The ECE Return

Child plays in sand pit

Common Terms
ECE Early Childhood Education
NSN National Student Number
SMS Student Management System
Ministry Ministry of Education

What is the ECE Return?

The ECE Return is an electronic collection of information from early learning services that focuses on service activity during a particular week as advised by the Ministry. The ECE Return is submitted through ELI Web or an SMS. The information collected by the ECE Return provides information about staff at the service, contact hours of staff in teaching roles during the ECE Return week, teaching languages, and wait times.

As of 2014, the ECE Return replaced the paper-based RS61 for licensed early learning services connected to ELI. Child information collected in the paper-based RS61 is collected via ELI for all eligible early learning services that have connected to ELI, so it is not included in the ECE Return.

This information contributes to a comprehensive information base on ECE in New Zealand and is used by the Ministry to monitor and forecast ECE expenditure and design new policies.

What is the ECE Census?

The ECE Census collects information on children's enrolment and attendance as well as on staff, teaching languages and wait times at each services. This information contributes to a comprehensive information base on ECE in New Zealand and is used by the Ministry to monitor and forecast ECE expenditure and design new policies

For early learning services connected to ELI, the ECE Return, together with child data sent to the Ministry via ELI, are combined for the ECE Census data. For early learning services not connected to ELI, the RS61 form must be completed and sent to the Minsitry for the ECE Census.

Does my service have to complete and ECE Return?

All licensed early learning services connected to ELI need to complete and submit an ECE Return. Refer to the ELI Principles of Use page for more information.

Does the ECE Return collect staff names?

The ECE Return does not collect staff names nor does it identify individual staff members.

Should I include relievers in the ECE Return?

Yes, all staff in a teaching role that had child contact hours during the ECE Return week, including relievers, must be accounted for in the ECE Return.

Please make sure your staff qualification, certification and demographics are recorded/entered for your relieving staff.

Why does my service need to keep our staff records up to date for the ECE Return?

Your service should keep staff records up to date during the year so that you won't have to spend time loading staff details when an ECE Return is due. If your staff records are up to date, you will be able to select from the list of any teaching staff that worked at your service and add contact hours.

ALL staff working at your service in teaching roles, including relievers, and non-teaching roles, should be recorded.

In particular, please make sure you staff's qualification, certification status and demographics are up to date.

Why do some people who have left my service show in teaching staff roles in my current ECE Return?

The ECE Return collects information on all teaching staff who have worked at your service since the last ECE Return.

This information gives the Ministry more insight on changes in the ECE teaching workforce for monitoring and reporting purposes. By including the start and end dates for staff in teaching roles at your service, the Ministry will be better able to determine the numbers of teaching staff in the ECE sector at any point in time.

Please make sure those teaching staff that worked during the ECE Return week have their contact hours recorded.

How is the ECE Return different from the paper-based RS61?

The ECE Return has fewer questions than the RS61, as information about children's enrolment and attendance is already being collected through ELI. The ECE Return collects staff information that is not collected elsewhere. It is a more efficient way of sending the required information to the Ministry as it is completed and submitted electronically.

More information is available on the ELI Information Collection page under the Overview tab.

How often do I need to complete the ECE Return?

Currently, the ECE Return is required to be submitted annually. The Ministry will advise early learning services of the dates for future ECE Returns.

How will I know the date for the ECE Return week?

The date of the ECE Return week for which data is collected will be confirmed in advance by the Ministry in He Pānui Kōhungahunga - The Early Learning Bulletin.

I am a Service Provider for more than one early learning service. Does an ECE Return need to be submitted for each service?

Yes. Each service connected to ELI must submit an ECE Return to the Ministry.

What are 'contact hours'?

Contact hours are the actual child-contact start and finish times for all teachers who were teaching during the ECE Return week. This does not include non-contact time and breaks of 15 minutes or more.

What should home-based coordinators record as 'contact hours'?

The 'contact hours' for home-based coordinators are equivalent to being 'on duty', which means that coordinators are:

  • mainly focused on, and involved in, supervising quality environments for educators and children in their service, and
  • able to instantly respond to educators and parents in their service 'person-to-person' (in person or over the phone).

Please note that 'on duty' does not include times when the coordinator cannot respond instantly to educators and parents in person or over the phone. The contact (on duty) start and finish times should be recorded for the specified days of the ECE Return week.

How will I know the Ministry has received my ECE Return?

Once you have submitted your ECE Return a message is displayed on your screen acknowledging that your ECE Return has been submitted to the Ministry. You can also download an ECE Return Report to see the data that was sent to the Ministry. This report will be available the next day in ELI Reports. Alternatively, you can check with your SMS provider.

If I have made a mistake, can I edit my ECE Return after I have submitted it?

It is recommended that you print your ECE Return for your records before editing or creating a new version.

  • In ELI Web, if you’ve made a mistake in your most recently submitted ECE Return, you can edit it.  This version will then become the current ECE Return displayed in ELI Web for your service.
  • Through your SMS, you may be able to edit your most recently submitted ECE Return but you should check with your SMS provider.

Does the ECE Return information sent to the Ministry influence funding for my service?

No.  However, the ECE Return is a requirement of the ELI Principles of Use.  The Ministry may consider withholding funding if a service does not submit their ECE Return within 8 weeks of the initial request for submission.

Why might the Ministry contact me about my ECE Return?

The Ministry may contact early learning services that have submitted an ECE Return in order to check the data it is complete and accurate.  This is an important part of the ECE census process; to ensure that the information we use for reporting purposes is reflective of sector activity during the Return week.

What does it mean to be a teacher certificated by the Education Council? How is this recorded in my ECE Return?

A teacher certificated by the Education Council holds a practising certificate marked:

  • full,
  • subject to confirmation, or
  • provisional.

When you are completing your ECE Return, any teacher who is certificated (whether marked full, subject to confirmation, or provisional) should be recorded as a teacher certificated by the Education Council.

Services should only select “not certificated” if the teaching staff member does not fall within one of these three categories.

What is a permanent staff member?

A permanently employed staff member is one whom is employed on a regular, continuing basis.

When is a staff member considered full-time?

A person working in a particular role for a minimum of 25 hours per week is considered full-time.

What are the different non-teaching roles my staff can have?

  • Senior management staff
    Senior management staff includes service managers, directors, senior-staff professional leaders, parent liaison, curriculum planning staff, etc.  These staff are not usually involved in the teaching of children but may be available to work in a teaching capacity if necessary.  A person in this role working 25 hours per week or more is considered full-time.


  • Support staff
    Support staff are primarily engaged in maintenance, cleaning, food preparation or administrative support.  A person in this role working 25 hours per week or more is considered full-time.


  • Specialist staff
    Specialist staff are primarily engaged in the care and education of children, e.g. psychologists, physiotherapists, etc.  A person in this role working 25 hours per week child contact time is considered full-time.

What is a qualified staff member?

For the purpose of the ECE Return, a qualified staff member has an ECE teaching qualification or a primary school qualification that is recognised by the Education Council of Aotearoa New Zealand.

Please make sure these are recorded correctly in your SMS.