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. 

The three layers of rules

There are three 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 also provide guidance on how to meet or exceed these rules. We supply the early learning sector with information, explanations, examples and reminders on this website and in our Early Learning Bulletin.

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

Compliance tools

1. The Education and Training Act 2020

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

See the Education and Training Act 2020(external link)

See the Early Learning Curriculum Framework | He Anga Marau Kōhungahunga 2023

2. The Regulations

The Regulations are based on the Act, and are different for early learning services and playgroups:

3. 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:

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

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