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ECE Teacher Supply and Workforce Strategy – Recruitment and Retention

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Early Childhood Teacher Supply and Workforce Strategy – Recruitment and Retention in NZ.

A policy briefing paper prepared by ECAC for Hon Nicola Willis (Minister of Finance), Hon Erica Stanford (Minister of Education; Minister of Immigration), Hon David Seymour (Minister for Regulation; Assoc Minister of Education).

May 28, 2024

Letter for teachers, managers, and leaders about the work and the path ahead

Full copy of the ECAC ministerial briefing paper on ECE teacher supply, workforce issues, and solutions

Table of Contents

  1. The Purpose of this Briefing Paper
  2. Summary
  3. Background
  4. Data
    4.1 Staff qualification
    4.2 Student teacher enrolments and course completion rates
    4.3 Growth in licensed child places and pressure on staff supply
    4.4 Diversity
  5. Teacher Retention
    5.1 Teacher survey results
    5.2 Employment practices
    5.3 Wages and salaries
    5.4 Valuing early childhood trained and qualified teachers
  6. Teacher Supply Initiatives
    6.1 Scholarships
    6.2 Fully funding the teacher education refresh course
    6.3 Overseas finder’s fee (OFF)
    6.4 Overseas relocation grant (ORG)
  7. Recommendations
  8. Examples of Overseas ECE Workforce Strategies
  9. Concluding Comment

1. The Purpose of this Briefing Paper

The purpose of this paper is to:

  • Outline the current early childhood education (ECE) teacher supply and workforce issues.
  • Provide insight, analysis, and recommendations for an ECE workforce strategy.

2. Summary

All parties in the 2023 government coalition agreed to make decisions that are “lifting educational achievement so that every child has opportunity to get a world class education.” 

The beginning point of a world-class education is to have appropriately skilled and knowledgeable qualified teachers. Research tells us that teachers are a key lever for raising children’s achievement (including social outcomes) in both school and early childhood education (ECE) settings (Alton-Lee, 2003; Farquhar, 2003). 

ECE services need to be appropriately staffed to ensure children’s safety, support their mental health, build trust and partnership with parents and caregivers, and provide a good or high standard of education.  But in the ECE sector, there is a “lack of fully certificated teachers” for staffing ECE services (Seymour, April 16, 2024). 

The Early Childhood Advisory Committee within the OECE formed a subcommittee to undertake a work programme looking into what must change to address ECE workforce supply and retention challenges. This paper sets out our (ECAC’s) findings and recommendations. It includes an overview of the current state of knowledge about ECE teacher supply, actions taken, and an analysis of these actions.

We found that New Zealand does not have an ECE workforce strategy for building a sustainable, skilled, and knowledgeable ECE qualified workforce.  Furthermore, there is a lack of data to fully inform decision-making on the early childhood workforce and especially related to ECE qualified teacher supply, recruitment, and retention.

Current teacher supply initiatives are not making a difference to the ‘teacher shortage’ in ECE. Early childhood teacher recruitment and retention issues are largely not being addressed.

Policy currently does not value teaching staff who are ECE trained and qualified as ‘knowledgeable teachers’ for working in ECE settings with infants, toddlers, young children, and their families.

There are no measures in place to identify where there is high staff churn in teacher-led services and address the causes of this that may include workplace culture and safety, and employment practices.

Any person considering becoming an early childhood teacher can see that there is no assurance of earning a salary in line with what the government agrees a teacher is worth unless they are employed by a kindergarten association that offers state-funded pay parity – yet they will still be performing the same job and meet the same teacher education and certification requirements.  

In this paper we have put forward recommendations for an ECE workforce strategy that covers supply, recruitment, and retention.

A multi-pronged approach is necessary because an approach based on teacher supply alone, such as simply funding more people into teacher training and bringing in more teachers from overseas, can be expensive and ultimately fail if issues with workplace recruitment and retention are not also addressed.

The recommendations made in this paper are to:

