Putting a value on early childhood education.

Andrew joins the action outside Hekia Parata's office on the green day of action 6 December.

Andrew joins the action outside Hekia Parata’s office on the green day of action 6 December.

When people ask Andrew Allen what he does for a living, he sometimes tells them he’s a social engineer.

Although his reply is tongue-in-cheek, it’s a pretty good description of a kindergarten teacher’s role.

“We are helping create the next generation – their attitudes to learning, life and other people – really big stuff. We’ll get kids who have trouble socialising and we teach them to communicate, wait their turn, share, self-help skills, and let them be part of a community other than their family,” he says.

Mr Allen is Head Teacher at Tairangi Kindergarten in Porirua and says the work of early childhood education teachers is just as valuable as that of their primary school colleagues.

Back in 2002, when kindergarten teachers won pay parity with their primary school colleagues, it appeared that the government agreed.

Education Minister Hekia Parata frequently speaks about how quality teaching and quality leadership boost children’s learning success and wrote in November that, “Evidence is clear that the quality of teaching and school (and centre) leadership have the biggest in- school effect in raising student achievement to improve educational success.  Similarly, qualified teachers are a key factor in providing quality early childhood education that has a positive impact on learner outcomes.”

However, the reality for kindergarten teachers for the past three years has been quite different.

In 2010 the Government reversed an earlier goal of having all kindergartens and ECE centres staffed by fully qualified teachers. It will now only fund for 80 per cent of teachers to be fully qualified at any kindergarten or centre.

Kindergartens are committed to employing only fully qualified teachers, so are feeling the pinch from reduced funding – $35,000 less per centre each year.

Parents have recently received notice of increased charges for hours above the 20 free and are also asked each term for a donation of 50c per hour to help maintain a fully qualified teaching staff.

The Government is also refusing to properly recognise the value of head teachers, who earn just $2000 a year more than other kindergarten teachers with ECE degrees. It is hardly a tempting prospect since Head Teachers are responsible for 40-plus families, coordinating fundraising and social events, working with outside agencies such as CYFS and Special Education, professional development after hours and during the holidays, upkeep of equipment and resources and maintaining the grounds.

This poor recognition for head teacher roles makes it difficult to attract, resource and retain great leaders.

Negotiations between the New Zealand Educational Institute and the Ministry of Education are yet to find common ground over kindergarten teachers’ key concerns about recognition of head teachers and maintaining pay parity with primary teachers.

Frustration over the lack of progress in negotiations led to a national Green Day of Action on 6 December 2013. It was launched with a noisy early morning rally outside the Education Minister’s Porirua office. In kindergartens, teachers wore green and organised all manner of green-based activities from play dough to finger painting, to raise awareness of the issues with their local communities.

In the following days, delegations of kindergarten teachers visited MPs around the country.

Informing kindergarten families and the wider community about these issues is essential to gain wider support and pressure the Government to re-instate qualified teacher funding and recognise the role of Head Teachers.

If you believe Kindergartens need to stay 5-star, contact your local MP and tell them why http://www.parliament.nz/en-nz/mpp/mps/current/

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