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Crisis, What Crisis?

Crisis, What Crisis?

"The Early Childhood­ Readiness to Implement the 2005 Qualification Requirements report released by the ERO today shows just how out of touch with the reality of running a quality early childhood centre, and being a good employer our Wellington bureaucrats have become," said Sue Thorne, Chief Executive Officer, Early Childhood Council.

Despite highlighting in the report that the qualification's requirement applies "at all times" a service is open, the report does not take into account the extra staff needed to cover staff absences.

To operate legally "at all times", full-day centres need a minimum of three Diploma staff, not the two claimed in the report. With only two staff covering a 10 - 12 hour day, neither could ever take a holiday, get sick, participate in professional development, or be absent for any reason what so ever.

"The provisions of the Holidays Act apply to the early childhood sector too," said Mrs Thorne. "To ignore this obvious fact makes the conclusions drawn from the survey worthless."

The ERO report concludes that over three-quarters of early childhood services faced a very low risk of failing to meet the requirements. However figures obtained by the Early Childhood Council from the Ministry of Education's Early Childhood Education Teacher-led Workforce Survey show that one-third of centres are at significant risk of closure.

"Over 200 Auckland centres alone will not meet the new requirements even when the extra staff due to graduate between now and the end of the year are taken into account," said Mrs Thorne.

These centres currently provide education and care for over 8000 children, mainly the children of working parents. If forced to close it will be a serious loss not just in terms of the children's education, but also for the labour market.

It is quite wrong of the ERO to dismiss the Auckland crisis by suggesting it may be largely attributable to the higher proportion of Pacific early childhood centres in this area, when the evidence shows that right across the board, education and care centres north of Taupo are in a serious staffing crisis.

When the Minister decided 4 years ago to discard 3,500 of our most experienced and competent staff whose training was completed through the previously accepted licensing points system, we predicted that their loss would push our sector to the brink. "This is one time I have not enjoyed being proven right," said Mrs Thorne.

The Early Childhood Council's recommendation to the Minister that he permanently grandparent the staff who were already in positions of responsibility and only apply his new qualifications requirements to new staff fell on deaf ears at the time. This despite there being ample precedents for doing so in a range of different professions, including early childhood where staff with a 2 year kindergarten diploma had been permanently grandparented when the three year kindergarten qualification was introduced.

The sector is now in a staffing crisis so deep that the quality of education and care is starting to be compromised. Turnover is unacceptably high, qualified staff are under pressure to not take time off when they need it, and untrained relieving staff are being called on far too often to fill the gaps. And it is not helpful to have officials in the education sector trying to cover up the true situation with misleading statistics.

The Early Childhood Council has recommended that the Minister of Education take immediate action to avert the impending closure of centres by: 1. Grand-parenting the experienced staff with licensing points who are currently recognised as qualified, and 2. Creating shorter pathways for persons with other teaching qualifications or with overseas early childhood qualifications to become recognised as qualified.

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