New Zealand’s Education System

Articles > New Zealand's Education System

New Zealand is rightfully proud of its education system. In the latest World Economic Forum’s Global Competitive Report, New Zealand’s education system ranked ninth, which is higher than both the UK and the US. In the same report, the South African education system was ranked 137th, which is only 2 from bottom place.

Quality primary and secondary education is free in New Zealand, whereas in South Africa and many other countries around the globe, quality education is only available at expensive private schools. Eighty-five per cent of New Zealand’s population are educated in government schools. A further 12% are educated in state-integrated schools, which are former private schools that have been integrated into the state system but retain their special charter. Only 3% of children are educated in private schools.

School education is compulsory for all children between the age of 6 and 16, although, most children start school at 5 and continue until they are 18 or 19.

0 – 6 YEARS – The Early Years
Early childhood education is important to New Zealanders. Not only does it give their children a good start in life, it also helps households where both parents are working. The New Zealand government can provide the first 20 hours per week free of charge in most cases, as long as your child is registered at an approved child care service. (

The curriculum for little ones is carefully planned and monitored. Its aim is to produce children who are “confident, connected, involved, lifelong learners.” The range of ECE services available is extensive and may be led by qualified teachers, parents, whanau or caregivers. Available services include: –

  • Kōhanga reo
  • Kindergartens
  • Education and care centres
  • In-home care
  • Montessori
  • Rudolph Steiner
  • Playcentres
  • Playgroups
  • Ngā puna kōhungahunga (Māori-focused playgroups)
  • Pacific Island-focused playgroups
  • Special needs services
  • Correspondence school

5 – 19 YEARS – School Years
Education is free from the age of 5 to 19 for those children who are citizens or permanent residents, and attend state run schools. Like South Africa, the school year is divided into four terms, with the first term starting late January or early February. Children don’t have to wait until the beginning of a school year to start school, they can begin the day they turn five. Schooling is compulsory between the ages of 6 and 16.

Both state and state-integrated schools follow the national curriculum, however, private schools do not need to follow it and can develop their own learning programmes.

Primary School
Primary school either runs from the age of 5 to 10 (years 1 to 6) and then children go to intermediate school for 2 years before going to secondary school or, it runs from age 5 to 12 (years 1 to 8). The broad-based curriculum is set by the New Zealand education department and gives the children a taste of many subjects and activities.

Intermediate School
Intermediate schools are more common in larger communities. They are a link between primary school and secondary school for those children between the age of 10 and 12. It’s during these two years that specialist subjects are introduced, to help students prepare for secondary school.

Secondary School
Children start secondary school at the age of 13 (year 9). Here the focus is on subject based learning, with the opportunity to specialise as the student progresses up through the school. Pupils in years 9 and 10 will study English, maths and science, health and physical education. They will then be offered other subjects, such as IT, the arts, languages and social sciences, which is where they can begin to specialise. Many schools offer vocational subjects such travel, hospitality and engineering which gives students the opportunity to go into trades directly from school, rather than go into tertiary education.

The National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) is New Zealand’s secondary school qualification. Children are usually assessed from year 11 through to year 13, which means, if they intend to leave school at the end of year 13, they can achieve NCEA at three levels in a wide range of subjects. NCEA level 3 is required for university entrance and is recognised in most countries, including the UK, the States and Australia.
Some of New Zealand’s school offer the Cambridge exams and the highly sought after Swiss International Baccalaureate (IB).

16 AND ABOVE – Further Education
Further education is important to New Zealanders and four out of five have formal qualifications. Studying, in order to pursue a new career is common, as is studying purely for personal pleasure. Note that further education is not free in New Zealand but government loans are available.

Private Training Establishments (PTE’S)
PTEs are registered with the New Zealand Qualifications Authority and must meet national standards in order to gain registration. These establishments range from a one or two-man operation offering vocational training, to large organisations with thousands of students, offering degrees at postgraduate level.

Trade Academies
Trade academies are for students in years 11 to 13 who want to enter trade or technology programmes.

Industry Training Organisations
Industry training organisations are funded by industry and government and allow students to pursue careers in areas such as agriculture and building and construction.

Higher Level Education
There are eight internationally recognised universities in New Zealand, all offering degrees in a wide variety of subjects, from undergrad to PhDs and post docs. There are also 23 polytechnics which offer degrees, research opportunities and vocational training. Colleges of Education specialise in training teachers and social workers, with courses and on the job training, leading to tertiary qualifications.