ChildForum Office of Pre-Primary Education

ChildForum Office of Pre-Primary EducationLead advisor on early childhood care and education 
National membership 

Publisher of the New Zealand-International Research in Early Childhood Journal


Teacher pay priorities for the new government

Sarah Alexander


By Dr Sarah Alexander
Education Leader and CEO of ChildForum


Early childhood teaching is not all wiping noses and drying tears, a point which all three political parties forming our new Government agree on. 

Labour’s Election Manifesto states: “Children who participate in quality early childhood education enjoy the benefits throughout the rest of their lives. They do better at school, in tertiary education, and when they enter the workforce.”

Currently it’s not the case that early childhood teachers have their value recognised but as a government priority this is set to change. 

The Greens support pay parity for early childhood, primary and secondary teachers.

NZ First says it will ensure all ECE service providers achieve a 100% certificated teaching ratio.

Labour says it will make 80% a legal requirement during its first term in Government and will continue to aim for 100%.  It knows most ECE centres currently sit on around 80% so this can be made a legal requirement easily without causing the ire of commercial childcare providers who will not be happy if they find they have to lift wages to attract and retain qualified teachers.  But Labour will have to harden up on this issue if it doesn’t want to cause the ire of the Greens, NZ First, teachers and parents who already know the value of their child’s teachers.

Prime Minister elect Jacinda Arden says that she won’t rest until women have equal pay. In early childhood education 98% of teaching staff are women.  I have argued that unconscious bias towards women as the preferred teachers of younger children remains very strong in New Zealand. No government has yet set a gender workforce policy agenda and asked the Ministry of Education to source research and expertise to put in place an action plan to address sexism.  The feminisation of teaching is an issue across the education sector and early childhood teaching remains to be seen as a women only profession. Early childhood education perpetuates the traditional stereotype that working with young children is a ‘job for the girls’.

But, low pay for early childhood teachers is not a gender issue, if it were then teachers who are employed in 'free' kindergartens would not have pay parity with their colleagues who work in primary schools. 



Teacher Pay Disparities and Problems

The PPTA says that secondary teacher wages need to increase by 14.5 percent to restore top teachers to a similar level achieved after their last big pay rise in 2001/02.  At present the top of the teacher pay scale is 56 per cent above the median income, at $78,000 and the PPTA says it should be around $90,000.

Kindergarten and primary teachers have the same top rate of $75,949.  Kindergarten teachers however must be at the workplace more weeks in the year than primary and secondary teachers (see section on leave and term breaks below). 

The majority of early childhood teachers are not within the kindergarten sector and are not represented by NZEI. 

A minority of early childhood centres are party to collective agreements negotiated between themselves and NZEI. The top teacher rate in the Early Childhood Collective Agreement is $70,059. 

The Ministry of Education sets the minimum wage level that early childhood services must pay teachers and it takes this from the lowest base rates in the Early Childhood Collective Agreement. Note that it is very necessary that the Ministry sets wage amounts that early childhood teachers not covered by a collective agreement are at least paid at, as this provides some assurance to the public that taxpayer funding for teacher wages is spent on teacher wages and is not absorbed as profit or spent on other things by service providers.  

There are problems with the way that Ministry of Education says the hourly minimum wage should be calculated by providers and the absence of any salary steps to recognise experience and responsibilities. For example, the salary amount at which an early childhood teacher must at least be paid with a four-year degree is $46,368 or $22.29 hour – even after 7 or more years of teaching. The Ministry calculates the hourly wage by dividing the salary amount by a 52 week year and not the number of weeks a teacher works to earn the salary. No account is made of responsibilities and experience. Compare that to the salary that a primary teacher with comparable qualifications can achieve at the top of the teacher scale after 7 years of teaching ($75,949.) and you begin to get a real sense of the pay disadvantage that is faced by many early childhood teachers.   

Hugo van-Stratum last day at work in ECE picEarly childhood teacher advocate Hugo van Stratum says that qualified teachers working in early childhood education are far from achieving parity with primary teachers.  

