childhood teacher 1st year salary with a recognised four teaching degree  (P3+ scale Kindergarten Teacher - $49,588)
  • Early childhood teacher top salary and qualification step $70,059 (Kindergarten teacher - $75,949)

Has your service signed by to a Collective Agreement?  Are you a union member or not?

>  Read what a survey shows about the benefits and otherwise of union membership!



1.  The rates shown above for teachers under the KTCA agreement are effective from 1 June 2017 and the agreement runs to May 2019 - click here to view.
2.  The Early Childhood Education Collective Agreement of Aotearoa New Zealand is effective from 16 March 2018 and runs to 15 Sept 2018 - click here to view a copy of the agreement


a.childforumbox4Working in Home-based? 

Home-based educators and nannies are not treated as employees by most (not all) Home-based ECE providers or agencies.  

Nannies are often employed directly by families, while agencies provide support and supervision with the funding provided by the Ministry of Education.  

Home-based educators on the other hand, are usually asked to work as independent contractors and therefore don't have employment protections, provision for sick leave, holiday pay, etc.

A person who signs up with a home-based agency to care for children in his/her own home usually receives only what parents pay them directly (or via the agency), while the agency is paid government funding for the children they are caring for. A home-based educator may find that the money is good (especially if he/she is unqualified and would be paid as an unqualified staff member if employed by a centre), but out of the income received there are significant costs if the care is taking place within the educator's own home (some of these costs are tax deductible).  

A home-based educator caring for children in his/her own home can have up to a maximum of 4 children. Educator charges vary widely between $6. - $11 per hour, depending on what the educator wants to charge or what the home-based agency provider says should be the charge, the educator's qualification level, and if caring for fewer than 4 children. Agencies have been known to ask educators to sign contracts specifying rates as low as $4 an hour per child; fortunately this is not the norm.   


Job Perks 

  • Free tea/coffee and/or lunch
  • Paid staff social outings. This is a perk if it is optional for you to participate and not expected by your employer
  • Car park. This is a perk if the employer covers the cost of renting or leasing the park. If it is on land owned by the service or available to staff or users of the service then it’s not technically a benefit that forms part of the pay package.
  • Gym membership or subsidised membership at a local gym
  • Flexibility in work hours. This is a big benefit for many working in early childhood education, who may have young children or school aged children or elderly parents and other family responsibilities.
  • Free or subsidised childcare. It is common for discount of around 50% to be given to staff by employers. Few services offer entirely free childcare except in hard-to-staff areas and not all will allow staff to enrol their child at their service.
  • Free uniform (this may or may not be viewed as a perk if you like or don't like to wear a uniform, if the uniform is comfortable to wear, or costs more than usual clothing to keep clean)
  • Free doctor visits
  • Health insurance cover
  • Income protection insurance cover
  • Non-contact time may be variously viewed by teachers as a benefit (e.g. time to do writing and prepare activities) or as a loss (e.g. required time apart from a child who may have bonded with them and who needs them).
  • Professional development leave
  • Payment of cost of renewing teaching practising certificate, first aid refresher courses, etc.


Conditions of Work

Check out if your ECE employer offers more than the minimum legally required conditions under employment law for:

  • Kiwisaver and superannuation (Kindergarten staff have access to the State Sector Retirement Savings Scheme -  3% of gross salary is matched by government contribution)
  • Annual leave
  • Sick leave 


The Great Significance of a Happy Supportive Professional Working Atmosphere  

Nothing beats a good working atmosphere!

People who are attracted to working in early childhood education and care usually decide on this occupation for social reasons; they like people and they like children.

Social support, friendship and having colleagues you can rely on really do matter!

Working with children as part of a team is a reason why many people go for early childhood teaching over primary teaching. In primary teaching you can be in a classroom with a group of children alone whereas in early childhood you are part of a team.

The quality of team leadership provided in an early childhood service and the atmosphere of warmth and collaboration and mutual respect present can be a much more powerful influence on a person’s decision as to whether to accept a job offer than the wage or salary package.