  1. Review current teacher supply initiatives.
    • Review the Overseas Finder’s Fee available to ECE service providers as there are questions over the use and benefits of this.
    • Review Ministry of Education Scholarships (ITE and Career Change) for ECE students and require more of these to be targeted to meet specific ECE workforce needs (such as for ECE qualified teachers in hard-to-staff geographical areas).
    • Introduce fully fees funded scholarships to support ECE students who have completed a Level 4 to 6 ECE teaching qualification within the last 5 years to upgrade to a Level 7 ECE teaching qualification recognised by the Teaching Council. A condition of the scholarship could be a one-year bonded requirement to work in an ECE service.
    • Instruct the Ministry of Education to include overseas early childhood teaching experience gained by NZ ECE qualified teachers as relevant teaching experience (worth the same as NZ teaching experience) for the purpose of determining a teacher’s salary step on the salary attestation scales for ECE service funding.
  2. Work to ensure the composition of the ECE teaching workforce better reflects the gender and ethnicity characteristics of the Aotearoa NZ child population.
    • Initiate a public campaign to bring men into early childhood teaching, alongside support for ITE providers and ECE service providers, and developed with the advice of NZ’s top expert in this area Dr Sarah Alexander.
    • Initiate a public campaign to bring more Māori teaching staff into teacher-led services, and development with the advice of the Kōhanga Reo National Trust, Ngā Puna Reo o Aotearoa and the OECE.  
  3. Implement policy, regulation, and practice changes to improve retention and keep qualified, skilled, and knowledgeable teachers in the ECE workforce. 
    • Recognise that workplace culture, safety, and employment practices have an impact on teacher retention and talk about and discuss this publicly.
    • Introduce policy to make sure that all service providers receive course training and can demonstrate they know and understand sustainable and ethical employment practices.
    • Secure funding to maintain teacher pay improvements and continue progress toward providing pay parity – which means pay parity with primary school teachers provided to teachers working in all teacher-led services (currently pay parity is only funded and offered by the government exclusively to teachers employed by kindergarten associations).
    • Support regulating for 50% ECE qualified and certificated teachers in the regulated minimum adult-to-child ratio for the number of children present and work toward achieving 80 – 100%in teacher-led centres. (Note that this would not preclude centres employing staff above the minimum regulated ratios who are not ECE qualified and teachers-in-training)
    • Restore the regulatory requirement that a Person Responsible in teacher-led centres must be ECE qualified and certificated.
    • Retain the recent law change that will require a Person Responsible in teacher-led centres to hold a full practising certificate.
    • From 2025 onward require all primary trained teachers employed for the first time in teacher-led services to undergo an induction and ECE advice and guidance programme – or alternatively remove from policy that primary trained teachers can be counted for funding purposes in ECE. 
  4. Require the Ministry of Education to collect and publicly report more comprehensive data on the ECE workforce.
    • The employment retention rate of overseas teachers in ECE services that receive an Overseas Finder’s Fee payment.
    • The proportion of newly qualified teachers who are still employed in the ECE sector one and three years after course completion.
    • The proportion of ECE qualified teachers in teacher-led services who are employed as permanent staff (including fixed term, full-time and part-times) and the proportion who are relievers or casual employees.
    • The number of ECE qualified teaching staff employed in each group of services in the teacher-led sector by the number of years of recognised ECE teaching experience.
    • The ECE qualified teacher turn-over rate by each group of services in the teacher-led sector and by service ownership (e.g. company, sole trader, incorporated society, city council, charitable trust).
    • The number of qualified teaching staff that hold an ECE teaching qualification by year. (Education Counts currently only reports annual statistics for qualified staff that include those who are trained to work in primary schools).
    • The number of teaching staff who hold a current practising certificate and are ECE qualified by year. (Education Counts currently only reports annual statistics for registered teachers employed in ECE services that include teachers that are ECE, primary, and secondary qualified). 

3.  Background

This report focuses on the teacher-led part of the ECE sector and does not concern staffing in the ECE whānau and parent-led sector.  (The issues for Kōhanga and Playcentre are not necessarily the same as for teacher-led ECE e.g. how to find enough kaiako with te reo which is the main driver of Kōhanga and how to make it possible for parents to have time in Kōhanga and Playcentre to help). 

For many years now an ECE teacher shortage has been in the news.  It was a matter of concern to the Minister of Education as far back as 2009 (Education Report: Tackling ECE Teacher Shortages, 30 July 2009, Metis Number 362593).  The Ministry of Education Teacher Demand and Supply Planning Projection result reports from 2018 to 2023 have not included ECE.  A proposal for a “Future Focused Education Workforce Strategy” was given Cabinet approval in 2018. Following this the Ministry of Education formed an Education Workforce Strategy Governance Group (EWSG) and it released a vision for the Education Workforce in 2019. Nothing more seems to have come from this group since. 

A Government Early Learning Action Plan (ELAP) released in 2019 included a commitment to the following objectives relevant to the ECE workforce:

  • Regulate for 80% qualified teachers in teacher-led centres, leading to regulation for 100%
  • Improve Initial Teacher Education (ITE) to ensure that teachers are well qualified to implement the curriculum in collaboration with other professionals.
  • Develop a sustained and planned approach to professional learning and development (PLD).
  • Improve the levels and consistency of teachers’ salaries and conditions across the sector.
  • Support the workforce to integrate Te Reo Māori into all ECE services.
  • Develop an ECE teaching supply strategy that aligns with the wider education workforce strategy.

The ELAP also saw the need to improve standards such as adult:child ratios and group size. Improving standards would not only facilitate higher quality ECE for children but also improve the teachers’ work environment and therefore their retention.  However, little to no action on most of these objectives has been taken.

