Kindies feel pressure to open longer
By TARA ROSS - Sunday Star Times | Sunday, 17 June 2007

Kindergartens, once leaders in pre-school education, are hiring unqualified teachers as they extend kindy hours and win more government funding.

It is a significant shift, which critics say will lead to an unravelling of kindergarten quality.

"It's extremely sad," said Waikato University early childhood lecturer Jeanette Clarkin-Phillips. "Kindergarten has been the flagship in terms of qualifications and having trained teachers. We've used them as the benchmark to pull the rest of the sector up."

Until last year, kindergartens had to employ only qualified teachers. This is still the case if they run traditional three- and four-hour sessions, but by the end of this year all-day kindergartens (like the rest of the early childhood sector) need to have only half of their staff qualified.

About one in eight of the country's 619 kindergartens have an all-day licence. But that figure -and unregistered teacher numbers - are expected to rise as the government's "20 hours' free" policy accelerates a shift to all-day kindergarten.

From July 1, kindergartens can double their funding by relicensing to open all day and receive the 20 hours' free subsidy.

The Ministry of Education is considering 12 formal applications, while the kindergarten teachers' union, NZEI, is negotiating 60 reorganisation bids.

Wellington Kindergartens has said it will not hire unqualified teachers. Its Auckland counterpart has hired them but is now cutting rolls to avoid hiring more, and is even sending children home rather than hire unqualified relievers.

Kidsfirst, the South Island's largest kindergarten provider, warns staffing shortages on the West Coast and, increasingly, in Canterbury will force it to hire unregistered teachers in its all-day kindies.

"We don't want to," said Kidsfirst chief executive Sherryll Wilson. "Our choice is always to hire a registered teacher. (But) that's where it is heading."

Of Kidsfirst's 63 kindergartens, six have adopted an all-day licence this year and a seventh is about to reopen all-day.

Critics say the swing to longer days is largely driven by kindergartens' need for cash. Kindergartens say they are relicensing to halt falling rolls and meet community demand; working parents want longer opening hours. Centres with extended hours have significantly lifted their enrolments.

"It's a big mind-shift for the community and what we all know as kindergarten," said Wellington Kindergartens general manager Amanda Coulston.

"Kindergarten needs to change with the changing needs of families."

Even in Auckland, where population growth has kept sessional rolls full and waiting lists high, demand for all-day programmes is rising.

Auckland Kindergartens Association general manager Tanya Harvey predicts a fifth of the region's 107 kindergartens may need to open all day to meet community need.

Such a move would improve kindergartens' teacher-child ratios, which are among the worst in the sector. Where sessional kindergartens' ratios are 1:15, all-day kindergartens are required to have 1:10

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