Early Childhood Education Complaints and Incidents Notifications Received by the Ministry of Education in 2016

This report summarises the complaints and incident notifications the Ministry of Education received in 2016 about ECE services and ngā kōhanga reo (early learning services).

Services are meeting requirements

There are minimum licensing standards to ensure early learning services are meeting requirements for curriculum, health and safety, premises and facilities, and governance, management and administration. If services do not meet these requirements, their licence can be changed to provisional. In serious cases we can suspend or cancel their licence.

In 2016 there were 4,609 licensed ECE services and nga kōhanga reo (early learning services) operating in New Zealand, with an additional 927 playgroups also offering ECE. Approximately 98% of licenced services met or exceeded our requirements in 2016.

Licensing gives parents assurance that standards are in place and that quality education and care is being provided – ensuring safe, nurturing environments for children to learn and grow.

When early learning services are not meeting parents’ expectations, they can let the service know. If parents are not then satisfied they can come directly to us with their concerns.

Every early learning service must have a complaints process and make this available to parents. Anyone can raise a complaint, even if they wish to be anonymous.

We assess all complaints, and determine whether they require further investigation or other appropriate action. We support services to lift the quality of the education and care they provide.

Having a complaints process allows us to support services to make changes as needed. We share any general findings to learn from with other early learning services.

More information on how to raise a complaint with an early learning service or with the Ministry of Education can be found on our Parents website.

Complaints received in 2016

Figure 1- Complaints received in 2016 by Ministry of Education region and total number of children attending ECE

Graph showing complaints received in 2016 by Ministry of Education region and total number of children attending ECE.

In 2016 we received a total of 331 complaints about licensed early learning services.

Each complaint was assessed by our regional education offices. After assessment, 245 complaints required further investigation.

The number of complaints we received in 2016 remains small when compared to the total 4,609 early learning services nationwide, and the more than 200,000 children nationally who attend those services.

86 complaints did not require further investigation, and were closed. These complaints:

  • were referred to the service’s own complaints procedure
  • were referred to another agency
  • didn’t involve the Ministry, because the service or another agency can respond more appropriately.

Some complaints were not investigated because the complainant withdrew their concerns or did not want action to be taken. In some cases the complainant simply wanted their concerns noted, but action was not required (for example a parent whose child had been removed from the service and their concerns were resolved by the early learning service).

74% of complaints resulted in further investigation

We investigated 245 (74%) of the 331 complaints we received in 2016.

Complaints related to regulatory standards about curriculum, governance, management and administration, health & safety, premises and facilities, and adult-to-child ratios.

Similar to previous years, in 2016 the two most common regulatory categories of complaints received were governance, management and administration, and health & safety. The number of complaints related to health and safety can be partly attributed to an increased awareness of the legal responsibilities of early learning services.

Figure 2 - Complaints received and investigated in 2016 by regulatory category

Graph showing complaints received and investigated in 2016 by regulatory category.

*Some complaints relate to multiple categories. In these cases, the complaint is counted in all relevant categories.

Upheld complaints

After investigation, we upheld 163 complaints (67% of all complaints investigated). This meant that our investigation found that there were grounds for the complaint. In some cases it was found that one or more regulatory standards had not been met (a ‘breach’), but this is not the case for all complaints we upheld.

In 2016, we received and upheld complaints relating to one or more of 27 categories. Note that complaints can relate to more than one type of category.

