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A Guide to Education & International Schools in New Zealand

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  • Serhat Ahmed

    With all of the information that InterNations provided on Wellington, it made my move from Turkey easier than I could have imagined.

Overall, schools in New Zealand have a great reputation, and all of New Zealand’s higher education institutions are ranked as some of the best in the world. In this section, we explain the New Zealand education system and some all of your options for schooling in the country.

We also introduce you to some of the best schools in the country, which happen to be private schools. When it comes to higher education, however, public universities are high-performing, all ranking in the top 500 universities in the world. Whether you prefer public or private education, we cover options for both, as well as international schools and language schools where you and your family may take classes to learn the language.

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The Education System in New Zealand

The education system in New Zealand can cause some confusion. That is mainly because some school years overlap, and you must make sure you know the school level that your preferred school offers before enrolling in it.

Some Facts about Education in New Zealand

You can expect to find good quality education in New Zealand.

  • New Zealand is among the top 20 OECD countries for quality of education;
  • New Zealand has eight universities and all of them are among the top 500 in the world.

How does the Education System Work?

In New Zealand, the school system is divided into three levels:

  • Early childhood education (the education from birth up to school age)
  • Primary and secondary education (typically goes from 5 to 19 years of age)
  • Further education (includes higher education and vocational training)

New Zealand School Levels and Ages

Schooling in New Zealand is mandatory between the ages of 6 and 16. However, your child may start school as soon as they turn 5.

New Zealand’s school years are designated by Year 1 all the way to Year 13.

Some school levels may overlap when it comes to school years and ages, depending on the region of New Zealand. Generally, primary school goes from 5 to 12 years of age, and secondary school between 13 and 17.

Early Learning

Years Ages Playcenters and care services 0 to 6 Kindergarten 3 to 6

Primary School

Years Ages Year 1 to 8 5/6 to 12

Secondary School

Years Ages Year 9 to 13 13 to 19

Further Education

Years Ages Vocational training 16+ University 19+

School Zones in New Zealand: What is it and How does it Work?

State schools in New Zealand are organized in areas. Children from each area are placed in their corresponding local school. This ensures all children have a spot at the school near their residence, and avoids overcrowding.

Once all the children in the area have registered with their school, children from other areas may apply if there are stops available. You can visit the New Zealand website for schools to see which school applies to your area.

When there are more applicants than available spots, the schools must hold a ballot to fill the available places. After three school days, they post the outcome of that ballot to inform which applicants were selected.

New Zealand Schools Hours and Terms

School hours are typically between 9:00 and 15:00 or 15:30.

School terms in New Zealand may be different from what you are used to, if you come from the northern hemisphere, as the school year follows the seasons in the southern hemisphere.

School starts in January, and there are four school terms in a year:

School Term Start End Term 1 Late January Early April Term 2 May Early July Term 3 Late July Late September Term 4 Mid-October Mid-December

All school terms are separated by a two-week break, with the exception of the last term. Term 4 is followed by a six-week summer break.

What is the Grading System in New Zealand?

New Zealand uses the following grading system:

Grade Scale Grade Description E 9.00–10.00 Excellence M 7.00–8.99 Merit A 5.00–6.99 Standard Achieved (the lowest passing grade) NA 0.00–4.99 Standard Not Achieved

What are the Main Differences Between Public and Private Schools?

The education system in New Zealand includes three types of schools:

  • State schools (the equivalent of “public schools”)
  • State integrated schools
  • Private schools

The most popular schooling option in New Zealand is state schools, which are free for New Zealand citizens or permanent residents. These are owned and funded entirely by the state and follow the national curriculum.

State integrated schools are semi-public schools, and most are Catholic. They are also funded by the state and teach the national curriculum, but their education usually has a special character. It reflects a specific religion or philosophy and may set different objectives.

Private schools are funded through school fees, though some can have government funding as well. They do not follow the national curriculum, but rather teach their own programs.

What Documents Are Required to Enroll in School in New Zealand?

To enroll in school in New Zealand you will generally need:

  • Proof of the child’s age and citizenship (birth certificate, passport, ID or residency document)
  • Certificate of immunizations
  • Information about medical conditions, allergies, medication, etc.
  • Emergency contacts
  • The name of the child’s doctor and contact information.

Daycare and Kindergarten

Daycare, preschool, and kindergarten in New Zealand are all referred to as Early Childhood Education, or ECE. ECE is the education and care provided to children who have not reached school age. Although preschool or kindergarten is not mandatory, most children in New Zealand attend ECE.

Parent-Led Services or Teacher-Led Services?

There are two types of preschools in New Zealand: those whose services are led by teachers, and those led by parents. The age your child starts kindergarten will depend on the type of schooling you choose.

Teacher-Led Services

Teacher-led services are those managed by professionals who are qualified to teach ECE. These include:

  • Kindergartens: these centers accept children between two and five years of age, and can have either morning sessions, afternoon sessions, or both.
  • Education and care services: accept children from birth to school age. These centers offer all-day sessions or programs with flexible hours.
  • Home-based services: either at the educator’s home or the child’s home, these services are reserved for groups of up to four children.
  • Te Kura (The Correspondence School): these are for children between the ages of 3 and 5 who cannot attend ECE services either for medical reasons, or they are not physically able to attend school. Parents work with certified teachers and may borrow books and other materials to educate their child.

Parent-Led Services

Parent-led services, on the other hand, are childcare services organized by parents, families, and other community members. These include:

  • Playcenters: these are cooperatively run by parents and managed by the New Zealand Playcentre Federation. These regional play centers cater to children from birth to school age.
  • Playgrounds: these are also community-based groups of parents that offer sessions of up to four hours. At least half of the children present need to have a parent with them. If these playgrounds are certified, they can receive government funding.
  • Other culture-specific groups: these could be playgrounds, such as Kōhanga Reo which encourages Māori culture, Tikanga, or foreign cultures.

