Cohort entry in schools

Helping students to have a great start at school is important for their early success. In the past the Education Act 1989 has only provided one way for State and State-integrated schools to manage the flow of new entrants into school, known as continuous entry.

Changes to the Act

Although some schools had previously adopted cohort entry, they hadn't been able to enforce it. Parents could continue to enrol their child on their fifth birthday or any subsequent day.  The Act was therefore amended in 2017 to enable State and State-integrated schools to fully adopt cohort entry following consultation with their community. (Refer to sections 5a–5c).

From 1 January 2020, changes made to the Act (through the Education Amendment Act 2019) took effect so that:

  • children are able start school in cohorts but only after they have turned 5
  • there will be 2 entry points per term, one on the first day of term, and one at a mid-point during a term.

Mid-term dates for cohort entry

Education Amendment Bill (No 2) — NZ Legislation website

Benefits of cohort entry for children

Cohort entry is about helping children to settle better in school. There's evidence that starting school alongside other children helps children build relationships and supports a smoother entry to school life.

Schools that are already using cohort entry believe it offers their kids the best start to their school life. It can also mean less disruption for new entrant teachers who can prepare for groups of children arriving on a specific date rather than on an individual and ad hoc basis through the year.

Updating cohort entry policies

Schools and kura which have already implemented cohort entry will automatically come under the new legal requirements from 1 January 2020. They are not required to undertake consultation on the changes if they wish to continue with cohort entry. However, schools and kura should ensure the local community, including local early learning services, are aware of the amended policy and will also want to reflect this change in their policy documentation. As good practice, they may also choose to undertake consultation on the change to cohort entry policy (considering the new cohort entry system or a return to continuous entry).

Schools must consult and give at least 1 term’s notice if changing their entry policy

Schools need to consult with their staff, the parents of current and prospective students, and local early learning services, and consider whether they find the policy generally acceptable, before introducing cohort entry.

Schools need to give at least 1 term’s notice of the change to parents, staff and local early learning services so that those affected have time to plan for the change. This could be done through their website or in a local community newspaper. Schools also need to inform the Ministry of Education. To do this email:

In your email confirm:

  • you have undertaken a community-wide consultation including early learning services, parents and staff
  • your community found a policy of cohort entry generally acceptable
  • confirm the date you notified your community that you will adopt cohort entry
  • advise which term the cohort entry policy will take effect from (which must be at least 1 term after you have notified your community and the Ministry).

The exact same process applies if schools wish to consider returning to continuous entry. Schools must consult and provide at least one term’s notice to their community and to the Ministry of Education.

The New Zealand School Trustees Association has developed guidance for schools to assist with community consultation.

Community consultation(external link)

Cohort entry consultation(external link)

Parents who don’t want their child to start at a school or kura as part of a cohort?

If parents don’t want to start their child at a school or kura under a cohort entry policy, they may start their child at another school in their area (subject to enrolment zone restrictions) which does not have a cohort entry policy. If all schools in the area have adopted a cohort entry policy, parents will need to comply with this policy.

Will this mean my child has to stay in early learning longer than they would otherwise? Possibly. Depending on where their birthday falls within the term, some children could stay in early learning or other care for a slightly longer period than they would otherwise, if the school their family or whānau chooses has adopted cohort entry.

Children turning 6 or transferring from another school

No. Cohort entry doesn't apply to children who have turned 6, or who are transferring from another school.

It is a legal requirement that a child enrol at a registered school from age 6. Therefore, if not already enrolled, a child can start school on their 6th birthday regardless of a school’s cohort entry policy, but must start school no later than their 6th birthday.

A school with cohort entry cannot enforce that a child turning 6, who has not yet been enrolled at any school, will start on a specific entry date.

If a child has already been enrolled at another school, and is moving to a school with cohort entry, the school cannot apply their cohort entry policy to this child’s start date.

Compulsory age of schooling is 6

Parents will continue to have the option of not starting their child in school until their 6th birthday, regardless of whether or not the school they enrol in has a cohort entry policy.

Impact on early learning services

If a school adopts cohort entry, this will affect enrolment patterns in contributing early learning services. As part of their consultation, school boards will need to consider the views of local early learning services and give at least one term’s notice before changing their entry policy. This will help ensure early learning services are able to manage the loss of a larger group of children at one time.

Ongoing Resource Scheme (ORS) funding for children with severe and ongoing needs for learning support

Cohort entry doesn't impact on ORS funding. ORS funding starts when a child starts school. Once a child has ORS funding, they receive it for the duration of their schooling.

Childcare and OSCAR subsidies

Families are still eligible for Ministry of Education ECE subsidies, including 20 Hours ECE, until their child turns 6 or is enrolled in school.

Through the Ministry of Social Development, children over the age of 5 remain eligible for the childcare subsidy and children under the age of 5 are eligible for the OSCAR subsidy.

Quality transitions for children who may require additional support

Where a child would benefit from a staggered transition to school, a transition plan can be agreed between the child’s parents, the school principal and the Ministry of Education.

Early learning services are a valuable resource for supporting a child's transition to school and can contribute to the development of a child's transition plan.

These plans will set out expected absences during the child’s transition into school, providing some flexibility for transitions for children with additional learning support needs, if needed, while still allowing them to start school in accordance with a school’s cohort entry policy.

The child will then be required to attend school in accordance with that plan.

Informal cohort entry

A school can run an “informal” cohort entry arrangement if they choose. This would mean the school can encourage 5 year olds to start school at the start of each term, or another cohort entry point within each term.

Because it is not cohort entry as per the legislation, there are some key differences:

  • The school won’t be able to enforce the cohort entry policy and will have to accept all new entrants at the time of their parents’ choosing (ie on their 5th birthday or any day thereafter).

The school will not be required under law to run the consultation process and give one term’s notice for this “informal” cohort entry policy (although it is always a good idea to consult when making such decisions).

Link to key provisions

Section 10 of the Education (Update) Amendment Act 2017 will insert new sections 5A to 5C into the Education Act 1989.

Section 10, Education (Update) Amendment Act 2017 — NZ Legislation website(external link)

Section 5, Education Amendment Bill (No 2) replaces sections 5 – 5B in the Education Act 1989(external link)

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