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Teacher Turnover Rates and Adult-Child Ratios in NZ Early Childhood Education Care Centres and Kindergartens

By Sarah Farquhar
© ChildForum

 

National statistics for teacher turnover and adult-child ratio are now available for the first time in NZ.  

This statistical information is useful for telling us how well teacher-led early childhood centres are performing in meeting two of the four most important indicators of high-quality standards according to the scientific literature. The most important indicators of quality in centre-based care for child development are:  high adult-child ratio, small group/class size, low staff turnover, and qualified staff (for qualified staff statistics click here to view a report that covers this).

The statistics presented below show where the turnover rate currently sits for teacher-led ECE services and also indicate what the different rates of staff turnover are in the kindergarten, private childcare centre, and community-based childcare centre groups.  

Also shown below is data on adult-child ratio for under-2s and over-2s in different teacher-led centre groups. The average ratios reported may surprise you. The reported ratios are a lot better than what many people in the sector and visitors to ECE centres may see and the data may need to be further unravelled and discussed.  

The following statistics have been generated by the Ministry of Education from its annual census of ECE services for the last week of June.

 

Adult-Child Ratio

The minimum legal adult-to-child ratio is 1:10 in all childcare centres (also known as early learning centres, daycare, crèche, nursery, etc.) and licensed all-day kindergartens.

The minimum ratio is 1:15 in sessional kindergartens.

The table below shows the Ministry of Education's calculations for the average adult-child ratio by type of centre and by age-group from the 2012 Census data. 

    Adult-child ratio
2012 (end of June)
Childcare centres under 2s only 1:3
over 2s only 1:6
both age groups 1:5
Kindergartens all-day over 2s only 1:9
Kindergartens sessional over 2s only 1:12

ECE services are asked on the annual census form for the number of children and teachers at the busiest time during the week.  As such the information they provide may include relievers as well as usual teaching staff. 

It would seem from this information that childcare centres in particular, for both under 2s and over 2s, are providing far better ratios than the minimum required. A question that could be asked is whether the reported/calculated ratios are typical of the ratios children experience, i.e. are these adults actively involved in children's play, care of children and teaching.   

The Kindergarten sector employs most of its teachers as full-time staff on salaries, and therefore kindergartens are staffed from day to day and hour to hour with the same staff and less need for extras (part-timers, relievers, casual staff). Therefore the average reported ratios in kindergartens may be more reflective of daily practice than that of childcare centres.  Your thoughts on ratios are welcome - please add comments at the end of this article.

 

Staff Turnover

The Ministry explains that "teacher turnover is calculated using the Statistics NZ method of calculating turnover:  Worker turnover rate = The ratio of the average of the total new staff and staff that have left, to the average of the total staff in the reference year (t) and the previous year (t-1), as represented in the formula".

Teacher turnover peaked at 26% in 2008 and has been dropping since then but appears to have stabilised now at around 19 - 20% across teacher-led centres. This statistical data supports ChildForum survey results that suggest less movement in staffing due to funding reductions for qualified teachers and ECE services competing less for staff.    

 

  2008 2010 2012
Childcare centre community-based 22% 17% 16%
Childcare centre privately-owned 30% 24% 23%
Kindergarten 20% 16% 14%
Total 26% 21% 20%

It would seem that the ownership basis of the service is related to teacher turnover rates, with teacher turnover being lowest among community-based childcare services and kindergartens and highest amongst privately-owned services.  

This suggests that teachers are more likely to want to stay in their position within a community-based ECE service be it a kindergarten or other early childhood centre while private services have a greater turnover of teachers or staff churn.  Again this could also be related to the fact that kindergarten teachers are covered by a union award as are many community-based ECE centres (see NZEI collective contracts) and have the benefit of secure positions that are on average better paid positions than those in services not covered by a union award. 

A total turnover rate of 20% - that is a 1/5 of all staff being replaced by new teachers, seems still too high for the early childhood sector when the sector needs to be concerned with how it provides for stability of care for children.  Constantly changing carers and teachers is not what a young child should experience.  Young children need consistent care-giving, for their teachers to be 'primary caregiver's,  i.e. people they can trust to be there for them, people they can form a relationship with, and people who know and understand them well and will give them cuddles and help them in their play and learning. 

 

What to watch for

The growing shortage of positions available in relation to the number of people applying is something we need to watch for.  While this may have some impact on reducing teacher turnover the impact could be a largely negative one for children instead of a positive one.  Why?  It's not the best situation for the ECE sector to be in when we are wanting to achieve the best learning and care outcomes for children to have unhappy teachers feeling trapped in their current employment.  

It could have a negative impact on the number of people deciding to train to be early childhood teachers as word spreads that the jobs aren't there. 

 

Links to further information

Article on the drop in demand for qualified ECE teachers

Staff wages, pay rates and conditions of work

Q & A on the importance of adult-child ratio as a determinant of quality for children

 


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