For supervisor/head teacher/management positions clear lines between governance and management are essential as is respect of the supervisors/head teachers/managers expertise.

How well the board functions, or to what extent the manager feels trusted by the owner, and allows the manager to get on with his/her job will make a difference as to whether a manager chooses to stay or move to a more personally fulfilling position.

In summary, our advice from ChildForum is to look both at the pay rate and beyond the pay offered and consider the total package including perks and other benefits as well as those hard to quantify things such as flexible working hours and a positive supportive working atmosphere.

In some cases the actual hourly wage might be low but the total package might be very attractive!

Teachers and student teachers are recommended to check out further guidance by clicking here.

Employers are recommended to make use of the advice, information, and resources in the ECE Service Member area of the ChildForum website. 


Comments previously added

A perk that we have found that staff value is increased sick leave above statutory minimum. Most of our staff have children and they sometimes need to be off to look after them when they are sick. Not to mention all the usual bugs that staff are exposed to in the course of their work! We currently offer 8 days sick leave and we are working towards 10 days per annum next year. We have had no case of any teacher mis-using this benefit. Another 'perk', if you can call it that (since it benefits both employer and employee), is for the centre to cover costs of teacher registration. In our centre, if a teacher leaves within the year of renewing registration, they pay back 50%. Salary is a tricky issue to balance between quality and business viability. We pay newly qualified teachers $45k+, registered teachers $50k+, and experienced registered teachers $55k+. Where we employ third-year BEd ECE students they are on an FTE of $37k per annum. (The Ole Schoolhouse 2013-11-21)

We have no teacher career structure in our company and this week we got our wage reviews. I got a 2.2 increase they call it performance pay but it really equals a cost of living adjustment. But what really upsets me is the cook and office lady got nothing again. How long can employers keep screwing the livelihood from staff I don't know? (Hugo van Stratum 2014-04-04)

Hi Hugo, the problem is that if it's anything like my business everyday costs are increasing but the funding coming in is paying for less and less. (Smart Start Preschool 2014-07-24)

Not sure where the figures for home-based care pay rates came from (I'm guessing Auckland or Wellington?) but Hamilton isn't that high. (Kimbeley 2014-06-30)

Can anyone tell me how to calculate non-contact time for staff? (Sarah1 2014-07-02)

The collective agreement has a ratio, but it effectively comes out as 4 hours for a full-time teacher (38-40 hrs/ wk). The last two private centres I have been at have not been consenting parties, they gave us 2 hours a week off the floor and 4 study days a year. (Tony 2014-07-11)

There's an interesting discussion by teachers and managers on our ChildForum Facebook page about calculating non-contact time also raised matters of whether staff are expected to do portfolios (which should not be done whilst hands-on caring for and teaching children) and whether duties like cooking or cleaning are counted as "non-contact". (ChildForum admin 2014-07-14)

Does anyone know about relieving teacher pay rates? I have bachelor’s degree ece, full registration first aid, & 9 years’ experience. I have been working in a centre for about 6 months I usually get 3 or 4 days a week & I am treated as a staff member but have a causal contract. I had to take the work I had no choice & no negotiations what is an acceptable pay rate? I am appalled at what I get paid as the work is so regular. (Liz 2014-07-11)

That sounds awful but unfortunately some centres get away with all sorts of injustices. Look up employment laws reg contracts in the Department of Labour website or call someone at the department- they are usually very helpful. Do this at the very least to educate yourself about your rights and possibly have a professional conversation with your employer (but that is again a choice you need to make according to your situation) Good Luck! (Annie 2014-07-11)

