ECE survey shows children and families paying for funding cuts

6 November 2016 

A new survey shows a six year funding freeze is threatening the quality of ECE as services say the freeze is forcing increases to parent fees, cuts to teacher pay, deteriorating child to teacher ratios, and increased reliance on unqualified staff.

An NZEI Te Riu Roa survey of 264 early childhood centres around the country found that 87% had experienced shortfalls since the Government first froze per-child funding six years ago, and 70 percent had increased fees – by an average of 29% – as a result.

Since 2010, increases in government funding for ECE have been for increased participation only, meaning services have faced real-term cuts to their core per-child funding.

“The survey responses have serious implications for the ongoing quality of early childhood education for New Zealand children,” said NZEI executive member and Kindergarten head teacher Virginia Oakly.

“Children have so much to gain from the best quality early childhood education, delivered by passionate, qualified teachers who’ve dedicated themselves to their profession.

“Instead of aiming for the best quality early childhood education possible, the Government has lowered teacher standards, and starved the sector of funding, as it focuses on driving as many children to participate as possible.

“While many children are getting a fantastic early childhood education, often out of the sheer goodwill of their teachers, others are clearly being short-changed,” Ms Oakly said.

Key findings from the survey include:
• 70 percent of centres increased parent fees as a direct result of the funding freeze, by an average of 29 percent over the past five years – well above inflation. This suggests fees will rise further if the freeze is maintained.
• 41% of centres have reduced their ratio of qualified teachers in favour of cheaper unqualified staff.
• 34% of centres have increased their child-to-teacher ratios (though many would have been on the maximum already)
• 55% of services have increased their operating hours/days/sessions, and 51% of services have increased teacher contact time, limiting time for individual planning, assessment and research.
• 16% of centres have cut staff pay rates, or plan to.
• 31% said that the inclusion of learners with special education needs has been affected.

“The survey responses reinforce what NZEI members have been saying for years – that without a corresponding focus on high quality ECE, the Government’s participation targets won’t help vulnerable children,” Ms Oakly said.

“Of particular concern are suggestions that children are experiencing a different quality of ECE depending on where they are enrolled or their parent’s ability to pay.

“NZEI members believe every child deserves the best early childhood education possible and a great start in life. We think every child is worth it, regardless of how young they are, or how wealthy their parents happen to be,” Ms Oakly said.

NZEI Te Riu Roa recommends the Government:
1. Restore the 100 percent qualified teacher component to the funding formula, to encourage services to employ qualified staff, and remove a funding stress on those committed to 100 percent qualified now.
2. Restore per-child funding to the inflation-adjusted levels it was set at prior to the 2010 funding freeze, and commit to increasing the level of funding every year  in line with real cost increases.
3. Commit to employing 100 percent qualified teaching staff in every ECE service in line with evidence that qualified professional teachers are crucial to providing the best quality ECE.
4. Immediately reduce teacher to child ratios for 0 to 2 year olds to 1:4, in line with earlier National Government commitments and commit to 1:3 as soon as possible, and reduce the ratio for 2 to 5 year olds to 1:8
5. Reduce group sizes – setting a maximum of 15 under 2s and 40 over 2s. In 2011 the government increased the licensed maximum size of ECE centres from 50 to 150 children over two, and up to 25 children under 2.

For more information:
Virginia Oakly, Head Kindergarten teacher and NZEI executive member 021 542 399
Leah Haines, Communications Advisor, 027 268 3291

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