Opinion: Christmas wishes

It’s that magical time of year again where our member ECE services and their teachers will be talking to the children about Santa, and Christmas, reindeer and stockings. We know not everyone has everything they need at this time of year, so it is also a good chance for ECE services to teach children about Manaaki.

Back at ECC National Office, we put the Christmas tree up this week and we are busy rushing to the end of year. We are wrapping up the final few workshops, still talking to officials about teacher shortages, and pondering the detail in the draft Strategic Plan for Early Learning that was released recently.

It was great to end the year by submitting a petition to Parliament, asking for scrutiny into the way the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is applied specifically to Pasifika ECE teachers. We have worked hard with the sector to collect 759 signatures from 80 ECE services in support of having IELTS and its impacts looked into. Along with some supporters of the petition, myself, and our Policy Officer, gave the petition to National MP, and ECE spokesperson, Nicola Willis on the steps of Parliament on 11 December. We are hopeful it will go to Select Committee and wider scrutiny and submissions there. We will keep you informed about the progress next year.

It has been a hugely busy year. The ECC has delivered more than 200 workshops, held webinars, hosted out biggest conference series ever in three cities, and probably made more submissions and written more letters than we usually do.

Writing submissions and letters is a necessary voice to ensure we are representing our membership views as part of the education reforms. For us, we have been involved in the development of the draft Strategic Plan for early learning, which will establish a ten-year strategy for ECE. He taonga te tamaiti - every child a taonga – has many good elements, and some we think need more work or changes. We look forward to meaningful discussions to finalise the plan next year.

We were proud to represent our sector and members on the Ministerial Reference Group that gave advice as part of the Strategy development. There is a lot in the draft Strategic Plan and we will be making a formal submission on the proposals ahead of the closing date in March next year. It was a shame that the ECE funding model (work that was begun and never completed) won’t be looked at as part of the draft Strategic Plan. The ECE teacher shortages are also not part of the thinking; and we don’t know what the costs of the proposed changes will be. The proposals in the draft strategic plan are likely to carry additional financial impacts on services, but it is unclear what those are at this stage, or what the proposed changes to funding and subsidy might be to support all of the proposed changes.

We have also been involved in the work to develop an Education Workforce Strategy, which is a long-term plan to address issues with teacher shortages and retention into the future. We have had concerns though about the short-term issues around ECED teacher shortages. At the beginning of this year it was revealed the numbers of people entering initial teacher training to become a tertiary qualified early childhood teacher dropped by 40 percent (ECE teacher trainees down from 6760 to 3615 in the six years to 2016). These numbers were described as ‘staggering’ by the Minister of Education, Chris Hipkins, and the headlines said ‘chronic shortages of teachers laid bare’*.

It was the first time that we had heard public statements and recognition that there were indeed shortages of ECE teachers in New Zealand, not only in early childhood education (ECE) services now, but also long-term as numbers coming out of tertiary institutions declined. The Early Childhood Council (ECC) had been saying since September 2017 that the teacher shortages were not limited just to schools or just to Auckland. It was difficult to back up the claims without the official statistics or recognition that shortages were real.

The ECC was challenged by the Minister back in May to come up with ideas for short-term solutions to the shortage of teachers in ECE. We took that challenge up. We asked members for their experiences, and ideas for changes that would help them hire teachers or survive better while carrying teacher shortages for lengths of time, while still meeting all the other regulatory requirements, and we then workshopped those ideas. We also looked at our membership survey data. We came up with some sensible ideas for easing the pressures of teacher shortages.

We have heard ECE centres are trying various ways to attract suitably qualified teaching candidates, but are finding there are just not the candidates available or that bureaucracy significantly slows down the ability to hire some teachers quickly. We know around a quarter of our members are carrying teaching vacancies, and that the vacancies are often open for at least 70-days and sometimes longer.

We submitted a paper to the Minister that was then sent to officials at the Ministry to look into. Our ideas include: changes to policy that would support ECE services when they are carrying long-term teaching vacancies, adding ECE teachers to the Skills Shortage List, and ensuring aspects like IELTS aren’t hindering services from hiring teachers quickly.

We are still working with officials on these ideas and will continue to keep our membership updated.

In terms of highlights this year:

  • our membership base has grown to over 1,200 members.
  • We were quoted or mentioned in the House at Parliament three or four times related to ECE policy and issues.
  • We launched our BlueBook Online tool, which takes a popular paper based tool and puts it on a web based platform for ECE services and teachers to subscribe to. BlueBook Online is a planning and documentation tool and provides a framework for teachers’ professional practice to helps keep track of information and progress.
  • A new ECC National Executive was elected in May by our members to help steer the ECC as we head into a huge period of education change in New Zealand.

Also this year, our social media following has grown on Facebook, and we are currently asking our followers: what would you like from the government for ECE this Christmas? Make sure you head over to our page to comment if you have an item to add to the wish list.

Thank you for your support of the ECC this year. ECE matters and we love representing our membership. We look forward to a busy 2019, and another year of change and future proofing out sector. Merry Christmas and happy New Year.

Peter Reynolds

Chief Executive Officer

Early Childhood Council