The school system
All children aged 6 to 16 years in New Zealand must either attend school or be educated at home. Most children start school when they turn 5.
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All children must be enrolled with a school or in home education by their sixth birthday.
Once your child starts school they must go to school every day unless they have permission not to, for example because they are unwell. By law, they cannot leave school until after their 16th birthday.
There are 13 ‘Years’ in the New Zealand school structure. The ‘Year’ denotes how long a child has been at school.
Schooling is divided into 3 stages — Primary, Intermediate and Secondary.
Primary and intermediate school
Schooling begins at primary school. Children can attend either a contributing primary school or a full primary school. Contributing primary schools are more common than full primary schools.
- Contributing primary schools go from Year 1 to Year 6.
- Full primary schools go from Year 1 to Year 8.
If your child attends a contributing primary school, you will need to enrol them with an intermediate school to complete Years 7 and 8.
After your child finishes primary or intermediate school, you must enrol them with a secondary school to complete their final school years. Secondary schools go from Year 9 to Year 13.
Secondary schools are often called college or high school.
Find out more on the Ministry of Education website.
Enrolling your child in school
To enrol your child with a school, contact the school to find out their enrolment process and get their enrolment forms.
Your child can enrol as a ‘domestic’ student if they are either a:
- New Zealand resident or permanent resident
- New Zealand citizen (includes Tokelauans, Cook Islanders and Niueans)
- student visa holder based on your temporary work visa.
You may need to provide the school with evidence of your child's visa status.
Students who are not eligible to enrol as domestic students may be able to enrol as international students. If your child is not covered by the above list, check to see if they need a visa.
Children starting primary school for the first time at 5 or 6 years old are called ‘new entrants’.
Some schools let new entrants start school at any time during the school year, usually on their fifth birthday.
Other schools use a system called ‘Cohort entry’, meaning children start school in groups at the beginning of each school term. Which term they start in depends on when their birthday is in relation to the middle of the term. You will need to find out which system your child’s school uses.
Whether or not the school uses cohort entry, you still have the option of waiting until their sixth birthday to start your child in school.
New entrants are referred to as either Year 1 or Year 0. Generally:
- children who start the first half of the calendar year are referred to as Year 1
- children who start in the second half of the calendar year are referred to as Year 0.
For more information, check the Ministry of Education website.
Children with previous schooling
If your child is starting school as a newcomer to New Zealand, and they have already had some schooling, you can enrol your child in school at any time of the year.
They will automatically be placed in the same school year as other children of the same age. For example if they are 10 years old, they will probably be placed in Year 5 or 6 with other 10 year olds.
If they are secondary school age, they will be placed in the Year that allows them time to complete their National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) qualifications.
Because each situation is different, it is best to contact the school before you enrol your child to talk about which Year would best meet their needs.
What New Zealand schools are like
School sizes in New Zealand can vary. Most schools have between 100 and 2000 students.
New Zealand school students enjoy focused, personal attention from teachers. Learning involves a balance of practical and theoretical learning. Teachers encourage students to think creatively, independently and analytically.
New Zealand schools are well equipped with computers, the Internet and other technology. They also have a lot of room for outdoor play and sport. Schools usually have their own playing fields and sometimes a swimming pool. They also have cultural activities.
Teachers support many different activities out of school hours, for example coaching sports teams, leading drama clubs and school music groups.
School students also get opportunities for educational trips that allow them to explore and learn about New Zealand’s natural surroundings. They get the opportunity to challenge themselves with outdoor activities they might otherwise never experience.
Discipline in schools
Your child will be made to feel comfortable and safe at school in New Zealand. It is illegal in New Zealand for anyone to use physical force to discipline a child.
A parent may only use limited force to prevent a child from harm. A teacher may not use force in any situation, so physical discipline of children, like smacking, caning and strapping is not allowed. School punishments usually involve extra homework or staying late after school to do tasks while supervised by a teacher.
One of the regional Community Law services has a publication about the rights of children and ways that schools are allowed to discipline children.
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Types of schools and costs
There are 3 types of schools in New Zealand.
- State schools are owned and funded by the government.
- State integrated schools are government funded but may also charge compulsory fees.
- Private schools charge set fees for a term or year.
Most children attend state schools (also known as ‘public schools’).
State schools are funded by the government and the education is free for domestic students up to 19 years of age. However, parents usually need to pay for things like school uniforms, stationery, exam fees and some course-related costs.
You may also be asked to pay for some learning experiences outside the classroom, like school trips or sports events and other activities that are not part of the school curriculum.
- If the event is part of the core education curriculum your child has a right to take part even if you do not pay the additional cost.
- If it is not part of the core curriculum your child can be excluded if you do not pay the cost.
State integrated schools
Just over 10% of students are enrolled in State integrated schools.
State integrated schools are schools with a ‘special character’. This means they may be run by a particular religious faith, eg Catholic, or use specialist education methods, like Steiner and Montessori schools.
Education in state integrated schools is also funded by the government, but they usually charge compulsory fees — also known as ‘attendance dues’ — to help maintain their facilities. The amount is typically around NZ$1,500 a year.
Just under 5% of children attend private schools.
Some private schools take both boys and girls (known as co-educational or ‘co-ed’ schools). Others are single sex schools for either boys or girls. Some private schools have boarding facilities so students can live there during the term.
Private schools are not government funded – they charge set fees by the school term or year. The amount is typically around NZ$20,000 a year. You may be able to get financial assistance to pay the fees.
Home education, or ‘home schooling’, is an option in New Zealand.
Parents and caregivers who want to educate their child at home need to first get approval from their local Ministry of Education office.
School hours, terms and holidays
The school day usually starts at 9am and ends at 3 or 3:30pm.
The school year starts in January. There are 4 terms in a year, with 2-week breaks between them and a 6-week summer break at the end of the year.
- Term 1: late January to early April — then a 2 week break
- Term 2: May to early July — then a 2 week break
- Term 3: late July to late September — then a 2 week break
- Term 4: mid-October to mid-December — then a 6 week summer break.
For exact dates, check the Ministry of Education website.
Most schools in New Zealand are grouped into areas known as 'zones'. Children are usually expected to attend a school in the zone where they live.
To find out which schools are in your zone, search the Education Counts website.
You can also find more information about school zones on our Choosing a school page.
Higher education and training
When your child gets to senior secondary school (Years 11 to 13), you will be thinking about what they want to do after they leave school and what their education and career options are.
Higher education in New Zealand is not limited to universities and institutes of technology or polytechnics. We have a wide range of other options, including:
- vocational training — training for a particular trade, type of job or profession
- apprenticeships — a formal arrangement to learn from an expert while working
- ‘on-the-job’ training — learning as you work.
Find out more on our Tertiary education and training page.