New Zealand Education System Overview

An overview of the governance and structure of education in New Zealand, including information on quality assurance and the international comparability of New Zealand secondary school and tertiary education qualifications.

School Education

Schools provide the second level of education. Free education is provided to New Zealand citizens or permanent residents in state (government owned and funded) schools between the ages of five and 19.

The education system for schools comprises 13 Year levels. Schooling is compulsory from ages six to 16 (which for most students is Year 11) although most students carry on to Years 12 and 13.

Both single-sex and co-educational secondary schooling options are available and state schools are secular. Most students attend school close to where they live.

There is a compulsory National Curriculum for Years 1 to 10. Most schools are English language, but some schools teach in the Māori language.

There are over 2,500 state schools in New Zealand. School rolls range from 10 to over 2,000 pupils. Most school-aged children attend state schools (85%). The remainder attend state integrated schools (11%), which are operated as a state school but with the particular religious or learning philosophy of their owner, and the remainder (4%) in private and boarding schools, schools that cater for special education needs (such as impairments, learning or behaviour difficulties), or are schooled at home.

Partnership Schools – Kura Hourua – are a new type of school in our system, which bring together education, the business sector and community groups to provide new opportunities for students to achieve education success. The Government is rolling out a small number of Partnership Schools in areas of significant educational challenge and underachievement over the next two years. The first Partnership Schools will open in 2014.

Primary education

Children may start school at age five and the majority do so, although schooling is not compulsory until age six.

Primary education starts at Year 1 and continues until Year 8, with Years 7 and 8 mostly offered at either a primary, or a separate intermediate school.

Primary education focuses on strong foundation learning, especially in literacy and numeracy.

Secondary education

Secondary education covers Years 9 to 13 (ages 13 to 18/19). State secondary schools are usually known as secondary schools, high schools or colleges.

In secondary schools the timetable is arranged around subjects and although students continue to experience a broad and balanced curriculum some specialisation is possible especially in Years 11 to 13. Students are provided with professional career information and guidance. Secondary students may begin courses of a more vocational nature while at school but there is no direct separation of programmes into academic and vocational streams. Entry to work or further study (eg. university) is not limited by the type of secondary school a student attends.

National School Curriculum

New Zealand has a world-leading National Curriculum which applies to all state schools and state integrated schools. It covers all the years of schooling and is compulsory from Year 1 to the end of Year 10.

The National Curriculum aims for all young people to be confident, connected, actively involved, lifelong learners.

It specifies eight learning areas: English; the Arts; Health and Physical Education; Languages; Mathematics and Statistics; Science; Social Sciences; and Technology. And through their studies students work to develop five sets of key competencies: thinking; using language symbols and texts; managing self; relating to others; participating and contributing.

The curriculum gives teachers flexibility to apply their professional knowledge. They can personalise learning to the needs of their students and communities.

New Zealand has two National Curriculum documents: The New Zealand National Curriculum for English-medium schooling, and the Te Marautanga o Aotearoa for Māori-medium schooling.

Content last updated: 21 May 2015