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Early Childhood Sector Confidence Survey Results 2024

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The OECE’s annual pre-Budget confidence survey provides a gauge of the state of New Zealand’s early childhood education (ECE) sector and outlook. 

Each year just before the government releases its Budget, 1,000 early childhood sector people are surveyed for their view on the government’s management of ECE and if they expect things will improve or worsen for the sector in the next 12 months. 

Feedback from this coalface survey tells us that under the coalition government things are going in the wrong direction for the ECE sector and the outlook for the sector is bleak.  On the ground, 37% of the respondents said that things were not going well or only slightly well for their ECE service/s. 

The confidence survey and respondents

Participation in the survey is voluntary and open to anyone in the sector and from any ECE service. The survey is online and was closed at 1,000 completed survey forms.  Being an annual survey, the results are reliable for comparison from one year to the next for people in the ECE sector who respond to an open online survey. 

The respondents represented a broad cross-section of ECE services, interests, and roles.

  • Education and care centres, including hospital-based and early intervention centres but excluding centres operated as Free Kindergartens (63% of the respondents)
  • Free Kindergartens (14% of the respondents)
  • Home-based ECE (7% of the respondents)
  • Playcentre, Kōhanga Reo, Ngā Puna Kōhungahunga and Playgroups (8% of the respondents)
  • Early childhood researchers, teacher educators, professional development advisors, ECE sector teacher recruitment, and others such as recently retired (8% of the respondents).

More than one-third of the respondents (38% or 328 out of 872 respondents) were an owner, director, CEO, head manager or business manager of one or more early childhood services.  (Note that 128 of the 1,000 respondents were either not involved directly with an ECE service or skipped this question).

Most respondents felt the government was taking ECE in the wrong direction

Only 11% of the respondents felt that the government was taking the ECE sector in the right direction. The majority (74%) believed the government was taking the ECE sector in the wrong direction.  Fifteen percent of the respondents were neutral in their view on the direction that the government was taking things for the ECE sector or felt they couldn’t judge the government on what it was or was not doing.   

The government was viewed as taking things in the wrong direction for the ECE sector because it was:

  1. Downplaying the necessity of regulating the sector.
  2. Intending to allow uncontrolled expansion again in the opening of new ECE services.
  3. Not expressing support for ECE teacher pay parity with school colleagues.
  4. Not lifting regulatory requirements, such as improving the adult-to-child ratios and class/group sizes to lift the quality of children’s experiences of ECE and raise child outcomes. 

Examples of the comments made were:

  • “I’m very worried about the effect of government allowing more centres in our area when many of us have vacancies as it is and are struggling to stay afloat.”
  • “Support is urgently needed in centres and kindergartens in the way of higher ratios of adults.”
  • “Speaking as a leader who teaches alongside the team, we need regulation. Health and safety in work environments that have so many potential hazards are crucial to maintaining low staff turnover and high morale. Regulations such as teacher:child ratios, including stipulations around persons responsible, and minimum ECE teacher qualification requirements ensure quality care and education.”
  • “With the high demand for ECE, we are not funded enough to provide top quality care. The best resource we use are our kaiako. They cannot work to be underpaid. It does not show they are valued and families cannot afford the childcare fees at our lowest cost.”
  • If businesses are not required or incentivised to employ qualified ECE kaiako then they won’t – leaving more work/responsibility/pressure/stress for those kaiako who are qualified. Pay parity and better conditions etc. encourages more to join the work force – bad conditions will mean poorer outcomes for tamariki.”
  • “Not supporting pay parity for ECE teachers with school teachers is a big mistake which will put the sector backwards.”

Aspects of government underperformance were commented on, for example:  

  • “I don’t think this government is doing anything significant for our sector, especially home-based which is highly favoured in our region.”
  • “Our ability to access appropriate timely supports for our tamariki is taking longer than I have ever experienced. I do not see this Government investing the resources required to ensure our preschoolers get the supports they need to thrive.”
  • “We should be supporting parents to be able to stay home for longer with our children, rather than forcing parents back to work so soon. This will ultimately lead to better outcomes in every way for our future.”

A minority of respondents viewed the government to be performing well and viewed as positive some of the things that it was planning to do or doing that most other respondents viewed to be wrong – namely that:

  1. The government was planning to slash or reduce regulatory requirements.
  2. Minister Seymour had indicated that the government would cease requiring centres to pay their qualified and certificated teachers near or closer to pay parity rates with school and kindergarten teachers in return for higher funding.

