Laws governing early learning

The rules governing early childhood education in New Zealand.

Level of compliance Main audience Other



  • All Early Learning Services
  • Service Managers
  • Parents, Caregivers and Whānau
  • Educators, Teachers and Kaiako

In order to operate, a licensed or certificated early learning service must meet or exceed the rules governing early childhood education. 

Three layers of rules

There are 3 layers of rules governing early childhood education. From the broadest to the most specific, they are:

  1. the Education and Training Act 2020
  2. the regulations
  3. the criteria

We provide guidance on how to meet or exceed these rules.

We also supply the early learning sector with information, explanations, examples and reminders on this website and in our Early Learning Bulletin.

He Pānui Kōhungahunga | Early Learning Bulletin – Education Bulletins(external link)

The Education and Training Act 2020

The Education and Training Act 2020 applies to all levels of education, including early learning, schools and tertiary/vocational education.

Education and Training Act 2020 – NZ Legislation(external link)

Early Learning Curriculum Framework | He Anga Marau Kōhungahunga 2023

The regulations

Regulations are developed based on the Act.

Network approval has a specific set of regulations.

Education (Early Childhood Services Network Approval) Regulations 2022(external link)

There are specific set of of regulations relating to the licensing and certification of early learning services and playgroups.

Education (Early Childhood Services) Regulations 2008(external link)

Education (Playgroups) Regulations 2008(external link)

The criteria

The criteria are based on the regulations and are the day-to-day standards that services must follow in order to retain their licence or certificate.

There are different criteria for different service types:

Licensing criteria for centre-based education and care services 2008 (updated September 2022)

Licensing criteria for home-based education and care services 2008 (updated September 2022)

Licensing criteria for hospital-based education and care services 2008 (updated September 2022)

Licensing criteria for kōhanga reo affiliated with Te Kōhanga Reo National Trust (updated September 2022)

Certification criteria for playgroups (updated September 2022)

Below is a graphic showing how the Act, the regulations and the criteria apply to early learning services.

Compliance with regulations and criteria

When an early learning service does not meet these rules, we use a range of tools to address the non-compliance.

Compliance tools

Last reviewed: Has this been useful? Give us your feedback