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David Seymour criticised for claiming foreign ECE teachers 'less useful'

Jaime Lyth,
Publish Date
Thu, 14 Mar 2024, 2:10PM

David Seymour criticised for claiming foreign ECE teachers 'less useful'

Jaime Lyth,
Publish Date
Thu, 14 Mar 2024, 2:10PM

Act leader David Seymour is under fire after calling early childhood teachers from overseas “less useful” than Kiwi teachers, with one centre manager saying his suggestions will “take us backwards”.

The Associate Minister of Education rejected calls for “pay parity” in early childhood education (ECE) this morning on TVNZ’s Breakfast.

Seymour said teachers from overseas “actually end up getting paid more than somebody who is at a lower pay grade but from New Zealand and is actually more useful in the centre”.

He claimed that pay parity means that you have to pay recently graduated New Zealanders less than someone from overseas who is “less New Zealand-experienced and less useful to the kids”.

New Zealand Educational Institute (NZEI Te Riu Roa) ECE centre manager Megan White rebutted Seymour’s claims about the value and pay of ECE teachers who come to work in New Zealand from overseas.

“This claim makes no sense and is just the minister scapegoating overseas teachers,” White said.

“New Zealand and our ECE centres are diverse, with ākonga [learners] from all over the world, so it’s a good thing that the teacher workforce reflects the learners they teach.”

White said teachers coming to New Zealand are required to learn and teach to the national curriculum, Te Whaariki.

“They also bring their own culture, language and identity which can support building stronger relationships with our diverse students.”

Seymour also claimed there was an “enormous inflexibility around the funding formula” and rejected calls for pay parity in the sector.

He said the amount of money offered to centres “per hour per kid” doesn’t take into account the rates that centres have to pay.

Act leader and Associate Minister of Education David Seymour. Photo / Michael Cunningham
Act leader and Associate Minister of Education David Seymour. Photo / Michael Cunningham

“NZEI say they want pay parity right across the sector, but let’s just be clear what that means, it means an inflexible scale of union-negotiated payments for every single worker in the sector,” Seymour said.

White said that pay parity creates a clear and transparent pay scale, similar to those in schools and kindergartens.

“What Minister Seymour is planning will take us backwards, could end up cutting or freezing teacher pay and make teacher shortages worse.

“The minister’s version of “flexibility” could result in ECE providers paying teachers less, staffing the centres with fewer qualified teachers and thus make more profit.

“The real question is, flexibility for whom? Billions of dollars of public money goes to largely private, for-profit ECE services, so it is crucial that the funding formula is transparent and fair.”

White said NZEI Te Riu Roa wants to see funding for teacher pay separated from funding for ECE service operations, as currently happens in schools.

“This means every teacher’s qualification and experience is recognised fairly and consistently, regardless of where they come from.

“If the minister is serious about keeping ECE teachers in Aotearoa, then he should commit to paying new teachers earlier in their career and providing a faster pathway to higher pay rates.”

New Zealand’s early childhood teachers are being lured to the Australian state of Victoria with promises of incentives and financial relocation support.

Location incentives for Victoria range from $9000 to $50,000, depending on the early childhood education location and services.

Seymour noted that across many sectors, people are leaving for roles overseas.

“Wages and productivity are lower in New Zealand than the countries people are going to, that’s what this Government has inherited.

“However, over the last year, we’ve also seen a 3 per cent increase in the number of ECE teachers... in the country.

“While a lot of people are leaving, the number of people coming into the country is greater,” Seymour said.

A survey conducted by NZEI Te Riu Roa shows that over the past six months, 68 per cent of workers in the sector have considered leaving.

“If we want our children to have quality early learning, we need public money to actually be ring-fenced for teaching - not designed to deliver maximum profit to providers at the expense of children.

“This is more than about making ECE cheaper. It’s about investing in the workforce and capacity in the ECE sector so that we can grow safely. The Government needs to help us do that,” White said.

This morning, Seymour promised an increase in funding in the upcoming budget to tackle the “mass exodus” of teachers to Australia.

“We put about $2.7 billion worth of taxpayer money into ECE each year and we’ll increase that in this budget.”

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