Comments included: 

  • “They are reducing the burden of compliance.”
  • “Need to make more changes to cut red tape and get rid of pay parity.”
  • “Need to give more choice as to how pay parity is distributed to staff.”
  • “Funding model reform is essential and currently the sector is over-regulated. I support the review of current regulations.”
  • “The new government have signalled their desire to streamline operations and remove unnecessary burden from the sector. There is still plenty to do, and a pragmatic approach is needed.”
  • “I love that the Minister of ECE is being proactive NOW – not saying something and we wait another 4yrs until something gets actioned.”

Approval was expressed for the Coalition’s announcement that it would be providing lunches to preschool-aged children in low equity ECE services. 

  • “Providing lunches is on the right track but supply it to all Kōhanga Reo and Pasifika services too please.”

A slight deterioration in confidence

A change in government has not seen a lift in ECE sector confidence in the government taking things in the right direction for ECE. In fact, there has been a slight increase in pessimism from the last pre-Budget survey in 2023.

In this latest 2024 survey, a net -63% of respondents believed government’s management of the ECE sector was going in the right direction compared with a net -59% of respondents at the same time last year).  

TABLE 1:  What respondents thought about the direction that the government is taking the early childhood education sector (2018 – 2024 annual confidence survey results)

YearRight directionWrong directionNeutral or can’t sayNet % right direction
201826%42%32%-16%
201930%49%21%-19%
202116%55%29%-39%
202221%63%16%-42%
202313%72%15%-59%
202411%74%15%-63%

The outlook for the next 12 months is bleak

The outlook for ECE is bleak. Four-fifths (78%) of the respondents expected things would worsen for the ECE sector.  Only 7% of respondents believed things would improve and 15% thought that the state of the sector would remain much the same as it is now.

So why the bleak outlook?  Respondents gave a range of reasons for feeling pessimistic and holding little or no hope that things would be improving in the next 12 months for the ECE sector, as shown in the following selection of comments:   

  • “ECE is not a priority.  The government is treating it as childcare (babysitting) whilst parents’ work.”
  • “Mr Seymour keeps referring to ECE teachers as workers or carers. He is not recognising us as teachers with a degree in teaching and undervalues what we do for the youngest children in the education system.”
  • “The relevance of ECE qualified teachers seems to be diluted and centres will eventually be left with unqualified staff resources and higher ratios of children to staff leading to decline in ECE quality.”  
  • “It took many years for ECE to be recognised as part of the education sector. I feel that it is becoming more about privatisation and profit.”
  • “This government supports the market approach so profit and not providing quality care and education will become the measure of success.”
  • “Teachers and parents will be subsidizing higher profits for the big operators.  The smaller quality ones are struggling as it is and more will be forced to close.”  
  • “More centres will close as parents are laid off work and can’t pay fees. Day-to-day living costs are unmanageable for many of our parents who can’t pay fees or often can’t feed their children regular healthy meals – we often have to provide food for children.”
  • “Funding will not increase for kindergartens, putting pressure on them staying free.” 
  • “The government seems to have little interest in the well-being of the ECE sector – especially the work that Visiting teachers do in Home-based ECE – upholding the same teaching standards and regulations and having the same qualifications!”
  • “We need better adult:child ratios and support for diverse learners. We keep saying this and it’s just ignored.”
  • “The government’s proposed policies will turn the clock back 30 plus years which will have a negative impact on children.”
  • “After fighting so hard for teacher pay parity and having it come to a standstill or be taken away is disheartening for the sector.”
  • “Until ECE is taken out of the political battlefield where we are asked to reinvent ourselves every time there is a change in government it’s not sustainable. We’re at breaking point!”

Respondents who were optimistic about the outlook viewed the government’s interest in giving ECEs greater freedom as businesses to operate as they saw fit as something that was positive: 

  • “Providing there is no drop in funding, which I don’t expect there will be, things are on the up.   Staff wages will go down to more reasonable levels. Qualified teacher requirements will be eased which will be great because for a couple of years we’ve been paying exorbitant rates for qualified relievers to plug staffing gaps.”
  • “I’m reasonably happy with stated or intended government direction. Immigration rules for qualified teachers need to reflect the chronic shortage of teachers available.”
  • “Hopefully the ministry and ERO will become our partner, rather than a punitive institution that will shut you (an ECE service operator) down before you know it.”
  • “The simplification of regulations, clarity around what ERO should & shouldn’t be looking at and reigning the MoE in!”

