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ECE Sector Confidence Survey, May 2021

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The ECE Sector Confidence Survey 2021 shows that confidence in the government has slipped. There seems to be a new wave of despondency through the ECE sector.

The majority of respondents felt the government was taking the sector in the wrong direction. They commented on a lack of policy implementation and the government missing the boat in addressing core problems for ECE. The percentage of people who believe government is taking ECE in the right direction has almost halved from 30 per cent to just 16 per cent compared with the same time in 2019.

Also, the majority felt things were likely to get worse in the sector over the coming 12 months rather than better. Previous surveys in 2018 and 2019 were already showing low confidence that things would improve (net negative 13%, net negative 34%). This lack of confidence worsened in 2021 (now a net negative 46%), matching the lack of confidence in the government’s direction.

There is a feeling that the government is failing in key areas – lifting the quality of ECE, putting the “free” back into the funding policy of 20 hours free ECE for families, boosting support for parent-led services, and lifting teacher pay.

Most respondents were not confident that pay parity – an issue that has become bigger for the sector – would be achieved and did not have confidence in the government and the Minister of Education to achieve this target. There was also concern that service providers may not fairly allocate any increases in their budget for teacher pay.

Signs of things going well in services were good staff teams and increased interest from families and enrolment. However, issues around funding, staff pay and retention, teacher/child ratios and meeting regulations were all highlighted as negatives.  

The ECE Sector Confidence Survey 2021

An online survey of 1,000 people in the ECE sector was conducted at the end of April 2021.

The survey was designed to give a picture of the feeling of the sector in regard to government management of it and track changes overtime.

Respondents were asked if they thought government was taking things in the right direction and if they expected things to improve, worsen, or stay the same in the early childhood education sector over the next 12 months.

Additionally, they were asked to rate government performance in implementing some key policy commitments:

  • lifting the quality of ECE
  • putting the “free” back into the funding policy for 20 hours ECE
  • boosting support for parent-led services such as Playcentre and Kōhanga Reo
  • lifting teacher pay

Respondents who were associated with an early childhood service or group of services were asked if they could name two things that were going well at their service/s and two things that were not going well.

The survey was open to anyone involved in ECE. As could be expected the majority of respondents were in a teaching or hands-on role in an ECE service/s. A good number of owners/investors and persons in senior management roles were also represented.

TABLE 1: Survey respondents

Respondent main role

Percentage and Number

Teaching staff and trainees

69.60% (696)

Owners and investors (may have a financial interest in 1 or up to 100s of services and may have other roles such as teaching in their service)

11.60% (116)

Persons employed in senior management or professional leadership roles (office based), chief executives/ directors who are not also an owner/ investor

8.60% (86)

External teacher educators, ITE staff members, researchers, professional development providers

4.50% (45)

People who are no longer working in ECE or retired

1.50% (15)

Committee or board members of community-based services

0.70% (7)

Early intervention / education support workers

0.40% (4)

Non-teaching staff in an ECE service/s

0.30% (3)

Students (enrolled in tertiary education and not volunteering or working in a service)

0.50% (5)

Parent volunteers

2.30% (23)

The Results

Confidence in the Government

The survey asked: “Generally speaking, do you feel the government is taking things in the right direction for early childhood education or would you say things are seriously heading in the wrong direction?”

As the education sector is generally favourable towards the Labour Party, it could be expected under a Labour Government that attitudes toward future prospects for ECE would be improving. But, the percentage of people who believe government is taking ECE in the right direction has almost halved from 30 per cent to just 16 per cent compared with this time in 2019.

TABLE 2:  Respondents’ confidence in the government taking things in the right direction for ECE and comparison to previous years.


Right direction

Wrong direction

Neutral or can’t say


Net % right direction


% (number)

% (number)

% (number)

% (number)



16 (164)

55 (549)

29 (287)

100 (1000)



30 (269)

49 (444)

21 (187)

100 (900)



26 (147)

42 (233)

32 (175)

100 (555)


Following on from this the survey asked: “Do you think things will improve, worsen, or stay the same for the ECE Sector over the coming 12 months?”

