Opinion: ECC views on the ECE teacher shortages

In our sector we have a teacher shortage. However, we have a conundrum. No one collects official data or statistics on the numbers of teachers employed in early childhood education (ECE), and that is leading some to go so far as denying there is a teacher shortage at all.

But we know there is one.

As at 30 August 2018, we noted the Education Gazette listed 377 teacher vacancies in the ECE sector, and there were 553 listings on Trade Me Jobs.

And, the ECE sector says they are carrying vacancies, and it is hard to fill them with qualified teachers. They are also battling bureaucracy at times to try and hire their preferred candidates, which adds to the length vacancies are carried.

It makes me think of the philosophical thought question: "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?"

We have been saying since September 2017 that the teacher shortages were not limited just to schools or just to Auckland, and that ECE was impacted by the teacher shortages too.

At the beginning of this year, we had a glimpse of some teacher training statistics when it was revealed the numbers of people entering initial teacher training to become a tertiary qualified early childhood teacher had dropped by a whopping 40 percent.

Government released figures (February 2018) that showed ECE teacher trainees had reduced from 6760 to 3615 in the six years to 2016. These numbers were described as ‘staggering’ by the Minister of Education at the time and the headlines at the time read: ‘chronic shortages of teachers laid bare’*.

It was the first time that we had heard public statements recognising that there were indeed shortages of ECE teachers in New Zealand, not only in ECE services right now, but also longer-term as numbers coming out of tertiary institutions decline, and for ECE it was the largest decline.

After the February statements, support packages were announced to address teacher shortages in schools, but ECE is not being treated the same. We get that ECE teachers are not employed by government, and therefore there is less information about the ECE sector compared to schools. But, ECE is a valuable contributor to the education system as a whole, providing preschool care and education, including the vital getting ready for school skills and competencies our youngest citizens gain under the national curriculum Te Whaariki.

Back in May, at our ECC conference, in response to concerns from the floor about teacher shortages in ECE, the Minister challenged us to come up with ideas for short-term solutions to alleviate the pressure caused by a shortage of teachers in our sector. We took that challenge up.

We asked our members for their experiences, and ideas for changes that would help them overcome some of the bureaucracy to be able to hire teachers quickly for vacancies, or for ways they could continue to meet all of the regulatory requirements while carrying teacher shortages for lengths of time. We held workshops with members, and analysed what members had told us in a survey. Together, we came up with some sensible ideas for easing the pressures of teacher shortages in ECE. These are tangible things that would take some pressure off centres short term, while they are carrying teaching vacancies.

Our member early childhood and education centres told us the teacher shortages are stressful, and some said they don’t know what to do as they can’t fill vacancies. We have heard ECE centres are finding that there are not the candidates available or that bureaucracy significantly slows down the ability to hire some teachers quickly. A survey* of our members in October 2017, suggested around a 30% are carrying teaching vacancies, and that the vacancies are often open for at least 70-days and sometimes longer.

One of our ECC members told us: “this past year has been the hardest for us in finding teachers… I am now three qualified teachers short and we are paying unqualified and qualified relievers via agencies to fill the gaps, and have done so for 10 months. We are advertising regularly… We are desperate and have no idea what we are meant to do.”

In the meantime, we watched as a number of support measures were announced for the teacher shortages in schools, including beefing up overseas teacher drives. ECE was not included in these.

We know there is no magic wand to teacher shortages. The recommendations we made to relieve the teacher shortages pressure, involves seeking to relax some of the bureaucracy that stops ECE services operating efficiently while carrying long-term teaching vacancies, and also to address some of the bureaucracy that stops ECE services hiring some teachers quickly. Ensuring ECE centres can continue to run effectively from a regulatory point of view, while carrying teaching shortages, benefits the children and the families that use the services.

Our ideas, that we put to government include:

  • Requesting the Ministry of Education look at the viability of temporarily relaxing some policies that put tight restrictions on funding until more teachers are available. This includes enabling services who are actively recruiting and carrying vacancies to cover this by increasing the ECE discretionary hours from 40 to 160 hours per funding period, and reducing the 80% plus funding band to 70%, but not changing the funding level. This is not about reducing quality but being realistic that there is a teacher shortage. In reality, this is not a new measure, but rather the proposal aims to recognise and support some situations where a centre is able to demonstrate every effort has been made to recruit, and the Ministry could decide when it would apply.
  • Asking for the Teaching Council to look at some of its overly strict measures around the International English Language Testing System (IELTS); and small changes around certification and practicing certificates which would, for example, help with issues those small and rural ECE services face in ensuring there is a registered and qualified and certified teacher always there to open and close a centre.
  • Seek to have ECE teachers, with immediate effect, put back onto the Skills Shortage List; and look at whether those on the Skills Shortage List (including ECE teachers) can be exempt from the Visa points policy.

The ECC has been asking since September 2017, to have ECE teachers put back on the official immigration Immediate Skills Shortages List, and we were pleased to see that has been going through official consideration by government, supported by the Ministry of Education and other sector bodies in ECE.

We need a range of measures to alleviate the pressures of teacher shortages, and we have suggested some ideas that could help now.

We know the reasons for teacher shortages across the education sector, and indeed being faced by other countries too, are more complex than rules and regulations, and overly complex bureaucracy. Some of the questions about teacher shortages, not only how we got here, but how we can over-come it long-term, will be looked at as part of the development of the forward looking Education Workforce Strategy, and we support this work.

The ECC will continue to discuss the recommendations we have made to help alleviate the pressures of the teacher shortages in ECE now. As a membership body we are not-for-profit, and we represent the views and interests of our membership, 1,200 ECE centres. It is important ECE centres working to deliver education to our youngest citizens, while carrying significant teaching vacancies, can continue to do so while meeting fair regulatory requirements, and not having funding impacted while recruiting for teachers in a tight labour market.

We have heard stories from some that this is the hardest it has ever been to recruit ECE teachers. Just because there are no official figures on ECE teachers, does not mean a shortage isn’t happening, or indeed that a tree is falling!

Peter Reynolds

Early Childhood Council

Chief Executive Officer

*ECC membership survey, conducted October 2017, completed by 167 member centres, highlighted a significant shortage of ECE qualified teachers in over 30% of the sector. Ninety percent of centres surveyed reported carrying teaching vacancies in the 12-months prior to the survey. They reported the time it takes to fill a teaching vacancy is over 70 days.

*As at 30 August 2018, the Education Gazette listed 377 teacher vacancies in the ECE sector, and there were 553 listings on Trade Me Jobs.

*Chronic teacher shortages laid bare (27 February 2018) https://www.beehive.govt.nz/release/chronic-teacher-shortage-laid-bare

*ECC media release (15 October 2018) https://www.ecc.org.nz/Category?Action=View&Category_id=576