The International Commission on the Futures of Education (2021) notes that teachers hold a transformative role in shaping the future of education but that to move forward in education there is a need to:

  • Reimagine teaching and the teaching profession.
  • Recast teaching as a collaborative profession.
  • Recognise professional development as a lifelong learning journey.
  • Mobilise solidarity to improve teachers working conditions and their status.
  • Promote teachers’ engagement in decision making and public debate on education.

In NZ, policy settings have merely been adjusted to respond to service provider lobbying on teacher supply and around the ‘teacher shortage’, resulting in policy that does not value teaching staff who are ECE trained and qualified as ‘knowledgeable teachers’ who educate children at the most important time of their lives (Gunn & Hedges, 2022).  One example is opening the role of ‘Persons Responsible’ to include teachers who are not qualified in ECE.  A second example is a government decision at the eleventh hour not to proceed with a plan to regulate for 80% qualified teachers.

It had been expected for over a year now that come August 2024 any teacher who holds the role of a ‘Person Responsible’ must be one who holds a full practising certificate. A current problem is that the law allows service operators to place beginning teachers in this role who have not completed teacher provisional certification induction and mentoring.  New teachers may not feel comfortable in the role and about the risks to themselves personally and professionally should something go wrong under their supervision. Not going ahead with the change in regulation would acknowledge ongoing teacher supply problems and save ECE business operators money.  But there would be a cost to the quality of children’s education of having only relatively inexperienced staff in centres. Not requiring a Person Responsible to be a teacher who holds a full practising certificate may add to high staff churn in centres placing pressure on teacher supply. 

4. Data

The data presented here was obtained from the last six years of the Ministry of Education annual census of ECE services (June 2018 – June 2023). 

4.1 Staff qualification

Between 2018 and 2023 the percentage of qualified teachers (primary school and ECE qualified) in teacher-led services increased by one percentage point from 68.3% to 69.2% in teacher-led ECE services (see Table 1). 

Statistics on teaching staff with an ECE teaching qualification are not publicly available from the Ministry’s Education Counts website. This is a data reporting limitation. 

The statistics on qualified teachers reported by the Ministry of Education include those with primary school teacher qualifications since the Ministry allowed centres to count staff who held this qualification as qualified for funding purposes in ECE in 2010.  This was a temporary provision to support centres to increase their proportion of qualified teachers, but its temporary nature was forgotten, and it has been left to continue.

Table 1.  Number of qualified teaching staff in teacher-led centres

QualifiedUnqualifiedPercentage Qualified
201821,4679,85168.3%
202323,32810,39669.2%

Table 2 shows that the percentage of qualified teachers in education and care centres increased from 63% in 2019 to 67% in 2020 and 66% in 2021. This increase may have in part been due to the provision of a financial incentive in the form of confirmation in the May 2020 Budget that the 100% qualified teacher funding band would be restored with eligible centres receiving increased payments in November 2020 with advance funding to cover January and February 2021.

Table 2. Percentage of teaching staff with a primary and/or ECE teaching qualification by teacher-led ECE service (June 2018 – June 2023)

Education & CareKindergartenHome-based
201864.090.796.6
201963.294.0100.
202067.393.299.8
202165.693.999.9
202265.093.399.9
202364.994.0100.

Education and care centres (that are not funded as kindergartens) employ a much lower proportion of qualified teaching staff in relation to their total teaching staff number compared with kindergarten and home-based ECE (see Table 2).  Home-based networks are required under regulation to employ staff for each licensed service who are teacher qualified to oversee the care and education provided by educators.  All kindergarten associations are funded to provide full pay parity for their teaching staff with teachers in the primary school sector and have a tradition of valuing a professionalised fully qualified teacher workforce.  

It is worth noting that in the data “Education and Care” is categorised separately to “Kindergarten” by the Ministry of Education not because the services are different, they are not, but because the government chooses to provide preferential levels of funding to “Kindergartens”.  “Education and Care” centres and “Kindergartens” must both meet the same regulatory standards, follow the same curriculum, and deliver the same outputs.  The only difference is that “Kindergartens” are given more taxpayer money with which to meet these standards.

4.2 Student teacher enrolments and course completion rates

Over recent years there has been no large-scale advertising campaign to promote ECE teaching as a profession.  We see this reflected in the fact that there has been no sizeable, sustained increase in the number of domestic students enrolled in Initial Teacher Education (ITE).  More students are dropping out or not completing their ECE teacher training.  In 2022, 68 percent of ECE graduates completed an ITE bachelor’s degree, compared with 84 percent in 2016.  Data is needed on why this is occurring. 

Figure 1 shows that there was a significant rise in student enrolments in 2021.  This may have been related to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and many people in other sectors losing their jobs and looking for new career opportunities. In 2022 the number of enrolments decreased to be just a little lower than the 2019 enrolment number.  (Note that data for the 2023 year was not available from the Ministry of Education at the time of writing this paper.)

