School overview

Here we provide an overview of how New Zealand schools work, including information about school years, the school day, classroom spaces, terms and holidays, and attendance.

School years

Five year olds who start school begin as a Year 0 or Year 1 (formerly Primer 1 or J1) and progress each year to Year 13 (formerly 7th Form). Most children in Year 0-8 will be aged between 5 and 12 years old.

If your child starts school in the second half of the year, and is aged between five and six, they will be classed as Year 0. If they start school in the first half of the year they will be classed as Year 1.

If your child is moving from one school to another, they are likely to be placed in a class which is appropriate to their age. You can talk to your child’s teacher or the principal if you have any concerns about the class or year level in which they are placed.

Students enrolled in a primary school can attend either a contributing primary school (for students Year 0-6) or a full primary school (for students Year 0-8). Students attending a contributing primary school will generally move on to an intermediate School (Year 7-8). There are also schools known as middle schools (or junior high schools/junior colleges) that cater for Years 7-10 students. For more information see types of schools.

The school day

Generally for Year 1-8 students, the school day runs from 9am until 3pm. During the school day, there will be short breaks as well as a longer lunchtime break so your child can have something to eat and play. Schools may have policies about the kind of lunches and healthy snacks students can bring to school. Your child’s teacher will be happy to answer any questions about this. It is also a good idea to provide a water bottle as many schools will encourage students to drink regularly during the school day.

Classroom spaces

Children in Year 1-8 are usually based in one classroom and have one main classroom teacher for the whole school day. There may be times when another teacher will need to release your child’s teacher for other teaching duties or your child may need to move to another classroom for teaching instruction. Your child’s teacher will explain these arrangements.

School classrooms are often used in creative ways to deliver today’s curriculum. Most classrooms are still individual spaces but include flexible break out teaching areas often shared with other classes. Classrooms can also be in an open plan arrangement shared by two or more teachers. Your child’s teacher can answer any questions you might have about the classroom teaching space.

School terms and holidays

Students have a six-week summer holiday break and three two-week breaks between each of the four terms. Most schools follow the same term dates, but there is some flexibility for schools to work around local events. During term-time, schools will also close for statutory holidays, teacher-only days and regional anniversary days.

The terms:

  • Term 1 Early February until mid-April
  • Term 2 Late April until the beginning of July
  • Term 3 Mid-July until late September
  • Term 4 Mid-October until mid-December.

The exact dates change from year to year.


Attending school regularly is key to your child getting the most out of school and, in New Zealand, parents are legally required to make sure that their child goes to school every day.

Under the Education Act 1989, parents and carers of children between six and 16 years old can be prosecuted if their child is away from school without a good reason.

Content last updated: 21 May 2015