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Source: New Zealand Education Institute (NZEI)

NZEI Te Riu Roa: More transformative action needed to fix severe teacher shortage in ECE

7 July 2021

The union for early childhood teachers has welcomed a raft of Government changes this week to respond to the sector’s severe teacher shortage – but says accelerating pay parity and undertaking significant structural reform remains urgent.

As early as tonight, Parliament is set to pass legislation clarifying the Minister of Education’s powers in regard to funding improvements in employment relations in ECE. On Sunday the Minister announced a new border exception to allow 300 teachers into the country, and on Monday the Ministry of Education announced it was temporarily loosening requirements for ECE centres to maintain at least 80% qualified teachers in order to maintain funding.

(The Ministry of Education has notified ECE centres that they have increased the ‘discretionary hours’ available to centres from 40 to 80 hours: that is, the hours a centre can count an unqualified teacher as a qualified teacher where a certificated reliever is not available, while still maintaining their Government funding level.)

The union says these steps are necessary, but not a sufficient response to the teacher shortage.

“Ultimately, while centres need this flexibility right now, this decision is a band-aid, not a solution”, says ECE Representative on the NZEI Te Riu Roa National Executive, Virginia Oakly. “Our goal, and the Government’s, is ultimately to have 100% qualified teachers and improved ratios so that all tamariki experience high quality teaching and learning.”

“So we need more teachers, and we need to grow and nurture those teachers in this country. The key way to fix the teacher shortage is by urgently improving teacher pay. 

“The steps announced over the past few days show the need to address pay is absolutely urgent – our progress toward the Minister’s pre-election promise of delivering pay parity has to be accelerated.

“ECE teachers are currently paid around 30% less than their kindergarten and primary colleagues with the same responsibilities, qualifications and experience. Though they now start at the same minimum pay rate, primary and kindergarten rates quickly leave those in ECE behind – on current rates, we estimate that within ten years, a teacher starting in ECE would be paid $100,000 less than they would in those other settings.

“Until ECE teachers have full pay parity with their peers in kindergarten and primary, it’s understandable that qualified teachers are going to look elsewhere before choosing to work in ECE. We realise that delivering full parity means making systematic changes, and the Minister has promised to more thoroughly review the funding model – but we’re still waiting on an indication of when that might be.”

MIL OSI