The quality of education in New Zealand is ranked among the best in the world, and consistently gets high ratings in the UN Human Development Index. The education system is known for its emphasis on practical learning, critical thinking and creativity.
Expats moving to the island country with children will have no difficulty finding an affordable and high-quality school. Cities such as Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch have a broad range of public, private and international schools to choose from. Expats moving to New Zealand with children will have a range of options to choose from depending on their needs and preferences.
It's important to note that the school year in New Zealand follows a different schedule than in the Northern Hemisphere, running from late January to mid-December, with four terms throughout the year.
Public schools in New Zealand
The vast majority of children attend public schools in New Zealand, which are funded by the government and offer free education. Known for providing a high standard of education, these schools can be co-educational or single-sex and are usually secular.
Compulsory education in New Zealand begins at age six and continues until age 16, although children can be enrolled at age five if their parents choose to do so. Most children in New Zealand continue on to Years 12 and 13 to acquire the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA). The NCEA is internationally recognised and accepted by overseas universities. It is awarded at three levels that correspond to Years 11, 12 and 13, and is designed to assess a student's knowledge and skills across a range of subjects.
Children in New Zealand are generally placed in state schools that serve their geographic zone. This means that families may need to consider the location of schools when deciding where to live. The best schools often have high demand, which can push up property prices in the suburbs they are located in. Families can also apply for an out-of-zone enrolment if they wish to attend a school outside their designated zone. These enrolments are granted based on a ballot system and are subject to availability.
Expat parents planning to enrol their child at a primary or secondary school in New Zealand will need to apply for a Dependent Child Student Visa. Children may be treated as domestic students on this visa, so parents won't have to pay public school fees.
Read more on the government's Study with New Zealand website
Private and international schools in New Zealand
Private and international schools in New Zealand offer alternative options to public schools, but they are typically more expensive. Private schools receive some funding from the government, but the majority of their funding comes from school fees, which can be substantial.
International schools, which cater to students from a variety of countries, are also available in New Zealand, although they are typically even more expensive than private schools. For families who frequently move for work or personal reasons, international schools offer the benefit of allowing students to continue following the curriculum from their home country or an international curriculum available worldwide. Commonly offered curricula include the International Baccalaureate, the British system (including Cambridge IGCSE and A-Levels) and the American system.
Attending an international school may mean that students miss out on the cultural and social experiences of attending a local school in New Zealand. This is important to note because it may prevent them from fully integrating into the local community.
Homeschooling in New Zealand
In New Zealand, all children aged between six and 16 are required to enrol in and attend a registered school. Parents wanting to homeschool their children in New Zealand will therefore need to apply for permission from the Ministry of Education. They will need to prove that their child will be taught as regularly and as well as in a regular school – although the law is vague on what counts as sufficient proof. Once the ministry has granted an exemption certificate, parents are then entitled to claim a state-sponsored stipend to help with costs.
Homeschooling is not a particularly popular method in New Zealand. Nevertheless, there are good online resources and support groups to help expat parents, such as the Home Education Foundation.
Special-needs education in New Zealand
The New Zealand Disability Strategy guides the work of government agencies on disability issues in New Zealand. All local schools and education services provide inclusive education, and teachers and educators are trained to support students with special needs.
Resource Teachers: Learning and Behaviour (known as RTLBs) are specialist teachers who work across a number of schools in New Zealand. They support schools and manage the additional learning needs of students in a number of ways.
New Zealand also has a number of residential special schools, where children with educational needs relating to issues such as vision, hearing, socialisation, behaviour and learning can be enrolled. Parents of children with special needs can contact their local office to find out about enrolment. The New Zealand Ministry of Education has a well-developed website that will help prospective parents as well.
Tutors in New Zealand
Private tutoring is becoming increasingly popular in New Zealand, with many parents seeking additional academic support for their children. However, the industry can be rife with scam offers and misleading advertising, leaving parents vulnerable to exploitation. To address this issue, the New Zealand Tutoring Association (NZTA) was established in 2008.
As the only association of its kind in the country, the NZTA aims to unify the tutoring industry, represent tutors and tutoring organisations, act as a lobbying group, and raise the standards of tutoring in New Zealand. By working with the NZTA, parents and students can ensure that they are accessing high-quality tutoring services from reputable providers, and avoid falling victim to scams or unscrupulous operators.
Learn more about the New Zealand Tutoring Association
Tertiary education in New Zealand
Tertiary education in New Zealand offers a wide range of formal and vocational options. Different types of institutions include traditional universities, Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics (ITPs), Private Training Establishments (PTEs), Industry Training Organisations (ITOs) as well as Wananga (Maori institutions).
Formal courses are offered by the country's eight universities, where students must meet a minimum level of English language proficiency. The University of Auckland is considered the best university in New Zealand, but other universities also provide a high standard of education. Degrees in New Zealand can either be three-year courses with an optional one-year honours degree or four-year qualifications, depending on the field of study.
Tertiary education is partly state-funded, and permanent resident students have their tuition subsidised. Expats who don't have permanent residency and plan to study for more than three months will need to obtain a Fee Paying Student Visa.