In response to the last question, below is the description of how relievers are paid in kindergartens who are party to the Kindergarten Collective Contract
“Long-term relieving teachers shall be paid according to the applicable salary scale and qualification group.”
“Short-term relieving base scale teachers shall be paid a daily rate of 1/210th (inclusive of 12% holiday pay) of the appropriate annual salary, or an hourly rate of 1/8th of the daily rate (inclusive of 12% holiday pay). The rate payable shall take into account relevant qualifications and any previously recognised service, provided that the maximum daily rate does not exceed 1/210th of step 8 of the teachers’ base scale salary (the top step of the P1 scale).”
“Where a reliever is employed in a particular position as a short-term reliever but the employment lasts longer than six weeks, then the reliever shall, from the point at which employment exceeds this threshold, become a long-term reliever and shall receive the terms and conditions applicable to long-term relievers. No recalculation or recovery of entitlements (including pay) shall occur because of such a change in status.” (Camillia 2014-07-12)

The General characteristics of Casual employment: * Is characterised by irregularity of engagements and the shortness of their durations (i.e potentially as short as one shift); * Means that there is no expectation of work for either party beyond each engagement. (ChildForum admin)

Hi Liz - if you are getting that many days then you should be placed on a permanent contract I would have thought - especially if you are not just covering sick or annual leave. In regards to pay I pay any casual qualified relievers exactly the same as the permanent staff and of course you get 8% annual leave in your weekly pay as well - I hope that helps. (Three Little Birds Centre 2015-05-01)

Hi Liz. if you have regular days you are relieving for there is a clause somewhere that after you have worked the same day for a particular time period your contract changes from casual to permanent. (Debbie1 2015-05-08)

How would I go about re-negotiating my pay without losing work? I only work when directed but on average 3 days a week with the odd week of no work & some full time weeks. I am casual but was wondering if there are any kind of guidelines around pay rates for relievers? I am not working at a Kindy or a centre covered by the consenting parties award. (liz 2014-07-14)

Be interested in hearing what a Centre Manager would be paid in a large private centre? where their role includes Head Teacher. (Amanda 2015-02-13)

I am the owner of a medium sized private centre and I pay my Centre Manager $38.00 per hour plus petrol allowance. All staff get supplied full uniforms, paid staff meetings with meal supplied. We go out once a term on a staff outing which I pay for. I have had the same staff for seven years. (Louise 2015-04-30 14:12)

Good on you Louise. We are the same. We own a medium sized private centre and a large home based network. We pay our staff (all staff) well, have high staff ratios, treat them out regularly, provide for lunches, provide for lots of PD and our staff are happy and most importantly - our children are happy. (Shane 2015-04-30)

Hi, I am a secondary trained teacher with provisional registration. I have spent a year as a special needs teacher in a governmental special school. I am seriously considering home based ECE as a career and would like to know if I would be regarded as qualified if I don't have specifically ECE training. I am currently paid at the grade 5 scale (secondary) and am not too eager to drop drastically in salary. (Bobby 2015-11-01)

HI Bobby, I am a childcare consultant for Barnardos Kidstart childcare. As a home based educator you don't need to have qualifications to become one, however with your experience and wealth of knowledge you would be considered an experienced educator. In some cases it is a great way to give it a go see if it is for you and then get some qualifications later if you wish. The rates of pay vary to what you want to charge per child as well as how many children you have in your care. (Nicole 2015-11-02)

I work as a trained (grad dip teach ece) homebased educator. I get the higher rate offered by my company (which is higher than most in Dunedin and they pay more than the parent pays) and I am on $6.50 which is ok if you are full ratio. The idea of $11 /child is a bit of a pipe dream I'm afraid. The advantages are you set your own programme in your own space often with your own child, the disadvantages are you are the cleaner, and everything else, no tea or lunch breaks often long hours (I work 45 hours), your resources come out of your own pocket. Like every job there are advantages and disadvantages. (Leeanne 2015-11-02)

Hi there Leeanne, I am a visiting teacher for Porse and many of my educators are getting between $7.50 - $10 per hour per child. Obviously it is dependent on the area you live but even our home educators in low income areas are receiving min $7.per child so it is possible

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