Primary and intermediate schooling in NZ

As your child approaches school age you may have questions about how schooling works in NZ these days.

Does my child have to go to school?

Yes, your child must attend a school or kura or be homeschooled.

  • Age 5 to 6 - most children start their schooling on or just after their 5th birthday, but it is not compulsory to start school in NZ until you turn 6
  • Age 6 to 16 - children must attend school
  • Age 16 to 19 - schooling is optional. Around this time, young people gain National Certificate in Educational Achievement (NCEA) and transition to further education, training or a career

Going to school or kura regularly is key to your child getting the most out of their education. You are required to make sure that your child goes to school or kura every day unless they're sick, or need to be away with good reason. Under the Education Act 1989, parents and carers of children between 6 and 16 years old can be prosecuted if their child is away from school or kura without a good reason.

If your child does need to be away, make sure the school or kura knows ahead of time. How you do this may depend on their rules. Usually you will need to phone them to let them know your child will be away, the reason why and for how long.

If your child will be away for more than a few days, you may need to put this in writing. It's also a good idea to talk to the teacher about getting some school work for them to do so.

What if my child was born overseas?

All children between the ages of 6 and 16 living in NZ can go to school in NZ. You enrol your child directly with the school you choose. It's a good idea to get in touch with the school and arrange a visit with the principal to talk about how the school works, how to enrol and arrange some settling in visits for your child before their official start date.

International students

If your child is an international student then you enrol them into a NZ school as an international student.

Permanent residents, NZ citizens and domestic student visas

If your child has permanent residence, New Zealand citizenship or a domestic student visa they have to be enrolled at school by the time they are 6.

The Immigration NZ website has guidelines for students on visitor visas

Children living unlawfully in NZ

Many children who are living unlawfully in New Zealand can attend a state or state-integrated school as a NZ student. Find out if this applies to your child

What are the choices for schools?

NZ has an excellent schools and kura and they use an internationally recognised curriculum framework to develop teaching programmes that develop the skills and abilities your child will need in the world.

There are lots of different kinds of primary and intermediate schools and kura in New Zealand, but your own choices will depend on where you live and the needs of your child and your family. Most children in New Zealand go to government funded state or state-integrated schools, but there are also private schools available in some areas. 

How do the school years work?

The school years are numbered 1 to 13. There are no standards and forms like there were when you were at school.

Years 0 to 8 are the primary years. Children in these years are generally aged 5 to 12 years. In some areas children go to an intermediate school for years 7 and 8.

It can become more complicated if your 5 year old starts school or kura in the second half of the year. Schools and kura sometimes refer to them as year 0 for the second half of the year.

If they start school in the first half of the year they will be referred to as year 1.

If you think your child is not in the right year at their school or kura, talk to your child's teacher or to the principal.

Years 9 to 13 are the secondary years.

When are schools open and when are the holidays?

The school year is divided into 4 terms, with a two-week break between terms 1,2 and 3. Following term 4 there is a six-week summer holiday break.

Most schools follow the same term dates, but there is some flexibility for schools and kura to work around local events and anniversaries. The Minister of Education sets the number of days and half days a school or kura must be open each term. Schools and kura are closed on public holidays.

Check out the School term and holiday dates for 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017

Schools can be closed during the term

A board of trustees can also close a school or kura for:

  • teacher-only days (for professional development and planning) 
  • in-service training days (when several schools combine for training)
  • local gala or show days.

If a school or kura closes for these reasons, it must make sure that it is still open for instruction for the set number of days or half-days.

A board of trustees can also close a school or kura at any time because of an epidemic, flood, fire or other emergency.

See the Ministry of Education information on how schools set term dates

Teacher only-days

On teacher-only-days schools and kura are closed to students and you need make other arrangements for the care of your child. The school or kura should let you know in advance so you can plan for this. 

School hours

Primary and intermediate schools and kura generally begin at 9am and finish at 3pm.

Some schools and kura provide before and after school care so are open for longer. Talk to your school or kura if you want to find out more about their before and after school care options.

Do I have to pay?

It depends.

Education in state schools in New Zealand is paid for by the government so is free to you. If your child goes to a state-integrated school then you will be charged attendance dues - the government pays for your child's education but the buildings are privately owned so you are charged to cover costs there. Private schools charge fees.

Schools may invite you to support them by paying donations. School donations are voluntary.

You will also need to pay for things like stationery supplies, school uniforms and extra charges where you have been advised in advance and have agreed to pay them.

International students are charged fees for their education in NZ.

Go to Costs and financial assistance to find out all about fees and charges, subsidies, and what to do if you’re not happy about any charges.

Back to top

Share this story

Last reviewed: Has this been useful? Tell us what you think.