Fencing at schools

Information and advice for installing and designing fences at schools.

Level of compliance Main audience Other


  • Boards
  • Proprietors
  • Building Contractors
  • Product Providers
  • Principals and Tumuaki
  • Project Managers
  • Property Managers

The Ministry does not have a specific requirement for schools to be fenced nor does it have mandatory standards that must be met if fences are installed (over and above building code). The installation of fences at schools should be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Installing fences

Boards can decide whether or not to install fencing at their schools however this needs to be considered in the context of all infrastructure needs at your school. This is a case-by-case decision as there are many factors to consider and it’s important to make a decision based on the school’s priorities identified through the 10 Year Property Plan.

Boards can install fences for safety, security, or privacy reasons or to manage external risks at their schools. Fencing may also support student safety, particularly younger ākonga and those with learning support needs.

However, fences may also be seen as a barrier to schools being open, welcoming places and may separate them from the community although there are design strategies that can be used to help soften this barrier.

General fencing work (construction, maintenance and replacement), excluding fences for learning support reasons, is the responsibility of each school board and may be funded through your 5 Year Agreement funding. Fencing work to address safety concerns may be considered a higher priority.

Legal rights and obligations when building or replacing a boundary fence

When planning to build or replace a boundary fence, you need to be aware of the rights and responsibilities of your school and your neighbours.

Before starting work, you will need to issue a notice under the Fencing Act 1978 to your neighbour. This is to formally advise them of your intentions and their responsibilities. As a first step, contact your school Property Advisor who can advise on this process. Your notice, or written proposal, must:

  • state that the notice is served under the Fencing Act 1978;
  • give the names and addresses of both you and your neighbour;
  • describe the fence, where it will go and how it will be built;
  • describe who will build the fence;
  • give an estimate of costs and how you will buy the materials;
  • state the start date of the work;
  • specify how you would like to share the cost of the fence; and
  • specify the consequences of failure to comply with the notice (being that the neighbour is deemed to have agreed to your proposal and will have to share the cost).

You can deliver the notice by registered letter or in person. This is called “serving notice”.

Your neighbour then has 21 days to object to any aspect of the proposal.

For more information, and an example of the form of fencing notice (at Schedule 1), see the Fencing Act 1978 (New Zealand Legislation website)(external link).

Receiving a notice from your neighbour

If a notice is issued by a neighbour to your school under the Fencing Act 1978, the first step would be for you to raise this with your Property Advisor. Your Property Advisor will then determine if the notice is raising an operational issue (for example, about the colour or height of the fence) or if the notice raises a more substantial issue that needs to be reviewed by our Ownership & Occupancy team. If the issue is minor and operational, this can be resolved by the school with support from the Property Advisor. The Ownership & Occupancy team can provide support for notices about fencing covenants and agreements as these may require registration against Crown land and therefore require the involvement of Land Information NZ.

Choosing a fence design

Fencing design must consider safety, community accessibility and inclusion. Where practical, explore landscape design as a first approach to achieving safety outcomes. 

Start by considering the purpose of the fence and use this to inform the decision making when choosing the fence design. If practical, choose a fence design that meets multiple needs. For example, a fence may be for privacy, safety, to contain balls, or for all of the above. 

When planning the fence design, some of the things to consider include:

  • Where fences and gates are best placed to support our safe and welcoming school objectives
  • Ensuring the durability of the materials and style of fence is of a commercial quality and fit-for-purpose
  • How to blend the fence into the surrounding landscape to reduce the visual impact

Do not use hazardous fencing

Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015(external link), you must not have fencing that may harm people, even when trespassing. A hazardous fence has:

  • cut-steel ‘arrow-heads’, sometimes called ‘spear-heads’
  • single- and triple-pointed palisades, or a rod or tube cut on an angle to form a point – features normally associated with cheaper fences
  • other deterrent features that could potentially harm people.

Hazardous fences do not stop people from trying to climb over them and may cause injury.

If your school has a hazardous fence, you should:

  • have it altered so it is no longer hazardous, for example, replace cut-steel arrow-heads with rounded palisade tops
  • isolate it, or
  • replace it.

Fencing for students with learning needs

Sometimes students with learning needs are at risk of running away from school, and you may need to think about fencing. If you think a student is at risk, the first step is for a Serious Risk Assessment to be completed by a Learning Support practitioner, through the Ministry of Education. Contact your manager of learning support for advice.

The practitioner will recommend fencing or fencing modifications if they deem there is a serious risk to the student and/or individual. A fence may be recommended if alternative solutions are not suitable or are less effective.

While fencing or fencing modifications may support students with learning support needs to access education, behavioural management approaches should also be considered. 

Engagement with the school, the family and the wider team is an integral part of managing a student or individual’s risk and deciding if fencing is the best option. 

The practitioner will complete an assessment and write a report. They will discuss any recommendations with you and the Ministry advisors supporting your school. Some things to think about are as follows:

  • Fencing may not be the best or the only option
  • Safety of the students is the most important thing to consider
  • The school, the family and the wider team are responsible for managing the risk

Give students every chance to learn to stay in the school grounds. We will consider funding for fencing only after looking at all other solutions.

Occupational Therapists work with property delivery to determine the requirements for these fences as they are learner specific. Contact your Property Advisor for advice. 

What the Serious Risk Assessment might recommend

The assessment will identify the risk and make a recommendation based on that risk. There could be 4 outcomes.

  1. Serious risk: will recommend immediate fencing and the development of a safety and behaviour management plan.
  2. Medium risk: will recommend that a safety and behaviour management plan be developed with Special Education staff to review the need for fencing in the first 12 months of the student going to school.
  3. Low risk: will not recommend fencing but may recommend that a safety and behaviour management plan be developed.
  4. No risk: will not recommend any action.

Paying for fencing for students with Learning Support needs

If the practitioner recommends fencing, they will include it in the Property Modification Report. The fence will be funded through Learning Support Property Modification funding.

You need to contribute to the cost if:

  • the fence was scheduled to be replaced in your 10 Year Property Plan
  • the fence was going to be put up anyway (before the assessment was done).

If either of these are the case, we will meet the cost of any special features in the fence.

Visit our Learning Support Property Modification Funding webpage for more information.

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