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A recipe for disaster (Early Childhood Council)

Opinion article (updated on 1 November 2018)
By Dr Sarah Alexander


early childhood teachers neededAccording to the Early Childhood Council 30 percent of its centres are currently stuck – they have staffing issues and don’t know what to do. The 'crisis' has developed over the past 18 months claims the ECC.  It could not see it coming - or perhaps it did?

The ECC has been persistent in denying what teachers have been saying in surveys on problems that include bullying, injury, stress, unsafe adult to child ratios, huge group sizes, and low pay.  See the following: 

June 2018 report

April 2018 report

Dec 2017 report 

Oct 2015 report

Because it has ignored the warnings, things have got to a point where a case can be made for adding ECE teachers to the immigration priority list to meet immediate staffing needs - but there is not a case for extending this beyond one year. There should be close monitoring of services for migrant abuse. Immigration NZ indicates a mean salary of $40,681.00 for an early childhood teacher, however this is below the minimums at which a centre on a higher funding for the employment of qualified teachers must currently pay all of its qualified and certificated teachers based on qualification level. (see minimum pay rates here)

If the business lobby group gets cracking, it shouldn’t take more than a few months for it to grow its understanding of what makes current staff want to stay (retention), what attracts prospective kiwi staff to want to work in its centres (recruitment), and get a professional in to educate its people on this.

Immediately though the ECC must get a message out to its centre owners to stop growing!  It doesn’t make sense during this time of a labour shortage affecting most industries in NZ, to take on or open more centres if you don’t have a strong reputation as a good employer that people really want to work for. You need to be able to offer a good team culture and adequate incentives for people to work for you when other employers of not-for-profit service teachers and childcare and kindergarten teachers that come under Collective Agreements mostly can offer this. And, it does not make sense to open more centres or increase capacity for child numbers if you don’t have the resources, i.e. staff.

But recently everything has come to align well for the ECC to secure what it wants to get out of governments for its centres – which is to suck on the public teat and spend as little as possible on staffing and improvements.

So instead of starting to quickly support and value the present workforce and bring back teachers who are waiting for conditions to improve before returning to the profession, the ECC says in a press released dated 15 October 2018 that it wants: 

  • Migrants working in ECE to be exempt from the Visa points policy
  • ECE teachers to be included on Immigration NZ’s Essential Skills in Demand (ESID) list so centre owners/ employers can bypass advertising a position in NZ and can fill vacancies directly from overseas.
  • The Education Council to do away with the English language requirement that foreigners for whom English is not their first language must meet before being awarded a teaching practising certificate in NZ.
  • The Ministry of Education to change staffing rules so a centre can have someone who is not a qualified ECE teacher be responsible for children and open and close a centre.
  • The Government to give public funding at the 80 percent plus qualified teacher rate to centres that have 70 percent qualified teachers and quadruple the number of discretionary hours that a centre does not have to reach the staffing threshold and still be funded at the top rate. 

In other words, the ECC prefers cheap migrant labour over providing great workplaces for staff and supporting kiwi teachers to be paid a fair wage that reflects their value, training and experience.  

The ECC is not saying yes to government implementing a.s.a.p Labour's election promises to regulate for 80% qualified teachers and fund for 100% within the minimum adult-child ratio requirement. 

The ECC wants at least the same level of taxpayer funding for centres as is now, but with fewer qualified ECE teachers and lower quality staffing. 

On 1 November the ECC's chief executive said on TVNZ's Breakfast Show that the lobby group also wants the adult to child requirements relaxed so its centres can employ fewer teachers to children.

It will be hard for the ECC to try to run an argument that education outcomes for children in early childhood centres can be improved by having more teachers who cannot properly speak English and/or te reo Māori, and understand NZ culture and family aspirations.  

Inevitably the quality of care and education for our young children will drop.

Bypassing strict immigration and visa requirements will inevitably see exploitation of people who are truly desperate to do whatever they have to, to get into NZ and get out of the poor/ or authoritarian country they currently live in. The longer this then goes on, making employer profitability dependent on cheap/ compliant/ scared labour, a strategy will develop of laying off kiwi early childhood teachers and simply hiring replacement teachers from overseas.

The ECC has vested self-interests. 

Evolve Education is a relatively new member of the ECC.  Evolve had a fall in profit of 25% this year so the ECC’s staffing strategies support Evolve to turn that fall around.

Kindercare is one of the ECC’s original members and is also a large national chain of childcare centres.  Its owners were behind the formation of the ECC business lobby and remain involved as a life member and through its board/ national executive. It is no secret that the owners of Kindercare are also the owners of the New Zealand Tertiary College. The NZ Tertiary College engages in extensive recruitment of foreign students both for training in NZ, and in its overseas run courses. 
Training students in India   Recruiting international students

Read more

"Saying goodbye to election promises of funding for 100% qualified teachers" - Ministry of Education lends it support to keep teacher wages down

The current bargaining position for ECE teachers - At present teachers are recommended to smile and walk away i.e. don't settle for low pay or an unsatisfactory work environment (though the union and some service providers tell teachers to self-sacrifice themselves because the money is not there.  Meanwhile more services are opening and the sector continues to be financially attractive to lawyers and accountants and anyone who would like to open a service).  Should migrants begin to replace kiwi teachers then kiwi teachers will have a zero bargaining position.   

Tips for employers on early childhood teacher retention and recruitment

Quality and minimum licensing standards for early childhood services in NZ 


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