How to choose the best school for your child in New Zealand and answers to all your questions if you’re moving there from the UK

New Zealand is very popular with UK migrants wanting to move to the Southern Hemisphere either for work, or a life style change.  It’s a great place to raise children, and the mild climate is somewhat similar with respect to temperature ranges.

If you are immigrating to New Zealand, one of the first tasks on your To Do list will be finding your children ‘the perfect school’ in their new country.  This is important for several reasons.  You want to ensure they get a good education whilst making sure they fit into their new school, feel at home, and will make new friends quickly.

Importantly for your children’s education, New Zealand schools overall offer students a wide range of educational experiences.  From traditional core subjects right through to field trips and excursions that explore New Zealand’s unique flora and fauna, your children will find a lot to love about going to school in New Zealand!  The good news is that it only takes a bit of advance planning and preparation to have everything running smoothly for your move to New Zealand.

The New Zealand School System – An Overview

New Zealand starting primary school

You will find the NZ school system is a little different to what you’re used to in the UK.  However, once you work it out with the help of this guide, the country’s warm, friendly culture will make you, and your children, feel very welcome!

Schools in New Zealand can have anywhere between 100 and 2000 students.  They’re well equipped generally when it comes to technology and are able to provide students with access to computers, the Internet, and various other types of technology.

Like the UK, New Zealand has a national school curriculum that is used in all government owned/funded schools.  Private schools are not required to use the curriculum but they must provide their students with an equivalent education.

All government secondary schools offer the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA), New Zealand’s main secondary school qualification.  Some schools additionally offer the International Baccalaureate (IB) or Cambridge International Examinations (CIE), both of which you may be familiar with in the UK.

New Zealand teachers must be registered with the Education Council of Aotearoa New Zealand and hold current certification before they can teach in any NZ school.  This ensures that those entrusted with the education of young New Zealanders have the necessary training and qualifications to do so.

New Zealand Schools Are Very Welcoming!


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Types Of Schools In New Zealand

There are 3 different types of schools in the New Zealand school system for you to choose from:

  • State or public schools in NZ are government owned and funded. They are the biggest group of schools in the country, catering for the majority of New Zealand school children.  A note here – public schools in NZ are free schools.  They’re not private schools as is the case in the UK.  This guide uses the Kiwi terminology.
  • State integrated or ‘special character’ schools are former private schools that have been integrated into the public school system for funding purposes but retain their ‘special character’. This special ‘purpose’ may be a particular religious faith (Catholic, Anglican, Muslim etc) or specialist education system (Montessori, Steiner etc).  They currently enrol around 10% of New Zealand’s school children.
  • Private or independent schools account for just under 5% of New Zealand’s school-age enrolments. The majority of these schools are owned by religious or specialist education groups.  The difference between them and state-integrated schools is that they’re not government funded.  Some private schools are single-gender schools (boys or girls) whilst others are co-ed or a mixture of both ie some Years may be co-ed whilst others are single gender.

Home education or homeschooling is also an option.  However, parents must obtain approval from the local Ministry of Education office first.

Applicable School Fees In New Zealand

Getting an education in a public (state) school is free for children who are classed as ‘domestic’ students.  This includes:

  • New Zealand citizens
  • Permanent residents
  • Domestic student visa holders

However, parents are generally expected to pay as required for extracurricular activities such as school excursions.  Parents also pay for uniforms, books and other stationery requirements

The NZ government also funds education for domestic children in Integrated Schools but it doesn’t own the facilities (buildings, land etc).  In most cases, these belong to the school’s operators (church organisation, specialist education group) who charge an annual ‘attendance due’ of anywhere from NZ$200 to $1500 to cover maintenance costs.

Private schools do get a small amount of government funding but the bulk of their income comes from school fees.  Generally, this is around NZ$20,000 a year per student enrolled.

Auckland school children NZ

Private Or Public Schools In New Zealand – Which Are Best?

The debate over whether public or private schools provide the best education is a global one and it also rages in New Zealand.  Very few studies though have found enough evidence to support claims that private schools are better.  Their findings are invariably backed up by statistics.  New Zealand’s public and integrated schools are required to use the National Curriculum, which guarantees that certain educational standards are met.  Therefore, if you choose to send your child to a public school in New Zealand, you’re assured of a quality education that is equal of any school in the country.

