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 are usually expected to attend a school in the zone that includes their home. To see which school zone you live in, check the Ministry of Education’s ‘school finder’ website.

You can apply for your children to go to a school in a different zone, but if it is popular and there are not enough places available, children living within the school's local or 'home' zone will get first preference. Everyone else will go into a ballot for any remaining places.


Schools that restrict enrolments to 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.

‘State integrated’ schools, that is schools with a ‘special character’ such as Catholic or Montessori schools, do not have geographic zones. Students are allocated places based on who will benefit most from that school’s special character.

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 how they work | Ministry of Education 

NZ school finder | Ministry of Education

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 great way for your child to meet other children that 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

From age six to 16, schooling is compulsory in New Zealand. 

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. You should 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

This is a calculation the government uses 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

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: 17/11/2017

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