“Early childhood teachers have to be present at work more weeks in the year than other teachers, have considerably more daily child contact time, still have to do a considerable amount of child assessment and keep up with the paperwork in our own time at home and yet the bureaucrats think we are worth less”.  

As a teacher in the school system Mr van Stratum’s salary was assessed by Novopay at $71,891 – at an ECE centre $53,913.  

Currently as a reliever, in early childhood education he receives $25.92 gross an hour - the same pay he earned as a permanent early childhood teacher before retiring.  Asked to do some relieving at a primary school, he was paid $62.60 gross per hour. Primary paid $36.68 more an hour.

Mr van Stratum says that at the large private ECE company he worked at for many years, his pay roughly went up in line with inflation even with good performance appraisals.

“These are not steps on any career structure like primary teachers. There is no career structure for teacher’s jobs in our company. Not having input to pay reviews simply sees staff stagnate at extremely low beginning teacher pay levels.

“Relieving staff get holiday money included in their pay so come holidays like Christmas, there is no pay possibly for 2 or 3 weeks. Some of these relief teachers work most days of the year but are not contracted for specific hours so they can be sent home early to save paying them if child numbers are low”.

Mr van Stratum says it’s a worry:  “Do ECE teachers not have to pay rent and other living costs?  Are they ever going to afford the $500,000 cost of a house or $1,000,000 in Auckland?  What is their Kiwisaver amount going to be on retirement?”


Teacher holiday leave and term breaks

Secondary schools operate for 38 weeks every year, primary schools for just under 39 weeks. Most early childhood centres operate year-round or shut down only over the Christmas/ New Year period

Secondary teachers are legally required to be present at work or working 39 weeks in the year and primary teachers 41 weeks (or 40 once additional out of term days are included).  

Most early childhood teachers get only the minimum annual leave required by law of 4 weeks. They are present at work 7 or 8 more weeks in the year than primary teachers, or 48 weeks in total. 

All teachers – ECE, primary and secondary – are known to typically put in many more hours of work than they are employed, with workloads often exceeding what can be reasonably achieved within work hours.  

Kindergarten teachers under their collective contract work about 5 more weeks than primary teachers or up to 46 weeks in total. Looking at the salaries of kindergarten teachers it may seem that they have pay parity with primary teachers, but they also have less annual leave and holiday pay entitlement, meaning they must work more hours for the same salary. 

The educators of more than 20,000 children under the age of 6 in home-based education services can be even worse off. These people are mostly taken on as private contractors and do not get paid annual leave as employees

READ MORE BY GOING TO AN ARTICLE ON THIS TOPICOpinion on the value of term breaks - If school teachers and children need term breaks do ECE teachers and children need these too, and why?


parliamentWhat now?

I have identified above the various and multiple issues for the new government to get its head around and act on if it is to succeed in addressing the teacher pay issue for early childhood education. How quickly will it do this?  It is a political priority. We can expect significant change on teacher pay within Labour’s first term in Government - but will it act and support those who voted it in? 

There are two potential fault lines that the government and its officials will need to be alert to. The first is that there could be some chest-puffing, over-extrapolation of the likely effects of changes and protest by lobbyists representing some parts of the commercial side of ECE who would prefer not to be told what to pay their staff.   But perhaps, Labour may have learnt from its previous experience when it brought in the 20-Hour Free ECE policy that claims such as that there will be massive closures of centres are scaremongering and the sector will and can adjust to new policies?   

The second is that policy in ECE has often been structured to create and support divisions between early childhood service groups. The government and its officials will need to ensure equal treatment and equal regard and respect for teachers across the board - including qualified teachers in home-based, Playcentre (where a playcentre employs teachers), community-based centres, small private childcare centres, private childcare companies, and kindergarten.

Pay parity for qualified teachers whatever ECE service they work in will be essential to ensure.  It is unjust for the government to enable pay parity for teachers in ECE who work in kindergartens only and exclude teachers from pay parity should they work in any other publicly-funded ECE service.  

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