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


Staff Pay and Workforce Retention: Results from the 2020 Early Childhood Education National Survey - Q9: Can the sector retain its workforce?

Article Index


Around four out of every ten early childhood teachers wanted to leave: 19% were looking for a new (better) job in ECE and 20% or one-fifth of teachers were leaving the sector altogether.

job changes

In both early childcare centres and home-based ECE the main reasons for exiting the sector were around low pay, hours, stress, and lack of time off. Examples of some of the comments were:

  • “Cannot afford to live of the current income and are constantly getting loans just to meet childcare and loving costs.”
  • “I cannot afford to stay working in ECE as I am our only income earner for the family so struggle financially.”
  • “Now that I'm a mother I have my child to think about. I see no point in paying high registration fees and dealing with the stress of teaching when I can do a basic job for around the same pay and walk away at the end of the shift with no extra responsibilities.”
  • “Not enough pay for my hard work. Feeling exhausted at the end of the day and leave cannot be compromised. When I am sick the manager wants to know if I can come the next day even after I said I am away for two days. We rush for things and too much documentation to complete with no extra time allowance to do what must be done.”
  • “Leaving the ECE sector as primary teaching offers more release time and pay.”

The main reason for leaving the sector provided by kindergarten staff was bad working conditions, including lack of support from management and work-place stress. Child violence also came up in comments as a reason for deciding to leave, for example one teacher said: “More children with high needs and no practical support such as lower ratio to provide specific care and education. Getting hit by children at work with no safety for me and my staff.”  Something that needs to be investigated is whether there is a preference for less experienced teachers by kindergarten associations when making new appointments, and why. A highly experienced teacher working part-time who had tried to get full-time permanent work said that she was now looking to leave the ECE sector because “I have been passed over for the many jobs I’ve applied for. I have heard that teachers over 40 and who are on a higher salary scale are not considered by the association because they are more expensive to employ and speak up more.”

In playcentre, a small minority said they would be leaving soon because it was time to take up other work due to worries about the security of their jobs or to pursue what they wanted to do now that their children were at school or due to start school soon.

In hospital-based ECE the main reasons for exiting the sector were that their role was not valued, they wanted to increase or reduce their hours of work, and that it was simply time to move on – do something different or retire.  

The data are clear here; staff retention would be helped by making sure that pleasant and safe conditions to work in are provided. Better pay, particularly for early childcare centre and home-based ECE staff would also help in retaining ECE teaching staff.  Because early childcare centres and home-based ECE together provide care for around 77% of all children enrolled in ECE, the pay of those who work in these services has a major impact on the ECE sector’s workforce

One-fifth of teaching staff are looking to exit the ECE sector, therefore workforce retention is a matter that government policy needs to pick up on and address with urgency. If there is no focus on workforce retention in ECE, where are replacements for the teaching staff that leave going to come from? There is already a lack of new teachers coming through training, and training can take three to four years. In September 2019 the Minister of Education allocated $2.176 million for the recruitment of 300 overseas teachers to help to meet teacher supply needs. Randstad was contracted to place 150 of these teachers in NZ early childhood centres by early January 2020. As at June 2020 only 29 overseas teachers had been successfully placed into NZ ECE services.

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