Previous surveys in 2018 and 2019 were already showing low confidence that things would improve (net -13%, -34%). This lack of confidence that there would be improvement worsened in 2021 (now -46%), matching the lack of confidence in the government’s direction seen in the previous question.

TABLE 3:  Respondents’ confidence in improvement in the ECE sector over the coming 12 months and comparison to previous years




Stay the same


Net %


% (number)

% (number)

% (number)

% (number)



8 (81)

54 (542)

38 (377)

100 (1000)



12 (106)

46 (415)

42 (379)

100 (900)



23 (130)

36 (198)

41 (227)

100 (555)


So what has happened to cause this worsening in confidence in the Government to deliver improvement?  Why is there a new wave of despondency through the sector? For answers, the comments volunteered by respondents were analysed.

Firstly, it was found that many consider the government to be continuing to miss the waka (boat) on understanding what the right direction is and what improvement means.

“They sound like they want to move in the right direction. I am just not sure they know what the right direction is.”

“I don’t understand how Labour could have possibly thought it was good idea to change it so the person responsible doesn’t have to be ECE qualified any longer, and you can have babies and children and not a single adult on the floor is ECE qualified.”

“I don’t see any action to improve. Bringing in overseas staff just means more people for qualified NZ teachers to supervise.”

“The answer is not bringing in high school teachers from other countries, allowing them to do a graduate diploma then work in our unique bicultural setting. Value the NZ Bachelor qualified teachers you have!!”.

“The government has created a machine where anyone can open or buy a business and meet minimum requirements with ratios, work their teachers to the ground then keep replacing them because it is driven by profit, money that is given to them to offer quality! The centre doesn’t see that money – apparently it gets eaten up in operational cost.” 

“Some service providers have asked for increased funding. I feel that makes no difference. The root of the problem is ECE as a business model. Increased funding will just mean more profits for centres and more businesses acquiring centres and continuing the downward spiral of exploited teachers and neglected children.”

“Whānau should have options. Changes to home based ECE restrict those options. EG: whānau and first language-based education and care will no longer be an option. This is prejudiced, mono-cultural and results in assimilation, not value in diversity and sense of belonging.”

“Services are struggling to get by and it will only get worse. There is so much competition and yet we continue to see more and more services popping up so that childcare becomes all about what is free not what is quality.”

“The government needs to seriously look at and listen to what is happening in ECE for teachers and for children. Our children are suffering in huge centres, with unhappy staff, terrible ratios, horrendous noise levels and a real lack of focus on attachment and relationships.”

“The powers that be, still don’t value these small humans for what they are worth – if they did ECE teachers would be paid better and ratios reduced in centres, as well as having a cap on the size an ECE centre can be. 150 tamariki spread over any area at one time is insane and unfair on them – the children.”

Secondly, while the government has developed a plan for improvement – Early Learning Action Plan 2019-29 – the comments revealed a perception that government is failing to deliver improvement.

“Government full of empty promises.”

“I don’t know enough about what they are doing. But the positive changes that are needed are not being felt.”

“I mean it can’t get worse right? But they need to act NOW. Not in 5 -10 years – NOW.”

“I think they are taking so long that many teachers that voted for them are losing patience and burning out waiting.”

“They just couldn’t care less. Period.”

“Labour government seems to be losing their way and spending has spiralled out of control but not for the ECE sector.”

“ECE has been steadily declining, especially when National were in government, but under Labour I still haven’t had an increase in pay and I’ve pretty much been on the same rate of pay for the past 10 years.”

“ECE hardly seems to be on the radar for the govt and does not feel like a priority while we are working harder, more pressure being added and continuously taking more work home to keep up with workloads.”

The early childhood sector does not seem to be alone in its view that the government is failing to follow-through on policy commitments. In fact, the government’s implementation of policies generally has become so poor that the Finance Minister has announced a new policy implementation unit within the Department of the Prime Minister which he will be heading.

