Press Release – Early Childhood Council
A survey of business confidence, released this week reveals more than 70% of early childhood centres with empty places, and increasing competition between providers. Auckland and Wellington centres are more likely to have empty places than the rest of the country, and more likely to describe their ‘enrolment gaps’ as ‘a big problem’.
The survey finds almost 60% of centres expecting things to be tougher still in 12 months time, and less than 5% expecting things to be better.
Almost a quarter of centres with empty places say the main cause is parents being unable to afford their services.
The Early Childhood Council’s survey of early childhood centre operators was conducted in February (2013).
42% of survey respondents agree that empty places are a ‘big problem’, and 54% say their centre/s used to have waiting lists, but not now.
The survey reveals centres reducing numbers of staff, and controlling pay increases for those they retain. The average 12-month pay increase (to February 2013) was 1.42% for teaching staff, and less than 1% for non-teaching staff.
By far the most prominently feared threat ‘to operating a successful childcare centre in New Zealand in the next 12 months’ is a ‘further decrease in government funding’.
Other perceived threats (in rank order from most to least concerning) include: ‘state of the economy’; ‘complexity of the funding system’; ‘level of government bureaucracy’; ‘government-imposed standards’; ‘inadequacy of support for children with challenging behaviours’; ‘resourcing for services for children under two’; and a ‘lack of work ethic for younger graduate teachers’.
Shortage of qualified teachers, the most pressing problem of the late 2000s, is no longer a concern for most centres.
The survey reveals differences between community and privately run centres with 40% of community centres full, but only 23.5% of private centres.
Early Childhood Council CEO Peter Reynolds said the increasing intensity of competition was ‘the biggest current threat to the quality of early childhood education in New Zealand’.
Many centres were ‘walking a tightrope trying to both maintain high quality and cover their costs’.
They had replaced qualified staff with unqualified staff, slashed professional development for teachers, deferred building maintenance, and cut non-essential services.
‘Meanwhile,’ said Mr Reynolds, ‘the Ministry of Education carries on licensing new centres in middle and high income areas that already have more than enough, while failing to open sufficient new centres in low-income areas where there is a shortage.’
The situation was ‘wasteful and absurd’, he said.
Centre operators, ‘hit by one Government funding cut after another’, were ‘very fearful’ additional cuts would turn the screws even tighter.
Many had already been forced to raise fees for parents, and some lower income families had been lost to early childhood education as a result.
Some, who had been subsidising a low decile centre with income from a high decile centre, were now looking at closing the low decile centre.
Most of the intensifying competition came from other early childhood centres and kindergartens, Mr Reynolds said.
The survey of early childhood centre business confidence was undertaken in February 2013 by 91 centre operators responsible for running about 140 centres nationwide. Sixty-three per cent of survey respondents were from privately owned centres and 37% from community-owned centres.
The Early Childhood Council is the largest representative body of licensed early childhood centres in New Zealand. It has more than 1000 member centres, about 30% of which are community-owned and about 70% of which are commercially owned.