Five Key Points from Goals 2 and 3:
- Development of assessment tool to measure the progress of a child’s learning/development;
- Changes in the targeting of funding to children needing support;
- Provide other social services in some ECE centres for community benefits;
- Move to standardise employment conditions and salaries (likely collective agreement);
- Develop a workforce supply strategy.
These two sections are about assessing children to identify those that are falling behind in learning/development and the targeting of funding to assist those who need it most. They’re also about moving to standardise employment conditions and salaries (likely collective agreement) and the development of a workforce supply strategy to get more qualified people into the sector.
2.1 Ensure equity funding supports children who need it
This initiative is about two key areas of funding; equity and targeted. The driver is to ensure that all children get access to high quality ECE irrespective of socio-economic factors or physical or learning disabilities.
The details are very thin but it is indicated that a review of the total amount of funding available and how this distributed will be needed. It’s safe to assume that the TAP funding previously in place will be changed. It’s indicated that there would be an increased focus on providing support to children with disabilities (learning or physical) and that this would be tied into the Disability and Learning Support Action Plan.
This is all positive, the key questions are where will this additional funding come from and what will the new targeted funding programme look like.
2.2 Co-construct progress tools to support children’s learning and wellbeing
This initiative will prove to be controversial as it involves testing the learning/progress of children in the ECE environment. The authors of the Strategic Plan have recognised this as a sensitive topic as the language used is much softer and non-committal than other parts of the Plan. Many people will be sensitive to testing children before school and therefore this initiative will prove to be a hard sell for the government if it is to be adopted.
It is proposed to create a formative assessment tool to measure a child’s learning and development within the framework of the curriculum. There would be guidance provided on how to apply this and how to further support children’s learning. The results of such assessments would identify when specialist support or other interventions are needed.
The intent is to ensure that children with learning or development issues are identified prior to starting school and resources can be directed toward such children. I support the intent but the implementation will be difficult. As well as a teacher shortage, there is a shortage of learning and development specialists and it will be critical to ensure that any workforce strategy considers these professionals as well as teachers.
2.3 Expand the number of early learning services that facilitate wrap-around social services to support children and their whanau
This initiative is about using ECE centres to provide further social services that benefit whanau and the wider community.
There is an opportunity to co-locate health and social services with ECE centres, reducing barriers to participation in ECE and increasing accessibility to vital services. This won’t affect the majority of ECE centres across the country but will provide opportunities for new development to occur that will provide greater impact than just an ECE service alone.
The team at Establish has been working with a number of clients to design and develop comprehensive facilities with health, social and ECE services all under one roof. There are some great synergies with these activities and we are encouraged that the Strategic Plan recognises this.
The challenge for this initiative is in the development model. Such integrated facilities do require larger sites with higher development costs and are therefore only suited to limited areas and select ECE operators.
3.1 Improve the consistency and levels of teacher salaries and conditions across the early learning sector
This initiative is one of the most concerning for any private ECE centre owner. As such, the wording of this initiative is provided below:
“… involve developing a mechanism that enables government support for more consistent and improved teacher salaries and conditions in the early learning sector. The development of the mechanism will need to explore whether this can be done within the existing employment and early learning regulatory framework or if changes are needed to any of these.
It is likely that a new mechanism would require changes to the early learning funding system, particularly because the current system has played a role in enabling variation in pay and conditions across the sector. The mechanism would also need to be designed in a way that helps services with high proportions of children from disadvantaged backgrounds attract suitably capable and experienced teachers…”
The significant majority of ECE owners will agree that teacher salaries should be higher. But this increase in salary needs to come from somewhere. This is either in increased parent fees, increased government funding, or a combination of both.
Additional parent fees can only be absorb by a limited part of the market. In the main, there isn’t the ability to raise parent fees as this will impact too heavily on the affordability of ECE for families. This leaves increased government subsidies as the main source of additional funding to increase salaries. Given the recent primary teacher (and impending secondary teacher) strikes for increased pay and the government’s response that there is no more funding available, I question the willingness of the government to increase ECE funding to enable improved teacher salaries. The majority of private ECE centres simply wouldn’t be able to absorb forced increased teacher staff costs without a significant increase in funding from the government.
This initiative distinctly feels like a push to have all teachers on a collective agreement in what would be a move towards the unionisation of the workforce. Private ECE owners should be able to differentiate pay for teachers based on performance and qualifications – not through a system that treats the best teachers and poor performers the same. Any move that takes away the ability for ECE owners to implement performance-based pay for teachers is a step backwards. If we want to encourage excellence in the ECE sector we must have the ability to financially differentiate between those teachers that put in the extra effort and make a real difference in the life of the children, and those that do the bare minimum required for the role.
The final part of this initiative makes more sense; that services with a high proportion of children from disadvantaged backgrounds would be supported to attract suitably capable teachers. If this means providing additional government funding to centres located in lower socio-economic areas to go directly to high-quality teachers then this is positive. As long as such additional funding was only for teachers’ salaries, this would make sense and would help to ensure that the high quality centres in lower socio economic areas would be able to compete in the labour market for the best teachers.
3.2 Strengthen Initial Teacher Education
This is not my area of expertise so I’ll leave this for other contributors to cover.
3.3 Improve professional learning and development
Similarly, this initiative is not my area of expertise so I’ll leave it for others to cover.
3.4 Develop a workforce supply strategy
When I speak with our ECE centre owner customers, the most common concern is the lack of quality teachers and educators available right across the country. With initiatives that seek to increase the number of adults to children in centres, require all teachers to be qualified, and potentially reduce group sizes – a comprehensive workforce supply strategy will absolutely be needed.
The initiative talks about increasing the intake of Maori and Pacific students into the profession (which is great), but curiously neglects any reference to increasing the supply of male teachers. Surely this is an opportunity to assess how we could attract more males into the sector. Strong male role models are important for all children and we’re missing an opportunity to provide positive interactions through neglecting the issue of low male participation in the ECE teaching profession.
The workforce supply strategy also needs to look at foreign teachers and the associated language tests that have been a significant barrier to recruiting qualified overseas candidates.
Final Thoughts on Goals 2 and 3
Goal 2 is largely about creating an assessment tool to measure the learning and development progress of children in ECE and ensuring that when children need additional support or specialist intervention this can be provided. Measuring the learning progress of children prior to school will prove to be contentious with some parents and groups. This is a positive initiative as it allows for help to be targeted to those that need it and at the earliest possible chance.
Goal 3 is aimed at getting more people into the teaching profession and having all teachers on a collective agreement (or similar) where pay rates are the same across the board, irrespective of an individual’s performance. A workforce supply strategy is definitely needed and is overdue. Taking away the ability for private ECE centre owners to negotiate directly with employees in salary matters is a backward step and something that all private ECE owners should be concerned about.
Whether or not you agree with my thoughts, I invite you all to share your comments. Most importantly, make sure to share your thoughts formally during the consultation period.
Keep a look out for my future articles on Goals 4-5.