Starting a centre-based ECE service

This is a guide for service providers interested in establishing a licensed early childhood education (ECE) and care centre. Please make sure you read the whole document before taking further steps to establishing your ECE service.

Licensing Criteria Cover

Designing and building your new ECE service premises

  • Choosing the site
    • You need to give consideration to the environment that you are choosing for your service. Things like noise, air quality, traffic, surrounding use of properties and soil contamination are important elements to think about.

      In addition, if you are considering operating from premises that will be above ground floor, there are a number of additional factors to consider such as access to outdoor space and emergency evacuation. We recommend you review the information for centres not at ground level and the Guidance for Service Providers - Evacuation Plans for ECE Services in High Rise Buildings [PDF, 394 KB] which provide comprehensive guidance on developing evacuation plans for services above ground floor. 

      We also recommend that you consult as soon as possible with your local Ministry of Education office and also the New Zealand Fire Service if your service will be above ground floor.

  • Resource management and code compliance certificate
    • Resource management consent

      Licensing criterion PF3 requires the premises to conform to any relevant bylaws of the local authority and the Building Act 2004. Resource consent allows a person or group to operate a licensed centre on particular premises. The environmental effects of having an ECE service in the neighbourhood will be considered before resource consent is granted. Sometimes resource consent has to be publicly notified. Consents can be declined or have conditions attached (for example, a higher fence or off street parking may be required).

      If conditions attached to your resource consent limit the full operation of your ECE service (for example, a condition that puts limitations on the times that the outdoor area can be used), your service may not comply with the regulations and therefore could not be licensed.

      Before you invest large sums of money designing your service, it is strongly recommended that you find out about resource consent.

      • The cost of resource consent varies depending on your location and the amount of work your particular circumstances will require.
      • Common issues that are considered are off street parking and noise. Some local governments require there to be one car park for each staff member and one for every 10 children. Requirements may depend on the availability of parking in the general area.
      • Noise and traffic are often a concern to neighbours. You should not 'over promise' on solutions. Instead, focus on how you can best manage the negative impacts of your service on your neighbours. Develop mitigation strategies that you are prepared to follow through. For example, you should not agree that children will not play outside after 3pm. This type of condition is likely to limit the full operation of your ECE service and, as a result, your service may not be granted a licence. Instead you might propose that a screen of plants be used to absorb noise, and that the amount of concrete in the playground will be reduced and all bikes will have rubber wheels.
      • It is a good idea to have parking space for parents to drop off and pick up children at the front of the centre, and put a gate (such as a swimming pool gate) between the car park and the centre. If parking is required, disabled parking will need to be designated.

      For more information on resource consents read A beginner’s guide to resource and building consent processes by the Ministry for the Environment and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

      It is also important to talk to your council about the resource consent process in your area. Council officials can:

      • help you work out whether you will need a resource consent
      • explain how to go about talking with people who might be affected by your project
      • explain how to prepare an assessment of environmental effects – they might also tell you to visit the regional council; and
      • process your consent.

      Code compliance

      Code compliance ensures that the centre complies with the Building Act 2004. Anyone building a new centre or carrying out alterations has to get a building consent before work starts, and then a code compliance certificate when the work has been completed.

      Compliance schedule/warrant of fitness

      A copy of the Building Statement of Fitness or Building Warrant of Fitness (issued by the local council) must be forwarded to the Ministry of Education before your centre can be licensed. If one is not required, the Ministry of Education will need confirmation of this.

      • A building (except a single residential building) with any fire safety systems (for example, alarms) or other specified systems such as lifts must have a Compliance Schedule and annual Warrant of Fitness (Building Act 2004).
      • A Compliance Schedule sets out the required inspection, maintenance and reporting systems for the equipment. The building owner is responsible for obtaining the Compliance Schedule and annual Warrant of Fitness and ensuring all necessary inspections, maintenance and reporting are done.
      • A Warrant of Fitness will be issued every 12 months after this. A copy must be on public display in the building.

