The Ministry of Education's data on complaints and incidents in early childhood education services, released this week, shows an alarming increase since 2013.
The number of complaints between 2013 and 2019 increased 69% (246 in 2013 to 415 in 2019) and while 32% of complaints were upheld in 2013, 51% were upheld in 2019.
NZEI Te Riu Roa President Liam Rutherford says the sharp increase in upheld complaints is alarming, but consistent with concerns that ECE members have been raising for many years.
"The previous National Government cut funding to services fully staffed by qualified teachers, and loosened regulations on child-to-adult ratios and group sizes, while freezing per-child funding over that period. We're seeing the results of that, and while the current government has made some improvements already, many of their plans to improve the quality of ECE for children are too far in the future.
"The complaints we're seeing about accidents resulting from poor supervision show that teachers are overstretched. There were a number of complaints about alleged ratio breaches that the Ministry didn't uphold - showing that parents saw that supervision and time for personalised teaching was inadequate, but what they were seeing was in fact perfectly legal," says Mr Rutherford.
Complaints about below-standard facilities and inadequate maintenance also show the financial tightrope that services are walking - most simply can't afford the repairs.
There was also a number of complaints about services’ high staff turnover and questionable employment practices, including not allowing staff to take breaks, and high stress levels among staff. These issues come on top of early childhood teachers earning as much as 49% less than kindergarten teachers for doing the same job with the same qualifications.
"Earlier this year we conducted our own survey of early childhood teachers - they shared some harrowing stories, and it’s incredibly clear many are working in challenging conditions, for shockingly low pay. Their working conditions are our youngest children's learning conditions, and it's absolutely unacceptable that inadequate government funding leaves our tamariki and kaiako in this position," says Mr Rutherford.