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. Subsequently, New Zealand has a high proportion of residents with upper secondary or tertiary qualifications.

Expats moving to the island country with children will have no difficulty finding an affordable, high-quality school. Cities such as Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch have a broad range to choose from.

State-funded public schools are free for those classified as domestic students, such as citizens, permanent residents and certain visa holders. School fees in the form of an International Student Levy are payable for those classified as international students.

New Zealand follows a southern-hemisphere school calendar, meaning the school year begins in late January and ends mid-December. There are four terms each year, and the longest holiday periods are in July and December. Dates often differ slightly for primary and secondary schools.

Public schools in New Zealand

The vast majority of children attend public schools in New Zealand. Known for providing a high standard of education, state schools can be either co-educational or single-sex. Schools are usually secular, although a small number of state-integrated schools operate according to a particular religious ethos. These institutions are usually privately owned but controlled by the state.

School is compulsory from ages six to 16, although it is possible to enrol at the age of five. That said, most children in New Zealand do continue to Years 12 and 13 to acquire the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA). The NCEA is internationally regarded and readily accepted by overseas universities, and is awarded at three levels that correspond to Years 11, 12 and 13.

Children are placed in state schools that serve their geographic zone and, for this reason, the best schools push up property prices in the suburbs they are in.

Private and international schools in New Zealand

Compared with public school fees, international schools are expensive in New Zealand. Private schools receive about a quarter of their funding from the government, and the rest from school fees. There is a range of private schools in New Zealand, including several offering the International Baccalaureate and the IGCSE/A-Levels.

Some international schools in New Zealand are among the best in the world. They provide the benefit of allowing students to continue following the curriculum from their home country or an international curriculum available worldwide, which leads to a more consistent and transferable schooling experience.

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 also 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. They encourage students to progress and achieve and value their contribution to the learning environment. 

Resource Teachers: Learning and Behaviour service (RTLB) are specialists or 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 (RSS). These schools are for students with educational needs relating to vision, hearing, socialisation, behaviour and learning. 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 in New Zealand is a growing industry. That said, it is an area where parents can be vulnerable to scam offers and misleading advertising. 

In 2008, the New Zealand Tutoring Association (NZTA) Ltd. was created to protect parents and students. It is the only association of its kind in New Zealand and it represents tutoring organisations and educational tutors throughout New Zealand. The association was formed in recognition of the need to unify the tutoring industry nationally. It aims to represent tutors and tutoring organisations, act as a lobby group and raise the standard of tutoring in New Zealand.

Tertiary education in New Zealand

There is a wide range of formal and vocational options when it comes to tertiary education in New Zealand. There are different types of institutions in this category, each with their own focus and approach. These 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 to gain acceptance. The University of Auckland is generally recognised as the best university in New Zealand, although several universities are ranked internationally and all provide a high standard of education. Degrees in New Zealand tend to either be three-year courses followed by 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 travel to the country with the express purpose of studying will, however, need to acquire a New Zealand study visa if their course lasts longer than 3 months.