Information for all parties about when a complaint is made about an early learning service.

Level of compliance Main audience Other


  • All early learning services
  • Service managers
  • Educators, teachers and kaiako
  • Parents, caregivers and whānau


How to make and manage complaints about a service, and the procedure that we follow.

What is a complaint?

A complaint is any communication where a person or whānau is unhappy, concerned or not satisfied with a situation, process or decision at an early learning service. A complainant may be a current or past parent of the service, a current or past staff member or a member of the public. 

All early learning services must have a complaints procedure

All services must display a complaints procedure that parents, whānau, and visitors can see and follow should they wish to make a complaint about the service. The procedure must include the contact details of the service’s local Ministry of Education office.

Parents and whānau who want to complain about an early learning service are encouraged to follow the service’s complaints procedure in the first instance. Most complaints are resolved this way and do not require Ministry intervention. See our Parents' website for more information about making a complaint.

Complaints about your early childhood education service – Parents and whānau website(external link)

Lodging a complaint with the Ministry of Education

Parents, whānau and members of public

Any person who is concerned or unsatisfied with a situation, process or decision at an early learning service can complain to the Ministry of Education.

Teachers and staff

Teachers and other early learning staff can complain directly to us if they have concerns about an early learning service that may not be meeting regulated standards and these concerns cannot be resolved directly with the service provider.

Early learning services are required to have suitable human resource management practices in place. But complaints related specifically to resolving employment disputes may require action by another agency. For more information about managing employment disputes, see the Labour Inspectorate website.

Labour Inspectorate complaints – Employment New Zealand(external link)

Maintaining complainant confidentiality

We recognise it is important to provide as much detail as possible about the complaint to the service provider to enable prompt resolution of any concerns. But, we also appreciate that complainants are not always comfortable in being identified and are able to request that their complaint is treated confidentially.

We will endeavour to provide the service provider with as much detail as possible about the complaint to support resolution while ensuring the complainant’s confidentiality is respected and maintained.

What to expect when a complaint is received by the Ministry

We assess all complaints to determine the most appropriate course of action and whether the service could be in breach of regulated standards. We will engage with the service provider contact person when a complaint has been received.

An investigation into a complaint can involve one or a combination of the following:

  • a review of relevant policies and procedures and records to ensure the service has followed their procedures, as well as compliance with regulatory requirements,
  • a visit to the service to inspect the premises and observe teaching practice. We may also ask staff members for information to help inform our observations,
  • participating in a multi-agency investigation.

Our visits to services

Under section 626 of the Education and Training Act 2020, authorised Ministry officials can enter and inspect licensed or certified premises to ensure regulated standards are being met by the service provider.

Section 626 of the Education and Training Act 2020 – New Zealand Legislation(external link)

Our visits may be announced or unannounced.

Announced visits

The majority of visits we undertake when following up a complaint are planned and arranged via the service provider’s contact person. We will connect directly with the contact person as early as possible to outline the complaint and organise a visit to the service.

Unannounced visits

An unannounced visit to an early learning service may be necessary as part of an investigation into a complaint.

We are likely to conduct an unannounced visit when the complaint requires observation of practice and/or the complainant raises serious concerns about children’s health and safety. All unannounced visits are approved by a delegated Ministry manager.

When an unannounced visit takes place, we will:

  • introduce themselves to the person responsible and explain why they are there and,
  • provide evidence of their authorisation to enter the premises – this is located on the back of each official’s ID card.

Following any visit, we will engage directly with the service provider’s contact person in writing to communicate next steps and outline any requirements the service provider needs to meet.

Reclassifying a service’s licence as provisional while they are investigating a complaint

In some circumstances, we may require a service to conduct their own investigation if they haven’t already. When this happens, the service’s licence may be reclassified as a provisional licence. The service provider must demonstrate to the Ministry that a satisfactory investigation has occurred into the complaint.

Reasons a licence may be reclassified as provisional may include (but not limited to):

  • a child has suffered an injury or trauma.
  • a person employed or engaged in the service has or is alleged to have ill-treated a child or committed a crime against children.
  • a child leaves the centre without an authorised person.
  • a child is mistakenly locked in or locked out of the early childhood service’s premises.

Services may use our report template to support their investigation. It is optional. Services may already have their own processes in place for investigating complaints.

Report template: complaint investigation [DOCX, 69 KB]

Multi-agency investigations

There may be times when another agency, such as the New Zealand Police or the Teaching Council, needs to conduct their own investigation in relation to a complaint. This is because each agency has separate legislation they are responsible for enforcing.

When a multi-agency investigation is required, we will inform the complainant and clarify with the early learning service:

  • the purpose of their investigation and area of responsibility;
  • how information will be shared between agencies and complainant privacy protected; and
  • any agreed actions decided between all agencies involved.

Outcome of Ministry complaint investigation

A complaint is upheld if, after investigation, it is found that either:

  • regulated standards have not been met and/or
  • improvement is required in any area related to the complaint.

If it is identified that a service is failing to meet one or more regulatory requirements, the service may be required to complete an action plan or be placed on a provisional licence. In more serious cases, this may result in the service having their licence suspended or cancelled.

An investigation will be closed when we are satisfied that:

  • areas of non-compliance related to the complaint have been rectified; or
  • the investigation finds no evidence of regulatory non-compliance.

In the case of a multi-agency investigation, we may need to first await the outcome of another agency’s investigation before the complaint can be closed. We will provide more information about this process as required.

We will inform the early learning service and complainant of the investigation outcome.

When other issues are identified during an investigation

We may identify additional areas of non-compliance at a service during an investigation into a complaint.

We are obligated to follow up on all regulatory non-compliances identified during an investigation, not just those associated with the complaint itself. It is the responsibility of every licensed early learning service to comply with all regulated standards to obtain and maintain a licence.

If we identify additional areas of non-compliance while investigating a complaint, the service may be:

  • placed on a provisional licence and required to rectify areas of non-compliance within a specified timeframe, or
  • have their licence suspended or cancelled in serious cases of non-compliance.

For more information about changes to a service's licence status, visit the Compliance tools webpage.

Compliance tools

Reviewing the outcome of a Ministry investigation

If an early learning service or complainant is not happy with how a complaint or visit to their service has been managed, the service or complainant can raise their concerns with the Education Manager at their local Ministry of Education office. We will contact the complainant to work through the concerns raised.

Local Ministry of Education offices

If a service or complainant continues to be unsatisfied with our response, a formal complaint may be lodged with the Office of the Ombudsman.

Tari o te Kaitiaki Mana Tangata | Office of the Ombudsman(external link)


Complaints in early learning (printable version) [PDF, 66 KB]

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