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Regulation Change to Allow Primary / Intermediate Trained School Teachers to Be Persons Responsible for Babies and Toddlers

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Chris Hipkins Minister Early Childhood Education

The Minister and the Ministry of Education think ECE training is not needed for a person who is responsible for supervising the quality and safety of care and education provided to children under 6 years.
First published 8 January 2020. Updated 23 January 2020.

Key points on ECE Training is Not Needed

The Minister of Education has pushed through a regulation change to allow teachers who are primary/ intermediate school trained to be a ‘person responsible’ in early childhood centres for children under 6 years. The regulation change came into force on 9 January 2020.  

Note that:  when a primary trained teacher is the ‘person responsible’ and can be so at any time including opening and closing a centre, centres must still have at a least 50% ECE qualified teachers on their staff.  The requirement to have at least 50% qualified ECE teachers has not changed. 

The regulations state that 50% of required staff must hold a recognised qualification, an early childhood teaching qualification recognised by the Teaching Council of Aotearoa New Zealand for registration purposes. This was widely interpreted as meaning that at least half of staff working on the floor in any centre and counted in the adult-child ratio must hold a recognised ECE teaching qualification. 

50% ECE qualified requirement
  • However, on 23rd January 2020 the Ministry of Education issued new guidance and clarification on the Person Responsible requirement and its interpretation of the  50% ECE qualified requirement 
    → whereas previously every licensed centre was required to have at least one ECE qualified teacher on the premises when it was operating – because the ‘person responsible’ was required to be ECE qualified – now ECE centres can operate without any ECE qualified adult present.
    → teacher-led ECE centres can operate for at least some of the day without any ECE trained teachers being present. Centres only need to have copies of the ECE qualifications of sufficient adults for the service licence size and prove they are staff.  The Ministry of Education allows for one third year student who is still studying and not yet successfully completed their training to be counted toward meeting the 50% qualification requirement and therefore defines a student as being an ECE qualified person. Any or all of the adults defined as ECE qualified for the 50% ECE qualified requirement may be in the staffroom, on lunch, on leave, on holiday or just not rostered on that day or that week or month. An ECE teacher working at two centres owned by a company may be counted in the 50% requirement for both centres.  
    → service providers would be wise to apply for the maximum number of children to be stated on their licence, even if they never intend having the maximum number attending, as this will provide greater flexibility in staffing. As mentioned by David Haynes (see below), a centre licensed for 150 children could have 70 children with no ECE qualified teachers present and still meet the 50% ECE qualified legal requirement.  
    → a centre that is licensed for say 19 children and requires a minimum of 2 ‘teachers’ can now have a ‘person responsible’ who is primary and not ECE qualified and a student who has not yet successfully completed their ECE training.
  • The Minister of Education told Cabinet that the regulation change for the person responsible requirement would still ensure “a high presence of ECE qualified teachers in teacher-led centres”.  It is now very clear that it does not. Cabinet members will have approved this regulation change based on incorrect information.
  • Any person considering a career in ECE will be driven to consider training in primary education, thereby keeping their options open.
  • The Minister of Education told Cabinet he believes this change will be good to encourage more teachers trained in primary education to work instead in ECE – but he would have to fund pay parity before many would dream of doing that. 
  • It sends a clear message that specific training in ECE is not valued. A person who may have only taught 10- or 12- year olds can be responsible for the welfare of infants and toddlers and pedagogical leadership of teaching staff in ECE centres that operate very differently to schools.
  • Pay parity for teachers in non-kindergarten ECE was not considered and it will certainly not be helped by this change along with other solutions to ease wage demands such as bringing in more overseas teachers.

Minister Chris Hipkins told cabinet “this change should ease pressure on centres and boost teacher supply without reducing the quality of provision.”  (But, how does removing the need to have any ECE qualified teachers not affect “the quality of provision”?)

What Just Happened?