      Disabled persons' access

      New buildings used by the public must be accessible for disabled people and have suitable toilet facilities. To achieve access, a ramp may be required.  Often these facilities also have to be included in any significant alterations on existing buildings.

      Consider the following:

      • Build at ground level, if possible, because this will allow easy access for children and their families – including people with disabilities.
      • It may be worthwhile investing money to level a non-level site. Major problems and costs can result from a centre being off the ground. For example, ramps are needed for ease of access into the building and out to the playground. Ramps are costly and often inhibit visual supervision between the indoor and outdoor space. Ramps or steps are harder for young children to negotiate (especially en masse!) than level ground.
      • If a long 'zigzag' ramp is needed to provide a low enough gradient (1:12), it is a good idea if it is built from the side of a deck (rather than to the middle) so it doesn't inhibit visual supervision between the indoor and outdoor areas, and doesn't create a 'running ramp' for children who do not have physical disabilities and could use alternative access. Ramps can create congestion/flow problems if they are the only access for all children.

      You'll find more useful information on resource consents in the publications area of the Ministry for the Environment website.

  • Health report
    • We suggest contacting the health protection officer (HPO) and making an appointment with them to visit to carry out an early childhood education centre authority report (health report). You can search for regional HPOs at your local public health service on the Ministry of Health website or in the white pages.

      The health report is required documentation that needs to be completed before the Ministry of Education can grant you a probationary licence to operate.
      The assessment visit must be carried out when the centre is 'ready for children', that is when all resources, furniture and equipment are set up for both indoor and outdoor play.

      The Ministry of Health's Ngā Kupu Oranga Healthy Messages provides useful information.

  • Fire Service approval
    • Under the Fire Safety and Evacuation of Buildings Regulations 2006, the final date by which a building owner must make an application to the New Zealand Fire Service (NZFS) for approval of an evacuation scheme for a new building is the earlier of 30 days after:

      • the code compliance certificate has been issued for the building, or
      • the date on which the building is first lawfully occupied.

      You can make an application to the NZFS for approval of your scheme as soon as you can complete all the required questions under the Application for Evacuation Scheme Approval which is available on the NZFS website. The website also includes a guide to completing applications, and an example of a completed application for approval of a scheme for a childcare facility.

      It is the building owner's responsibility to provide and maintain an evacuation scheme that reflects the use and occupancy of the building. Since the obligation to maintain an evacuation scheme is an ongoing one, changes to the building may trigger a requirement for the building owner to notify the National Commander of the NZFS, and the building owner may need to review the evacuation procedures and apply to NZFS for approval of a new evacuation scheme. In addition, if you have questions before you make your application, you can call the NZFS Fire Information Unit on 0800 347 346 or email questions.

      If your ECE service is in a building with other tenants, you need to be aware that the fire evacuation scheme approved by the New Zealand Fire Service applies to the whole building and all tenants, and is the responsibility of the building owner. It does not just apply to the ECE service.

      In addition to having an approved fire evacuation scheme (to comply with licensing criterion HS4), you must demonstrate compliance with licensing criterion HS7, which requires a documented evacuation procedure specifically for the ECE premises that covers all emergency situations such as fire, earthquake, tsunami, flood, etc. This procedure has a broader scope than just fire evacuation and must be consistent with the overarching NZFS-approved fire evacuation scheme. The evacuation procedure required for compliance with HS7 is the responsibility of the service provider.

      It may be more difficult to evacuate children from centres that are not at ground level in the event of a fire. Your fire evacuation scheme will need to identify ways to mitigate this. We recommend you read the Ministry's Guidance for ECE Services – Evacuation Plans for ECE Services in High Rise Buildings.

      It is imperative that applications for approval of fire evacuation schemes be made well in advance of the time of the proposed date of opening or changes at your centre.

