Choosing a school 

What are some things to think about when choosing a school?

The number of schools you and your child have to choose from will depend on the zone you live in. Some things to think about when choosing a school include:

  • whether you’d prefer a state, private or integrated school
  • whether the school has a strong focus on particular areas (e.g. sport, the arts)
  • whether the school offers support for children who need it (e.g. because they are gifted, or because they speak English as a second language)
  • which school  your child’s friends are going to
  • what subjects are taught at the school 
  • whether the school has a uniform 
  • whether travelling to and from the school would be convenient, and what travel options are available
  • whether the school offers before/after school care 
  • whether to send your child to a single sex or co-ed school, if you are choosing a secondary school

You know your child best and what type of school is likely to suit their academic ability, their interests and personality. You can read about different schools from a range of sources. Schools usually have open days before the school year starts. Speaking to parents with children attending the schools in your area may also provide you with helpful information.

You can view the Ministry’s information about choosing a school.

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When does my child have to start school in New Zealand?

Children usually begin school when they turn five, though schooling is only compulsory from age six. 

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What are the differences between state schools and private schools?

State schools
State schools are funded by the government and can't refuse to enrol a child except to avoid overcrowding (in which case they can limit enrolment to students from within their school zone). Education at state schools is free for New Zealand citizens and permanent residents, but those schools can ask for a donation towards the cost of events and activities as well as for materials used in certain classes such as art or design. The donation, as its name suggests, is a voluntary payment but if you don't pay, your child could be excluded from some school activities.

Private schools
Private schools ('independent' schools) are not directly controlled by the government. They must meet certain standards to be registered as a school but are governed by an independent board. Private schools receive some funding from the government but are mostly funded by yearly school fees and donations. Because of this it is a lot more expensive to send your child to a private school.

Private schools also often have a religious basis, for example Catholic, and may want students to take religious education courses and join in prayers at school events based around that religion. They can also choose whom to enrol. 

More information about independent schools, including help with finding one for your child, is on the Independent Schools of New Zealand website.

Integrated schools
There are also schools referred to as integrated schools (or 'special character' schools). An integrated school is a private school which has been integrated into the state school system. They teach the national curriculum but keep their own special character (usually a philosophical or religious belief) as part of their school programme. Like state schools they are governed by boards of trustees.

Unlike state schools, integrated schools are allowed to restrict enrolment. Integrated schools receive the same government funding for teaching as state schools but because their buildings and land are privately owned, they may charge yearly fees called “attendance dues” to meet property costs.

State schools and integrated schools provide education that is based on the national curriculum. Private schools do not have to teach using the national curriculum but must use a curriculum that is at least as good. Most state primary schools educate boys and girls (i.e. co-ed), while secondary schools can be either single sex or co-ed.

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What is a charter school?

A charter school (or 'partnership' school) is essentially a private or independent school (see the previous question) which receives the same government funding as a state school. Charter schools aren’t operated by the Ministry of Education – instead they may be run by an Iwi, a non-profit organisation or a business.  

Charter schools can set their own curriculum and have their own particular emphasis or philosophy, for example on military-based disciplines, Maori or Pasifika culture or language, or religious education. They can set their own teaching hours and their own staff requirements. The schools are subject to reviews by the Education Review Board. 

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Where can I find information about schools to make sure I make the right choice for my child?

You can find information on different schools from many different sources:

The Education Review Office (ERO)

The Education Review Office (ERO) is a government department that reviews and reports on the education and care of students in schools, early childhood services and other education providers in the pre-tertiary education sector.

ERO publishes education reviews which you can use to help you choose a school. Schools are reviewed, on average, every three years. The reviews evaluate

  • student achievement
  • teaching
  • professional leadership and governance
  • legal compliance

ERO also carries out reviews of private schools, home schooling situations and national reviews.

