The NZ School System

Posted over 1 year ago by Ochre Recruitment


Unsurprisingly, doctors moving to New Zealand with school age children want to know as much as they can about New Zealand’s education system. Ochre Recruitment consultants understand this and thought that overview of our school system would be useful to medical professionals contemplating a move Down Under. So, read on for a broad strokes outline, and know that here at Ochre we are always happy to answer any specific questions you might have.

All children resident in New Zealand (Aotearoa), between the ages of six and sixteen must attend school. Children start school (kura) as ‘new entrants’ when they turn five, often on the day of their birthday or at a date close to it that works in with the family. Some schools have an intake of new entrants at the start of each school term. This is called ‘cohort’ entry. Children must be enrolled at school by their sixth birthday, and once enrolled must attend every day.

There are three types of schools in New Zealand; state schools (schools owned and funded by the government), state integrated schools (schools with a special character), and private schools (schools that charge set fees for a term or year). Most New Zealand children attend state (public) schools. While education at state schools is free for domestic students until nineteen years of age, parents are often asked to cover the costs of stationery, exam fees, learning experiences outside the classroom and to pay for their children’s uniform, if the school has one.

There are thirteen years in the New Zealand school system, beginning at Primary School, with the first year at Primary School referred to as ‘Year 1’. Primary School can cover Years 1 to 8 if a ‘full’ Primary School, or Years 1 to 6 (ages 5-10) if a ‘contributing’ primary school. Children enrolled in a contributing Primary School generally attend a separate Intermediate School to complete Years 7 and 8 (ages 11-12). Secondary Schools cater for students from Years 9-13 (ages 13-18), a few Secondary Schools also include Years 7 and 8.

The New Zealand school year begins in late February and ends in December. It is broken into four terms with two-week breaks, aside from the extended summer break that runs from December to February. Aligning with the start of calendar year can make things a little tricky for students moving to NZ from the northern hemisphere, where school years tend to run from August to May or September to June. NZ schools tend to work through integration for incoming overseas students, with regards to timing and appropriate year level, on an individual basis.

Another factor to consider for students coming from overseas is that New Zealand’s school system of years is generally one year ahead of the equivalent age a child would be in Canada, the USA, India, Japan and Australia. So, for example, if a Grade 5 student was transferring from America, the equivalent class here would be Year 6. The UK is one of just a few countries that tracks at a similar year level as New Zealand.

State schools are often subject to zoning. Essentially, zoning is a way to limit the size of a school so that students living geographically close to a school are guaranteed a place there. If spare places are available, then students from outside the zone area can apply to attend the school as an ‘out-of-zone’ placement. A ballot system may be used for this. Not all school have zones applied; it occurs more often for schools within populated cities or areas.

To find out if the school you’d like your child to attend is zoned you can search by region, address, or by school name. This site will also provide details on roll size, zone boundaries, decile, bus routes and contact details.

All schools fall under the auspices of the Ministry of Education (MoE). The MoE website provides detailed information for parents of early childhood and school age children. The Ministry of Education also provides up-to-date reports on each school; the Education Review Office reviews schools every three years on average. Their reports review the school's curriculum, performance and special features. They also include demographic information.  You can look up the Education Review Office reports on a school you're interested in by clicking here.

Hopefully, this information and the links provided will give doctors with families some initial insights into how your child(ren) will assimilate into the New Zealand education system. If your child(ren) have been outside a traditional school education system and you wish to continue that learning here, NZ also has options for correspondence, home-schooling and unschooling. Parents who would like to educate their children at home first require approval from the Ministry of Education. Upon approval you will be given an ‘Exemption from Enrolment at a Registered School’ certificate. Information on applying for this can be found on their website.

For any further information on relocating as a medical professional in Aotearoa, please contact one of Ochre Recruitment’s consultants today – we’d love to chat with you!