A Typical New Zealand School Day

Most public and integrated schools start at 9am and finish up at 3pm (primary) or 3.30pm (secondary).  A typical primary school day usually has 3 x 1½ hour tuition sessions.  There is generally a 20-minute mid-morning break between the first and second sessions and an hour lunch break in the middle of the day between the 2nd and 3rd sessions.  Some schools may have an additional mid-afternoon break.  School finishes at 3pm.

Secondary schools may have as many as 5 x 1 hour long periods.  There will generally be a 20-minute break between periods 2 and 3, and an hour for lunch between periods 3 and 4.  Many secondary schools finish up for the day around 3.30pm.

new zealand school children fire safety lesson

Schools in New Zealand include a lot of additional activities

School Uniforms In New Zealand

You’ll need to check with the school about their school uniform policy.  Not all public primary and intermediate schools have them but many integrated and private primary schools do.  Likewise, most high schools (public, integrated, and private) also have them.  Almost all schools also require children to wear broad-brimmed hats for sun protection.

School Ages For New Zealand children

Children in New Zealand are required by law to be enrolled in school by their 6th birthday and must remain in full-time schooling between the ages of 6 and 16 years.  Parents do however have the option of starting them in school on or around their 5th birthday and many do.  Important note: once your child does start school they must attend every day regardless of age.  This is a departure from the previous policy that only stipulated they must attend every day from the age of 6.

Students are therefore aged between 5 and 6 years when they start Year 1 and will be 12 or 13 when they finish their primary school education at Year 8.  High school students are 13 or 14 when they enter Year 9 and 17 or 18 when they graduate after Year 13.

Starting your 5-year-old

When a 5-year-old can start during the school year is now up to individual schools.  Some schools have retained the traditional policy of allowing ‘new entrants’ (children starting school for the first time) to start on or shortly after their 5th birthday, regardless of where it falls in the calendar year.  Other schools have adopted the new ‘cohort entry’ system whereby they only take in groups of new entrants at the start of each school term.  The link provided has an excellent explanation of the current criteria used to determine which cohort group your child is eligible for.

NOTE: From the 1st of January 2020 new legislation requires schools that adopt the cohort entry system to have 2 intakes per term.  There will be one intake at the start of each term for children who are 5 years old at that date, and another at each mid-term point for children who have turned 5 since the previous intake.  This ensures that only children who have turned 5 are going to school.

Year 0 or Year 1?

New Zealand early learning

Officially, children who start school in the first half of the calendar year are considered Year 1 students, whilst those who start in the 2nd half of the year are Year 0 students.  Year 0 students go into Year 1 at the start of the next calendar year.  However, it’s best to check with the school as some schools have different cut-off dates and others have a policy of making decisions of this nature in conjunction with parents.

If you have a 5 year old who will begin schooling close to the middle of the year, contact your primary school of choice to find out if they’re going to be in Year 0 or Year 1.  In general, children enrolled in Term 1 will definitely be Year 1 and those enrolling in Term 3 are Year 0.

School Years In New Zealand

New Zealand has 13 years of formal schooling – Years 1 through 13.  Years 1 (or 0) to 8 are part of the Primary School education system.  Years 9 to 13 are Secondary School.  That’s the overview but where your child will complete these years depends on what type of school you enrol them in.

  • Contributing Primary Schools cater for years 1 to 6, which are children aged from 5 to 11 years. All current Contributing Primary Schools are public schools.
  • Full Primary Schools have the entire 8 years of primary school so take children aged from 5 to 13 years. Most Full Primary Schools are private and integrated schools.
  • Intermediate Schools cater for Years 7 and 8, or students from 10 to 13 years. All bar 2 are public schools, which is logical given that all Contributing Primary Schools are also public schools.  Therefore, if you choose a public school for your children they’ll likely attend a Contributing Primary School for their first 6 years of schooling before moving to an Intermediate School to finish off the last 2 years of primary school education.
  • Secondary Schools cater for Years 9 to 13, so their students are aged from 13 to 18 years.
  • Secondary Schools with Intermediate are a combination of Intermediate and Secondary Schools. They take students from Year 7 right through to Year 13.  Whilst there are public schools in this category in remoter areas around the South Island and in Invercargill, the majority are private and integrated schools.
  • Area or Compound Schools offer students the option of remaining at the same school for their entire schooling years. They provide for Years 1 to 13 so have students aged from 5 right through to 18.  Almost all Compound Schools are private or integrated schools.  The exceptions are public schools in remote areas where there aren’t enough students to warrant separate schools (area schools).

