Maintaining high quality ECE is key to lifting achievement and ensuring 5 out of 5 learners succeed
While the government commitment to increasing participation in ECE is evident in the budget 2013 early childhood education initiatives and the Better Public Services goals, what is not clear is how ECE quality is being supported and enhanced. Both the 2013 budget and government proposals following the Teacher’s Council Review raise concerns for New Zealand Kindergartens about how high quality ECE services will be maintained for all children in the future.
In a post-budget media release, New Zealand Kindergartens welcomed new funding in the 2013 budget for increasing participation in the government’s ‘target communities’ - low income communities and Maori and Pasifika communities. Ensuring all children have access to affordable, inclusive and culturally relevant ECE is a priority for kindergarten.
While the budget also included a modest increase to the universal funding rate to all services, it falls short of matching the increasing operational costs. After several years of cuts, ECE services continue to be under financial pressure and the situation is impacting the quality of some services. For example, some education and care services are choosing to reduce the number of qualified, registered ECE teachers in ratioed positions. Others may be increasing group size or deferring building maintenance. Many ECE services are increasing fees or asking for increased contributions from families. The quality and affordability of services may be comprised. Despite significant pressure, kindergarten has maintained its commitment to providing affordable, accessible and inclusive services with 100% qualified, registered teachers.
ECE services have gradually lost funding to support teachers professional development. New funding support for professional development for teachers in the 2013 budget appears only to apply to school teachers, not their colleagues in ECE. The budget cuts funding for grants to help newly qualified ECE teachers become registered teachers and cuts scholarships to assist ECE teachers to enter into teacher education programmes. Research evidence shows that highly qualified, engaged teaching teams are an essential component of a successful early childhood education service. Why would we accept anything less for our youngest learners? Ensuring teachers are the best they can be - in early childhood education and across the entire education sector - requires a commitment to on-going learning, leadership opportunities and development.
A review of the Teacher’s Council was recently released by government along with a discussion document focussed on government proposals for a professional body for teachers. While many of the proposals would strengthen the teaching profession and are welcome changes, NZK is concerned that a proposal for teachers to have an initial qualification at a post-graduate level should be applied to all teachers, not just teachers in school. Setting up different initial qualifications for teachers establishes a two-tier system. Standards for teachers working with our youngest learners in early childhood education should be every bit as rigorous as teachers in primary and secondary schools.
There is also a proposal for the Teacher’s Council to grant an “Authority to Educate” credential which would allow unqualified individuals the ability to teach long-term alongside qualified, registered teachers. As stated by Clare Wells, Chief Executive of NZK, ““Having a broad category for unqualified staff seems at odds with the brief of a professional body.”
Early childhood education provides a foundation for future learning. Research has shown that high quality early childhood education is linked with educational achievement and positive social and health outcomes. For example, a recent Ministry of Education publication based on international testing results Reading to learn: New Zealand 15-year-olds’ reading habits, learning approaches and experiences of teaching practices states that “15-year-old boys and girls who attended ECE, particularly those who attended for more than one year, had significantly stronger reading scores than their counterparts who never attended.”
NZK welcomes new funding in the 2013 budget for ECE and government proposals to develop a stronger, more effective professional body for teachers. The government must focus attention on maintaining and expanding the quality of ECE, alongside increasing participation, in order to lift achievement of all learners.
“Teaching, and the leadership of it, is critical for New Zealand’s future.”
– Hon Hekia Parata, Minister of Education