Rating government performance in some key policy areas

Respondents were asked to rate the government on how well it had done in:

  1. lifting the quality of ECE
  2. putting the “free” back into the funding policy of 20 hours free ECE
  3. boosting support for parent-led services like Playcentre and Kōhanga Reo
  4. lifting teacher pay

On no policy area did the government receive an average rating of 3 (satisfactory) or better. The Government was deemed to have performed worst on lifting teacher pay followed closely by lifting the quality of ECE and boosting support for parent-led services.

TABLE 4:  Respondent rating of government performance on four policy areas (Rating scale: 1 unsatisfactory to 5 outstanding)


weighted average

“1” unsatisfactory

“2” minimally unsatisfactory

“3” satisfactory

“4” exceeds satisfactory

“5” outstanding

Lifting the quality of ECE






Less than 1%

Putting the ‘free’ back into 20-Hours ECE







Boosting support for Playcentre & Kōhanga Reo







Lifting teacher pay






Less than 1%

Respondents were invited to comment on the ratings they gave and many respondents did.

a) Lifting the quality of ECE

The government received an average rating of 1.8 out of 5 (unsatisfactory) for its performance in lifting the quality of ECE

Respondents commented that this was an area where there were signs of progress.

“I can see the Ministry of Education is releasing documents with the intent to improve quality, but not enough follow up or implementation work is done to ensure we understand their intentions.”

“The Ministry of Education has made promises to reduce the number of licences being granted and shut down poorly performing services but it seems to be slow in enacting these proposals.”

Many respondents however felt that any progress made so far was not enough.

“I NEVER take my daughter unless I am working there – I have no trust for the ratios.  I know my team are capable and care, but I also know they are over worked and set up to fail. Until ratios are improved nothing will change. Child safety is at risk, quality and best practice is impossible – teachers are being set up to fail.”

“Introducing the level 4 requirement for home-based educators was fantastic. But I’m qualified and I get paid the same pittance. I’m considered very low income, yet I’m battling daily to increase the children’s knowledge, social, emotional (which is a big one in this community) so they, the Ministry of Education, get a big pat on the back and we get nothing.”

“All the ECE’s I relieve or have relieved at are not providing learning that’s valued because they don’t have the resources and the time and it’s not even feasible. I myself as a reliever am there to only child mind the tamariki and have very little quality interactions, i.e. reading aloud to tamariki.”

b) Putting the ‘free’ back into 20-Hours ECE

The government received an average rating of 2.2 out of 5 (minimally satisfactory) for its performance in putting the ‘free’ back into 20-Hours ECE.

Fortunately for the government, some services have themselves kept the ‘free’ in their provision of 20 hours ECE.  Also, where there is competition for child enrollments due to an over-supply of services this has led to services offering free and discounted deals, thereby helping to keep the cost of childcare down. However, the 20-Hours ECE funding is still largely treated as, and viewed as, a subsidy that is helpful for supporting child attendance, but still comes at a cost.

“Whānau who may not have otherwise enrolled in Kindergarten are using our services due to the minimum fees.”

“The equity funding we get subsidises the difference between 20-hour funding and actual costs, so we aren’t winning in other areas of equity for children.”

“Meal charges are impacting on this with it not being 20-hours free.”

“This gets abused by centres saying do not put teaching time into these children who are not paying.”

“I had to ask a parent to withdraw a child because of accounts not paid. The government needs to make 20 hours FREE.”

c) Boosting support for Playcentre & Kōhanga Reo

The government received an average rating of 1.9 out of 5 (unsatisfactory) for its performance in boosting support for parent-led services.

Four per cent of respondents rated the government’s performance in boosting support for parent and whanau-centred services such as Playcentre and Kōhanga Reo as exceeding satisfactory or outstanding. All these respondents came from teacher-led services and gave a high rating because they considered these services had enough support compared with their own.  

Comments from other respondents revealed a different picture.