You can get these reports by contacting ERO or by visiting their website

Contact the school directly

You can find the contact details of the schools you’re considering in the telephone directory, or else by searching for a school website online. Generally, you can ask for an information pack about the school once you get in touch with them. If you want to discuss any queries or uncertainties you have about the school, make an appointment with the principal. You could ask about

  • behaviour policies
  • class sizes
  • extra support available e.g. reading recovery programmes
  • facilities for special needs children
  • the strengths of the school
  • the strengths of the teachers
  • you could also have a look around the school to get a feel for it, and talk to other parents whose children go there
  • what subjects are taught (for intermediate and secondary schools) 

The Ministry of Education

The Ministry of Education website has general information on schools in New Zealand. It covers

  • curriculum
  • teaching
  • qualifications
  • school management
  • school administration

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How do I find out the philosophies of each school?

Some schools have particular philosophies about the whole experience of education, for instance Montessori schools or Steiner schools. Others place a stronger focus on particular aspects of the curriculum e.g. the arts or sports, or on academic performance in general.

If you want to find out about a particular school, you can check their website, contact the school and ask them about their philosophy, or talk to other parents who have children going to that school.

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What’s the difference between Te Kura (The Correspondence School) and homeschooling?

Both of these are options for your child to receive their education at home. The main difference between them is that Te Kura is a state school which follows the New Zealand Curriculum and provides your child with learning material and a teacher (but the teaching takes place at the student's home), while homeschooled students are taught by their parent or guardian.

Te Kura is for students who can’t attend a local school because: 

  • of travel difficulties or geographical isolation, 
  • they are caring for their baby, 
  • they have been expelled or excluded from school and can’t attend another,
  • the local schools are unwilling to enrol them,
  • they have been assessed as having psychological or psychosocial needs or 
  • they live overseas and either can’t attend an overseas school or need tuition in NZQA subjects

Homeschooling, on the other hand, is where a child is taught by their parent or guardian, who is responsible for providing teaching materials, marking the child’s work and monitoring the child’s learning progress. The parent is allowed to use a limited amount of material from Te Kura, but would have to pay for it. The Educational Review Office (ERO) will make occasional reviews to check that the child is being adequately taught.

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I’m thinking of home-schooling my child. What’s involved in this?

If you want to teach your child yourself you must have approval from the Ministry of Education. To get this approval you must prove that your child will be taught at least as regularly and as well as in a registered school, for example:

  • you have sufficient knowledge of the school curriculum
  • you can demonstrate the ability to teach the curriculum topics effectively (including whether you intend to use teaching material from Te Kura)
  • your child’s social needs will be provided for
  • if your child has Special Education needs, that you can accommodate this

Speak to your local Ministry of Education office if you would like to know more about what is involved in this.
If your application to homeschool your child is approved, you’ll receive a Certificate of Exemption (one for each child). Parents and caregivers who homeschool their children are given an annual supervision allowance.

You can choose to buy teaching materials from Te Kura, for up to two courses at any one time (if you buy more than this then your child is regarded as being enrolled at Te Kura – not homeschooled – and your Certificate of Exemption will expire).

You can get support through networking online - there is a list of social media networking sites on the National Council of Home Educators website.

There are also local support groups around the country which organise social and learning group activities. Your local CAB can help you find one near you.

More information about homeschooling is available from: 

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How do the school zones work?

Some schools have an enrolment zone scheme to prevent overcrowding at the school. Such schools will generally only enrol students living within a specific area (the school’s zone).

For families living outside the school’s zone, their child may be able to enrol if there are spaces available (see the following question).

You can get an idea of whether you live in the enrolment zone of a school you're interested in, by doing a search of the Ministry of Education's directory of schools. But the best way to find out for certain is to contact the schools you are interested in, or check their website, for enrolment information.  

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I want to send my child to a school that’s not in my zone. Can I do this?

You can try to enrol your child in another school in another zone, but be aware that the children who live within the school zone get first preference when enrolling. If spaces are available, children not in the school zone may be accepted in this order of priority:

  1. students accepted for enrolment in any special programme run by the school
  2. brothers and sisters of current students 
  3. brothers and sisters of former students
  4. children of board employees
  5. other children 

If you are not successful in enrolling your child at the school you want, you can ask to be put on a waiting list.

See the Ministry of Education website for more information about out-of-zone enrolments.