Parents keen to take advantage of the 20 hours of free childcare being offered for 2-year olds are being warned there could be waitlists to get their kids into centres as the industry grapples with a teacher shortage.
Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said there had been a “really positive” response from parents on the extension to free early childhood education (ECE) for 2-year-olds.
“They’ll know what a big difference this will make,” he said in Hamilton.
While Early Childhood New Zealand chief executive Kathy Wolfe welcomed Thursday’s Budget announcement expanding free childcare, she warned increased demand coupled with the teacher shortage could lead to long waitlists at some centres.
Wolfe said New Zealand centres were already struggling to fill roles with up to 100 advertisements for early childhood centre jobs in the Education Gazette at times.
Minister of Education Jan Tinetti is predicting a 7 per cent increase in uptake from two-year-olds thanks to the announcement in yesterday’s budget that they would also be eligible for 20 hours of free early childhood education.
And now the Victorian Government in Australia is offering as much as $67,000 in incentives for qualified early childhood teachers to move across the ditch.
Victorian Government officials are booking radio ads offering financial incentives of at least $15,000 and as much as $67,000 for New Zealand teachers to make the move across as well as pay rates of up to $54 an hour.
An increase in 2-year-olds enrolling or upping their hours would require more teachers to ensure the ratio requirements were met but there were not enough teachers in training to meet the demand when the offer kicked off in March next year, Wolfe said.
Early Childhood New Zealand chief executive Kathy Wolfe says there are not enough teachers to provide for the demand created by the extension of the 20 hours-free scheme.
Tinetti said the ministry was offering scholarships and support in an effort to grow the number of New Zealanders training to be teachers but said most of the increase was going to have to come from overseas in the short term.
She said early childhood teachers were on the green list for immigration and the Government had extended its offer to help with relocation costs.
Wolfe agreed attracting international teachers or luring former teachers back to the workforce would be required but the organisation was also working hard to increase the number of local teachers going through their training programmes.
She said there had been about a 20 per cent increase in people completing the qualifications run by Early Childhood New Zealand, which saw about 350 locals graduating each year, but many of those were working in a centre while they trained so they were a long way off solving the problem.
There was also the possibility of further early childhood providers closing down given the financial struggles created by pay parity with kindergarten teachers and the extension to the 20-hours-free scheme, Wolfe said.
If parents only enrolled their 2-year-olds for the free hours, centres would still have to hire more staff but the funding rates were not enough to provide full pay parity to teachers meaning they had to find the extra money elsewhere.
“Pay parity has definitely created a whole stress level for services in terms of staying financially viable. They want to be seen to be opting in to pay parity so that they are valuing their teachers and then they get themselves into financial strife.
“This is why the closures have been happening.”
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