Pre-enrolment processes

If a school has an enrolment scheme, it has pre-enrolment processes. Boards must ensure all parents and caregivers are clear on what is required of them, and when, for enrolment applications.

Level of compliance Main audience Other


  • Boards
  • Administrators
  • Principals and tumuaki
  • Parents, caregivers and whānau

Boards are responsible for operating enrolment schemes, which includes the pre-enrolment process. This guidance details requirements such as the rules around fees, the priority for out-of-zone applicants, the ballot process and special programme exceptions. Enrolment schemes are governed under legislation in the sections 71-75 and schedule 20 of the Education and Training Act 2020. (external link)

Sections 71-75 – New Zealand Legislation(external link)

Schedule 20 – New Zealand Legislation(external link)

About pre-enrolment


Pre-enrolment means the period in which applications for enrolment are invited and processed by a school that has an enrolment scheme.

Key dates

In the year prior to which enrolments apply, boards, parents and caregivers, have a number of responsibilities to be met under the requirements of the Act. There are also deadlines for completing certain steps in the pre-enrolment process.

Fees and donations 

Schools cannot charge a fee or solicit donations for any part of the pre-enrolment process.

This means:

  • Schools cannot solicit donations for any application for out-of-zone enrolment.
  • Schools cannot charge a fee to access forms or enter a ballot.
  • State-integrated schools cannot make payment of the first term’s attendance dues a condition of entry into a ballot.

Out-of-zone enrolment applications

Out-of-zone applications are only accepted once all in-zone enrolments are accepted. It is a legal requirement that a home zone is defined in such a way that students are able to attend a reasonably convenient school.

Out-of-zone students can only be accepted at a school if there are places available. Currently the Act defines the order of out-of-zone student priority as:

1. students accepted for enrolment in a special programme run by the school
2. siblings of current students
3. siblings of former students
4. children of former students
5. children of board employees and board members
6. all other students.

Once a priority category is reached where there are more applications than places available, the school will hold a ballot. Applications are randomly drawn and accepted in that order until all of the remaining available places are filled.

To ensure fairness and transparency for all out-of-zone students, all boards must be consistent in how pre-enrolment processes for out-of-zone enrolment applications are managed – especially ballots. Consistency reduces the likelihood of too many students enrolling at one school while other schools have capacity for them.


A ballot is a random draw of out-of-zone applications to fill the remaining places available in a school. Ballots for secondary schools are held once a year, and ballots for primary schools can be held more than once a year, if required.

  • Names or numbers associated with an application are drawn randomly out of a ballot box.
  • The order that they are drawn is noted, and accepted in that order.
  • First, all of the available out-of-zone places are filled.
  • Ballots drawn after all places are filled are put on a waiting list in the order that they are drawn.

A ballot is not required if there are more places available at a school than out-of-zone applications.

State integrated schools are not required to hold a ballot, and may use other methods to select applications.

Board responsibilities

Boards must advertise:

  • the number of out-of-zone places
  • deadlines and procedures for applications
  • the dates their ballots will be held.

Key dates

Boards must advise all out-of-zone applicants:

  • if they are entered into a ballot
  • when and how the ballot will be held
  • when they will be notified of the outcome, and their rights and responsibilities.

Boards must notify applicants in writing of the ballot outcome within three days of the ballot.

Ballot supervisor

To ensure ballots are fair and transparent, the process must be supervised by a Justice of the Peace, a practising lawyer, a sworn member of the Police, or a local government returning officer.

The person cannot be an employee or member of the school’s board, or a relative of a child included in the ballot.

Waiting list

Waiting lists only apply to schools with enrolment schemes. The list expires after the next ballot is held.


Successful applicants have 14 days from being notified to accept or decline the offer of a place in the school. If they do not respond within that period, the place is offered to the first student on the waiting list established by the ballot.

Special programmes

Out-of-zone students who meet the criteria for enrolling in a special programme have first priority above all other out-of-zone enrolment applications where a school has out-of-zone places available.