Table 1 – Complaints received and upheld in 2016 by type

Type of complaintDescriptionReceivedUpheld
Abuse or Neglect Allegations of physical or emotional injuries inflicted on children, including verbal abuse, isolation of children and physical harm 34 12
Accidents Allegations of poor accident management procedures, including insufficient reporting of accidents to parents, children injuring each other and accidental injuries suffered by children 30 8
After-School care Allegations of services providing an out-of-school service for over-5s while simultaneously providing a licensed ECE service for under-5s 0 0
Behaviour Management Allegations of poor behaviour management strategies used by teachers 39 10
Child leaving premises Allegations of children accidentally leaving a service due to unsecure premises or a lapse in staff supervision 11 8
Complaints procedure Allegations of dissatisfaction with the service’s complaints procedure or the response of a service to a complaint 23 4
Curriculum Allegations of poor curriculum quality, such as using inappropriate materials or poor implementation of Te Whāriki 42 22
ECE for over 5s Allegations of services refusing to offer ECE to children over 5 years old 0 1*
Employment practices Allegations of wrongful dismissals, poor staff management and poor employment policies 35 5
Enrolments Allegations of service enrolment policies being unclear, changed with insufficient notice or not meeting the needs of the community 19 5
Exclusions Allegations of children or caregivers being asked to leave a service with insufficient notice or reason 8 1
Excursions Allegations of dissatisfaction with excursion procedures, including policies, staffing, communication and hazard mitigation 0 0
Fees Allegations of overcharging, lack of transparency surrounding fees and subsidies and lack of communication regarding fee changes 40 9
Fraud Allegations of services making fraudulent claims about children’s attendance to the Ministry for funding purposes 11 1
Health and Safety Allegations of general problems with health and safety policies and procedures, including hazard management, food policies, child protection policies and smoking 133 46
Hygiene Allegations of poor hygiene levels including head lice, child illness and cleaning products used 12 1
Management and Administration Allegations of problems with the management and policies of a service including staff turnover, resources, relationships with, and communication from, management 90 34
Noise Allegations regarding the levels of noise at a service. Generally received from neighbouring homes or businesses 8 1
Premises and Facilities Allegations of problems with the services premises, such as lack of space, lack of heating or unsafe playground equipment 44 18
Privacy Allegations of children’s, parents’ or teachers’ information being shared without permission 1 1
Ratios Allegations that there are not enough staff present for the amount of children attending the ECE service 26 8
Regulatory Requirements Allegations of services not sufficiently meeting regulations, including operating without a licence 50 15
Special Education Allegations of staff lacking the skills, experience or resources needed to appropriately respond to the special education needs of children 9 1
Supervision Allegations of insufficient supervision of children attending the service 37 12
Teacher behaviour Allegations of staff behaving inappropriately, generally towards parents rather than children 34 12
Teacher suitability Allegations that staff are unsuited to care for children 8 3
Transportation Allegations of problems with a service’s transport arrangements, such as insufficient seating or insufficient supervision on transportation 4 1

* after investigation, we can find that the complainant’s concerns related to another category.

We work with other agencies to resolve complaints

We take all allegations about not meeting requirements seriously. If a service is not meeting licensing standards, we will act.

We assess each complaint and carefully consider all the factors involved, including if other agencies have been involved in the complaint, or may need to be contacted. There are clear legal requirements that must be followed when the health, safety and wellbeing of children is at risk, including notifying the appropriate agency when something has happened.

In serious cases, this includes working with agencies like WorkSafe New Zealand in the case of accident or injury, New Zealand Police and the Ministry for Children | Oranga Tamariki when children are at risk, or the Education Council in the case of professional conduct of teachers.

In each case, we can investigate alongside the agency, or act on the outcome of any advice or investigation by another agency in relation to a complaint. We follow up to ensure that resolution has taken place.

In some cases, only advice or support from the agency is requested. These agencies can be notified of a concern by a parent or caregiver, the Ministry of Education, the early learning service, or a member of the public.

Table 2 – Referrals made to other agencies from complaints received in 2016

Agency NotifiedReceived
Auckland Council 2
Audit (Ministry of Education) 5
Dietitian 1
A local District Health Board 3
Education Council of Aotearoa New Zealand 14
Employment Relations 1
Fire and Emergency New Zealand 1
Human Rights Commission 2
Learning Support (Ministry of Education) 3
Oranga Tamariki | The Ministry for Children 22
Ministry of Health 1
New Zealand Police 27
NZEI Te Riu Roa 1
Office of the Children's Commissioner 1
Serious Fraud Office 2
WellStop 1
Work and Income New Zealand 2
WorkSafe New Zealand 8

Complaints referred to more than one agency are counted multiple times in this table.