“What support?”

“The government have done nothing and this is affecting our communities and parents.”

“Playcentre is undervalued and government fails to see the mental health support it provides especially for new mothers and the outstanding educational opportunities children are provided with.”

“We are required to do everything so similar – the Ministry of Education expects high quality reports etc but we get less funding.  They are making it harder for us to gain qualifications needed to keep open.”

“The lack of funding for Playcentre created more publicity for Playcentre which was good, and then they increased funding slightly in the Budget, but a lot more work needs to be done.”

“There has been so much more expectation and responsibilities placed on our parents so we can meet supervision criteria and it is keeping families away from joining.”

d) Lifting teacher pay

The government received an average rating of 1.4 out of 5 (unsatisfactory) for its performance in lifting teacher pay.

Stories that respondents shared in their comments about the impact of low wages on themselves or on others showed that many are struggling still.

“I would not be able to rent a house if I wasn’t married. Pay is disgusting.”

“I’m losing money being a teacher. I’m living from paycheck to paycheck and almost went well into the negatives over Covid. This is awful to treat a dedicated qualified and registered ECE teacher this way. There are people at Countdown and the Warehouse not even in managerial type positions on more per hour than me. Hence in the coming months I will be leaving my passion for a menial job just to survive. The government have broken my heart.”

“As a manager I spend every roster trying to make sure that each person has the hours they need to barely survive. I have two teachers who have come from domestically violent homes, 4 single mums, and the living costs are just going crazy. The little percentages here and there are a joke.”

Respondents thought government Budget 2020 announcements on lifting teacher pay reported in the media were very misleading.

“The 2.3% funding increase that was meant to be spent on pay, we never received it in pay”.

“The last minor increase was hardly enough to cover additional rising costs, let alone significantly improving pay – could only do a small increase (in our teacher pay) – would have loved to do more.”

Budget 2020 provided for an increase in the minimum salary attestation rate for teachers working in non-kindergarten teacher-led centres. While respondents were in general pleased about this, they noted it had limited benefit especially for teachers who had been working for several years.

“Good the base salary starting rate has lifted it might attract new teachers although it’s still only just above living wage and the minimum adult wage, and really for all that training and cost”.

“I have been working from 2007 and a new teacher and me are getting paid the same? How is this fair?”

The survey responses also highlighted a perceived unfairness in the funding allocated to lift wages.  The funding was only for teacher-led centres.

“Home based wasn’t even included in the funding increase to increase teacher minimum pay to $23 and however many cents it was. We pay our visiting teachers $31-$35 currently and include cars, phones, and free childcare in their packages as well. We do this on the standard funding rates for home based which is a huge struggle. Our teachers are under stress and the gap is getting bigger between sectors, not to mention the fact that the minimum wage is catching up to what teachers are paid in ECE.”

“Please pay qualified teachers in Playcentre more than $22 dollars an hour. I have done 15 years teaching.”

Confidence in the Minister to deliver pay parity

Respondents were asked “Are you confident Minister Chris Hipkins will make sure that ECE teachers have pay parity with school teachers by the time of the next election in 2023?

A lack of confidence in the minister to deliver pay parity was expressed. The majority, 64 per cent, said they were not confident that pay parity would be delivered by the end of this term in government. A further 17 per cent thought that while the Minister would make some progress, he would not achieve it. Only 4 per cent of respondents were confident that pay parity would be delivered and 15 per cent could not say/did not know.

Respondents expressed disappointment in the government because promises about pay parity were made but delivery on the promise was being dragged out. The fact that the Education Minister, already a large portfolio, was also handed responsibility for handling the Covid response was seen as an indication that the government did not feel ECE was important.

“We have been pushed back and pushed back and pushed back. Having a minister split between 2 portfolios has been a back breaker for ECE. It’s crumbling faster than I thought it would.”

“I don’t think there is much intention to fill this plan, we are being silenced with empty promises.”

“I have been in the sector for 23 years. We were promised that if we became degree qualified, we would get pay parity with primary teachers – that hasn’t happened.”

