Finding the right school or educational facility in New Zealand for your children during your emigration process can be a worrying addition to the list of things you have to organize.
The education system in New Zealand is a three-tier model consisting of primary school, high school and university or other tertiary education. Typically the New Zealand academic year runs from January until mid-December for primary and secondary schools, and from late February until mid-October for universities.
The school provision in New Zealand is regarded as being of good quality – in the OECD Program for International Assessment (Pisa), New Zealand came 7th best in the world in reading and science, and 13th in maths. Those figures don’t tell the whole story, though, because they don’t place education against the background of the rest of Kiwi life. Do that, like London-based think tank The Legatum did, and New Zealand comes in at number 1 worldwide for education.
New Zealand school leavers take NCEA (National Certificate of Educational Achievement) qualifications, which have three levels. These more or less correspond to British GCSEs (NCEA level 1), AS levels (level 2) and full A levels (level 3, usually taken at the end of year 13, at the age of 18 or 19). NCEAs are recognised all over the world by employers and universities; they may not be as portable as the International Baccalaureate within Europe but they’re internationally useful. The EU recognises NCEAs, Britain accepts NCEA level 3 as being broadly equivalent to GCE A levels for university admissions purposes so students who want to go to University in Britain will be able to return on the basis of their Kiwi education if they want, and Thailand, India and Germany recognise NCEAs too. In 2012, 85% of New Zealand school leavers had at least NCEA level 1.
Getting your children into New Zealand schools is relatively easy: if you have residence, you’re in. If you’re in New Zealand on a temporary work visa, your kids will need a student visa to attend Kiwi schools.
In New Zealand, formal education begins at five or six years old, and continues until students are at least 16, though many stay on until they’re 18 or 19. There’s a compulsory national curriculum for years one to 10, ages six to 16. New Zealand’s schools are divided into state, state integrated schools and private schools.
By far the majority of New Zealand schoolchildren, 85%, attend state schools. State integrated schools, which operate as state schools but on the particular religious or learning philosophy principles of their owners, like academies in the UK, account for about 11% of New Zealand students, and the remaining 4% attend the country’s boarding and private schools.
It’s possible to homeschool your children in New Zealand, though you still have to adhere to the National Curriculum, and ask permission from the Ministry of Education. There’s also a Maori school system in New Zealand, though this won’t be relevant to many immigrants.
New Zealand school students start out in primary school from years 1 to 6. Typically, they’ll then be in a designated intermediate school from year 7 to year 8 before going on to secondary school for year 9 and up, though some primary or secondary schools integrate an intermediate school.
If your children are of preschool age, New Zealand offers a wide range of provision, including kindergartens, play centres and private early childhood centres. There are 291 preschool centres in Christchurch alone, for a city with 20, 000 children under 5 – one for every 68 kids.
There’s 20 hours of free preschool education a week available to 3 and 4 year olds and this provision is regardless of your visa status or how long you’ve been in New Zealand. It’s part of the emphasis on early childhood education (ECE) in New Zealand.
Finding The Right School
When you know where in New Zealand you’re going to move to, you can go to the New Zealand government’s school search web tool and find the nearest schools based on where you are and your child’s age. There are reviews of individual schools here. Nominally, you’ll have a choice of schools, but in state schools you’ll have the same catchment area situation you have in the UK. That means that, just like the UK, houses in the catchment areas of good schools are more expensive; you’re paying the premium for access to the education.
New Zealand’s state school sector is nominally free, but many schools ask for a voluntary donation from parents to help with upkeep, and this can be as high as NZ$1, 500 annually. Additional school costs including field trips, sporting equipment, uniform and stationery can reach NZ$5,00 though this is rare. Private pre-school provision is typically priced around NZ$500 a week, and private schools in New Zealand charge NZ$10, 000 to NZ$25, 000 a year. Unusually New Zealand’s state schools are among the country’s most popular and well-thought-of institutions and they’re the first choice even for Kiwis who can afford private education.
When your children get into a school, they’ll find Kiwi schools usually start around 9AM and finish 3 to 3:30PM. On the whole, New Zealand schools are relaxed places where behaviour and discipline are good. Compared to the UK, students report that there’s less pressure, and more emphasis on self-development. There’s also a greater emphasis on outdoor sports, partly a result of New Zealand’s readily available wide open spaces.
There’s also more attention from teachers in Kiwi schools. On average, primary classes are between 23-29 pupils per teacher, and usually there’s one teacher to every 17-23 students at secondary schools on average.
Further Education and University
If your children want to remain in New Zealand for university or further education that’s a realistic option: there are eight universities in New Zealand, spread across the country’s two urban centres of Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington, Chistchurch and Dunedin. They’re reinforced by 18 institutes of technology and polytechnics based around the major towns.
If you’re a permanent resident, your university fees are subsidised by the state. If you’ve been a resident for two years or more, student loans are available for tuition fees, course expenses and some course related living costs.
New Zealand’s education system is well set up to serve students of any age, and it’s a major selling point for a country that prides itself on being family-friendly and great for kids.