Figure 1. Number of domestic students enrolling in Initial Teacher Education for ECE (2018 – 2022)

refer to the full briefing paper for a copy of Figure 1

The Ministry of Education notes that universities continue to produce the vast majority of first-time graduates in primary and secondary ITE but not in ECE. In 2022, 56 percent of ECE graduates were from PTEs, compared with 22 percent from universities and 21 percent from Te Pūkenga.

4.3 Growth in licensed child places and pressure on staff supply

Cost efficiency is maximised when the number of children provided with ECE is greater than the number of licensed child places, as was the case prior to 2016 (see Figure 2).   However, when there are more ECE services there is a need for more staff which puts pressure on staff supply.  When the number of licensed child places in the ECE sector exceeds the number of child enrolments there is more capacity in the system, but the services still need to be staffed. 

Figure 2. Growth in licensed child places in all ECEs (including parent and teacher-led) and number of children served June 2002 – June 2023.

refer to the full briefing paper for a copy of Figure 2

The amount of time children are enrolled in ECE in teacher-led services has changed minimally over the past six years. Table 3 shows that children were enrolled in education and care centres an average of 1 hour more per week in 2023 compared with 2018; 0.7 hours more in kindergartens and no increase in home-based ECE (see Table 3). 

Table 3.  The average number of hours of child enrolment by service type

Education & Care*KindergartenHome-based
201823.217.424.7
201923.317.424.8
202023.317.524.6
202122.717.124.3
202223.317.324.5
202324.118.124.7
* Includes casual education and care centres and hospital-based ECE

In 2023, child enrolments in teacher-led ECE services were down by 7,982 from 2018 (see Table 4).

Table 4. The number of child enrolments in teacher-led ECE services

 Education & Care*KindergartenHome-basedTotal
2018134,70129,04818,267182,016
2019135,23728,23817,196180,665
2020130,90827,48315,022173,413
2021135,34127,63813,879176,858
2022128,43625,09911,326164,861
2023136,77726,74310,514174,034
* Includes casual education and care centres and hospital-based ECE

Table 5 below shows the number of licensed child places in teacher led services (June 2018 – June 2023).  Licensed child places can be defined as the number of children that a licensed ECE service can have attending at any one time – so for example a centre with 30 licensed child places can provide care and education to up to 30 children at a time.  It does not mean the number of children enrolled as the number of enrolments can exceed the number of licensed spaces should some children attend part-time. 

As shown in Figure 3 the size of the gap between the number of licensed child places and enrolments narrowed for the first time for many years in 2023.  What could have caused this?  One hypothesis is that the ECE market had reached saturation point prior to Covid lockdowns, with centres competing for children and offering price reductions and special deals.  Investing in the sector had become less attractive but there was still growth in the number of licensed child places in 2020 and 2021. 

ECE service provider knowledge of the impending introduction of Network Management may have had a dampening effect in 2022/3 on the number of licensed child places. Network Management was delayed for two years following the passing of the Education and Training Act 2020 and was scheduled to take effect from 1 August 2022.  Government decided to further delay implementation until 1 February 2023. 

Table 5. The number of licensed child places in teacher-led ECE service

 Education & CareKindergartenHome-basedTotal
2018133,08925,87131,676190,636
2019139,98425,82130,878196,683
2020144,08925,86628,719198,674
2021147,30026,30925,645199,354
2022149,45426,36922,840198,663
2023149,21726,65917,315193,191

Figure 3. How the number of licensed child places in teacher-led ECE services has tracked with the number of children enrolled over the past 6 years (June 2018-June 2023)

refer to the full briefing paper for a copy of Figure 3

4.4 Diversity

Men and Māori are two groups under-represented in the ECE teaching workforce.

The presence of a low proportion of teaching staff who are Māori (8%) in relation to children (18%) may not support good learning and cultural outcomes for children (see Figure 4)

Figure 4. Percentages of teaching staff and children by ethnicity in teacher-led ECE

refer to the full briefing paper for a copy of Figure 4

Men formed only 3.2% of staff who identified their gender, yet 51% of the children enrolled in teacher-led ECE are male (See Figure 5). An ECE workforce strategy needs to target men as a significant untapped source of supply of workers in NZ Aotearoa.  ECE teacher recruitment and retention clearly favours women. 

Figure 5. Percentages of teaching staff and children by gender in teacher-led ECE

refer to the full briefing paper for a copy of Figure 5

5. Teacher Retention

A teacher shortage has been spoken about in the ECE sector for many years and acknowledged by successive Ministers of Education, but the Ministry of Education has not collected data on ECE teacher retention and turnover in services.  It has not provided/ published analysis of what the problems are and for which service types.

There is a lack of data on teacher retention and turnover however one thing is certain – and that is that a teacher shortage, real or perceived, will not be solved by taking a demand and supply approach alone to increase teacher numbers. Trying to increase teacher supply will end up being an expensive endeavour if there is little or no focus on teacher retention.

