Chris Hipkins shakes off doubt over '100 percent qualified teachers' plan

Education Minister Chris Hipkins is standing by his commitment to have 100 percent qualified teachers in early childhood education, despite doubts.  

He announced on Monday a plan for early childhood education centres to be 100 percent staffed by qualified teachers, despite a severe teacher shortage. It's a 10-year plan to improve the sector, alongside reducing adult to child ratios. 

"We know we've got a shortage of teachers at the moment and we're absolutely confident we can overcome that in a couple of years, and the Strategic Plan for Early Learning is spread out over 10 years," he told The AM Show on Tuesday.  

The draft plan's key themes are:

  • moving towards a 100 percent qualified teacher workforce in early childhood education centres
  • improving the adult:child ratios for babies and toddlers
  • increasing the consistency and levels of teacher salaries and conditions across the sector
  • a more planned approach to establishing new services, greater support and increased monitoring

It's been hailed an ambitious goal for the Government, but the 10 year-plan for early learning is getting mixed reviews over its credibility. Early Childhood Council CEO Peter Reynolds says some of the ideas need more analysis. 

"Like you would expect for anything that has the broad coverage that this had, it's a bit of a mixed bag of things we think would be really good for the sector and some things that require a bit more conversation," he told Newshub. 

Mr Hipkins has asked for feedback on the plan. He told The AM Show something needs to be done to thwart the teacher shortage by encouraging more people to study in the education sector. 

Under the previous National-led government, Mr Hipkins says the number of people training to become early childhood teachers plunged significantly because the target of 100 percent qualified teachers was dropped. 

"They removed the market for more qualified childhood teachers and we're putting that back," he said. "We're confident there will be enough people training to be teachers, and we've got the capacity to train them as well.

"But by putting the [100 percent qualified] target in place it creates the incentive for people to train to be teachers. I would say that as a result of this announcement, we will see a spike in people training to be early childhood teachers, and I think that's a really good thing."

By 2022, the Government wants all early childhood services to have 80 percent qualified teachers. The majority of services already have 80 percent qualified teachers, says Mr Hipkins, but there are some in poorer communities that don't.  

The Government also plans to create "funding incentives" for those services that employ 100 percent qualified teachers, so that that those qualified teachers can earn the higher salary they deserve after reaching that level. 

"We've got to look at how the funding mechanism works so that the money we're giving those services is going into salaries," said Mr Hipkins. 

"I think there are a lot of people in early childhood education who are already keen to up-skill and keen to become teachers - we've got to support them to do that.

Teachers continuing to strike

The Education Minister's comments come as primary school teachers are yet to vote on the latest pay offer extended by the Government. 

The Employment Relations Authority has strongly recommended that they take the offer, and Mr Hipkins says the New Zealand Tertiary Education Union decided to go ahead with the latest second strike without putting the offer to teachers first. 

"Members as of today still haven't had the chance to vote on the latest offer," he told The AM Show. "I understand from the union yesterday that that ballot will start happening next week.

"My message to primary school teachers is you don't need to go on strike. 

"We've put an offer on the table that for most primary school teachers, results in a $9500 pay increase, and we're committed to addressing all the other issues that primary teachers have been raising, including support for kids with special needs. 

Associate Education Minister Tracey Martin said on Newshub Nation two weeks ago that some teachers will get a $20,000 per year increase in their pay, while the average increase is between $9,000 and $11,000.

But the union says that's misleading, claiming it would take years for anyone's pay to go up by that much and saying only a select few would end up with the bigger increases.