Book your three-year-old into a high quality private ECE centre and it can cost $300 a week or more” over and above the “20 hours free”. Given that the take-home fulltime minimum wage is $460 a week, this cost is beyond many families.

Evidence is mounting, too, that cheap private sector ECE can be very poor quality indeed. In some centres, qualified relievers are being wheeled in once a week to make-up minimum “qualified” staff ratios, unqualified staff work on “0-hours” contracts, and very young children are being picked up from home and bussed to industrial-scale centres.

It’s a long way from what NZEI has established as the minimum for quality: 100% qualified staff, good ratios, small group sizes, positive relationships (with families especially), and a warm and loving environment.

The research is clear these minima are needed for very young children to learn well. Fortunately, they’re freely accessible to most New Zealand children” at kindergartens run by state-funded associations.

5-star-protestiJN

Judith Nowotarski

Flagship

“Kindergarten has been the flagship for ECE in New Zealand for many years,” says NZEI president and kindergarten teacher Judith Nowotarski, “but we’re struggling.”

The government, however, is unresponsive to concerns, saying that spending in ECE has jumped by 74%. It’s not so quick to mention, though, that this increase has occurred over a decade (read an analysis of education spending by economist Peter Harris). Or that a large proportion of the increase went on the “20 hours free” policy, which was intended in part to cut fees to parents and encourage attendance. Or that the number of children receiving 20 or more hours a week of funded ECE has climbed by 60%” to 176,317 funded places.

This means the spending increases in ECE, over and above increased rolls, have barely exceeded inflation.

Funding cut

As well, kindergartens were hit with a 14% cut to funding in 2011 when the government stopped funding for 100% qualified teachers. Kindergarten associations remain committed to “100%”, but have had to cut corners to do it.

“At a professional and ethical level I’m committed to 100%, but for the first time, next year, our kindergarten will employ a part-time unqualified person for lunchtime cover,” says head
teacher Sarah Schubert .

“It’s one of the things our association has had to do because of the funding cuts. Our professional development budget is cut, our maintenance budget is cut. The normal funding for resources is cut” we now rely heavily on parent contributions and fundraising,” says Schubert, from the thriving Meadowbank Kindergarten in Auckland.

In tandem, teacher workload has risen. “It’s only Wednesday afternoon and I’ve already put in 50 hours. I spent Sunday here on gardening, learning stories and assessment. “I love what I do so it’s worth it. I’m lucky in a sense that I’m not married and don’t have children, but that’s something I’d like to do so I won’t always being doing these hours.”

5-star in Papamoa

When it comes to 5-star, Papamoa Free Kindergarten is another that walks the talk. Just before Christmas, children starred in the premiére screening of a 30-minute film called The Legend of Mauao meets WOW, about how the local maunga got its name. The premiére was held at the nearby primary school and families, teachers and children dressed up to walk a red carpet and celebrate their amazing show. It represented months of extra work by all involved and put teaching and learning at the centre of the community.

[g1_quote author_name=”Julie Sullivan” align=”right” size=”m” style=”solid” template=”01″]

You have to have families on board so they can gain an understanding of how children learn. We have the opportunity to show the way, rather than preaching, and it happens by osmosis.

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“Our philosophy is centred on relationships,” says head teacher Julie Sullivan. “We are child-centred, and we try very hard to engage our families, and the broader community. “You have to have families on board so they can gain an understanding of how children learn. We have the opportunity to show the way, rather than preaching, and it happens by osmosis.”

Papamoa Kindergarten holds a Green-Gold Enviroschool award, which means “we’re committed to the natural environment,” says Sullivan. “We’re a pretty small site but we’re lucky to have access to a really beautiful property once a month. The children have grown to love that place.”

The children learn about sustainability, use recycled materials and learn their local legends. They re-enacted The Legend of Mauao meets WOW and over many weeks this was filmed by kindergarten teachers and then edited by the digital technology teacher at Papamoa College.

Sullivan puts the success of the environmental programme at Papamoa down to a team of amazingly committed and experienced teachers. “It’s about being a team with a linked philosophy.”

Teachers at Papamoa, as at many other kindergartens, have experienced budget cuts, longer opening hours and a longer year. But so far they have kept the kindergarten free to parents, although a donation is sought. But, also like others, fees are under consideration and may have to be introduced to maintain the quality of the service.

The entire ECE sector, including services outside kindergarten, is experiencing the effects of the 2011 funding cuts. In the longer term, Sullivan is concerned that the kindergarten associations will be unable to fund and develop new kindergartens in growing areas” and children there will miss out on having the option of attending their local kindergarten.

Stop press

Kindergarten teachers refused to back down on a claim for more money for head teachers, which had been on the table for 10 years” and just before Christmas, a decent offer came through.

Kindergarten teachers will retain pay parity with primary teachers and head teachers, who currently receive slightly more than other teachers, will receive an extra $2000 a year leadership payment from January 2016, along with other improvements.

The new collective agreement was ratified by members in January. Actions by teachers, whanau and communities are credited with bringing sense to the negotiations. Members attended paid union meetings in force. They responded to the Head Teacher Retention and Recruitment Survey with powerful and passionate arguments, and the Green Day of Action on December 6 was successful.

[g1_quote author_name=”Julie Sullivan” align=”left” size=”m” style=”solid” template=”01″]

The work-load has increased dramatically. The hours are longer, the year is longer, the teaching teams are bigger. The ministry wants a lot more information from us. There’s more pressure to keep your rolls up and there’s pressure to fundraise.

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As head teacher Julie Sullivan put it, “The work-load has increased dramatically. The hours are longer, the year is longer, the teaching teams are bigger. The ministry wants a lot more information from us. There’s more pressure to keep your rolls up and there’s pressure to fundraise.”

Kindergarten teachers were particularly upset that Education Minister Hekia Parata had been talking up professional leadership, but refused to fund the head teacher claim. Head teachers do not have parity with primary principals, and receive only $2000 a year for a substantial extra workload. Even the additional $2000 a year will still be well below equivalent loadings in the compulsory sector.

“It’s really, really important,” says head teacher Sarah Schubert. “We want that professional pathway within kindergartens. It’s important for quality teaching and learning.” Julie Sullivan is the staff representative on her local association, and noted a low level of applications for head teacher roles compared to teacher roles. “People don’t want to put their hand up.”

Survey proves the point

This was backed by the NZEI survey, to which more than 800 responded. Over 80% of those who had not been a head teacher said they would not take on the role, mainly because of workload and the lack of recognition and compensation.

Respondents spoke passionately: “I strongly feel that head teachers lack the credit they deserve and are paid poorly for the amazing work that they do to ensure quality teaching for the children” and “I think it disgusting that the workload and responsibility of head teachers is not recognised.”