In response to service provider claims of a teacher shortage, teachers have claimed that there is not a shortage of teachers but there is “a shortage of teachers willing to work in ECE’.  Some service providers may have more difficulty than others in retaining teaching staff.  Teachers’ have reported leaving the ECE sector and the work they love doing for good because of problems such as low pay, physical and mental burnout, and toxic workplaces (see the next section below).  This impacts on the total size of the pool of teachers available for work in the ECE sector.  

In practice, there are no strategies in place to support ECE teacher retention by addressing workplace culture, safety, and employment practices.  The Education (Early Services) Regulations 2008 place no obligation on service operators to provide evidence of being a good employer or demonstrate they know and understand sustainable and ethical employment practices. 

Service providers can establish new ECE services without considering if they have the necessary staffing resources available locally. For example, a press release issued by the Early Childhood Council service provider lobby group on 22 March 2021, included a statement by its President that he intended to open a new centre later in the year (creating 125 new licensed child places) and wanted government support to bring in 15 foreign teachers to staff it.

5.1 Teacher survey results

To understand more about what is going on within workplaces for ECE teaching staff the OECE surveys teachers from across the country every three years. The results from the latest survey in 2023 show teachers are under stress mentally, physically, and professionally due to employment conditions and workplace practices:

  • One quarter of the respondents (25.7%) had experienced bullying or harassment at work over the previous 12 months.
  • Just over one quarter of the respondents (28.6%) had been injured at work.
  • More than one-third of the respondents (35%) held concerns for children’s learning because of issues such as there being a constant flow of relievers who can’t plan and support children’s learning and a lack of resources to support children.
  • A third of the respondents (30%) did not have time to develop individual relationships with the children in their care. 
  • Nearly half (45.5%) of the respondents from education and care centres reported that adult-to-child ratios were breached – 5% reported this happened “all the time”, 7% “often”, 14 % “sometimes” and 19.5% “rarely”.

NZEI also surveyed ECE teachers in 2023 and its findings support those of the OECE’s three-yearly survey.  Additionally, NZEI asked teachers if they were thinking about leaving the ECE sector – 38% of respondents said that they frequently thought about leaving, 30% said they occasionally thought about leaving, while just 16% said they had never thought about it.

Thinking about leaving is one thing, while doing it is another.  The OECE asked respondents to its survey if they had changed jobs in the last year, and why. 

Twenty-four percent of the respondents had changed their job at least once in the last year to work for a new ECE service employer. The top three reasons for leaving their last ECE workplace were:

  • A toxic work environment (51.4%).
  • Low pay (30.9%).
  • Lack of support for professional growth and learning (22.4%).

Te Pūkenga and Te Rito Maioha researchers asked ECE centre staff about their experience of racism, discrimination, and bullying. Their findings on culturally safe and inclusive early childhood work environments, reported in the NZ International Research in ECE Journal suggest work is needed to ensure early childhood workplaces are more culturally inclusive and supportive of diversity.   

5.2 Employment practices

The Labour Inspectorate conducted a scan of ECE business practices after the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) received many complaints from ECE staff concerning bad employment practices. In 2023 the Labour Inspectorate did an initial round of “Operation Brace ECE checks” involving 33 ECE centres in Auckland represented by the Early Childhood Council group. The intelligence report produced from the scan and the findings from the initial round of checks have not been released – but the information from these could help to inform strategies that would work to improve teacher retention through ensuring employment practices do not breach employment law, are sustainable, and ethical. 

5.3 Wages and salaries

In 2019, the Hon Nicola Willis accepted the petition for ECE teacher pay parity signed by more 15,000 people and presented it to the House of Representatives.  The National Party recognised that low teacher pay was a problem, making the ECE profession unattractive as a career, and causing degree-qualified teachers who continued to be paid little more than the minimum adult wage (even after several years of teaching) to seek out teaching jobs overseas or leave the ECE sector for better wages and less stressful work.

Over the last few years, the exodus of teachers from ECE teaching has been slowed by the government taking steps toward providing pay parity and using the mechanism of salary attestation to require employers to pay their teachers at least at specified salary amounts in return for receiving higher funding rates.

Changes in the delivery and rules for obtaining pay parity funding are needed to strengthen the benefits of it.  Currently, employers can choose to opt-in or out of various levels of ‘pay parity’, so staff are still vulnerable to low pay, and to pay cuts or redundancy.  The salary attestation rules allow service providers not to recognise the years of early childhood teaching experience obtained by NZ ECE qualified teachers working overseas as relevant teaching experience.  NZ ECE qualified teachers working overseas can suffer a considerable drop in pay should they return to teach in NZ.  NZ ECE qualified teachers overseas do not want to return if it means being paid significantly less.  Overseas teaching experience is beneficial in the professional development of ECE teachers. We should be encouraging and not disincentivising teachers from taking overseas sabbaticals.

Beyond the funding allocated in Budget 2023 no appropriation was made by the last Government to ensure that salary attestation rates are kept up with the pay rates of primary and kindergarten teachers. On the 9 April 2024 kindergarten teacher pay rate amounts went up to maintain full pay parity with school teachers but the Ministry of Education did not increase the salary attestation rates to match. 