No change in the outlook for the ECE sector compared with a year ago

The bad news is that a net -71% of respondents believed the outlook for the ECE sector was positive.

The good news is that the level of pessimism has not significantly worsened from the same time last year. 

TABLE 2:  Respondents’ views on whether the early childhood sector would improve, worsen, or stay the same in the next 12 months (2018 – 2024 confidence survey results)

YearImproveWorsenStay the sameNet %
improve
201823%36%41%-13%
201912%46%42%-34%
20218%54%38%-46%
20224%63%33%-59%
20234%74%22%-70%
20247%78%15%-71%

How ECE services are faring

Thirty-six percent of respondents who were involved or associated with an early childhood service (i.e. not teacher educators or professional development providers or others) felt that things were not going well or only slightly well for their service/s.   Only 18 percent of respondents felt that things were going extremely or very well for their service/s.

TABLE 3:  Respondents’ rating of how well things were going for their ECE service/s

Extremely wellVery wellModerately wellSlightly wellNot well
2%16%46%17%19%

Why some services are going very or extremely well

The reasons most frequently stated by respondents for things going extremely or very well for their service/s were around having:

  1. Qualified teachers, paying teachers well, and teachers being well supported in their professional learning and practice.
  2. High enrolment numbers and full rolls.
  3. Little or no competition from other services in their area.
  4. Good service management and governance.
  5. Love for the service / for the support it provided/ for what it offers.

Comments on why things were going very or extremely well for some service/s included:  

  • “The teachers are feeling like they are treated and paid as equals to kindergarten teachers.” (Education and care centre – privately owned or operated by a company or private trust)
  • “We are not part of a large group but able to offer full parity from the next funding round. Our fees are generally lower than the competition & we provide better than required ratios constantly! This in turn attracts good teaching staff as they are valued” (Education and care centre – privately owned or operated by a company or private trust)
  • “A council centre close by was closed down recently due to the mayor trying to save money – so many of those families enrolled with us. Our hearts broke for the families and teachers of the centre closing though, very bittersweet.” (Education and care centre – privately owned or operated by a company or private trust)
  • “We are a charitable service in a solid financial position. This is the result of good governance practices and excellent management over a number of years. It is a shame that “full pay parity” is not, and was never, actually “Full Pay Parity” but the funding improvements have helped us to pay our certificated teachers much better than what they were being paid.” (Education and care centre – community-based incorporated society)
  • “We have continually full roles and so maximum income coming in allowing us to appreciate our teachers with full pay parity whilst not increasing fees to families.” (Education and care centre – community-based incorporated society)
  • “In our little whare of learning we have a quality of care for everyone who walks through our door. We have a huge focus on collaboration with kaiako being able to grow their leadership skills and their practice, and this then flows down to the tamariki in our care. “(Education and care centre – community-based incorporated society)
  • “Enrolments have increased and have been sustained.” (Free kindergarten)
  • “I work with 100% qualified teachers in a well-run Centre. They are committed to their roles and extremely knowledgeable so the children that are leaving us for school are well adjusted both emotionally, socially and have a strong educational foundation.” (Free kindergarten)
  • “We are a kindergarten in an affluent part of —–. Kaiako are supported by great governance and leadership.” (Free kindergarten)
  • Parents and teachers are loving what Home-Based has to offer.  It’s such a rich part of the sector. I just would like it to be recognised for the quality we bring to it.” (Home-based ECE)
  • “The mum support in our group is amazing”. (Playcentre)

Why some services are going only slightly well or not well

Comments on why things were not going well or only slightly well at some service/s included:  

