SPECIAL REPORT TO ANNUAL MEETING 2010
Early Childhood Education –
Quality at Risk
“A rich and fruitful life begins with quality early childhood education” is the slogan recently
adopted by Education International, NZEI’s global partner which represents more than
30 million teachers and education workers in 173 countries.
Children are active learners from birth, and their early learning experiences are vital to
their success in school and in later life.
Early childhood education has enormous individual and social benefits. It contributes
to the physical, psychomotor, cognitive, social and emotional development of children,
including their acquisition of languages and early literacy.
Children who take part in quality early childhood education have a head start in life.
Research has found that high quality ECE has a positive and long lasting impact - even
at age 16, children’s literacy, numeracy and problem solving abilities as well as their
social skills still show benefits from their pre-school education.
New Zealand’s world-leading Te Whāriki curriculum sets out clear expectations for
children’s learning, and means children arrive at school confident, competent, with an
eagerness to learn and with the ability to persist and concentrate on new skills and
tasks. Our quality ECE services are one of the reasons that New Zealand children
consistently score significantly above the international average in reading, writing and
maths for developed countries.
We know that to be effective, early education must be of high quality. Poor quality
education does not deliver the same benefits, and in the case of very small children
enrolled for long hours, it may be detrimental.
For this reason, quality in early childhood education has been the object of much study.
Researchers have come up with both structural and process factors that are associated
Structural factors include matters such as qualified teachers, high teacher to child ratios,
and small group sizes.
Process factors include matters such as high quality interactions with children and
whānau, a warm and welcoming environment, staff who can make connections between
home life and the service, who can forge meaningful relationships with the children and
whānau, and who are committed to quality practices in teaching and learning.
Not surprisingly, qualified teachers are also associated with the high quality relationships
that nurture early learning.
This is why NZEI, and most of the rest of the sector have a commitment to 100% qualified
teachers, and why we must retain this vision for the future.
Although kindergartens have always had a tradition of qualified teachers, the proportion
of qualified teachers in the rest of the sector has varied widely. In recent years, this
has changed markedly, with targets introduced as part of the 10-year strategic plan,
Pathways to the Future - Ngā Huarahi Arataki.
In the space of just eight years, the number of teachers qualifying increased significantly
as the sector responded enthusiastically to the concept of improving quality for children.
While at first there was opposition from many private operators to the idea of employing
qualified teachers - who expected to be paid more - a new funding system which
recognised these additional costs put paid to some of those concerns.
At the same time, there was growing awareness and acceptance both within the sector
and within the community, particularly among parents, about the importance of quality
and the relationship with qualified teachers.
From January 2005, every service had to be led by a “person responsible” who was
qualified. From 2008, every service had to have half the regulated positions filled by
qualified teachers. From 2010, that proportion was to jump to 80%.
However, the election of a new government signalled a change of direction. In October
2009, the government announced that the 80% target was to be deferred to 2012, and
the 100% target was to be abandoned.
This followed a string of other decisions impacting on quality, including the dropping of
proposed slight improvements to ratios, a reduction in new regulatory requirements,
and cuts to professional development funding and to the Discretionary Grants Scheme
(which helps establish or expand new community-based services).
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In early 2010, this was followed by a reduction in the amount available for grants to
support students in training, and notice of a reduced eligibility for WINZ subsidies for
In May 2010, major cuts were announced in the Budget to the bulk-funding for services
that support qualified teachers. Any service that employs more than 80% qualified
teachers will not be funded for those teachers. This affects more than 2,000 services and
more than 90,000 children – more than half of all children enrolled in ECE. In addition,
hundreds more centres employing staff due to graduate will not now be able to access
higher funding rates.
These cuts amount to more than $435 million over four years. At the same time, the
government is returning $91 million of that money – less than a quarter – to initiatives to
encourage greater participation in ECE by groups of children who are missing out. These
initiatives are welcome, but may attract 3,300 children into a limited form of ECE, possibly
only weekly, and do not compensate for the cuts that effect 93,000 children immediately,
and many others who would have benefitted over time from steadily increasing quality.
ECE is also at risk from other aspects of education policy, such as the National Standards
in schools, which have the potential to undermine the way the curriculum is delivered in
early childhood, and from the Vision for the Teaching Profession, which excludes early
childhood education, thereby undermining the role of early childhood teachers.
Why fight for 100%?
NZEI has a proud record of advocating for high standards in education. The links
between qualified teachers and quality services are well documented in the research
both here and overseas.
This is because good quality teacher education enables students to think deeply about
the learning that takes place, and how they recognise, respond, extend and document
the learning. In addition, working in an environment of qualified teachers encourages a
community of learners, who constantly reflect on their teaching and on how to make it
As early childhood education expert Margaret Carr says, “Early years teachers work with
children at an important time for brain development, and their work is highly skilled.