There is high probability that ECE teachers will leave en masse should the government not provide money in Budget 2024 for pay parity, or not take other actions on teacher pay to ensure service providers do not pay their teachers less than what the government has set as the pay rates for teachers employed by public schools and kindergarten associations (private).   

5.4 Valuing early childhood trained and qualified teachers

The Teaching Council “Snapshot of the Teaching Profession in Aotearoa New Zealand 2023” reports that ECE teachers feel particularly undervalued in the teaching profession by society (p.8).  

Researchers have noted that at policy level there is a lack of recognition of the value of ECE knowledge and training (Gunn & Hedges, 2022).

The first move to devalue the qualification of ECE teaching occurred in 2009.  To get more service providers across the line of having 80 percent qualified teachers to meet the government target of 80 percent qualified teachers in centres by 2010 and 100 percent by 2012, the Ministry of Education proposed that primary trained teachers be counted for funding purposes.  The Ministry said that within its current teacher supply baselines it would be able to fund “a six-week induction followed by an advice and guidance programme to help primary qualified teachers adapt their knowledge and skills to the ECE context”. This was necessary because “broadening the recognised qualifications to non-ECE qualified teachers may be a risk to the quality of ECE, particularly for young children”.  A change in Government, and the 80% and 100% qualified teacher targets were dropped.  However, primary school trained teachers are still counted by the Ministry of Education for funding purposes.  Further, there is no induction and no advice and guidance programme provided to primary school teachers working in early childhood teaching positions.

On 9 January 2020 a regulation change allowed primary school trained teachers to be a ‘Person Responsible’ for supervising staff and children in early childhood centres – until then a Person Responsible had to be one who was early childhood trained and qualified.  Now a licensed teacher-led ECE centre can operate legally with a primary trained teacher in charge and no early childhood trained teachers working with children (for at least some of the day or all day depending on the number of children).   

In September 2021, the Ministry of Education consulted on proposals to amend the Education (Early Childhood Services) Regulations 2008 to require 80% qualified teachers in teacher-led centres. One proposal was to ensure that at least 50% of the teaching staff counted in ratio with children were ECE qualified and the remainder could be made up of primary school qualified teachers.  The Ministry of Education’s data indicated at the time that “most services are well placed to comply with a new 80% requirement” (p.12 Consultation on Tranche Two).  However, in 2023 the government decided against proceeding with any of the Ministry’s proposals that would result in centres being required to ensure that at least one or more of the teaching staff in the minimum regulated adult-to-child ratio were trained and qualified in ECE teaching.  

6. Teacher Supply Initiatives

In September 2022 the government announced a multi-million-dollar teacher supply funding package. The bits in the announcement of relevance to teacher supply in the ECE sector were as follows:

  • An increase in the number of career change scholarships offered.
  • Continuation of funding for the Teacher Education Refresh programme to be fees-free until June 2023 (this has now been extended to June 2024).
  • Two teacher supply initiatives previously only available for the compulsory education sectors were made available for the first time to support ECE teacher supply:  the overseas finder’s fee (OFF) and the overseas relocation grant (ORG)

“Many centres have successfully recruited overseas ECE teachers, and we encourage you to consider this option if you have any immediate teacher supply needs.” (Iona Holsted, Secretary for Education, email to ECE service providers 15/9/2022).

6.1 Scholarships

For many years the Ministry of Education has offered initial teacher education (ITE) scholarships. In 2023, 143 ITE scholarships were awarded to students studying early childhood education. The Ministry of Education also provides career change scholarships. Approximately 60% of carer change scholarships or 76 out of 169 went to students studying early childhood. This provides an indication that ECE teaching is more likely to be a second choice of career for people compared to primary and secondary teaching which is more likely to be a first choice of career. It supports points made earlier in this paper regarding ECE teachers feeling undervalued in the teaching profession and the qualification of ECE teaching being under-valued in government policy.  

The scholarships make it more affordable for students to study for a teaching qualification and some may be targeted at addressing specific needs for teacher supply (such as hard to staff regions). After graduation, students are bonded only to teach for a minimum of 12.5 hours per week for six consecutive weeks or repay the scholarship funds they received, so this does not support improving teacher supply and retention.  Students are not bonded to work in the region in which they studied.

Lack of data makes it difficult to know how many scholarships are awarded to ECE students specifically for teacher supply reasons and in what regions.

6.2 Fully funding the teacher education refresh course

In 2023, 389 people were fully funded to start a TER course, 113 of these were in ECE. This teacher-supply initiative has not been evaluated for its cost-effectiveness and benefits for uplifting the supply of ECE qualified and certificated teachers.

