Education in New Zealand

New Zealand has an excellent government funded education system providing qualifications that are equal to the best in the world. In addition to the state (government funded) sector, there is also a flourishing private education sector.

Those considering a New Zealand visa for studying should read about all the benefits of the country's education system. New Zealand visas for study are available, so to find out if you are eligible click on the above link for a free assessment.

All schools must operate under the provisions of the Education Act of 1989 and must follow The New Zealand Curriculum, a statement of student learning policy for schools, setting out the expectations for what all children should learn.

The New Zealand Education Act (1989) provides free education in approximately 2,700 state schools which are administered by Boards of Trustees. Each Board of Trustees has a large measure of autonomy in its governance of its school.

Government-funded schools (state schools) do not charge tuition fees however parents are expected to meet some minor costs such as uniforms, stationery and some extracurricular activities such as sports trips or school camps.

In some circumstances children are required to attend the school they are zoned for. If one chooses to live outside the zone of the preferred school, children may not be eligible for a place in that school. Any spare places at popular schools are generally allocated by ballot.

Exceptions to zoning may include attendance at a school with a special character - such as a religious school.

Sectors of schooling

The New Zealand education system is broadly divided into the following categories:

  • Early childhood (preschool and kindergarten);
  • Primary school starting at age five (year 1 to 6);
  • Intermediate school starting at age 11 (years 7 to 8);
  • Secondary school starting at around age 13 (years 9 to 13) and finishing at age 17 or 18;
  • Tertiary or vocational higher education.

Early childhood children usually attend preschool between the ages of two and five years old. Attendance at preschool is not compulsory however it is common for parents to enrol their children in early childhood programmes.

New Zealand has a wide range of early childhood services, including both state-funded and private preschools. Many are run by private operators, community church groups and voluntary agencies.


Kindergartens are an alternative to preschools and provide early childhood education for children from the age of three to five years.

Children attend either morning or afternoon sessions which are informal and focus on developing social skills and learning through play.

Most kindergartens have two or three trained teachers but parents are expected to help out both with class supervision and with fundraising and committee work.

Kindergartens usually do not charge fees but donations are generally expected.

Primary School

Children must be enrolled at a primary school by their sixth birthday, however the majotiy of children attend primary school once they turn five years old.

A number of primary schools also take children through to the completion of intermediate school (Year 7 and 8). Depending on local schooling options, children in Years 7 and 8 can either stay at their primary school or move to an intermediate school for these two years.

The primary school curriculum covers English language (oral and written, reading, handwriting and spelling), mathematics, science, social sciences, the arts (including music), technology, and physical health and well-being.

At intermediate level, workshop craft and home economics are also studied. Maori language and culture is also taught widely in schools.

Secondary School

There are 440 secondary schools throughout New Zealand. Although the largest schools have around 2000 students, the average school size has about 1000 students.

Attendance at secondary school is compulsory up to age 16 (Year 11 or 12). The majority of students remain in school until the age of 18, however students can attend secondary school until the end of the year they turn 19.

Secondary school is also known as high school or college and covers ages 13 to 18 (Years 9 to 13). In some rural parts of New Zealand primary and secondary schools may be combined to form what is known as an Area School.

Tertiary Education

Nearly a quarter of New Zealanders have some form of tertiary education and currently about 40% of school leavers go directly to tertiary training.

Tuition fees are not fully covered by the state, and students are expected to contribute to these. Tertiary education fees vary considerably depending on the course of study and the chosen provider of the course.


There are eight government-funded universities in New Zealand and all have internationally respected academic and research standards. At university, students can work towards bachelor, master and doctoral degrees.

Career and Vocational Training

New Zealand has 25 polytechnics providing a very wide range of courses up to and including degree-level. Polytechnics also provide short courses, pre- employment courses and vocational education training courses.

Types of school

The majority of students in New Zealand attend state-funded schools, however there are a number of schooling options available to parents, caregivers and students.

In general a child can attend any state school, even one that is not the closest to where they live. It should be noted however that this is not always the case.

State schools

State schools are co-educational (mixed sexes) at primary and intermediate level, but some offer single-sex education at secondary level. Lessons are based on the New Zealand Curriculum.

Special Schools

Special schools are state schools that provide education for students with special education needs. The curriculum is the same as at other state schools.

Integrated Schools

Integrated schools are schools that used to be private and have now become part of the state system. They teach the New Zealand Curriculum but keep their own special character (usually a philosophical or religious belief) as part of their school programme.

Designated Character

Designated Character schools are state schools that teach the New Zealand Curriculum but have been allowed to develop their own set of aims, purposes and objectives to reflect their own particular values.

Independent (or Private) Schools

Independent (or private) schools are governed by their own independent boards, but must meet certain standards in order to be registered.

Independent schools may be either co-educational or single-sex. They charge fees, but also receive some subsidy funding from the government.

As at July 1 2004 3.8% (29,150 students) attended private schools.

Boarding Schools

Boarding schools may either be independent or part of a state-funded school. There are a number of boarding schools in New Zealand and all charge boarding fees.

Enrolling children in school

To enrol children at a school, it is best to contact the school directly by telephone or in person.

Applicants should provide their visa or entry documents, proof of date of birth and any papers including school reports relating to their previous education.

Applicants may also need to provide the school with immunisation documents.

If a family is planning to send their child to a public school, their choice may be somewhat limited by where they choose to live.

Similarities and differences between New Zealand and UK education

The New Zealand system of education and teaching is essentially similar to the UK, although there are some differences worthy of note:

  • New Zealand's education system is based on a nationwide statement of student learning policy that all schools adhere to.
  • Instead of the UK's prescriptive and content dominated and assessment based National Curriculum, curriculum strategies in New Zealand are intended more as guidance than requirements for schools.
  • New Zealand schools have more freedom to focus on developing children's learning and thinking skills.

The school year

The school year runs from February to December and has four terms. Each term is roughly ten weeks long.

Summer holidays (December to February) last about five and a half weeks at primary schools and about a week longer at secondary schools. The autumn, winter and spring holidays each last two weeks.

The school day generally runs from 9am - 3pm for primary school or 9am - 3.30pm for secondary school.

Further information

Detailed information about schooling in New Zealand can be obtained from New Zealand Embassies and High Commissions or from the Ministry of Education in New Zealand. Find out further information on our Healthcare page.

June 22, 2015

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