[They] work with families to provide the foundations for resourceful, caring and imaginative
citizens who love learning and who know how to learn.”
New Zealand has invested heavily in increasing the quality of services in recent years,
after a long period of underfunding that was distinguished by low wages, high turnover,
few qualifications, variable quality and high cost to parents.
Early Childhood Education – Quality at Risk 3
That investment needs to continue. As Professor Anne Smith says:
“What happens to young children matters a lot, and if children don’t have access to top
quality early childhood education during the early years it is a missed opportunity to have
a positive impact on their lifelong learning.”
The commitment to qualified teachers fits with NZEI’s vision of Te Ara Kokiri – the unified
teaching profession. It is part of the background to our commitment to pay parity across
the sector. The cuts to early childhood education put quality at risk, but they may also
put parity at risk.
Is it realistic to have 100% qualified teachers?
UNICEF recommends that governments spend 1% of GDP on early childhood education.
New Zealand spends less than that – 0.6%. This is despite significant increases in recent
Research shows that investment in early childhood education returns up to $17 for every
dollar spent in short, medium and long term returns, in the areas of education, workforce
participation, taxation, health benefits, social benefits and even crime levels.
Simply put, early childhood education delivers returns that are too good to miss out
on. These returns are explained in more detail in a literature review on the Ministry of
Education website, Education Counts.
Much has been made of the increasing investment in early childhood education in
recent years. It has been suggested that the costs have not been matched by increasing
New Zealand already had a high participation level – of the number of children enrolled
in any service at any time before they turn five. But it is sustained, regular participation
that delivers the benefits, and the number of children attending for a longer period before
five, and for more hours each week, has been increasing steadily.
Enrolments for younger age groups – children under two – have also increased
It is true that rapid growth in the sector has put pressure on teacher supply, but at the
same time, the sector has rallied to encourage teachers into training, and the numbers
qualifying from teacher education programmes has been growing steadily. The sector
has been responsive to changing family needs.
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What is NZEI doing about the cuts?
NZEI began a campaign last year after the goal of 100% qualified teachers was abandoned.
We began a programme of letters, visits to MPs, and a postcard campaign under the
slogan Children Deserve 100%. Our campaign continues to seek the restoration of the
100% teacher target, and the funding to support this.
Before the Budget this year, we prepared a briefing paper for journalists to explain how
the funding worked and what was at risk, as well as lining up centres and spokespeople
to speak publicly after the announcement. On Budget night, the Early Childhood National
Caucus held a teleconference to start working on the details of the campaign. We also
met with others in the sector and agreed to work together where we could. We developed
resources and supported Facebook sites initiated by communities. We actively pursued
media opportunities, and have held community meetings in some centres.
Our continuing campaign goals include engaging our members and the community
in widespread action in support of qualified teachers, reframing the debate as one of
investment rather than cost, educating the public about the benefits of high quality ECE,
and seeking to place pressure on the government and to make early childhood education
an election issue in 2011.
More details of the campaign are available on the NZEI website and on the social
networking site, www.ecetogether.org.nz.
NZEI Te Riu Roa as the voice of teachers and support staff in early childhood education
continues to advocate for quality ECE and the funding that supports this.
New Zealand has been held up around the world as an example of progress with its move
towards an integrated teaching profession, with 100% qualified registered teachers.
Since 2002, we have been on a journey towards goals shared with the sector around
quality, participation and collaboration. We have supported an increasing number of
teachers to qualify each year. We have gained pay parity for kindergarten teachers,
and moved towards parity in the rest of the sector. We have advocated for, and won,
conditions that support a professional teaching workforce. We have accommodated rapid
expansion in the sector, encouraged greater participation, and increasingly collaborated
with professional colleagues to share best practice and research.
All these gains must not be undermined by a return to the mentality of the sector as simply
caring for children. As a recent UNICEF report says, the idea that younger children need
teachers with a lesser level of qualifications is “dangerously out of date”.
Early Childhood Education – Quality at Risk 5
1. That the report Early Childhood Education – Quality at Risk be
2. That NZEI confirms its policy of 100% qualified and registered teachers
in regulated positions in early childhood services.
3. That NZEI adopt as policy; that the government should spend 1% of
Gross Domestic Product on early childhood education, as advocated
4. That the report Early Childhood Education – Quality at Risk is
Carr, M. & Mitchell, L. (2010). Qualified teachers in early childhood centres: do we
need them? (Discussion Paper). Hamilton, New Zealand: University of Waikato, Faculty
May, H., Smith, A. & Carr, M. (2010, April 30). Families should beware of the erosion of
quality in early childhood education, according to three professors of education. [Press
Mitchell, L. (2004, March). Putting children first: a well qualified early childhood
teaching workforce. Ray of Hope: The Littlies Lobby Newsletter, 2-3.
UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre. (2008). The child care transition: A league table of
education in economically advanced countries. Retrieved August 6, 2010, from: http://
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