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Parents Support Kindergarten Teachers Strike

Parents Support Kindergarten Teachers Strike

Kindergarten teachers went on strike today in unprecedented numbers with 1700 taking action today to protect the quality of education they provide to 45,000 children and families throughout the country.

They were involved in strike activities in 22 cities and towns throughout the country. There were rallies and marches in Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin, Whangarei, Gisborne,Napier, Hastings, New Plymouth, Hawera, Wanganui, Palmerston North, Blenheim, Nelson, Ashburton, Timaru, Twizel, Oamaru, Gore, Queenstown and Invercargill. There were parents and children supporting the striking teachers at every single rally. Throughout the country more than 2000 teachers, parents and children took part in the strike activities.

"The level of support for the striking teachers from families with children enrolled at kindergartens has been overwhelming," says NZEI Te Riu Roa National President Colin Tarr.

"This is because parents share the teachers' concerns about the working conditions the Ministry of Education and the kindergarten associations are trying to impose on the teachers."

"Families and teachers know that the employers demands will erode the quality of education provided to the 45,000 children enrolled in kindergartens."

"The fact that this is only the third time in 121 years that kindergarten teachers have taken national strike action shows how serious the situation is," says Colin Tarr. The decision by kindergarten teachers to strike followed a break down in their negotiations for a new collective employment agreement. The talks with the Ministry of Education, New Zealand Kindergartens Incorporated and the Zealand Federation of Free Kindergartens broke down because the employers are demanding changes to the teachers' working conditions they know threaten the quality of education they can provide.

The employers are: * Refusing to recognise the need for kindergarten teachers to continue having term breaks like their colleagues in primary and secondary schools. * Demanding the ability to increase the level of contact time (the time teachers work directly with children) to a level that will cause teacher burnout and will erode education quality. * Refusing to recognise the extra responsibilities shouldered by head and senior kindergarten teachers by refusing to pay them at a level that was agreed when kindergarten teachers gained pay parity with primary and secondary teachers.

Negotiations are set to resume on Monday and Tuesday next week (December 12 and 13). "Kindergarten teachers are hoping that the employing parties will take notice of today's action, and the fact that several hundred parents and children stood along side the striking teachers," says Colin Tarr.

"The teachers hope that they will acknowledge their concerns and work with them to reach a settlement that will ensure that kindergartens maintain the quality of education that they provide," says Colin Tarr.

..................................................... Why kindergarten teachers need term breaks.

Almost all kindergartens currently have a four term year, like primary and secondary schools. However their breaks between terms are now under threat. That's because funding changes mean their employers, if they choose, can be funded to keep their kindergartens open for 52 weeks a year. "Kindergarten teachers, and the children they teach, need term breaks, just like teachers and students in primary and secondary schools need breaks," says NZEI Te Riu Roa National President, Colin Tarr.

Most kindergartens teachers are working with up to 90 children and families every day. Without regular breaks during the year, it's physically and mentally impossible for them to maintain the energy levels they need to provide a quality education for their centre's children. The breaks also provide time for planning and assessment, to catch up on administrative work and to engage in professional development.

Most schools provide teaching for 40 weeks a year, while most kindergartens provide 41 to 42 weeks. The teachers have tabled a claim that kindergarten terms should not exceed 11 weeks and the teaching year should not exceed 42 weeks. Their employers have rejected the teachers' claim.

Why the employer claim for contact time is excessive.

Kindergarten teachers are expected to work a minimum of 40 hours per week. They currently spend an average of 25 hours in contact time actively engaged with children. The other 15 hours, of their 40 hour week, is known as non contact time. This is time spent doing a wide range of essential tasks including work on each child's learning programme, working with each child's family, professional development and administration.

New Zealand primary teachers provide 24 contact hours a week, the highest level for primary schools among the 30 OECD countries. The average contact time for OECD schools is 20 hours a week. The employers are demanding teachers provide up to 35 hours contact time a week in full day kindergartens and 30 hours a week in sessional centres.

"Extending contact time to 30 or 35 hours a week is unworkable as it would not allow enough time for teachers to do essential non contact work," says Colin Tarr. "It could also lead to teacher burnout because of the large number of children and families that kindergarten teachers' work with every day."

This is why the teachers have tabled a claim stating that contact time should not exceed 26 hours a week in sessional kindergartens and 30 hours a week in full day kindergartens.

Why head and senior kindergarten teachers are not being fairly rewarded.

Head teachers run individual kindergartens while senior teachers oversee the teaching done at a number of kindergartens in the area in which they're based. Because of their extra responsibilities they are paid at a higher rate than kindergarten teachers. The rate was benchmarked at the top of the pay scale in 2002 when NZEI negotiated pay parity for kindergarten teachers with primary and secondary teachers.

"The problem is the margin has closed because of the insertion of a new top step in the pay scale," says Colin Tarr. "This is why the teachers have tabled a claim to restore the relativity, or pay gap, for head and senior teachers, that was established when kindergarten teachers gained pay parity in 2002."

"The employers are refusing to restore the relativity, which means head and senior teachers are no longer being fairly rewarded for the work they do," says Colin Tarr.

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