New Zealand education and school system

New Zealand has a superb education system and qualifications gained here are accepted as equal to the best in the world.
For more than one hundred years it has had a state system which at the primary, intermediate and secondary levels has been free, secular and compulsory.

At the same time there is a strong degree of tolerance which enables communities to build and operate private schools along religious or cultural lines.

Early childhood education

New Zealand has a wide range of early childhood services. Many are run by private operators, community church groups and voluntary agencies.
Unlike Primary and Secondary schools, not all of these services automatically receive state funding. As a general rule, state funding is provided only if the service is licensed and has a ‘charter’ that formally sets out the educational plicies. Licensing standards are set by the Minister of Education.
Criteria include minimum ratios of staff to chidren and restrictions on class sizes. The centres are regularly monitored by the Education Review Office.


Kindergartens provide early childhood education for children from the age of three to five years. Some have waiting lists – children can be placed on the waiting list from the age of two years.
Children attend either morning or afternoon sessions. Morning sessions are usually held five times a week and afternoon sessions three. Sessions are informal and focus on developing social skills and learning through play. Most kindergartens have two or three trained teachers.
However, parents are expected to help out both with class supervision and with fundraising and committee work.

Most kindergartens open from 8.30am to 11.45am and from 12.45pm to 3.30pm. They do not charge fees but a donation is generally expected.

Education and care centres

Education and care centres offer full-day or sessional care and are open for up to eight or nine hours, between 7.30am and 6.00pm.
Some centres offer care in morning or afternoon sessions. Usually, care is charged on the basis of a weekly or daily fee – an hourly fee applies for casual care.
Centres are licensed to take either under two-year-olds, over two-year-olds or a mix of both age groups. These include both standard facilities and specialist childcare centres such as those run by Montessori and Rudolph Steiner schools.


Playcentres are run as parent co-operatives and parents are closely involved in both running the centre and working with the children during session times.
Individual playcentres arrange their own session times with one to 10 sessions per week. Children can attend up to five sessions per week.
The fees are set by each centre and parents run the sessions on a roster. Parents can undertake training for supervising sessions at a playcentre.

Home-based care

This service provides supervised, home-based care for very small groups of children. This is sometimes referred to as family day-care.
Fees are charged on an hourly rate and times are flexible – they can include evenings and weekends to help parents who work irregular hours.
A general guide to home-based care – Family Day-Care – is available from Early Childhood Development.


These run community-based play programmes for children. Parents are required to supervise their children during sessions.
Some playgroups also provide programmes that focus on preserving the language and culture of new migrants.
Information on these groups is available from Early Childhood Development.

Children with special needs

In New Zealand it is against the law for any educational institution to treat a student differently because they have a disability.
Services for children and young people with special needs are provided by the Specialist Education Services – SES.
Its Early Intervention teams offer family-focused support to young children with developmental needs from birth until they are settled at school. Services are provided by teams with specialist skills.


Schooling is compulsory from age 6 to 16, however, most students begin school aged 5. All schools follow the NZ Curriculum.

Types of Schools

Most schools in New Zealand are part of the state system. While there is no legal requirement to pay fees at state schools, it is usual for parents to pay some fees/donations and charges.
In general a child can attend any state school even one that is not the closest to where they live.

Although most students attend state-funded schools, parents, caregivers and students have other options:

  • Kura kaupapa Maori are state schools where teaching is in the Maori language.
  • Special Schools are state schools that provide education for students with special needs.
  • Integrated schools are part of the state sytem but have a special character,
    usually based on a philosophical or religious belief.
  • Independent (or private) schools are governed by their own boards. The students pay fees to attend.
  • Boarding Schools are either independent or part of state funded schools that charge fees for boarding.
  • Correspondence School provides distance education for students from primary school to adults.
  • Home-based schooling is available for parents or caregivers who meet the criteria set by the Ministry of Education.

New Zealand Primary Schools

New Zealand law requires all children aged six years and over to be at school.
Most begin as soon as they turn five. For the first three years children are in junior classes, moving up a grade each year.
After leaving the juniors, most children have six more years at primary or intermediate level where the 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 levels, workshop craft and home economics are also studied.
Maori language and culture is also taught widely in schools.

Schools operate competitive sports programmes, mainly in cricket, athletics, netball, basketball, rugby and soccer.
At the age of 12 or 13 children move to secondary school.

Intermediate school

Most children in their seventh and eight years of schooling attend a separate intermediate school, unless they live in a rural area. In some rural areas “area” or “composite” schools combine primary, intermediate and secondary schooling.
Intermediate schools are sometimes called Middle Schools or Junior High Schools.

Secondary Schools

Students study for 5 years at secondary school (also known as high schools and colleges) beginning in Year 9 and finishing at the end of Year 13.
Students are normally aged 13 years when they begin secondary school and finish when they are about 18 years of age.

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

There are several types of secondary schools:

State Schools

Most schools are state (government) or public schools fully owned and administered by the Ministry of Education.

Integrated Schools

Schools which have been integrated into the state system but have kept their traditional religious and/or philosophical focus.

Private Schools

Privately owned and operated schools where all students are required to pay tuition fees. A portion of the teachers salaries is paid by the Government.
These schools are also known as Independent Schools.

All schools teach the same or very similar subjects and curriculum as set by the Ministry of Education and all schools are regularly reviewed and audited by the Ministry.
All schools can accept international students and have their own international student policies.

Schools are also categorised as:

Co-education (or co-ed) – mixed sex
Single Sex – either boys only or girls only.

Some schools may be, for example, single-sex boys schools but also have girls in the senior school and this is an increasing trend. On average single-sex schools have a very good academic record and about 25% of all students attend single-sex schools.

Tertiary education



There are eight government-funded universities in New Zealand and all have internationally respected academic and research standards.
A university education is open to anyone who meets the entry criteria set up by the individual universities.
Students can work towards bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees.
Having a New Zealand degree can be a lever to further study in the USA and Britain.
New Zealand qualifications are highly regarded.
Research is a vital and wide-ranging aspect of New Zealand university life.


There are 23 polytechnics, 16 in the North Island and 7 in the South Island.They provide a very wide range of courses, up to and including degree-level. Semester times are roughly equivalent to those for universities but short courses may begin at any time of the year.

Colleges of Education

These train teachers as well as other occupational groups such as social workers.
The colleges are in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin. All courses involve practice on the job under direction.

English Language Programmes

English Language Programmes are run especially for international students by a number of privately owned organisations. Some universities, polytechnics and colleges of education also have their own separate language centres.

Private Training Establishments

There are a great number of privately owned and operated education/training organisations at the tertiary level, commonly known as Private Training Establishments. Many of these specialise in areas of particular interest to international students.
Students are assured of the quality of privately run courses which have been registered and accredited by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority.

Industry Training Organisations

These promote the linking of industry-based training to a standards-based national qualifications system responsive to industry needs.

Distance Education

International and New Zealand students can enrol on a full-fee basis at the distance education institutions in New Zealand, the Correspondence School, the Open Polytechnic and Massey University.

Nationally recognised qualifications

The New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) provides an overarching role in quality assured qualifications and coordinates national qualifications in New Zealand.

New Zealand education related links

Associations of schools:


Colleges of Education:

Univerity websites:

Other education-related links:

You may E-mail us with any questions you might have that are related to moving to and living in New Zealand.