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 our 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 1 level sets the foundation for the next steps along a chosen pathway.

New Zealand's education system has 3 levels:

  • early childhood education: from birth to school entry age
  • primary and secondary education: from 5–19 years of age 
  • further education: higher and vocational education.

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(external link)

Find an early learning service – Education Counts(external link)

Directories of education providers – Education Counts(external link)

Education agencies

New Zealand’s education system is supported by a number of agencies, each with responsibility for different aspects of the system. See our education agencies page for information about the roles and responsibilities of these agencies.

Education agencies

Early childhood education

Early learning helps children to be confident and curious about the world. It helps your child to do better when they go to school or kura and it helps them develop important skills to become strong, happy and successful in later life.

Early childhood education (ECE) is not compulsory but around 96.8% of children attend ECE.

There are different types of ECE services and all learning that children experience at an ECE service or kōhanga reo is guided by the Te Whāriki curriculum framework.

Different kinds of early childhood education – Parents and whānau(external link)

Te Whāriki – TKI(external link)

The government subsidises all children who attend ECE for up to 6 hours a day (a total of 30 hours per week).

The 20 Hours ECE is a higher funding subsidy available for all children aged 3–5 years who attend ECE.

20 Hours ECE(external link)

You can learn more about how ECE works in New Zealand on the Parents section of this website.

About early childhood education – Parents and whānau(external link)

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 are 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 are 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 have their own sets of aims and objectives to reflect their own particular values and are set within a specific philosophy or religion. 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)

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).

Te Rūnanga Nui o Ngā Kura Kaupapa Māori o Aotearoa – Te Rūnanga Nui(external link)

The 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.

English-medium schools use the New Zealand Curriculum. Māori-medium schools (kura kaupapa Māori) use Te Marautanga o Aotearoa (a curriculum based on Māori philosophies).

New Zealand Curriculum for English-medium schooling – TKI(external link)

Te Marautanga o Aotearoa for Māori-medium schooling – TKI(external link)

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(external link)

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 is 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 1 or 2 courses if a subject they want to study isn't available at their school.

Quality distance education – Te Kura(external link)

Further education

Technical and vocational education

At a 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.

NCEA tertiary training – Youth Guarantee(external link)

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.

Trades academies

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.

Learn with purpose – Te Pūkenga(external link)

Private training

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

Study and train at private training establishments – Careers NZ(external link)


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.

Study and train at wānanga – Careers NZ(external link)


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.

Study and train at universities – Careers NZ(external link)

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