Preschools face loss of top teachers

By Jacqueline Smith

Early childhood centres will have to sack some of their most experienced teachers next year because they have not completed a specialised course.

The teachers do not have a diploma or a bachelor of teaching degree in early childhood education.

The qualification move come as the Ministry of Education estimates centres will be short of between 1500 and 2600 teachers next year.

Early Childhood Council chief executive Sarah Farquhar said the ministry's stifling qualification requirements were exacerbating the chronic teacher shortage.

The Government has indicated it may rethink the requirements because of the looming shortage.

Education Minister Anne Tolley told the Herald she had asked officials to work on options that could include increased flexibility on qualifications.

Dr Farquhar said that if the problem was not fixed, some teachers would have to be made redundant.

"For many thousands of children in early childhood centres, it would be a shame to be losing some very experienced and capable staff for the sake of meeting a target based on ideology, not practicality.

"We don't want to be losing people who are very experienced and who our children depend on."

But the New Zealand Educational Institute, the union that represents early childhood teachers, says "watering down" the targets could compromise the quality of education.

It says that "if you have quality and qualified teachers ... that's what makes the difference".

The changes to qualifications rules stem from the 2002 strategic plan for early childhood education.

Its goal is for all early childhood centre staff to have the diploma or degree qualifications by the end of 2011.

Today, 50 per cent of staff at an early childhood centre are required to hold recognised qualifications. This will go up to 80 per cent next year, and to 100 per cent in 2011.

Any teacher holding any other qualification, such as a bachelor of education degree in primary teaching, will have to retrain to secure employment next year, regardless of their experience in early childhood education.

Anyone who does not already have a degree will have to spend three years on the diploma course, or four years on the degree course.

Centres are worried they will miss out on Ministry of Education funding if they do not achieve the targets, Dr Farquhar said.

But many of the "unqualified" teachers say retraining is out of the question because of the time and cost.

Even the one-year diploma course for graduates costs $5000.

As well, they say, they cannot be sure of getting into courses because the number of places is capped.

Fiona Houppermans and her partner cannot afford to lose her income while she retrains.

The 26-year-old has a bachelor of education degree in primary teaching, but says she prefers working with younger children.

She has worked in Hamilton early childhood centres for four years.

But because she is not recognised as being qualified, she may lose her job when the targets come into effect, unless she completes a graduate diploma in early childhood teaching.

Aucklander Anna Farrell has a bachelor of arts degree in education, several teaching diplomas, three years of primary school experience, 16 years of early childhood experience and is a mother - but is considered "unqualified" for early childhood teaching.

She is working as an early childhood relief teacher, and says there is ample demand for her services, but she does not know if she will have a job next year.

Statistics New Zealand figures show that 403,230 children were eligible for early childhood education (aged 6 and under) in 2006, and this is forecast to grow by 6 per cent to 426,030 in 2011.

The Early Childhood Council says some centres face closure, while some parents have had their children on waiting lists for months.

Ms Tolley said officials were working on options that could include more flexibility on qualifications.

She said National had proposed measures that would help tackle early childhood teacher shortages by adding more flexibility to qualifications.

These include promoting working while training, allowing English-speaking foreign teachers to qualify after short intensive programmes, and allowing Montessori, Steiner and Playcentre qualifications to count towards the degree.

- NZ Herald

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