Opinion: Is there a lack of support for new graduate ECE teachers?

1 February 2018

We noted with interest recent results released from a survey of primary and early childhood education (ECE) teachers in the first few years of their career*, that found 17 per cent expect to leave the profession within five years of graduating.

We wondered, is there a lack of support for new graduate teachers, not only to leave training and work in the profession, but also to stay in teaching into the future? And, if this is so, how have we got here?

This opinion piece takes a look.

In the wake of the Global Economic Crisis, the government sought to recover and cut back spending, and we heard a lot of the phrase: do more with less. Vote: Education, and especially early childhood education (ECE), was impacted by this.

We remember well the cuts represented by the removal of the two top funding bands for ECE (80 to 99%, and 100%). Since 1 February 2011, there have been a series of incremental cutbacks impacting on the per-child rate of government subsidisation, to the extent that most childcare centres have now endured a collective reduction in their government funding of over $100,000 per centre.

One area of cutback this item focuses on is the Support Grant for Provisionally Registered Teachers, known throughout the sector as the "PRT Grant" Recent media coverage regarding the extent to which new teachers in ECE and school feel disillusioned and unsupported highlights the removal of the PRT Grant in 2013 by the government and demands an examination of the rationale used by the Ministry of Education in convincing their Minister that the removal of the Grant was a good thing to do.

The PRT Grant was available to any licensed ECE service that employed provisionally registered teachers. Individual grant allocations of just under $4,000 per-year, per-teacher, were made available directly to the service. The expectation was that the grant would be used to assist and support a provisionally registered teacher to become fully registered.

Achieving this was expected to take around two years, and involved the teacher completing teaching practice and practice development work to meet the Practicing Teachers' Criteria.

It appeared the Ministry of Education advised the then-Minister that these grants were not used correctly, and this funding could be cut back. However, the problem was the Ministry in fact had no rules set out on how the PRT Grant should be used, and no direct monitoring of the use of the Grant by services. Despite the lack of evidence to support the view that the fund was not being used properly, the PRT Grant was cut back.

In the first instance, the cut to the PRT Grant took the shape of targeting. From 1 July 2011 only those ECE services that employed less than 80% ECE-qualified teachers could apply for the grant from that point on. This targeting policy had a dual effect. Firstly, the majority of the teacher-led ECE sector operated at above 80% ECE-qualified teachers. Therefore, the size of the market that could apply for the grant was unreasonably small.

Secondly, no self-respecting new graduate teacher seeking an environment of support to help them achieve full registration was going to want to work at a service that employed insufficient numbers of qualified teachers to provide that support.

During this time the Ministry of Education invited the ECE sector to form a working group to develop a set of guidelines on how the PRT Grant should be used appropriately. There was little involved in this and the sector representatives involved were more than happy with the reasonable guidelines established. By the time the work was complete, however, the PRT Grant had been successfully "killed off".

However, the demand for the PRT Grant from the ECE sector had fallen through the floor and the PRT Grant was removed completely.

When the targeting policy was first introduced, the ECC asked what evidence the Ministry of Education had to support the claim that the PRT Grant was not being used properly. It was inferred that limited resources within the Ministry made it impossible to monitor use of the grant to collect an accurate picture. We also asked the Ministry about commissioning a sample audit, which had not been considered.

It is understandable why a government faced with the impacts of an economic downturn would take action. It is fair and reasonable, although perhaps unpalatable, that the ECE sector should share in the responsibility to give up some of its funding to help the common good.

We were interested to see the findings of the recent survey* claiming 17 per cent of ECE and school teachers expect to leave the profession within five years of graduating. It would be unreasonable to expect a new graduate to be fully ready to meet the demands of the profession from day one.

They need time and support. The opportunity to grow into their chosen profession. That is what the period immediately following graduation is about. That is why, in our view, incentives like the PRT Grant were useful. And why it is a shame they were removed.

The ECC has called on the Ministry to develop a workforce strategy for ECE and would be a keen participant in the development of this work. While this is not limited to the teaching workforce, it does provide a vehicle for the sector and the officials to identify a clear pathway forward that should include how we appropriately support those new to the profession and how this might be funded.

Hopefully that work is given the priority it deserves.

Peter Reynolds

Chief Executive Officer

Early Childhood Council

*Survey findings released by NZEI