Optimism in the early childhood education sector is sinking further, according to the latest ChildForum survey of ECE sector confidence and activity.
Previous surveys have shown a higher level of optimism but this latest survey shows a net 58% of respondents expected things would worsen for the sector over the next 12 months. This is the grimmest picture yet compared to a net 45% of respondents in May and a net 27% in June following the release of the Government Budget.
The survey asked 200 respondents from around New Zealand in October how they felt things were going to go for ECE over the next 12 months and to comment on any current challenges for their organisation or service.
The comments received suggest that many issues previously raised continue to cause problems and in many cases are getting worse.
A lack of funding, services taking on cheaper unqualified staff instead of qualified teachers, and too much time needing to be spent on paperwork and compliance were among the concerns raised. Community-led services also reported difficulties finding support from parents with many parents having less time to spend volunteering.
One issue that seems to be causing more concern in the latest survey is that of increased competition between services with too many centres and home-based ECE schemes opening in close proximity to each other. Given that the Government’s main policy for ECE is to increase child participation, it seems likely that it will continue to support private business operators to increase child places and competition will become stronger still. Respondents commented on how this industry trend is already challenging the ability of longer established, small, and community-based services to remain affordable to families and provide high quality staffing, care and teaching for children.
An emerging issue that Government and social agencies should monitor as a possible unintended consequence of promoting participation in ECE for all children (0 – 5 years) is reports of a noticeable change in parents becoming less confident about their parenting as they become more reliant on ECE services to care for their children.
Overall, the responses show that all is not well within the ECE sector. Many of the issues raised by respondents are high-level problems which can probably only be dealt with by changes to government policy.