The New Zealand School Year

The school year in New Zealand for all public and integrated schools starts in late January and runs until mid-December.  Private schools can alter their school year to suit the needs of their students and teachers.  If you’re considering a private school for your children, you’ll need to contact the school concerned to find out the start and finish dates for their school terms and school year.

New Zealand School Terms And Holidays

In New Zealand, the public and the integrated school year have 4 terms or semesters.  Each term is around 10 weeks long, with a 2-week break between terms 1, 2 and 3, and a 6-week summer holiday at the end of term 4 in mid-December through to the end of January.

  • Term 1 begins in late January/early February and finishes in mid-April with a 2-week autumn break.
  • Term 2 starts at the end of April and finishes at the beginning of July; there is a 2-week winter holiday in mid-July.
  • Term 3 commences in late July and finishes at the end of September with a 2-week spring holiday in October.
  • Term 4 starts mid-October and finishes mid-December with a 6-week summer holiday until the end of January.

The precise dates can be found here.

Private schools will vary so it’s best to check with the school you’re considering to get their term and school holiday dates.

New Zealand School Zones

New Zealand has a rather haphazard school zone system courtesy of several legislative changes over the years.  Whilst most schools are grouped geographically into zones, not all schools have a zoning policy ie an enrolment scheme.  Therefore, you’ll find that some schools will only accept children from their allocated zone (local children) whilst other schools accept children from all over New Zealand and overseas in some instances without restrictions.

Regardless, every New Zealand school zone has at least one school that does have a zoning policy.  This ensures there is a place for every child at a local school if required.  For more information about the schools in your zone, and which ones have a zoning policy, you can visit this website.  Another excellent site for locating your local school or schools are can be found here.

Sending your child to your local school is preferable but not mandatory.  If you would like your child to go to a school that isn’t in your zone, be aware that there are a number of rules that come into play.  You can find a complete explanation of the application process, including the priority and ballot systems involved, on this website.

Maori school children New Zealand

New Zealand school girls praticing a traditional Paihia Maori Dance

Enrolling Overseas Students In New Zealand Schools

Yours and your child’s visa status will affect your choice of school.  Children who are New Zealand citizens, permanent residents, or have a domestic student visa (one that does not name a particular school) can enrol in public and integrated schools and receive free education.

If your child is not one of these, they may be able to enrol as a paying international student in a school that is a signatory to the Education (Pastoral Care of International Students) Code of Practice .  There is more information about the eligibility and visa requirements for overseas students enrolling in NZ schools on the website.

Tips To Help You Find A New Zealand School For Your Child

The majority of children in New Zealand attend their local public school.  Sometimes you have a choice of several local schools within your zone.  If you do have a choice or are considering an out-of-zone school, we’ve provided a few tips to help you choose.

From a practical perspective, it often makes good sense to send your child to their closest school.  They’re guaranteed a place.  It’s usually close to home, making transport to and from school easier and quicker.  Many of the other neighbourhood children will also probably attend the same school.

Apart from this, other considerations for choosing a school may include appropriate before and after-school care.  All children aged 14 and under in New Zealand must be supervised when not in school.  Does the school provide this if you require it?

What sort of school fees will you need to pay?  Whilst education in public schools is free for children who are NZ citizens, permanent residents, or holders of a domestic student visa, there are still other fees to consider.  Schools often charge for school excursions or extracurricular activities.  You will also have to buy books and other essentials, and school uniforms if the school has one.

Do you have priorities when it comes to your child’s schooling needs?  You may prefer them to have religious education for example, or you may want them to be taught according to certain educational philosophies.  Do they have special requirements or learning disabilities?  Will they feel more comfortable in a big school with hundreds of students, or a small school with only a few hundred students?

All these will affect the type of school you need to find for your child.  You can also find out more about various schools and their facilities by visiting their websites.

Once you’ve narrowed your search down to a select few visit the schools and talk to the teachers.  Does the school feel welcoming?  Are the teachers likewise welcoming and keen?  If you can observe teachers and students interacting, what is the communication between them like?  How are the children interacting amongst themselves?  Are students’ achievements adorning the walls of classrooms?  Do you feel your child will benefit from being in this environment?  What do other parents think of the school?

The Education Review Office also visits early learning and primary schools and compiles reports on them.  These are available here.


