NZEI Te Riu Roa has today launched a major new early childhood education (ECE) campaign, Every Child is Worth it, demanding a commitment in Budget 2017 to look beyond improving participation and restore quality teacher funding in ECE.
NZEI president Louise Green has described it as "irresponsible" for the Government to drive more children into ECE but not increase the quality at the same time.
The union says that since 2010, additional Government funding for ECE has been based on increased participation only, meaning services have faced real-term cuts to their core per-child funding. It says funding has also been cut for services that employ 100 per cent qualified teachers, forcing many centres to take on unqualified staff, raise parent fees, or increase teacher-to-child ratios.
“Instead of aiming for the best quality early childhood education, the Government has cut funding for qualified teachers, and starved the sector of funding as it focuses on its target of 98 percent participation in ECE," says Green.
Te Rito Maioha Early Childhood New Zealand (ECNZ) chief executive Kathy Wolfe says she is heartened by the union’s proactive stance as employers in ECE are faced with real challenges in keeping services affordable for families.
"While government will say there has been more money spent overall, we know that this is largely due to more children attending ECE, as participation has been the focus. That’s great, but what about quality? We want to see this addressed in the 2017 budget and look forward to working with government to make this a reality," she says.
Minister of Education Hekia Parata says the Government is committed to ECE. She says of the 25,000 ECE staff, around 75 per cent are qualified compared to 61 per cent in 2008.
The union is pushing for fully trained and funded staff in ECEs as well as a reduction in teacher-to-child ratios and class sizes. ECNZ believe that teacher child ratios for under 2s should improve from 1:5 to 1:3 and the organisation agrees with the union that ratios for 2-5 year olds should be reduced from 1:10 to 1:8.
Minister Parata says New Zealand is in the top three countries worldwide for staff to children ratios and that per-child ECE funding in New Zealand is among the highest in the OECD.
Last week the Ministry announced a review of the ECE curriculum, inviting consultation from the wider sector. The NZEI is supportive of the review, but maintains that "excellent implementation of a quality curriculum requires trained and well-supported teachers".