It is a Teaching Council requirement for qualified teachers with previous, limited or no teaching experience to undertake a TER course. This applies to teachers applying for a provisional practising certificate who completed their teacher education qualification more than 5 years ago, who last held a provisional practising certificate and have not taught in the last five years, who have held a provisional practising certificate for more than five years and want to renew it, and teachers who are overseas trained and whose education qualification was completed more than five years ago and who have not taught in the last five years. 

A teacher who qualified overseas and has taught only overseas is not required to undertake a TER course.  These teachers may not be familiar with the ECE Curriculum (Te Whāriki), learning through play, assessment in ECE, and NZ ECE teaching and management practices and rules and regulations.  Going back to cabinet correspondence from 2009 and 2010, there was going to be a requirement for overseas teachers to do the equivalent of what became a TER however this intention did not eventuate.

6.3 Overseas finder’s fee (OFF)

Provision of the Overseas Finder’s Fee as a teacher supply initiative needs to be reviewed for its value and effectiveness. The OFF payment of $3,450 per overseas teacher employed was advertised as being available to “licensed early learning centres”.  An Official Information Request Act revealed that in 2023 the Overseas Finder’s Fee was paid out to childcare centres only and no other licensed ECE services such as kindergarten association kindergartens or home-based ECEs. There are several reported limitations of the Overseas Finder’s Fee payment.

  • Service providers are not required to provide receipts or proof of spending on recruitment of the specific teacher they say they have employed.   
  • It is not targeted to geographical areas where qualified staff may be harder to find and recruit.  (Note that most centres that received the OFF in 2023 were in major urban areas).
  • Nearly all centres that received one or more OFF payments in 2023 were operated by private, corporate, or commercial service providers. Questions that could be asked are: Would these business owners still have employed overseas teachers without the OFF?  Why has the OFF not worked to support teacher supply in community-operated incorporated society ECE centres?
  • There is no welfare check on teachers who are foreign to NZ to ensure that they are paid appropriately, understand NZ employment law, and are not subject to bullying or exploitation.
  • There is no follow-up by the Ministry of Education to check if the teacher is retained by the centre after it receives the OFF payment. There is no requirement for a centre to repay the OFF if they have not retained the teacher and provided suitable employment for at least 12 months.   

6.4 Overseas relocation grant (ORG)

A relocation payment of up to $10,000 is provided as a government teacher supply initiative to overseas teachers who have not taught in NZ in the last 12 months.  Teachers must provide receipts to the Ministry of Education of travel and relocation expenses and are reimbursed for actual costs.

The usefulness of relocation grants to increase teacher supply can be questioned. The grants are not highly competitive with offers made by other countries – other countries can offer greater incentives for relocating, including higher salaries.  The ORG is for overseas teachers who have already moved to NZ and may have already been intending to move regardless of the ORG availability.  

7. Recommendations

This paper has proposed that to provide every child with a world-class education (the goal of the Coalition Government) it will be necessary to have a vision for the ECE workforce and a strategy. The strategy needs to be focused on growing a sustainable, well-trained, and knowledgeable early childhood education qualified workforce.

There are workforce issues regarding teacher supply, recruitment, and retention. Therefore, the recommendations arising from this paper, provided below, cover all three areas.  

1) Review current teacher supply initiatives.

  • Review the Overseas Teachers Finder’s Fee available to ECE service providers as there are questions over the use and benefits of this.
  • Review Ministry of Education Scholarships (ITE and Career Change) for ECE students and require more of these to be targeted to meet specific ECE workforce needs (such as for ECE qualified teachers in hard-to-staff geographical areas).
  • Introduce fully fees funded scholarships to support ECE students who have completed a Level 4 to 6 ECE teaching qualification within the last 5 years to upgrade to a Level 7 ECE teaching qualification recognised by the Teaching Council. A condition of the scholarship could be a one-year bonded requirement to work in an ECE service.
  • Instruct the Ministry of Education to include overseas early childhood teaching experience gained by NZ ECE qualified teachers as relevant teaching experience (worth the same as NZ teaching experience) for the purpose of determining a teacher’s salary step on the salary attestation scales for ECE service funding.

2) Work to ensure the composition of the ECE teaching workforce better reflects the gender and ethnicity characteristics of the Aotearoa NZ child population.

  • Initiate a public campaign to bring men into early childhood teaching, alongside support for ITE providers and ECE service providers, and developed with the advice of NZ’s top expert in this area Dr Sarah Alexander.
  • Initiate a public campaign to bring more Māori teaching staff into teacher-led services, and developed with the advice of the Kōhanga Reo National Trust and the OECE.  

3) Implement policy, regulation, and practice changes to improve retention and keep qualified, skilled, and knowledgeable teachers in the ECE workforce. 

