Everything you need to know about the education in New Zealand

Pre-school education in New Zealand

Pre-school is an important and popular part of education in New Zealand. Almost 95 per cent of young children in New Zealand participate in some form of Early Childhood Education (ECE), generally for between 20 and 22 hours a week.

There are over 4,000 pre-school facilities throughout New Zealand, which typically split into two types – teacher-led services (such as kindergartens and ECE centres) and parent-led services, such as government-licensed play centres and unlicensed playgroups.

Most pre-schools in New Zealand

It is well worth contacting the centre you are interested in beforehand to see how long the waiting list is and to find out how long it will likely be before your child is allowed to start at the centre.

Australia flag. Close up of a woman's hands holding Australian flag.

Primary and secondary education in New Zealand

Primary and secondary education in New Zealand is compulsory for all children. They have to attend school between the ages of 6 and 16, although most children enter the school system at the start of the term after they turn five. The length of time a child spends in Primary school is dependent on whether they attend a ‘full’ primary or a ‘contributing’ primary school.

Primary school in New Zealand

At a full primary school, children stay between the ages of five and 12 before moving straight into secondary education. At a contributing primary school, the child will move onto what is known as an ‘intermediate’ school for their last two years of primary education (from 11-12 years old). All study in primary school is guided by the national curriculum.

Secondary school in New Zealand

Once in secondary school, the majority of children typically work towards the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA), although some schools offer additional qualifications – for example, Cambridge International Exams (the equivalent of GCSEs and A-levels), International Baccalaureate or an Accelerated Christian Education programme. For the NCEA, each year students study a number of subjects (some their own choice, others laid out by the curriculum) which count towards their final qualifications.

group of students with coffee writing on lecture symbolising education in New Zealand

Once a particular standard has been reached, the student is awarded a certain number of ‘credits’ and once enough credits have been gained they are awarded their certificate. The standard of certificate (level 1, 2 or 3 – and in some cases even complete with Merit and Excellence endorsements) is dependent on the overall quality of work produced and the age at which the child chooses to leave school.

Those who leave at the legal age of 16, can only achieve a level 1 NCEA (the lowest level), although those who stay on until the end of Year 13 – when they turn 18 – can work towards the highest level. The majority of children in New Zealand attend state schools (around 85 per cent) which are free – although patents may be asked to contribute financially towards any activities participated in outside of the core curriculum.

Group of students talking to each other

Faith based institutions are popular in New Zealand’s education system

The next most popular types of schools in New Zealand are faith-based institutions – for example, catholic – or those which take slightly different approaches towards the education of children – for example, Montessori. Only approximately 5 per cent of children in NZ attend private schools. According to official New Zealand Government figures, the average cost of attending private school in the country is NZ$20,000 a year.

Travel and tourism in New Zealand, with assorted passports

Higher education in New Zealand

New Zealand has 8 degree-granting universities (for which a student will almost certainly require a NEAC Level 3 or A-Levels equivalent in order to attend), while there are also Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics (ITPs), Private Training Establishments (PTEs), Industry Training Organisations (ITOs) or Wänanga (Mäori institutions).

The standards of Kiwi universities is regarded fairly highly, with the University of Auckland rated as the country’s best institution according to the Times Higher Education Supplement’s 2014-15 world university rankings. New Zealand’s non-university institutes tend to offer more vocational types of qualifications and don’t tend to have as strict admission standards as the universities.