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 five years old.
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Your child can start school between the ages of five and six. All children must be enrolled in school or in home education by their sixth birthday. Once your child starts school, they must attend it every day.
There are 13 years in the New Zealand school system. Schooling begins at primary school - the first year at primary school is referred to as ‘Year 1’. Primary school covers Years 1 to 8 if it is a ‘full’ primary school, or Years 1 to 6 if it is a ‘contributing’ primary school. If your child enrols in a contributing primary school, they will attend an intermediate school to complete Years 7 and 8.
After finishing primary or intermediate school, your child will attend secondary school (also called ‘college’ or ‘high school’) to complete their final school years (Years 9 to 13). They may leave secondary school before reaching Year 13, but not until their 16th birthday.
Find out more on the Ministry of Education website.
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. Students are encouraged 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 New Zealand’s natural surroundings and learn about our plants and animals. They get the opportunity to challenge themselves with outdoor activities they might otherwise never experience.
Types of schools and costs
There are three types of schools in New Zealand:
- state schools (schools owned and funded by the government)
- state integrated schools (schools with a special character), and
- private schools (schools that charge set fees for a term or year).
Most New Zealand 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 for 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 or Montessori.
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. Financial assistance may be available.
Home education (also called 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 9:00am and ends at 3pm or 3:30pm.
The school year starts in January. There are four terms in a year, with two-week breaks between them and a six-week summer break at the end of the year.
- Term 1: late January to early April (two week break)
- Term 2: May to early July (two week break)
- Term 3: late July to late September (two week break)
- Term 4: mid-October to mid-December (six week summer holiday)
For exact dates, check the Ministry of Education website.
Enrolling in New Zealand schools
Your child can attend school as a domestic student if they are one of the following:
- New Zealand resident or permanent resident
- New Zealand citizen (includes Tokelauans, Cook Islanders and Niueans)
- student visa holder based on your temporary work visa.
If your child does not fit any of these conditions, check to see if they need a visa. Students who are not eligible to enrol as domestic students may be able to enrol as international students.
To enrol your child at a school, contact them directly to find out their enrolment process and get their enrolment forms. You may need to provide a school with evidence of your child's visa status.
Schools in New Zealand are grouped into areas known as 'zones'. Children are usually expected to attend a school in the zone where they have their home. However, some school don't have zones.
To see which school zone you live in, follow instructions on the Govt.nz website. You can also find more information on our page on choosing a school.
Children starting school as new entrants
Most children in New Zealand start primary school on their fifth birthday. All children must be enrolled by the age of six. Children starting school for the first time are called ‘new entrants’.
Some schools let new entrants start school at any time throughout the school year, either on their fifth birthday or on another date that suits the family.
Other schools use a system called ‘Cohort entry’, meaning children start school in groups at the beginning of each school term. You still have the option of not starting your child in school until their sixth birthday, regardless of whether or not the school they enrol in uses cohort entry.
You will need to find out which system your child’s school uses.
Which school year will your child be enrolled in?
When your child starts primary school they will be enrolled in either Year 0 or Year 1, depending on which half of the year they start in. If your child starts school in the first half of the calendar year, they are likely to start in Year 1. If they start school in the second half of the calendar year, they are likely to start in Year 0 and go to Year 1 the following year.
Generally, children starting in term 1 are definitely in Year 1, and those who start in term 3 are definitely in Year 0. Each school has their own policy ‑ some schools state a specific cut-off date while other schools work with the child’s parents to decide. If your child is enrolling mid-year, it is best to contact the school they will be attending to talk about what year they should be placed in.
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 has already had some schooling, you can enrol your child in school at any time of the year.
Which school year will your child be enrolled in?
Your child will automatically be placed in the same school year as other children of the same age. For example, if your child is 10 years old, they will probably be placed in year 5 or 6 with other 10 year olds.
If your child is secondary school age (around 12 or 13 years old), which school year they are placed in also depends on giving them time to complete their National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) qualifications.
Enrolling your child mid-year
Because each situation is different, it is best to contact the school your child is enrolling in to talk about what school year would best meet their needs.
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 force to prevent a child from harm. A teacher may not use force in any situation, so physical discipline of children, such as smacking, caning, 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 an excellent publication about the rights of children and what schools can do in terms of disciplining children.
Higher education and training
When your child gets to senior secondary school, you will be thinking about what they want to do after 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 options that includes vocational training, apprenticeships and on the job training.
Find out more on our page on tertiary education.