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Early Childhood Education Gets Shafted Again

With a National-led government emphasising the importance of reading, writing and arithmetic, including a commitment from our incoming Prime Minister to “educate our children so that they can grow up to live the lives they dream of”. Surely it starts in early childhood education! It is therefore unbelievable that the Ministry of Education made a quarter billion-dollar miscalculation that left the previous government unable to deliver Pay Parity for Early Childhood Education (ECE) teachers. How is this helpful to address the crisis in the ECE sector?

“To say this is incredibly disappointing is an understatement,” says Kathy Wolfe, Te Rito Maioha’s Chief Executive.

“Pay Parity `for ECE teachers is urgently required, not only for fairness, but also to address the teacher shortage that is hurting the sector and limiting parental choice. Te Rito Maioha and the ECE sector went to great lengths to help advise the Ministry and took part in what we thought was a genuine, but inadequate consultation process.

“As part of that consultation, the Ministry received over 1,000 individual pieces of feedback on the pay parity consultation. What followed was absolute radio silence from the Ministry. Teachers and employers have yet to hear where this landed, but with the Ministry’s blunder becoming public, it seems the Ministry was consulting on a proposal it could not afford to fund.

ECE is a public good and research establishes that investing in ECE is a cost-effective strategy for promoting economic growth, demonstrating that for every $1 spent in ECE, there is a return of $9+ in the learning life. ECE enables tamariki to receive the care and developmental support they require, while it is also proven that well-supported children in ECE transitioning to school, have a better chance of success in their school years. ECE also enables parents to participate in the workforce, and with a near record low number of unemployed, working parents are an absolute necessity to keep the economy moving forward.

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These are some of the many reasons that governments across the world value and invest appropriately to support ECE. The alternative is that providers charge additional fees to parents, and with the cost of living biting into pay packages, the last thing mum or dad want or need is increased ECE charges.

That’s why when the government agreed to the hard-fought request for pay parity, there was genuine delight in the sector. Happy teachers equal happy children and happy families, and proper funding removes barriers to ECE allowing everyone access to education.

That enthusiasm began to dim with the failure to put straight forward pay parity proposals. Perhaps no one was willing to let the employers and teachers know that the consultation, workshops and questionnaires that the ECE sector in good faith took part in, was for an unfunded mandate.

If ever there was an example that demonstrated how broken the ECE funding is, this debacle would be it.

Currently the government funds the sector through an overly complex and outdated bulk funding model. Each alteration to the funding equation creates unintended consequences and is based on ratios that are outdated, unsafe, and do not reflect best practice or even common practice within the sector.

Te Rito Maioha has consistently called for an independent review of the ECE funding model to urgently replace the outdated, dysfunctional one, and replace this with a model that meets the real needs of today’s working whānau, tamariki, ECE employers and teachers.

We look forward to the new Minister of Education urgently fast tracking an independent review of the ECE funding. It’s time to put the wrongs right and begin a new culture where the government works with the sector in a transparent manner. Sector leaders are ready, and we welcome a meeting with the new Education Minister as a matter of urgency.

Our youngest children deserve the right to access affordable quality early childhood education. Let’s get this right, make teaching more rewarding, address the teacher shortage and get back to focusing on teaching our mokopuna and tamariki.

Te Rito Maioha’s Six Point Plan.

We believe there are many opportunities in the ECE sector where the overall health of the sector could be enhanced by improving the supply and quality of the ECE workforce, ultimately benefiting tamariki and their whānau by:

1. Urgently replacing the outdated, dysfunctional ECE funding model to meet the real needs of today’s working whānau, tamariki and ECE services by implementing an independent funding review in partnership with the sector.

2. Fund ECE services sufficiently to deliver full pay parity for kaiako and quality education to tamariki without centres needing to charge high fees to parents.

3. Tackle teacher shortages with a meaningful Education Workforce Strategy and Action Plan to attract, retain and develop a professional, culturally responsive ECE teaching workforce from within Aotearoa New Zealand.

4. Improve child-teacher ratios – so that tamariki can thrive, learn and be safe with quality education and attention from teachers.

5. Simplify regulations to support quality education delivery without over-burdening ECE services with labour-intensive administration demands from multiple agencies.

6. Invest appropriately in initial teacher education to help address teacher shortages and retain as a priority group for tertiary investment.

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