  • “We seem to just manage to get by each bulk funding period with no savings to have big purchases or building improvements.” (Education and care centre – community-based incorporated society)
  • “Wages, overheads, GST, PAYE, especially for Pasifika Centres are a struggle. Families can’t afford if fees are charged as they ought to be. We have to get loans every quarter to make ends meet.” (Education and care centre – community-based incorporated society)
  • “We come under Govt as part of a public service and will close 31 May as a cost cutting exercise under the guise of not being core business activity anymore.” (Education and care centre – community-based incorporated society)
  • “We are a rural community-based service with long standing staff members of whom two have been diagnosed with significant illnesses. We have been advertising for qualified teachers to join our team for over a year now and only end up with overseas applicants that do not meet our basic requirements and are not able to start with us immediately.” (Education and care centre – community-based incorporated society)
  • “Lease costs are unreasonably high. We are the only sector where landlords charge per child per licence, regardless of enrolment numbers. Enrolments are down not because of quality but because in our area our whanau cannot afford their mortgages and are moving out of Auckland. Our fees are just below the average. There are 17 preschools within a 5 km distance of us.” (Education and care centre – privately owned or operated by a company or private trust)
  • “Constantly tightening to squeeze out more profit across all aspects in running a preschool with disastrous results for ratios, working environment for the teachers, wellbeing, and education for all children.”  (Education and care centre – privately owned or operated by a company or private trust)
  • “Our centre is constantly found to be breaching legal requirements – the service provider has no clear understanding of what must be provided.” (Education and care centre – privately owned or operated by a company or private trust)
  • “Overseas teachers have come in and left as soon as their visa comes through which leaves teachers and centres under stress.” (Education and care centre – privately owned or operated by a company or private trust)
  • “One of our centres has had to close due to inability to pay teachers well.” (Education and care centre – privately owned or operated by a company or private trust)
  • “We are struggling to keep teachers. There is high staff turnover, not enough experienced teachers, and the ratios of children to adults are too high.  It’s crowd control.” (Education and care centre – privately owned or operated by a company or private trust)
  • “We are in the process of closing down – cannot operate with small group size and quality ratios.” (Education and care centre – privately owned or operated by a company or private trust)
  • “Being in a low socioeconomic area also impacts us as many of our families are struggling and attendance can be patchy. A third of our children have learning support needs. We are managing serious behaviour challenges daily that include climbing fences, repeated slapping, punching, biting of other children and teachers, table flipping, wooden blocks thrown, hitting others with objects like shovels and pushing other children off high climbing equipment. The support from MOE is lacklustre at best.” (Education and care centre – privately owned or operated by a company or private trust)
  • “Our ratios are terrible, new situations are thrown at us all in the guise of saving money and we can see that admin people, early support workers etc. will lose their jobs.”  (Free kindergarten)
  • “We have 19 diverse learners. NO learning support to help us. Ratios of 1:10 in the kindergarten are not working with so many diverse learners and 2-year-olds. The teachers are battling to keep their heads above water. We have teacher vacancies going unfilled and we are relying on relievers. Some days we don’t get responses to our jobs we put out for the day. We are tired and flat.” (Free kindergarten)
  • “Possible cuts to funding and taking away pay parity are a huge concern for our kindergartens. Another concern is removing us from the State sector.” (Free kindergarten)
  • “We are in Homebased – we have lost 2 teachers one left to pursue a new career after 34 years in education the other has left to be an educator as they can get paid more. If we lose one more teacher, we will likely have to close as there is no way to pay a decent pay rate to a teacher with a lot of experience needed to preform that role. We are trying to work out ways to cut costs which may mean we drop paying for first aid certificates for educators or stop funding playgroups.” (Home-based ECE)
  • “Our child numbers are decreasing. It is getting harder to find staff and to attract them to the role.” (Home-based ECE)
  • “Home-based is the lowest funded service, yet there is a high demand for our service. Our teachers are underpaid but are doing this mahi because it is their passion. But not everyone can afford to work because it is their passion but also have to survive.” (Home-based ECE)
  • “We are managing to stay afloat thanks to existing cash on hand and doing maintenance in house where required. Large maintenance costs however will become difficult to fund. “(Playcentre)
  • “We will have deficit this year. Our numbers at our Playcentre are down but this is a trend for some of the others near us too. This fluctuates year to year depending on how many young families are in our area.” (Playcentre)

What next after the release of these Confidence Survey results? 

The confidence survey results show where the greatest problems exist for the sector. Questions to ask now are:

  1. Will there be anything in Budget 2024 to reverse the grim situation the ECE sector is in?
  2. Can the Coalition Government Ministers listen better to views within the sector and respond with policies that will be viewed favourably as having potential to be good for children and enhance the quality of care and education able to be provided?
  3. Seeing these issues will other political parties actively call the Government out on decisions and changes that have potential to, or will, make things worse still?

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