  • Recognise that workplace culture, safety, and employment practices have an impact on teacher retention and talk about and discuss this publicly.
  • Introduce policy to make sure that all service providers receive course training and can demonstrate they know and understand sustainable and ethical employment practices.
  • Secure funding to maintain teacher pay improvements and continue progress toward providing pay parity – which means pay parity with primary school teachers provided to teachers working in all teacher-led services (currently pay parity is only funded and offered by the government exclusively to teachers employed by kindergarten associations).
  • Support regulating for 50% ECE qualified and certificated teachers in the regulated minimum adult-to-child ratio for the number of children present and work toward achieving 80 – 100%in teacher-led centres. (Note that this would not preclude centres employing staff above the minimum regulated ratios who are not ECE qualified and teachers-in-training)
  • Restore the regulatory requirement that a Person Responsible in teacher-led centres must be ECE qualified and certificated.
  • Retain the recent law change that will require a Person Responsible in teacher-led centres to hold a full practising certificate.
  • From 2025 onward require all primary trained teachers employed for the first time in teacher-led services to undergo an induction and ECE advice and guidance programme – or alternatively remove from policy that primary trained teachers can be counted for funding purposes in ECE. 

4) Require the Ministry of Education to collect and publicly report more comprehensive data on the ECE workforce.

  • The employment retention rate of overseas teachers in ECE services that receive an Overseas Finder’s Fee payment.
  • The proportion of newly qualified teachers who are still employed in the ECE sector one and three years after course completion.
  • The proportion of ECE qualified teachers in teacher-led services who are employed as permanent staff (including fixed term, full-time and part-times) and the proportion who are relievers or casual employees.
  • The number of ECE qualified teaching staff employed in each group of services in the teacher-led sector by the number of years of recognised ECE teaching experience.
  • The ECE qualified teacher turn-over rate by each group of services in the teacher-led sector and by service ownership (e.g. company, sole trader, incorporated society, city council, charitable trust).
  • The number of qualified teaching staff that hold an ECE teaching qualification by year. (Education Counts currently only reports annual statistics for qualified staff that include those who are trained to work in primary schools).
  • The number of teaching staff who hold a current practising certificate and are ECE qualified by year. (Education Counts currently only reports annual statistics for registered teachers employed in ECE services that include teachers that are ECE, primary, and secondary qualified). 

8.  Examples of ECE Workforce Strategies Overseas

Other countries have developed ECE workforce strategies, and action plans to address teacher shortages and quality.  For example, in European countries such as Ireland, Finland, Croatia, Austria, Slovakia and France; the European Education Area (EEA) strategic framework outlines statistical data and recommendations provided by the Early Childhood Education and Care Workforce Group (ECEC WG) to inform the European Commission of the state of teacher shortages across Europe by providing 5 pillars presenting the causes and consequences of ECEC staffing shortages internationally.

In the 2023 publication, entitled Staff shortage in ECEC Sector – Policy Brief the importance of ‘having both short term’ measures to address the workforce issues and ‘long term strategy’ to address the root causes of the shortages is argued. (Note that in NZ we have experienced many short-term measures with no long-term evidence for recruitment and retention success of teacher supply).

The ECEC WG recommend the following short term measures and long term strategies;

  • Develop strategies at national and/or local level to tackle staff shortages.
  • Valuing the profession and its education and socialadded value – including communication campaigns to promote how diverse and rewarding working in ECE can be.
  • Diversifying recruitment strategies (e.g. encouraging access to ECE studies within universities, creating clear career ladders for progression accompanied with continuing professional development and support, and addressing the gender imbalance amongst ECEC professionals).
  • Offering motivating and dynamic career opportunities to take on different roles in an ECE setting or context accompanied by the adequate renumeration level, and providing support for leaders who play a major role in supporting the whole team.
  • Offering continuing professional development opportunities to all staff categories, as well as induction period and/or mentoring for new staff members.
  • Improving working conditions: reducing staff/child ratio, increasing salaries and providing additional financial incentives, offering more child-free time to foster professional development and teamwork; offering more stable working hours and contractual status and better working environment.

The Australian Government Department of Education have an ECE workforce strategy called Shaping Our Future.  It aims to foster a sustainable and high-quality workforce of early childhood teachers and educators. The strategy outlines 21 short, medium, and long-term actions across 6 focus areas:

  • professional recognition
  • attraction and retention
  • leadership and capability
  • wellbeing
  • qualifications and career pathways
  • data and evidence.

The 2024/25 Federal Budget in Australia included:

  • $30.0 million over two years from 2024–25 in IT and payment services to deliver on its commitment to provide funding towards a wage increase for the Early Childhood Education sector.
  • $427.4 million over four years from 2024–25 to establish a new Commonwealth Prac Payment of $319.5 per week from 1 July 2025 for tertiary students undertaking supervised ECE mandatory placements as part of their studies.

9.  Concluding Comment

Our intention is to fulfil our advisory capacity to inform and guide the decision-making process for better educational outcomes for all New Zealand’s youngest citizens.

We hope the above background information, data insights, analysis, and recommendations will become a guide to help progress a vision and strategy for the ECE workforce in Aotearoa NZ. 

Kia tau te Rangimarie,
ECAC

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