About Education System

Education in New Zealand

Our education system reflects our unique and diverse society, which welcomes different abilities, religious beliefs, ethnic groups, income levels and ideas about teaching and learning.

About education system

Education in New Zealand is a student-centred pathway providing continuous learning progression and choice so that:

  • students progress every year, and
  • their learning at one level sets the foundation for the next steps along a chosen pathway.

New Zealand’s education system has 3 levels:

Our education system reflects our unique and diverse society. We welcome different abilities, religious beliefs, ethnic groups, income levels and ideas about teaching and learning. We have processes in place to give our students consistent, high-quality education at all levels.

Find a school — Education Counts website 

Find an early learning service — Education Counts website 

Directories of education providers — Education Counts website 

Primary and secondary education

Primary and secondary schools are the second level of education.

Your child’s education is free between the ages of 5 and 19 at state schools (schools that are government owned and funded) if they’re a New Zealand citizen or a permanent resident.

Schooling is compulsory from age 6-16. In the majority of schools, your child can start school on the day they turn 5 years old (they don’t have to wait until the start of a new school year). However some schools have a policy of starting children at school together as a group at the start of each term (cohort entry). Most children stay at school until they’re around 17 years old.

The education system for schools is made up of 13 Year levels. Your child’s primary education starts at Year 1 and goes to Year 8 (around 5-12 years of age). Your child’s secondary education goes from Year 9 to Year 13 (around 13-17 years of age).

Local schools

Many children go to a school close to where they live. Many schools have an enrolment scheme called zoning.

If you live in an area close to a school (the school’s zone), your child is guaranteed to get a place at that school. If you want your child to go to a school outside the area where you live, you may have to apply, and a place isn’t guaranteed.

Depending on the schools in your area, you may have the choice to send your child to a single-sex or co-educational school.

State, state integrated and private schools

Most schools in New Zealand are owned and funded by the state (state schools). They teach the national curriculum and are secular (non-religious).

State integrated schools are schools with a special character. They are funded by the government and teach the national curriculum. They’ll have their own sets of aims and objectives to reflect their own particular values, and are set within a specific philosophy or religion. You’ll pay compulsory attendance dues.

Private schools get some government funding but are mostly funded through charging parents school fees. They develop their own learning programmes and don’t have to follow the national curriculum.

Māori-medium education (Kura Kaupapa Māori)

Māori medium education is where students are taught all or some curriculum subjects in the Māori language for at least 51% of the time (Māori Language Immersion Levels 1-2).

Māori language in English medium is where students are learning te reo Māori as a language subject, or are taught curriculum subjects in the Māori language for up to 50% of the time (Māori Language Immersion levels 3-5).

National curriculum

The national curriculum covers subjects that are taught at primary and secondary schools and the standards students should reach in each subject.

Your child’s primary education will focus on foundation learning across a range of subjects and competencies but especially in literacy and numeracy. At secondary school they’ll learn a broad and balanced curriculum, with some specialisation possible in Years 11-13.

Schools that teach in the English language use the New Zealand Curriculum. Schools that teach in the Māori language use Te Marautanga o Aotearoa (a curriculum based on Māori philosophies).

New Zealand Curriculum for English-medium schooling — TKI website 

Te Marautanga o Aotearoa for Māori-medium schooling — TKI website 

National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA)

The National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) is the national senior secondary school qualification.

Your child will usually be assessed during their last 3 years at school (Years 11-13). They can achieve NCEA at 3 levels in a wide range of courses and subjects.

Understanding NCEA — New Zealand Qualifications Authority website 

Learning support

The vast majority of children and students attend their local school or early learning centre, and learn and achieve alongside their peers. Additional learning support is available in every local early childhood centre or school.  It’s planned to support students, educators, families and whānau in a range of different ways depending on individual needs.

Learning support

Home and distance learning

If attending a school isn’t the best option — you might live a long way from the nearest school, travel overseas or have other reasons — your child can learn with New Zealand’s correspondence school, Te Aho o Te Kura Pounamu (Te Kura).

Te Kura teaches early childhood, primary, secondary and special needs students using multimedia and online learning. Your child can also study one or two courses if a subject they want to study isn’t available at their school.

Te Aho o Te Kura Pounamu (Te Kura) website 

Further education

Technical and vocational education

At senior secondary school level students may begin to specialise in vocational learning. They can get help into work or further education from a number of programmes and institutions.

Youth Guarantee

Youth Guarantee courses provide students aged 16–19 with an opportunity to study towards NCEA Level 1-3 or Level 1-3 certificates at tertiary providers free of charge. These courses are usually vocationally focused.

Trades academies

Trades academies teach trades and technology programmes to students in Years 11-13 (ages 15-18). They are run through schools and other providers.

Institutes of technology

Institutes of technology and polytechnics teach professional and vocational education and training from introductory studies to degrees.

Industry training organisations represent particular industries (for example, agriculture, building and construction, motor trade). They offer training and qualifications for those sectors. They funded by the government and industry.

Private training

Private training establishments offer specific vocational courses at certificate and diploma level (for example, travel and tourism).


New Zealand has 3 wānanga (state-owned Māori teaching and research institutions). They teach according to āhuatanga Māori (Māori tradition) and tikanga Māori (Māori custom). They offer certificates, diplomas and degrees. Some teach in specialised areas up to doctorate level.


New Zealand has 8 state funded universities. Each university offers degrees in a large choice of subjects and has strengths in specialised professional degrees.

All of the universities are well recognised internationally. They work with universities in other countries on research and teaching programmes, and with the business community in New Zealand and overseas on research and development.

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