      Please read the following section before completing your application for a fire evacuation scheme.

      • Before you start to complete the fire evacuation scheme application, you should visit the New Zealand Fire Service website for online evacuation schemes.
      • The Ministry of Education cannot provide a licence to open a centre until the fire evacuation scheme has full approval and is signed off by the New Zealand Fire Service.
      • Legislation provides for the New Zealand Fire Service having 20 working days from receipt in which to make a decision on your application. The decision made will be to ‘approve the application’, ‘not to approve the application’, or, if only minor changes are required, to ‘request further information’.
      • Should your application not meet the standards required or more information is needed, a notification will be sent to you, advising the area/s that need clarification or more information.
      • If only minor changes are required, the NZFS decision date will be extended by a further 10 working days for a final decision to be notified.
      • If the application is ‘not approved’, you will have 20 working days to make the required changes and resubmit the application. When the NZFS receives the amended application it has a further period of 20 working days in which to make its decision
      • See the guidance for fire evacuation schemes
  • Food provision
    • Under the Food Act 2014 (the Food Act) and Food Regulations 2015, if you provide food at your ECE centre or kōhanga reo, it must be safe and suitable. The Food Act applies to anyone who provides food as part of their business. It requires people to provide food that is safe and suitable to eat.

      Depending on what type of food you provide, you may need to register and operate under a Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) National Programme level 2

      Working with a national programme is the way that lower-risk food businesses operate under the Food Act. There are 3 levels of national programmes, which are based on the food safety risk of the activities a business does.

      All national programmes require:

      • record keeping to show that you’re selling safe food
      • registration of business details with your local council
      • one or more visits from a verifier recognised by MPI.

      Exempt services that are not required to operate under a national programme include:

      • Home-based ECE services
      • Centre-based ECE services and kōhanga reo who undertake minimal food handling only, for example provide cut fruit, crackers and spreads, packet biscuits
      • where food preparation is part of the curriculum, i.e. baking and cooking done with children
      • where food is donated or brought by families to share
      • where children bring a lunchbox

      MPI has produced a Factsheet with examples of how the Food Act applies to education providers.

      To find out if the type of food provision you intend to offer at your ECE centre or kōhanga reo is subject to National Programme 2, you can use the MPI Where do I fit tool.

      If your ECE service is exempt from National Programme 2, you still need to ensure that any food at the service is safe and suitable. MPI have resources available on food safety.

      If your ECE centre or kōhanga reo is subject to National Programme 2, you must register with your local Council. You need to register once you have received your Probationary licence.

      1. Before registering, you will need to select a verifier and contact them for confirmation (in the form of a letter) that they will verify your food operation. If your verifier is your local Council then you will not need the confirmation letter. A list of verifiers is available on the MPI website.
      2. Get an application form from your local TA and complete and submit it
      3. Pay the application fee directly to your local TA

      Steps to follow are outlined on the MPI website.

      If you run several ECE centres, then you can complete a multi-site registration with MPI. If you intend to do this, contact MPI at 0800 00 83 83 or email info@mpi.govt.nz to discuss your circumstances.

      Once you have registered your ECE centre(s) and have been operating for approximately one month, your chosen verifier will arrange a time to visit. There will be a charge for this initial verification visit.

  • Code compliance
    • When building work is complete, ensure you apply to your local council for a Compliance Schedule and, if required for your service, a Schedule of Fitness. Code compliance ensures that the completed building complies with the Building Act 2004. A code compliance certificate must be issued to you before the Ministry of Education can grant you a probationary licence to operate.

  • Useful links
    • National Poisons and Hazardous Chemicals Information Centre

      For urgent information requests 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, telephone 0800 POISON (0800 764 766).

      For non-urgent information between 9am and 5pm, week days only, telephone +64 3 479 7227.

      Civil Defence

      The Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management has published a best practice guide: Early Childhood Education Services Emergency Planning Guidance