Common questions about school 

What do I have to pay for when my child goes to school?

Education in state schools across New Zealand is free. However, you may still have to pay for some things: 

School donations
Many schools ask parents or caregivers for donations to help pay for costs not covered by government funding, such as extra sports equipment. Your child’s school cannot force you to pay school donations, because your child has the right to a free education between the ages of six and nineteen years of age. However, if you do not pay donations to the school they may exclude your child from special activities (things which are not part of the school curriculum). 

It’s normal for parents to provide their children with the materials needed for class - things like exercise books, pens, pencils etc. When your child is enrolled in school, the school should give you a list of what they will need. From time to time you will be asked to pay for things like school trips or camps. The school should always ask you first, and you have to agree to pay the charges. If you have any concerns or problems with this, talk to your child’s teacher.

Many schools have compulsory school uniforms. The cost of uniforms varies – your school will be able to tell you everything you need to know about it. In many cases school uniforms are available much more cheaply second-hand. Schools can be quite strict about what shoes students can wear, so find out what’s allowed before buying any.

Exam fees
You'll also need to pay fees for your child to be assessed for secondary school qualifications such as NCEA and Scholarship (see our information about school qualifications).

Tuition / attendance fees
If you want to enrol your child in a private/independent school you’ll have to pay fees for tuition, board (where applicable) and other things. If you enrol your child in a state-integrated school you won’t have to pay tuition fees but will probably have to pay attendance fees to cover the maintenance costs of the schools’ privately-owned land or buildings. 

If you are having problems paying for education costs, you could seek free budget advice or see if you are eligible for family support from Work and Income. For people caring for someone else’s child, there is financial assistance from Work and Income to help with school costs.

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Is my child allowed to wear a religious item of clothing to school, even though it’s not part of the regulation uniform?

Legally, your child cannot be discriminated against on the grounds of race, gender, culture or ethnic origin. Schools are required to respect students’ rights to express their religion e.g.  by wearing itmes of cultural or religious significance. For example, Maori students may wear taonga (cultural treasures such as tiki pendants) at school even though jewellery in general is banned by the uniform code. You may be asked to demonstrate that your child has a genuine religious or cultural reason for dressing differently. See this YouthLaw website for more information about your rights regarding school dress codes.

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I don’t believe in homework. Does my child have to do his/her homework?

The policies and practices of schools and individual teachers vary a lot when it comes to homework. Schools may argue that because you have chosen to enrol your child at the school, you have accepted the school’s policies on homework. So if the school gives out homework, they will have reasonable grounds to enforce its completion.

It’s a good idea to talk to your child’s teacher if you have any concerns about homework. You might be able to come to an agreement or compromise.

If your concern is due to an inability to help your child with their homework (especially if English is not your first language), the teacher might be able to suggest a way for your child to get this support from school (e.g. at a homework club after school). If you have problems dealing with the teacher, you can try talking to the principal.

If you feel strongly about this issue, you should make it a priority when choosing a school. More information on how to choose a school is dealt with on our Choosing a school page.

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I don’t want the school to teach my child about sex. What can I do?

Sexuality education is part of the national curriculum. The class is intended to teach young people how to approach sex safely, and help them cope with the choices they will have to make as they grow up.  

If you don’t want your child to be educated about sex by the school, talk to your child’s teacher. You can arrange a meeting, and find out more about what the teacher will talk to the children about. Once you see the content, and understand what your child will see, you might feel more comfortable about school sexuality education classes. If you still feel unhappy about it, you could write a note to the teacher and ask that your child not attend class on this topic. 

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Does my child’s school have the right to provide bible study during class time?

Bible study is regarded as religious instruction (i.e. teaching students what to believe, including bible study), which is different from religious education (i.e. learn about different religions in general).

State schools are free to provide education about religions. In general it is up to the state school’s Board of Trustees whether the school can provide religious instruction or practice religious observance (e.g. saying prayers or singing hymns at school assembly). However if the school does provide these it must be done in a way which does not discriminate against students who don’t share those beliefs. Also, students must be allowed to opt out if their parents don’t want them to take part and the school must provide supervision of students who opt out.

