Education in New Zealand

Getting your children settled at school is one of the best ways to start getting your whole family off to a flying start in New Zealand.


The State School System in New Zealand

New Zealand has a very good education system, with free schools from Kindergarten (ages 3 – 5) to Primary (years 1 to year 8) and Secondary (years 9 – 13). The state funded education system is very comprehensive, and most schools are very well equipped with large playground areas and sports fields.

Schooling is compulsory for New Zealand children from the age of 6. Most children start the day after their fifth birthday, as schools have a continuous intake rather than only accepting new entrants several times a year.

The school year is divided into four terms, and generally runs from February to December. There is a long 6-week break starting just before Christmas, and shorter one-two week breaks between the other semesters. Term dates are set by the Ministry of Education, and are usually announced in the July of the previous year. Kindergartens, Playcentres and pre-school playgroups usually follow the same terms, though may for example start the year a few days earlier. Private schools have more autonomy to set their own dates, and often have longer school holidays.

Most schools have a catchment area known as a “zone” or “home zone” and in most cases you are required to send your children to the local school. As a result properties zoned for more desirable schools are always in greater demand and attract premium prices both as rental properties and to purchase.

The main thing that families from the UK usually comment on with New Zealand schools is the lack of school lunches – most students take a packed lunch to school. On some days a “bought lunch” may be available (pies, filled rolls etc.), and tuck shops are common in secondary schools. Schools are under increasing pressure to provide healthy options in their tuck shops. Students eat their lunch outside unless it is raining or really cold, when they are allowed to have lunch in their classrooms.

Eligibility for Publicly Funded Education in New Zealand

If you are in New Zealand on a permanent residence visa, you and your family are eligible for a publicly funded primary and secondary education and subsidised tertiary education on the same terms as a New Zealand citizen.

If you are in New Zealand on a work visa, your children are eligible for a publicly funded primary and secondary education, but your family will have to pay international student fees for tertiary education.

Check the Ministry of Education website for more information on you and your family’s eligibility for a state-subsidised education in New Zealand.

Private Schools

There are also a number of private schools, many of which have been closely based on British public schools. Fees start at around $15,000 per year, which is a sizeable chunk of the average New Zealand household income. As a rule the standard of education they offer is very good and they have a reputation for producing successful graduates. Around 5% of New Zealand children attend private schools.

Integrated Schools

Integrated schools are mainly religious schools that used to be private, but are now within the state system. They teach the New Zealand curriculum and receive the same per-pupil funding as state schools. Their buildings and land are privately owned, so they often charge fees to meet their property costs. These schools often have religious or philosophical entry criteria, rather than geographical.

Tertiary Education

There are a large number of tertiary education providers in New Zealand, ranging from traditional universities and polytechnics to specialist training institutions covering every possible vocation from mountaineering to pilot training.

A huge boom in the tertiary education sector over the past 20 years has seen numerous degree courses and qualifications offered by more and more educational institutions, and increasing competition to attract both domestic and international students. Typically though one or two institutions in the country will have a particularly good reputation in a particular subject area.

Further to the announcement in December 2017 the first year of Tertiary Education is free . Subsequent to that a typical degree can cost from $15,000 upwards, with Medicine and Dentistry costing up to $100,000. This is funded by a universally available student loan, or the students can arrange their own funding. Many students are able to fund their studies with part time and holiday work.

Choosing Schools

As in many parts of the UK, schools are zoned so that generally only children living nearby can attend. In the case of integrated schools, there are requirements such as religious affiliation. The same cocktail of factors at work in the UK also results in the schools with the “best” reputations being in the “best” areas. These will typically be schools with a high decile ranking – schools are ranked from 1 (lowest) to 10 (highest) based on the socio-economic backgrounds of their students. This is used for funding allocations.

Anyone with school-aged children can give you a run-down on the reputation of the schools in their area, and there is also a government website with the official reports on schools,

There are no standardised tests in the primary years, so there is no public ranking of primary schools.

Perhaps the best way of finding out about any school is to visit it – most schools are very welcoming.

There is a comprehensive list of factors to consider when choosing a school (both primary and secondary) available at, and you’ll find a list of school zones  here . Always check with the school before buying a house based on this information, as zones sometimes do change.


Interpreting School Statistics

Secondary school NZCEA exam results are published on the NZQA website. The statistics are fairly raw, so we hope this guide to interpreting them helps.

From the statistics web page, select “School by School Statistics”. From here you can search for schools in a particular region or by name.

Start by a regional search, for example “Canterbury”. This will give you a list of all of the secondary schools in the area.

The NQF school profile gives you the size of school. The average NZ high school has around 750 students. Big NZ secondary schools seem to suffer from neither the poor reputation or poor exam results that their UK counterparts do – on the contrary, they have often grown because they are good schools.

Change the Display to Percentages, and click on View.

A good indicator on the resulting spreadsheet is % of roll achieving NCEA level 1 literacy requirement and level 1 numeracy requirement. You can compare the school’s result with the national results. Another useful statistic on the list is % achieving above 80 credits. You can also compare the results from two schools with the Compare with another school button.

As the annual results are published around the middle of the following year, regional newspapers tend to publish tables of results of local schools, which is also worth looking out for. Also interesting is the several days of letters to the editor afterwards from principals who don’t feel that the numbers reflect their school’s performance, typically private schools who offer alternative exams such as Cambridge or International Baccalaureate.

Education Expenses

State schools from kindergarten upward in New Zealand are funded by a combination of government funding, parent donations and fundraising.

  • Donations – School donations are usually around $150 – $200 per pupil per year. Though known as donations (and generally tax deductible), parents are expected to pay these fees.
  • Fund Raising – Most schools conduct at least one fund raising event per term – generally sausage sizzles, discos, mufti days, sales of confectionery and school fairs.
  • Uniforms – Many primary schools and almost all intermediate and secondary schools have uniforms. Primary school uniforms are generally quite simple and very practical. Secondary school uniforms can include expensive items such as blazers and kilts, but usually last for at least several years. Private and integrated schools often have more elaborate uniforms even at primary school levels. Some secondary schools allow students in their last year or two of education to wear mufti.
  • Stationery – Students from primary school onwards are expected to supply their own stationery. This may cost around $40 per year for a primary school student, more for secondary school students, especially in subjects where there are special requirements.
  • Activity Fees – Fees are collected throughout the school year for activities such as field trips, camps, swimming lessons and shows. If you do not pay the fee, the school is not obliged to let your child take part in the activity – although there are generally funds set aside for those in genuine need.

To find out more, request a free copy of our Financial and Pension guides for New Zealand.

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