Starting school

Learn about cohort entry and your options for starting a child in school.

Level of compliance Main audience Other


  • All early learning services
  • Parents, caregivers and whānau
  • Boards
  • Principals and tumuaki

There are 2 ways for a child to enter school. In both scenarios, it is a legal requirement that a child enrol at a registered school from age 6. 

Key information

Previously, state and state-integrated schools had only one way to manage the flow of new entrants into school. This was known as continuous entry and meant:

  • Parents could enrol their child on their fifth birthday or any subsequent day.

From January 1, 2020, schools are able to enforce ‘cohort entry’, meaning there are now 2 ways for children to start school.

What is cohort entry?

Children are able to start school in cohorts after they have turned 5.

There will be 2 entry points per term:

  • one on the first day of term
  • one at a mid-point during a term.

Cohort entry does not replace the legal requirement that a child start school at age 6. Parents, caregivers and whānau can still choose to not enrol their student before then.

But, if you choose to enrol your child between their fifth and sixth birthday and your school has a cohort entry policy, you will have to adhere to this policy.

Some schools are still allowing continuous entry.

Transferring students

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.

Other options

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 family or whānau chooses has adopted cohort entry.

Changing schools

If you do not want to start your child at a school or kura under a cohort entry policy, you may start your child at another school in your area (subject to zone restrictions) without cohort entry.

As schools are now able to enforce cohort entry, if all the schools in your area adopt the new entry you will have to comply with this policy. 

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.

The benefits of cohort entry

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

Schools that are already using cohort entry believe it offers their children 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.


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.

Unenrolling 5 year olds

Legally, all children aged over 6 years must be enrolled at and attending school. Children who are 5 years old are not required to be enrolled. If they are currently enrolled at a school they must be attending, but they can be removed from the roll and leave the school at the parent or carer’s request.

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