Fees for Childcare and Kindergarten

Daycare costs can be expensive in New Zealand. Each childcare service can charge its own prices, but in general, kindergarten cost 5 or 6 NZD (3–4 USD) an hour per child, and home-based services between 4 and 6 NZD (2.5–4 USD) an hour. Note that these prices could be higher for larger cities and lower for more rural areas.

Once your child is three years old, they can start receiving subsidized early education. Your child is entitled to 20 hours a week of ECE education at a recognized facility.

Remember to declare your childcare expenses, to claim a tax rebate on the cost.

Talk to other international parents with young children in New Zealand

Talk to other international parents with young children in New Zealand

Primary and Secondary Schools

Primary and secondary schooling in New Zealand may be confusing, as some types of school years overlap depending on the school.

The most common option is to attend primary school from Year 1 to 8, and secondary school starting in Year 9 until Year 13. Alternatively, your child may attend an Area or Composite School—these are schools that combine several levels of education and may teach from Year 1 all the way to Year 13.

Other types of schools exist, such as intermediate or middle schools. These may follow the national curriculum but with different aims, language, or subjects. You can read more about all types of primary and secondary schools on the official website for education in New Zealand.

Primary School in New Zealand

Primary (elementary) school corresponds to the beginning of mandatory school years, at age 6. Typical primary school goes from year 1 to 8, which corresponds to the ages of 6 and 12.

Aside from the state schools, you have the options of state-integrated schools, private schools, and homeschooling.

How Much does Primary School Cost?

  • State schools are managed and funded by the government—these have no cost to parents.
  • State-integrated schools charge a compulsory fee called “Attendance dues”. This fee is for costs of the property, which usually is not owned by the state, but rather by a private proprietor. These tend to cost around 1,500 NZD (970 USD) a year.
  • Private schools can set their own prices that are changed for each school year. The average price of private primary schooling in New Zealand is 20,000 NZD (13,000 USD) a year.

Secondary School in New Zealand

Secondary schooling (high school) is typically from Year 9 to Year 13 and corresponds to the ages of 13 and 19.

From the age of 16, schooling becomes optional. If the student proceeds with their studies up to Year 13 (age 19), they are given a National Certificate in Educational Achievement (NCEA). After this, they can then transition to further education, vocational training, or a career.

For secondary schools, you may also opt for state schools, state-integrated schools, and private schools.

How Much does Secondary School Cost?

State schools are free for residents in New Zealand, and state-integrated schools cost around 1,500 NZD (970 USD) a year. Fees for private secondary schools start at around 25,000 NZD (16,660 USD).

Best Primary and Secondary Schools in New Zealand

A ranking of the best schools based on outcomes for students shows that the top schools in New Zealand are:

  • ACG Parnell College in Auckland
  • St Cuthbert’s College (Epsom) in Auckland
  • Pinehurst School in Auckland
  • Diocesan School For Girls in Auckland
  • Rangitoto College in Auckland

You can search the full directory of schools in New Zealand for more information on schools, such as their locations, contact details, as well as other topics related to education.

International Schools

You will find no shortage of schools for international students in New Zealand. However, the term “international schools” is rarely used in the country. This is because the schools authorized to offer the International Baccalaureate Diplomas are spread across both the private and state sectors.

Below is a list of some of the best international schools in New Zealand.

International School City City Impact Church School Albany ACG Parnell College Auckland St Peter’s School Cambridge Shirley Boys’ High School Christchurch Diocesan School for Girls Auckland

Unfortunately, you will not find any French schools in New Zealand. However, there are two schools in Auckland that offer bilingual education (Richmond Road School and Birkdale Primary School).

Higher Education

Higher or tertiary education in New Zealand includes:

  • Private Training Establishments (PTEs)
  • Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics (ITPs)
  • Wananga, which use Māori ways of teaching and learning
  • Universities
  • Workplace training

Best Universities for International Students in New Zealand

New Zealand has eight universities, all of which are ranked in the top 500 QS World University Ranking. These are:

  • University of Auckland (Auckland)
  • Auckland University of Technology (Auckland)
  • University of Canterbury (Christchurch)
  • Victoria University of Wellington (Wellington)
  • Lincoln University (Christchurch)

How Much Does It Cost to Study in New Zealand for International Students?

International students wishing to go to university in New Zealand will pay higher fees than domestic students. You are considered a domestic student if you have a residency visa.

University tuition fees for bachelor’s degrees range from 22,000 to 32,000 NZD (14,660–21,330 USD) for international students. The highest fees are usually for degrees in medicine and veterinary.

Postgraduate degrees for international students range from 26,000 to 37,000 NZD (17,330–24,660 USD). A doctorate degree (PhD) cost the same for international and domestic students, which is around 6,500 to 9,000 NZD (4,330–6,000 USD).

See a complete list of the estimated fees for every course in the country, for each university.

Ask other international parents already living in New Zealand

Join one of our many local parent groups and get advice on which schools to choose.

Language Schools

If you need to improve your English language skills while in New Zealand, there are many options for language schools or institutes here. You can use this government tool to find English language classes on a map. Keep in mind that some visas require you to have an appropriate English level, so if your main goal is to learn English, be prepared to learn before applying for a visa. You may also pre-purchase English classes when you get your visa.

Learning the Māori Language

If you want to learn the local Maori language, your options are limited but there are still a few. You can attend courses for beginners at UNITEC, Ruth College, or the Onehunga High School.

Language School Fees

As for language school costs, you will typically need to pay for registering with the school, which could be around 200 NZD (130 USD). A certified exam would cost between 300 and 400 NZD (200 – 260 USD), depending on the level.

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