Another point made by respondents was that it was useless to give funding increases to achieve pay parity for ECE teachers, as happened in Budget 2020, without sufficiently strong accountability.

“They need to monitor where the subsidy money paid to service providers is going, or more funding will not do anything to stop teachers from being exploited.”

“Even for teachers in kindergartens the parity of pay is a joke. Kindergartens are open through the school holidays as well as teachers attending PD and meetings. This is not parity with primary.”

The comments offered by respondents who answered yes to this question, suggested that hope was mixed in with confidence. They held hope mainly because they believed there was a lack of other option.

“This has been a long time coming and is a gaping hole of sexist embarrassment that they (the government) will want to close.”

“Very hopeful this will be obtained. If not, the sector will be dire. Many leaving for better work conditions and wages that meet our qualifications and workloads.”

“The Labour Government is most likely to achieve this of all other parties.”

What is going very well and not going well

The survey asked all respondents who came from an early childhood service/s if they could name two things that were going very well for their service/s and two things that were not going well.

Their responses were analysed by type of service, revealing the overall concerns and successes for services within each sector group. These are shown in the lists provided below.  Please note that these are the concerns and success most frequently mentioned. Because something is not listed for one group does not mean that it is not something that is also happening in one or more other sector groups, but just that other issues on top overshadowed it in the responses received.

Owners/ Investors

To be business friendly, the Government needs to know what the current situation facing owners/ investors is – specifically what is going well and not going well from their perspectives. Below are the things most on top for service owners/ investors.

Going well

  • Occupancy rates.
  • In-house professional development for staff.
  • Recruitment has got easier/losing fewer staff due to fewer work opportunities (border closed/ staff redundancies in other services).

Not going well

  • Managing the budget/funding insufficient in relation to staff wage requests/meeting employment obligations e.g. minimum wage increases and new public holiday.
  • Relationship, communication with ERO/Ministry of Education.
  • Retaining staff when they aware they would earn more in other roles (e.g. as an Education Support Worker).

Kindergarten Association teacher-led centres funded for teacher pay parity (‘free kindergartens’)

Going very well:

  • Participation – full rolls/consistent incoming enrolments.
  • Conditions of work/pay increases/pay parity.
  • Team culture/ passionate team/stable team.
  • Relationships with children, families, and community.
  • Time for internal evaluations/focus on quality teaching/professional development/mentoring/new professional resources.

Not going well:

  • Upper management/ head office/lack of assistance for settling in new team members/lack of recognition of teacher burnout/denied rest breaks/ bullying/ unprofessional practices/unethical motives/decisions affecting workload and kindergarten operation made without consultation with teachers.
  • High child:adult ratios/not enough staffing/ supervision difficulties/younger children enrolling and kindergarten environment not suitable for age.
  • Lack of support for children with challenging needs/ diverse learning needs/special needs/not enough Education Support Worker hours.

Teacher-led centres under community ownership (including centres managed by Kindergarten Associations not funded for teacher pay parity)

Going very well:

  • Maintenance of quality adult:child ratios.
  • New enrolments coming in/ more enquiries.
  • Cohesive team/good communication between staff.
  • Management striving to offer best conditions/best pay – works for long-staying staff /retention.
  • Parent relationships.

Not going well:

  • Service financially struggling/ restricted budgets for things like teacher pay, providing non-contact time and retaining teachers – fear of having to sell to a company or close, compromise on providing quality for children by reducing staff ratios – risk to team morale.
  • Competition from new services opening in vicinity/corporate services offering free or cut-price fees to parents.
  • Problems finding relievers.

Teacher-led centres under private ownership

Going very well:

  • Financial/profit/good revenue coming in from fees/Government continued support during lockdown.
  • New centres/upgrading facilities.
  • New enrolments coming in/more enquiries.

