Early childhood education 'threatened' by lack of funding

  • 08/10/2015
Karen O'Leary
Karen O'Leary

An independent survey of more than 600 early childhood teachers was released yesterday and the findings were worrying, to say the least.

The survey, led by research network Child Forum, found 25 percent of teachers wouldn't put their own child in the centre they worked at, and 17 percent don't have time to develop a relationship with the children they teach

The survey also showed 12 percent of teachers said their centre regularly breached the minimum teacher-to-child ratio, which requires there be one teacher for every 10 children, and one teacher per five under-twos.

So should parents be worried?

Karen O'Leary is an active member of the New Zealand education union and head teacher at a community-based centre. She also has her son at the centre she runs.

Ms O'Leary told the Paul Henry programme this morning the problems highlighted in the survey are symptomatic of wider issues in the industry.

"The lack of funding that the sector is receiving currently from the Government is meaning that we are not able to provide the appropriate ratios, enough qualified teachers, and that's having a huge impact on the quality that we can provide for children and their families."

She says if we're not careful the quality of our early childhood education will go down.

"I think the regulations as they currently stand are not promoting quality outcomes for children and are making it very difficult for early childhood teachers to do an effective job.

"The lack of funding that we're receiving means that we are at threat of losing that quality, and you cannot maintain a world-leading early childhood curriculum without having the right qualified teachers and enough qualified teachers."

"We can state very clearly that our early childhood education standards are among the highest in the world. In fact, our ECE services are in the world's top three for teacher qualifications and for the number of staff to children. At any one time, 98 percent of services meet or exceed licensing standards that set the criteria for quality ECE on curriculum, health and safety, premises and facilities, and governance, management and administration. We regularly monitor ECE services to ensure they are maintaining these high standards, and since mid-2013 we have worked with over 2700 ECE services to improve how they help children learn. A recent State Services Commission survey showed parents gave ECE services an 85 percent satisfaction rating.

We note that 86 percent of the teachers surveyed by Child Forum reported that the required level of adult to child ratios were being met at their centres. For the 12 percent that reported consistent under-staffing we would ask them to contact us so we can investigate and act if regulations are being breached. We have around 4400 ECE services across the country and in the past two years we have upheld 16 complaints regarding ratios and worked with centres to address their staffing levels.

If any teachers in any ECE service have concerns then we need to hear from them. Whenever we receive a complaint, be it from a teacher or a parent we investigate and we act immediately if there are concerns or where we find breaches. This can include putting a provider on a provisional licence, and in rare cases, where there isn't improvement, we shut them down. We are clear and transparent about the complaints we receive and publish these on our website on an annual basis.

Within the survey it was interesting to note some of the reasons the 150 teachers gave for not wanting their children to attend their service included wanting to be a stay-at home mum or preferring a different care option. For any teacher who perceived quality to be a reason then we would again ask them to come forward and tell us their concerns so we can investigate. If we have concerns about capability we can and do provide ECE services with Professional Learning and Development.

Research shows that one of the best ways for a child to have a great start in education is for them to be in quality early childhood education. That is why alongside ensuring quality we have also been focused on making sure all children have the opportunity to participate in early childhood education. Participation in ECE is now at more than 96 percent.

Like parents, we know children must have safe, nurturing environments to learn and grow, which is why services are independently monitored by the Education Review Office to ensure they are providing the high quality education and care our kids deserve."

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