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State Schools in New Zealand

Submitted: October 2014

State schools in New Zealand are funded by the state at all levels. Education is compulsory from the age of six to sixteen, though most children will attend school from the age of five. 

From the age of three, children may attend pre-school education. This is either teacher-led as in a traditional kindergarten, or parent-led as in play centres and playgroups. Between the ages of three and five, 20 hours a week of early childhood education is provided free by the State, beyond that, fees may be payable. There is more detailed information regarding this here.

Primary education lasts between the ages of about five or six and 12/13 (years 1 to 8). Around 85% of children attend state primary schools. Around 10% of children attend state integrated schools where education is also funded by the State. Around 5% attend private schools. Though education at integrated schools is funded by the state, they can and do charge fees of around NZ$1,500 – NZ$5,000  per year for use of facilities. Contributory primary schools only take children between year 1 and year 6, after which the children will either move onto an intermediate school for years 7 and 8, or go to a secondary school with intermediate classes. There are also composite schools which provide education all the way through from years 1to 13.

The primary school curriculum revolves around seven core subjects: maths, science, English, technology, social sciences, art and PE. After the end of primary school, children move on to secondary education. This lasts between the ages of about 13 to 17 (years 9 to 13).

New Zealand uses a curriculum and achievement measure called the National Certificate of Educational Achievement programme (NCEA). The NCEA system is based on the achievement of standards, which can either be unit standards or achievement standards. Unit standards can be seen as essential stepping stones along the path of education; they are either achieved (A) or not achieved (N). For example, ability to do long multiplication might be a unit standard. Achievement standards are built on the stepping stones of the unit standards and are more complex, for example, investigate relationships between tables, equations or graphs. There are four grades for achievement standards achieved (A), merit (M), excellence (E), or not achieved (N). Some of the standards are assessed internally (by the school), others are assessed externally.

Each standard achieved has a number of credits attached to it. To gain an NCEA certificate a child must attain a certain number of credits. If a child has achieved enough merits or excellence results, this is reflected on the certificate. Entry into higher education is decided on the basis of the NCEA certificate results.

Generally children attend a school which is near to their home. It is possible to arrange for enrolment at a school elsewhere if this is more convenient. In order to register a child for school, you should go the school or contact them. Some schools are oversubscribed, so you may have to put your child on a waiting list. Each school has its own registration requirements. There is a useful map-based search for finding a suitable local school at any level here.

New Zealand is unusual in that there are four terms in the school year. Details of the dates of the terms for state schools are here.




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