Choosing a school

Children attending state schools are generally expected to go to the school that is nearest to where they live.

Schools in New Zealand are grouped into areas known as 'zones'.  Children living inside the zone for a school are guaranteed a place there.

You can apply for your children to go to a school in a different zone, but children living within that school's zone will get first preference. 

Some schools do not have zones, so you can enrol your chidren there no matter where you live. Examples of these schools include schools with a ‘special character’ such as Catholic or Montessori schools. Students are given places based on who will benefit most from that school’s special character.

Private schools also generally do not have zoning restrictions.

Schools which only enrol children in their local zone are usually strict about it. So it pays to think carefully about school zones when you are deciding where you want to live.

To find out which school you are in the zone for, follow the instructions on the Govt.nz website.

The Ministry of Education website has more information about New Zealand schools, how to to choose a school and how to enrol your children.

School zones and reviews | Govt.nz

School zones and how they work | Ministry of Education 

Types of schools

Getting to school

Something to consider when choosing a school is how your children will get there. 

There are primary schools in every suburb and town, sometimes several of them. Most New Zealand primary school pupils can walk or ride their bikes to school but some parents choose to drive them.

Many younger pupils travel in a ‘walking school bus’ – an organised and supervised group walking in a line. This is a good way for your child to meet other children who may not be in their class at school.

Intermediate and secondary schools tend to be bigger than primary schools. They serve a much wider geographic area so there are usually fewer of them. Children are more likely to ride their bike or use public transport to get to school. The school zones Mapfinder website shows the bus routes children can take to school.

Some schools are eligible for a transport subsidy. That means either they provide a special school bus service for pupils, or parents qualify for an allowance to help with transport costs.

You can find out more about eligibility, entitlement zones, bus routes, school bus safety and travel assistance for students with special needs in the school transport section of the Ministry of Education website.

NZ school zones Mapfinder | Ministry of Education

School transport | Ministry of Education

Researching schools

There are many ways to find information about the schools you are considering for your children.

School records

The Ministry of Education's 'Education Counts' website has useful data about schools, including the number of pupils, attendance records, and how the students are performing against National Standards or qualifications.

Family choosing a school in New Zealand

Schooling is compulsory in New Zealand from age six to 16. 

The Education Counts website also has a link to each school’s Education Review Office (ERO) report. ERO is the government office that assesses the performance of schools. It assesses every school in New Zealand at least once every three years and publishes its reports online.

School websites

Schools in New Zealand also have their own websites. Visit school websites to find out about:

  • costs
  • uniforms
  • food options, eg whether they have a cafeteria
  • extra curricular activities, such as sports, arts, special subjects
  • whether before and after school care is available.

School visits

You should visit the school in person, speak to the staff and check for yourself what its grounds and facilities are like.

Contact the school directly and either make an appointment or ask when it will be holding its next ‘Open Day’ (a day when anyone can visit and look around the school).

Decile rating

The government uses a calculation to decide how much funding a school needs. It reflects the percentage of the school’s students that live in low socio-economic or poorer communities. Lower decile schools have more students living in poorer communities.

The decile rating is a reflection of the community the school serves, not a measure of the school’s quality.

See the Ministry of Education website for more information about deciles and how they are calculated.

Find a school | Education Counts

Find a school's decile rating | Education.govt

About ERO reviews | Education Review Office

Deciles - questions and answers | Ministry of Education

Choosing a school | Ministry of Education

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Page last updated: 14/05/2019

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