Commentary by David Haynes (8 January 2019)

On 27th November 2019 the Ministry of Education released a Regulatory Impact Assessment on changing the person responsible requirements in teacher-led, centre based services. The Minister of Education put forward his case to cabinet. Cabinet approved the change and the consequent Amendment Regulations

What’s Going On? 

In August 2019, a small group of large ECE providers and/or their representatives (the Early Childhood Council industry lobby group, Montessori Aotearoa NZ, NZ Kindergartens Inc and Te Rito Maioha) requested to met with the Education Minister to discuss how to increase the supply of teachers and remove pressure on staffing (this would help limit pressure on wages to be increased). As an outcome of this meeting the Minister announced a financial package for overseas teacher recruitment. They also asked the Minister to relax the requirement that the person responsible in an ECE centre be ECE trained and allow teachers who were primary trained to be the person responsible for the first and last 90 minutes of the day when there were fewer children.

There was no hard evidence to support this proposal. The Ministry describe the evidence as “anecdotal”.  Nevertheless, the Ministry consulted on this proposal for the Minister.  They received submissions both from those in favour and from those against.  Those in favour felt that they had difficulty filling the person responsible role.  Those against believed strongly that the pedagogical leader in an ECE centre should have ECE qualifications.

The Ministry’s solution tried to address the stated concerns of both sides; the four providers/representatives’ wish to use primary trained teachers as the person responsible has been granted, whilst the requirement to have 50% of teachers holding an ECE qualification remains.  Remember, primary trained teachers count as trained for funding purposes, but they don’t count towards the percentage of staff who must be ECE qualified teachers.

Prior to the Amendment Regulations being issued it was crystal clear that a teacher-led ECE centre had to have someone with an ECE teaching qualification present at all times because the ‘person responsible’ had to hold such a qualification. 

However, the change may now lead to confusion about the 50% requirement. It is possible to interpret Regulation 44 as meaning that the 50% rule applies to the total number of staff employed to meet the adult/child ratios when the centre has the maximum number of children present allowed by its licence. 

Schedule 3 of the Regulations allows up to 150 children to attend an ECE centre.  If the 50% requirement only applies to the maximum number of children that a centre is licensed for then (consulting the table in Schedule 2 of the Regulations) it would be possible for a centre to have 70 children present without there being any ECE qualified teachers on site.  Cabinet were told that they were agreeing to a regulation change that ensured “a high presence of ECE qualified teachers in teacher-led centres”.  It seems unlikely that they thought that they were agreeing to have teacher-led centres operate without any ECE qualified teachers present.  However, that is one interpretation of the Minister’s regulation changes.

Does This Matter?  What do I Need to Do?

In practical terms you can carry on just as before.  If you want to open your centre without any ECE trained teachers being present then you would be well advised to seek your own advice from the Ministry and read the regulations.

Was This a Good Idea?

No, it wasn’t, and don’t let anyone try to tell you that it was.

The person responsible is “directly involved in, and primarily responsible for, the day-to-day education and care, comfort, and health and safety of the children” (Regulation 3) and must supervise “those children, and the adults providing education and care who supervise them” (Regulation 44(1)(d)(i)).

Would a primary school appoint an ECE qualified teacher, that has not done a primary qualification upgrade, as principal?  If not, then why is it acceptable for someone with a primary teaching qualification to be responsible for the education of the children and the supervision of ECE qualified teachers in an ECE centre?  Would a primary school operate without any primary trained teachers on site?  The only message that this change sends is that specialist ECE qualifications are without value, and that is not correct.  The research clearly shows that the quality of ECE is linked to training in this field.

What Happens Now

You are now able to have a primary qualified teacher as person responsible, but you must still have 50% of your teaching staff with an ECE qualification.  Whether or not you can open without having an ECE qualified teacher present depends on the Ministry’s interpretation of Regulation 44 – and if it now issues advice that the 50% ECE qualified requirement can be met without having any ECE qualified teachers on site. 

A further amendment to the Regulations, so that the regulations are clear and unambiguous, would seem to be highly desirable.

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