Not going well:

  • Staff recruitment/can’t replace teachers who have left/higher staff turnover/lack of permanent staff to build quality for children/high teacher pregnancy rate/staff not able to take rest breaks/staff not able to take leave/not able to offer non-contact time to staff/staff not able to go home when sick due to staffing issues.
  • Staff conditions of work and pay/unhappy staff/staff hours reduced/insufficient time allocation for paper-work/no teacher pay rises but ill-feeling created by new staff getting ‘market’ rates and unqualified staff on minimum wage getting pay increases.
  • Regulations ignored/staff ratios/not sitting with tamariki when they are eating/poor supervision/ increase in child accidents.
  • Staff mental health/exhausted staff/burnout/low staff morale /staff lack of professional recognition and involvement in decision-making by management
  • Environmental factors/too many children for space available/children acting up and behavioural issues.

Home-based ECE

Going very well:

  • Increased interest from parents in home-based ECE/more enquiries.
  • Meeting new training requirements/learning opportunities for educators.
  • Morale/ positive attitudes/team cohesiveness.
  • Relationships with parents and families.

Not going well:

  • Loss of educators unwilling or unable to train (e.g., “second language Grandparent educators”).
  • Insufficient income/income fluctuates due to being linked to child numbers/ low visiting teacher pay rates, educators not always able to earn at least equivalent to minimum adult wage without more than 3 children/hard to retain staff and educators due to income/pay issues.
  • Child assessments and paper work encroaching on own personal and family time.


Going very well:

  • New families enrolling/ increase in membership.
  • Community support/community not wanting Playcentre to close.
  • Parent engagement/ contribution/and parent support of parents.

Not going well:

  • Insufficient funds available to individual Playcentres to pay for co-ordinator and staff wages, maintain buildings, etc.
  • Funding at risk – if not meeting qualification requirements/ training parents. fast enough/ not able to get sufficient volunteers to meet ratios.
  • Volunteers struggling to cope with administration requirements.
  • Bicultural commitment weak/unwillingness of some to discuss/participate.


ece-sector confidence survey

The ECE Sector Confidence Survey 2021 results show that while some things are going well in individual services, in the sector overall there are still many issues which need fixing.

Despite an assumption that a Labour government might do more for the sector, there remains low confidence that things in the sector will improve or that the government will assist.

The government has developed a plan for improvement in the ECE sector – Early Learning Action Plan 2019-29 – however respondents’ comments revealed that implementation of policy is not occurring or not occurring fast enough.

Pay and conditions are still an issue for teachers who are concerned not only for themselves but also the impact that low teacher pay and staff retention (especially of experienced NZ teachers) has on the children they look after as they feel ratio levels and the quality of care are not high enough.

The survey shows there is still much work to do, to lift quality, pay and morale within the sector.  The next policy and funding announcements are critical to how the sector will progress or otherwise over the next few years.

APPENDIX: Enrolments and Funding

The number of enrolments in early childhood education (ECE) has fallen over recent years (see Table 5). The number of services has marginally increased, while the the number of teaching staff employed by teacher-led services has continued to increase since 2016 but decreased in 2020; however the number employed in 2020 was still more than in 2016.

TABLE 5: Number of children, services, and teaching staff 

Children enrolled201,675200,588190,348
Teaching staff in teacher-led services29,50931,41830,476

There has been a drop in the number of children participating in ECE but this is not reflected in total government expenditure on ECE service provider funding claims (including entitlement funding for child hours such as 20-hour funding, equity, and targeted funding) which has continued to increase (see Table 6).

TABLE 6: Government expenditure on ECE funding claims (2016/17-2019/20)

Financial Year

Total funding to ECE services
($000, GST excl)









However, in the last financial year government expenditure on ECE as a proportion of total expenditure on education dropped by 1 per cent (see Table 7), suggesting that ECE may be becoming an even lower spending priority in education for the government than it has been.

TABLE 7: Government’s total expenditure on ECE as a proportion of total public expenditure on Education (2016/7-2019/20)

Financial Year

Expenditure on ECE as a proportion of total expenditure on education










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