"Teachers stretched to their limits": early childhood teachers experiencing teacher shortage, fear situation could worsen

22 March 2021

A survey of early childhood educators has revealed significant concerns about the impacts of teacher shortages on teachers and children, and suggests the situation is worsening.

The survey, conducted by NZEI Te Riu Roa union's 'ECE Voice' campaign, showed that 92% of teachers believe there is a current teacher shortage in the sector, and more than 80% of them feel personally impacted by shortages. Educators also said they feel unable to give the children in their centres the time and attention they deserve, with more than 86% believing teacher shortages were having impacts on children. These figures suggest a worsening situation when compared against an earlier survey conducted at the start of 2020.

"The upcoming Budget gives the Government an important opportunity to address the situation", says Virginia Oakly, Early Childhood Education Representative on the union's National Executive.

"We're hearing loud and clear from early childhood teachers that they can't go on like this. Over 70% of people we surveyed said their centre had struggled to fill vacancies in the last year. Our children's teachers love what they do, but they are stressed and overworked - and because of the low pay, other people just don't want to take jobs in the sector.

"Minister Hipkins promised at the election to deliver pay parity for these teachers, but we're still waiting to see a plan. With the Budget coming up in May, we're calling on him to make a commitment to deliver parity urgently, and to commit the resource to doing it.

The survey found that if the teacher shortage continues, 96% of early childhood educators expect to see further negative impacts - but almost 90% say pay parity with their peers in kindergartens and schools would help to solve at least some of the issues in the sector. Currently, qualified teachers in ECE receive significantly lower pay than those in kindergartens and schools, despite having the same qualifications and equivalent roles and responsibilities at work.

"Teachers with the same experience, qualifications and responsibilities deserve the same pay. Right now, the Ministry of Education's own data shows teachers working in kindergartens receive as much as 30% higher pay than their peers in the rest of the ECE sector for equivalent work."

Teachers responding to the survey spoke about experiencing burnout and working in "unstable and stressful" environments. One said a lack of staffing had made her unable to take her entitled breaks despite being heavily pregnant, and others cited colleagues who had looked elsewhere for work, including at supermarkets, where they felt work was less stressful and they would receive higher pay.

Analysis of the workforce by NZEI Te Riu Roa earlier this year also found significantly higher rates of vacancies and 'churn' amongst ECE teachers than in schools, and fewer ECE candidates entering initial teacher education - most likely driven by ECE's lower pay rates. Recent research drawing on the Integrated Data Infrastructure (IDI) database found that of those who entered the ECE profession in 2010, only 22% were still working in the sector eight years later. The number of ECE teachers entering in initial teacher education declined by 51.8% over the 2009-2019 period, at the same time as ECE provision rapidly expanded with a 46% increase in licensed places.

NZEI Te Riu Roa 2021 ECE Survey results summary:

  • Do you think there is a teacher shortage in ECE?
    • Yes: 92.1% 
    • No: 3.6% 
    • No answer: 4.2%
  • Do you feel the teacher shortage has impacted yourself and your ability to teach?
    • Yes: 80.3%
    • No: 14.4%
    • No answer: 5.2%
  • Do you believe it has impacted the children you teach? 
    • Yes: 86.6%
    • No: 11.1%
    • No answer: 2.3%
  • If this shortage continues, do you foresee any further negative impacts? 
    • Yes: 96%
    • No: 2%
    • No answer: 2%
  • Has your centre struggled to fill a vacancy?
    • Yes: 72.8%
    • No: 17.4%
    • No answer: 9.8%
  • Do you feel it is harder to maintain minimum ratios? 
    • Yes: 75.4%
    • No: 19.3%
    • No answer: 5.2%

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