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Teacher Shortage is Not about a Lack of Teachers

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Opinion article.
November 1, 2018.
Dr Sarah Alexander.

According to the Early Childhood Council 30 percent of its centres are currently stuck – they have staffing issues and don’t know what to do. The ‘crisis’ has developed over the past 18 months claims the ECC.  It could not see it coming – but perhaps it did?

Recently everything has come to align well for the ECC to secure what it wants to get out of governments for its centres – which is to suck on the public teat and spend as little as possible on staffing and improvements. Is it wrong to say this of the ECC? Well, the ECC has shown no signs of acting to quickly support and value the present workforce and bring back teachers who are waiting for conditions to improve before returning to the profession. The ECC has said in a press released dated 15 October 2018 that it wants: 

  • Migrants working in ECE to be exempt from the Visa points policy
  • ECE teachers to be included on Immigration NZ’s Essential Skills in Demand (ESID) list so centre owners/ employers can bypass advertising a position in NZ and can fill vacancies directly from overseas.
  • The Education Council to do away with the English language requirement that foreigners for whom English is not their first language must meet before being awarded a teaching practising certificate in NZ.
  • The Ministry of Education to change staffing rules so a centre can have someone who is not an ECE qualified teacher be responsible for children and open and close a centre.
  • The Government to give public funding at the 80 percent plus qualified teacher rate to centres that have 70 percent qualified teachers and quadruple the number of discretionary hours that a centre does not have to reach the staffing threshold and still be funded at the top rate. 

Also, on 1 November the ECC’s chief executive said on TVNZ’s Breakfast Show that they want the adult to child requirements relaxed so its centres can employ fewer teachers to children.

Inevitably the quality of care and education for our young children will drop (further) if the Ministry of Education listens to the ECC and advises the Minister of Education and Immigration NZ to meet the ECC’s demands.

Staffing Issues Worsening Because of How Teachers are Treated and Low Pay

The ECC has been persistent in denying what teachers have been saying in surveys on problems that include bullying, injury, stress, unsafe adult to child ratios, huge group sizes, and low pay.  See the following: 

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June 2018 report

April 2018 report

Dec 2017 report 

Oct 2015 report

Because it has ignored the warnings, staffing issues are worsening further. Staffing issues have got to a point where a case can be made for adding ECE teachers to the immigration priority list to meet immediate staffing needs .

But this doesn’t have to happen. If the business lobby group gets cracking, it shouldn’t take more than a few months for it to grow its understanding of what makes current staff want to stay (retention), what attracts prospective kiwi staff to want to work in its centres (recruitment), and get a professional in to educate its people on this.

Immediately though the ECC must get a message out to its centre owners to stop growing!  It doesn’t make sense during this time of a labour shortage affecting most industries in NZ, to take on or open more centres if you don’t have a strong reputation as a good employer that people really want to work for.

You need to be able to offer a good team culture and adequate incentives for people to work for you when other employers of not-for-profit service teachers and childcare and kindergarten teachers that come under Collective Agreements mostly can offer this. And, it does not make sense to open more centres or increase capacity for child numbers if you don’t have the resources, i.e. staff.

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