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How To Enrol Your Child In Their New School In New Zealand

Once you’ve decided on a school you’ll need to contact them to find out more about their enrolment process and to request an enrolment pack or enrolment forms.  Some schools may have this information available on their websites.  Most schools prefer you to enrol your child as soon as possible so they know how many new students they’re going to have on their books.

If you’ve chosen an out-of-zone school or private school you will definitely need to contact them for enrolment information, submission dates, and any other pertinent information.

What To Do If Your Child Has Previous Schooling

If your child has already started school in the UK, you can enrol them as soon as you arrive, regardless of the time of year.  What Year they go into depends on their age.  Usually, they’ll be put into the same class as other children around the same age as them.

When it comes to secondary schooling, the same principle generally applies.  However, they also need to be given time to complete the qualifications for their National Certificate of Educational Achievement.

Supporting Documentation For Enrolling Your Child In School In New Zealand

The school will require you to produce some, or all, of the following documents:

  • Documents that provide evidence of student status (domestic or international)
  • Proof of age – passport or birth certificate
  • Proof of immunisation status – a copy of the immunisation certificate located in the back of your child’s Well Child book. There is more information about this document here.  When you arrive in NZ your child (and yourself) will require an assessment of your documented vaccination status.  Catch-up programmes are available if required.  Once in NZ all children 17 years and under, irrespective of citizenship or immigration status, are eligible for Schedule vaccines and Well Child Tamariki Ora services.  Visit this site for more information about these services.
  • Copy of any legal documents that are relevant to the care of your child whilst at school ie custody and access arrangements.
  • Medical and health information – details of any health conditions or disabilities your child may have.
  • Contact details for your doctor or any other medical practitioners that may be involved in the healthcare of your child.
  • Your contact details – phone numbers and addresses for yourself and other family members, including an emergency contact in the event they can’t contact you.

Check with the school for a complete list of required documentation.

Early Learning Programs In New Zealand

Waikato Montessori preschool New Zealand

New Zealand has a range of optional early learning or early childhood education programmes available.  Enrolling in kindergarten is common for children between the ages of 2 and 5 years.  Kindergartens come under the management of Kindergarten Associations and employ certified ECE teachers.

Likewise, private or community-owned education and care services provide education and care services for children from birth through to primary school age.  There are also parent-run play centres and community-based playgroups available for children up until school age.

Information about early childhood education programmes can be obtained through sites like

Getting a Job As a UK Teacher In New Zealand

UK teachers are highly valued in New Zealand so there is a great opportunity if you’re thinking of starting a new life down under. There are many similarities between the UK and New Zealand educational systems so British teachers fit in very well. However, many find the relaxed and progressive nature of teaching in New Zealand very refreshing and a welcome change.

If you would like to find out more about the opportunities for British teachers working in New Zealand then we recommend you contact Education Personnel. They can talk you through the process and even a free Guide to Teaching In New Zealand that you can download from their website.

New Zealand Education System Resources:

Ministry of Education

Eligibility to enrol in New Zealand schools – important information about visas and enrolling in NZ schools as a migrant

School Search Websites

Ministry of Education’s School Finder service

List of NZ Schools

Find a school in NZ

Montessori schools guide – find a Montessori early childhood centre, primary or high school

General Resources

Enrolment schemes and zoning – detailed information about New Zealand’s school zones and enrolment schemes

Cohort entry system – detailed information about the cohort entry system for new entrants

New Zealand National School Curriculum – information about New Zealand’s national school curriculum

New Zealand school terms and holidays

Education Review Office – provides detailed reports about individual schools

The Well Child Tamariki Ora Programme

Independent (Private) Education Websites

Independent Schools Of New Zealand

Religious Education Websites

New Zealand Catholic Education Office

Anglican Schools Office

Early Childhood Education Websites – the government website

New Zealand Kindergartens

Playcentre NZ

Specialist Education Websites

Montessori Education in Aotearoa New Zealand

Steiner Education Aotearoa New Zealand (SEANZ)

school children outdoors South Island New Zealand

Children enjoying the outdoor lifestyle in New Zealand

Thinking of moving to New Zealand?

If you are thinking of moving to New Zealand, PSS International Removals will be able to help you. PSS has over 40 years of experience in the removals industry and has helped thousands move their belongings to New Zealand from the UK.

You can get a quote by visiting our international removals page or our shipping page.