Education in New Zealand

New Zealand's education system has 3 levels and reflects our unique and diverse society.

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.

Edcounts website has directories of schools, ECE and further education providers in New Zealand

Early childhood education

Children can take part in early childhood education (ECE) from birth to school entry age. ECE is not compulsory but around 95% of children go to an ECE service. All ECE services in New Zealand plan learning using the national curriculum Te Whāriki.

Between the ages of 3 and 5, a child can go to an ECE service for 20 hours a week for free. This funding is called 20 hours ECE.

Choosing an ECE service

There are different types of ECE services. You can learn more about how ECE works in New Zealand on our Parents website.

Primary and secondary schools

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 are a New Zealand citizen or a permanent resident. 

Schooling is compulsory from age 6 to 16. Your child can start school on the day they turn 5 years old (they do not have to wait until the start of a new school year). Most children stay at school until they are around 17.

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 to 12 years of age). Your child’s secondary education goes from Year 9 to Year 13 (around 13 to 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 is not 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. They teach the national curriculum and are secular (non-religious).

There are 2 other types of schools - state-integrated and private. These are schools with a special character. They may have their own sets of aims and objectives to reflect their own particular values. They may teach a specific philosophy or religion.

State-integrated schools are schools that were private and have become part of the state education system. They are funded by the government and teach the national curriculum. You will 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 do not have to follow the national curriculum.

Māori-medium education (Kura Kaupapa Māori)

Kura Kaupapa Māori are schools that teach in Māori and education is based on Māori culture and values. They are owned and funded by the state, and they teach the national curriculum for Māori-medium schools, Te Marautanga o Aotearoa. Many kura are composite schools - they have both primary and secondary departments (they teach Years 1-13).

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 will learn a broad and balanced curriculum, with some specialisation possible in Years 11 to 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).

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 three years at school (Years 11 to 13). They can achieve NCEA at 3 levels in a wide range of courses and subjects.

Special education

The vast majority of children and students attend their local school or early learning centre and learn and achieve alongside their peers. Additional support and funding is put in place based on individual needs.There are also other options within the education network including special schools.

Home and distance learning

If attending a school is currently not 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.

Correspondence School Te Aho o Te Kura Pounamu teaches early childhood, primary, secondary and special needs students. It uses multimedia and online learning. Your child can also study one or two courses if a subject they want to study is not available at their school. 

Further education

Further education includes higher and vocational education. Courses range from programmes to help students into work, to certificates and diplomas, to postgraduate study and research. Full and part time distance learning options are also available from some further education providers.

The government partially funds state further education providers. Students pay about 30% of the cost of their courses. New Zealand students can borrow a loan from the government to pay for their courses until they are earning. Further education providers can be state or privately owned.

The Careers New Zealand website has information about programmes offered by further education providers.

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 gives young people further options to get NCEA level 2 qualifications. Students plan their study to reach their career goals, including getting further education. 
  • Trades academies teach trades and technology programmes to students in Years 11 to 13 (ages 15 to 18). They are run through schools and other providers.
  • Institutes of technology and polytechnics teach professional and vocational education and training from introductory studies to degrees.
  • Industry training organisations represent particular industries(eg agriculture, building and construction, motor trade etc). They offer training and qualifications for those sectors. They funded by the government and industry.
  • Private training establishments offer specific vocational courses at certificate and diploma level (eg travel and tourism).

Community education

Adult and Community Education is a programme of foundation skills (such as literacy, numeracy and language courses) and personal interest topics for adults. Schools, wānanga and other community organisations teach Adult and Community Education.


New Zealand has three 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. They each offer degrees in a large choice of subjects and have strengths in specialised professional degrees. All 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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