A special programme is defined in section 10 of the Act. It must be approved by the Ministry, and:

  1. provide
    1. special education; or
    2. Māori language immersion classes; or
    3. any other type of specialised education to overcome educational disadvantage; or
  2. be a programme
    1. that takes a significantly different approach to address particular student needs; and
    2. that would not be viable unless it could draw from a catchment area beyond a school’s home zone; and
    3. to which entry is determined by an organisation or process independent of the school.

We’ve previously approved the following types of programme, which do not require individual applications from schools. Boards should notify their Ministry regional contact if they have a programme they think qualifies as a special programme. 

  • Māori language programmes and Māori immersion classes resourced by the Ministry of Education at level 1, 2 or 3.
  • Special education classes and units for which students are accepted on the basis of special educational needs arising from learning and behaviour difficulties, sensory, intellectual, communication or physical disabilities, or any combination of these.
  • Classes delivering a Pacific language immersion programme and/or bilingual educational programme where at least one pacific language (being Cook Island Māori, Samoan, Tongan, Niuean, Fijian, Tokelauan or Tuvaluan) makes up 30 percent of the language of instruction.
  • Classes providing a programme of study to students confirmed by Auckland University of Technology (AUT) Centre for Refugee Education or Immigration New Zealand that they are part of the Government’s official refugee programme and/or have refugee status.
  • Any teen parent unit approved by the Minister of Education and resourced by the Ministry of Education.
  • Any alternative education programme operated under a contract with the Ministry of Education, where students in the programme are required to enrol at the school.

Approving a special programme

We can advise boards whether a programme they run meets the Act’s definition of a special programme, and whether it would be approved for inclusion in an enrolment scheme.

If a programme is approved by the Ministry:

  • it must be included in the enrolment scheme
  • in-zone students who meet the criteria have priority over out of zone students
  • by 1 September each year, boards must have determined how many in-zone and out-of-zone places will be available in the special programme in the following year
  • out-of-zone priority enrolments must be kept separate from all other applications
  • out-of-zone siblings of students enrolled in a special programme have their enrolment applications managed in the same way as applications of other out-of-zone siblings under the Act.


Where out-of-zone enrolment applications for siblings of current and former students are received, for the purpose of clarifying the second and third priority acceptance categories under the Act, schedule 20, clause 2(3) of the Act defines what is meant by "sibling". Child A is considered child B’s sibling if:

  1. both children share a common parent; or
  2. a parent of child A is married to, or in a civil union with, a parent of child B; or
  3. a parent of child A was married to, or in a civil union with, a parent of child B at the time when child B's parent died; or
  4. a parent of child A is the de facto partner of a parent of child B; or
  5. both children live in the same household and in recognition of family obligations are treated by the adults of the household as if they were siblings; or
  6. the school is instructed by us to treat child A as the sibling of child B.

Parents and caregivers must provide proof of a sibling relationship if an out-of-zone application is to be considered in a priority category. 

Where there are out-of-zone siblings in the same year level at a school, ballot supervisors must ensure their names are kept together for the ballot process, so if one’s name is drawn the other is automatically accepted too.

Directed enrolments

Rarely, if it is in the best interests of a student, we will direct a school to enrol an out-of-zone student under schedule 20, clause 14 of the Act. This overrides the home zone requirement. Directed enrolments are made by the Ministry only in exceptional circumstances. To protect the privacy of students we do not share reasons for directed enrolments.

For the Ministry to approve a directed enrolment, a parent or caregiver must provide specialist medical, psychological or other expert opinion that supports the reasoning a student would be disadvantaged by not attending a particular school, and that no other school can meet their needs.

We need to be satisfied that:

  • there would be genuine disadvantage to the student
  • the disadvantage would be of a significant degree
  • the disadvantage could be objectively or reasonably substantiated
  • the disadvantage can be remedied only by enrolment at the school in question.

We cannot direct boards of state-integrated schools, Kura Kaupapa Māori or designated character schools to enrol a student unless their parents or caregivers agree with the direction and accept the special character of the school.

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