We act on upheld complaints

We require services to take a range of actions to address an upheld complaint, on a case-by-case basis.

In 2016 we responded to upheld complaints by:

  • providing advice and guidance to the service
  • reviewing the service’s policies or procedures
  • providing ongoing monitoring and support of the service
  • establishing an Action Plan for the service
  • providing professional learning and development (including SELO: Strengthening Early Learning Opportunities)
  • amending the service’s licence.

No intervention was required for some complaints. Often we are not required to intervene when the service has already taken steps to address the complainant’s concerns.

In 2016, 47 complaints resulted in an early learning service having its licence amended to provisional, suspended, or cancelled.

With a provisional licence, we require the service to meet specific conditions within a set time period before they can regain their full licence. If the actions are not completed within the timeframe given, the service may lose its licence. The licence must be displayed in a centre-based service, and in home-based services parents and caregivers must be able to request a copy of the licence.

If the breaches are serious or significant, we can shut down the service by suspending or cancelling its licence so that the service is no longer able to operate.

Figure 3 – Number of complaints in 2016 resulting in a licence amendment

Graph showing number of complaints in 2016 resulting in a licence amendment.

*services are commonly placed on a provisional licence before the licence is suspended or cancelled.

In very few instances, following investigation of a complaint, it may be necessary for a service to stand a teacher down from their duties, or to terminate their employment. Under the Education Act 1989, early learning services must also report to the Education Council when they have concerns about a registered teacher’s conduct or if they have had to dismiss a registered teacher for any reason.

In 2016, 24 complaints resulted in a staff member leaving the service. This includes ECE teachers, relief teachers, casual staff, and staff that did not have contact with children in their role. It includes those whose employment was terminated, and those who voluntarily chose to leave.


Many services contact the Ministry of Education to inform us of incidents which happen at the service, such as children being involved in accidents that require medical attention, or situations where Ministry advice and guidance is required.

In May 2016, we made it a requirement for services to let us know when a serious incident, injury or illness involving a child has happened that must be reported to another agency (including the Education Council, WorkSafe New Zealand, and Oranga Tamariki). When we are notified that an incident has happened, we investigate to identify if requirements are being met, and contribute to the investigation of other organisations where appropriate.

In 2016, we received a total of 152 incident notifications. This includes voluntary notifications from services, and services who from May 2016 made a mandatory notification under the licensing criteria. Some incidents also resulted in complaints.

Figure 4 – Number of incident notifications received in 2016 by Ministry of Education region

Graph showing number of incident notifications received in 2016 by Ministry of Education region.

In 2016, a range of notifications and referrals were made, relating to both voluntary and mandatory notifications. In other cases, only advice or support was sought in relation to the incident.

Table 3 – Referrals made to other agencies from incident notifications in 2016

Agency NotifiedReceived
Auckland Council 1
A local District Health Board 1
Education Council of Aotearoa New Zealand 4
Environcheck 1
Learning Support (Ministry of Education) 3
Oranga Tamariki | The Ministry for Children 15
Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment 1
NZ Police 21
Traumatic Incident Team (Ministry of Education) 2
WorkSafe New Zealand 37

Where one or more standards have been breached as result of the incident, further action is required. If a serious breach is identified, the service’s licence can be amended to provisional, suspended or cancelled.

Following these investigations, we can amend the licence status of a service, if the service is found to be in breach of requirements. In 2016, 11 incidents resulted in a licence amendment where a significant breach was later identified. For the remaining 141 incidents, no breach was identified.

Figure 5 – Number of incidents in 2016 resulting in a licence amendment 

Graph showing number of incidents in 2016 resulting in a licence amendment.

*services are commonly placed on a provisional licence before the licence is suspended or cancelled.

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