Early Childhood Education provider Te Rito Maioha says the increasing number of early childhood centre closures is a clear signal that all is not well within the ECE sector.
"A record 215 ECE centres have closed in the last year and should be seen as our canary,” says Kathy Wolfe Te Rito Maioha Early Childhood New Zealand CE. “These closures should be an alarm for the government, sending a clear signal that decisive action is needed. Just like a dead canary signalled that coal miners needed to take immediate action, these closures demand an urgent response.”
“While it’s important for the wellbeing of tamariki that underperforming services are closed for non-compliance, the sheer number of centres shutting their doors to families is worrying. What makes this even more concerning, is that the conditions that are driving many owners to close are not being rectified. From increased expenses, high compliance costs, endless reform that ‘robs Peter to pay Paul’, to a chronic shortage of teachers, Centre owners are now facing a perfect storm.”
Kelly Seaburg of New Shoots agrees. “The costs associated with running a centre have jumped significantly, whether that’s food, nappies, rent or power. That’s forcing some owners to walk away from the stress of trying to remain a viable business. For some operators that are financially struggling and making poor decisions as a result, that’s rightly bringing them to the attention of the Ministry.”
“We need the government to get the fundamentals around funding and regulations right. Because the red tape and funding model for the whole sector is unworkable and too costly for operators and ultimately parents. Recently the government heard the sector’s concerns and backtracked on their plan to make 20 hours free for two year olds because there was a disconnect on how their own policy interacts with their regulations. They didn’t appreciate their policy would force providers to work at the minimum ratio of one teacher to 10 children and financially cripple many other providers” says Mrs Seaburg.
“It’s mind boggling,” says Mrs Wolfe, “the system is so complex that even the government got its own financial calculations wrong. While the government have committed to meeting the sector on a potential funding review, they still haven’t agreed to an independent review of the funding model. This funding review needs to occur now before even more centres close, and we lose our diversity of choice, and more importantly access for tamariki to early learning.”
“The system is broken, owners are telling us this, teachers are telling us this and the record number of closures should confirm what we’ve been telling the government. But somehow the decision makers are as yet unwilling or procrastinating to admit the reality” says Mrs Wolfe.
Sharon Lange is one of those former owners that walked away. Sharon owned a centre called Little Ferns Childcare in Palmerston North but sold it two years ago because it was ‘simply too stressful’. Sharon worked at least a 60-hour week while undertaking a range of roles in the centre as the manager, a teacher and the administrator.
Little Ferns Childcare were licenced for thirty children (10 under twos and 20 over twos) and employed a total of seven staff. The centre operated above the teacher child ratio to provide better care, quality education and look after the teacher’s wellbeing.
“As an ECE teacher I’m passionate about creating a great environment for our kaiako and helping them to learn and thrive,” says Sharon. “That’s one of the reasons I operated above the minimum teacher child ratios because I wanted to make sure the children under our care were all well looked after and received the attention and education they deserve. But the funding model from government just doesn’t support quality care, and unless you’re willing to pass on the additional costs to parents, or you have economies of scale (owning multiple centres), smaller centres can be caught between cutting costs by offering a lower level of education and care or walking away.”
“And that’s the choice I made. I was borrowing money in the final weeks before the Ministry funding rounds, so I was only just surviving. In the end the personal stress, the financial pressures, the hours I worked, the endless red tape and the unpaid non-contact time I put into keeping the lights on just wasn’t worth it. So I chose to get out,” says Mrs Lange.
Newshoots and Te Rito Maioha commissioned kindello to generate a map from the Ministry of Education data that illustrates the closures in Aotearoa. The graphic reveals that many of our main centres are overrepresented with closures.
1. There were 215 closures for the year (to May 2023).
2. The ten-year average is only 85 closures per year.
3. The closed centres were licenced for a maximum of 11,215 children.
4. 7,729 of those licenced positions were for two-year-olds.
5. Only 67 new ECE services opened in 2022.