For state primary schools, any religious instruction should take place outside of school hours (e.g. after school, at lunchtime); only secular teaching can take place during school hours.

Private/independent and integrated schools are allowed to provide non-secular education if the religion is part of the school’s special character. For example a Catholic school can include Catholic instruction and observances during school hours. Parents can still choose to withdraw students from these if they don’t share those beliefs.

You can find out more in the Human Rights Commission’s Religion in New Zealand Schools, which schools, their Boards of Trustees and their communities refer to when making decisions about religious instruction and/or observance in school.

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What is a walking school bus and how do I find one in my area?

A walking school bus is a group of children walking to school with one or more adults. It can be as informal or formal as you want it to be - it can be a couple of parents and a few kids, or it can have timetables, meeting points, and schedules.

To find a local walking school bus, you could ask teachers or administration staff at your child’s school, or ask other parents from the school. You can also talk to your neighbours to try to find one in your area.

If there are no walking school buses close to you, you can start one up. Get in touch with other parents, the school principal or board, and the local road safety co-ordinator - you could put a message in the school newsletter and organise a meeting.

More information and tips are in this New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) publication.

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My daughter has severe allergies and is about to start school. Do I have the right to ask her teacher to impose hand-washing rules and restrictions on what foods other kids can bring to school?

When a child with allergies is about to start school the three main objectives should be to:

  • minimise the child’s exposure to allergens as much as possible
  • ensure school staff are prepared to respond appropriately if the child has a life-threatening reaction (e.g. use an epi pen if the child develops anaphylaxis)
  • ensure that the child is able to participate in school learning and activities as much as the other children.

Your daughter will need to understand her allergies and what they mean for her. For example this might include never sharing food with her friends, always washing her hands before and after eating, and always carrying essential medication with her. She'll need to know:

  • what an allergy is 
  • what foods could harm her 
  • any symptoms she should worry about 
  • what could happen if she comes into contact with the things she’s allergic to 
  • what to do if she has an allergic reaction e.g. who to go to for help, medication to take, or a phone number to call

The school may choose to put in place a ban on foods which could bring about a life-threatening response in your daughter (nuts are a common example).
Before your child starts school, talk to your child’s teacher and develop a plan involving the class if an emergency does happen with your child’s allergy, as well as strategies to minimise your child’s exposure to allergens. The latter can include frequent hand washing for the whole class and an education session about allergies. If you need more help, or can’t come to an agreement with the teacher, you can take your request to the principal.

The school may choose to put in place a ban on foods which could bring about a life-threatening response in your daughter (nuts are a common example) – Allergy New Zealand doesn’t recommend blanket bans on foods except in early childhood education and for new school entrants.

Allergy New Zealand offers good resources for handling severe allergies in New Zealand schools and pre-schools online. It includes an online guide and risk management plan for students with severe allergies, along with a lot of other material that may help.

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Can I go back to high school in my 20s?

Enrolment in secondary education is possible for adults who failed to gain NCEA qualifications when they first went to secondary school and want another chance to do so. In order to enrol you need to meet certain criteria relating to the courses you will take, e.g. literacy and numeracy requirements. More information about enrolling in mainstream secondary education as an adult, is on the Ministry of Education website.

There are other options for adult education, if attending secondary school is not appropriate for you:

Correspondence School
Te Kura (The New Zealand Correspondence School) provides a nationwide school by mail service that is available, for a fee, to adult students (i.e. students aged 19 years or over). Correspondence school works by sending you workbooks in the subjects required for your qualification, which you complete and return by an agreed time. This means you can do the work when it suits you, and can fit it around work and other commitments. 

For more information see the Te Kura website.

Adult education classes
There may also be institutes in your region that are set up for full time adult education or night classes for high school level qualifications. Contact your nearest Citizens Advice Bureau for information about adult education services near you.

Bridging courses
You may also be able to take a bridging or foundation course at a tertiary education provider. These are specifically designed for students who do not have the required high school qualifications, but who can gain special admission because they are over 20 years of age. For example you may be able to do courses to improve your knowledge in maths, English, science, essay writing or time management. You can contact your local university or technical institute to find out what they offer.

More information about bridging courses is on the Careers NZ website.