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Optimism in the Early Childhood Education Sector (end of 2013 findings)

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Optimism in the Early Childhood Education Sector is Disappearing

Optimism in the early childhood education sector is sinking further, according to the latest ChildForum survey of industry confidence and activity. 

The survey of 200 respondents asked whether they expected improvement or for the situation to worsen over the next 12 months and to comment on any current challenges for their organisation or service.

Compared to two earlier surveys this year it appears the level of optimism is slipping.  In May before the Government announced its 2013 Budget, a net 45% of respondents felt the situation would worsen. A survey in June had just a net 27% people predicting decline (net takes into account those who neither expected worsening nor improvement).  However, it seems from the October survey results that despondency has set in again and is stronger with more than half of respondents (net 58%) indicating they now expect it will get worse.

The survey also asked a second question, on how things were going in each respondent’s ECE service or the organisation to which they belong. A summary of comments received in response to this question can be found at the end of this report.

In general, the feedback shows many concerns already raised continue to cause problems for many ECE services, and in many cases, the situation seems to be getting worse. Issues included:

  • Reductions in funding and disparities in funding.
  • Too much time needing to be spent on paperwork and compliance.
  • Conditions favouring large scale private ECE over small and community-based services. 
  • Low respect and low status accorded to ECE teachers and the ECE sector.

As in previous ChildForum surveys, there are reports of early childhood teacher education attracting less interest from potential applicants.  It seems that early childhood teaching has lost much of its allure from a few years ago when graduates were in high demand by employers.  It seems to be more professionally accepted now that employers will replace qualified early childhood teachers with unqualified and casual staff as services realise that Government does not intend to regulate for 80% qualified and registered teachers.  Meanwhile, employers who want to reward and retain their qualified staff struggle to do so as pay increases become difficult due to lack of funding increases and a desire not to raise fees and risk losing children.

The burden of paperwork and administration continues to be a concern, despite the government’s promises that it would tackle bureaucracy and allow services to spend more of their time focussing on children. This does not appear to have happened – and it seems that the introduction of the Ministry of Education’s new Early Learning Information System will add to this concern further. 

The feedback also shows strengthening concern with government’s willingness to fund further places in teacher-led centres and home-based services in geographical areas that do not have the population of young children to sustain this and the competition this places on all service types.

Playcentre seems to be struggling more now because it relies largely on volunteers and parents’ time and it does not receive the same level of funding as other services that would allow it to outsource non-teaching tasks.

Similarly for community-based childcare centres and kindergartens there are reports of parents being less able, and less willing, to help and contribute time.  Furthermore, any increase in fees and optional charges in conjunction with the free 20 Hours scheme can result in parents being less inclined to contribute to such things as fundraising and committee work.

Larger ECE services (for economies of scale) and services with multiple centres or home-based licences in different areas (to spread risk) are reported to be more sustainable and appear to be more successful in the current funding and regulation environment. 

For a glimpse into whether NZ’s early childhood education situation is unique, at the end of this paper is a brief report on how early childhood education is perceived to be fairing in Australia. 

pdfClick here to view the full report, including findings.

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