Enrolling and starting your child at school

When should I enrol my child to go to school?

Your child can start school or kura in New Zealand between age 5 and 6. All children must be enrolled at school by their sixth birthday.

From 2018, if you enrol your child in a school which has cohort entry, your child may be able to start school before their fifth birthday. Cohort entry is when new entrants start school in groups throughout the year, at the start of each school term.

When your child has started at school or kura, they must go to school every day. This is a change from the earlier rule, where regular attendance was required only from age 6.

Enrolling early helps the school or kura with their planning. As soon as you've decided on a school or kura get in touch with them to enrol your child, arrange a time for your child to start and arrange some visits to get your child used to school or kura.

Some schools will start using cohort entry in 2018

Under the current rules, children start at different times throughout the school year, depending on when their birthday is, or when it suits you. There aren't set start dates like there are in some other countries.

A change to the Education Act means that from term 1 2018, schools will be able to use a cohort entry system. They must consult with their community before bringing in cohort entry.

If the school your child is going to has cohort entry, new entrants will start in groups throughout the year at the beginning of each term, rather than on their fifth birthday. Your child will be able to start school at the beginning of the term closest to their fifth birthday or the beginning of any later term, up until they turn 6.

Read more about cohort entry and other changes to the Education Act

Changing schools

If your child is changing school or kura for any reason, you need to let the school know they are leaving and which school they will be going to, and make sure they are enrolled in their new school. This includes moving to a new primary school, kura, intermediate or secondary school.

Once your child is enrolled at a new school, all their personal records will be sent from the previous one.

How do I enrol my child? What paperwork do I need to provide?

You enrol directly with the school or kura. Contact them to find out their enrolment process, and to get their enrolment forms.

Documents for enrolling

Check with the school or kura to see what paperwork they want. They will want things like:

  • a copy of your child’s birth certificate or passport as proof of age
  • a copy of their immunisation certificate (this is in the back of your Well Child book or ask your family doctor for a copy)
  • medical information including your doctor’s contact details
  • any legal documents, for example custody or access agreements the school should know about
  • if you child has been enrolled in early childhood education, their National Student Number (NSN), and ECE leaver’s record
  • contact details – your family phone numbers and address and someone the school or kura can call in an emergency if they can’t get hold of you.

Can I enrol my child at any school I like?

Not always.

If the school has an ‘enrolment scheme’, in other words, is zoned, this gives them the authority to restrict enrolments to families living within the zone. If you want your child to attend a zoned school and you live outside the zone you will have to apply to go into their ballot. You can read more about ballots and zones.

If you live in an area that has a choice of more than one school you can find out what some of your different options might be by reading the section on the different types of schools available.

What if a school refuses to enrol my child?

First of all, contact the school and ask whether they have an enrolment scheme, and if so, get them to explain how you can apply to enrol.

If they don’t have an enrolment scheme, they should not turn away any enrolments. If they do, ask the school to put the refusal in writing. You can then contact your nearest Ministry of Education office for advice

How can I help my child get ready for school?

There are lots of things you can do.

Get your child used to the school or kura

Here are some ideas to help your child become familiar with the school or kura:

  • visit the school or kura with your child
  • get the principal and teacher to meet your child 
  • arrange some settling in visits with their teacher before their first day
  • have a play at the school in the weekend - run around, climb on the playground equipment, kick a ball on the field

Talk to the teacher about your child

When teachers know children well they are better able to support their learning.  Talk to the teacher and let them know things like:

  • if your child has any special health needs, and what to do
  • what your child likes to do, what they are good at and what makes them happy
  • after-school plans and who picks up your child when you can’t
  • anything that might affect how your child is feeling.

The teacher might also appreciate you sharing your child's portfolio or profile book from their ECE service or Kōhanga Reo. This will give the teacher valuable information about your child's learning, and can also link up your child's early childhood, home and school or kura experiences.

Teach your child the practical skills they'll need

Before your child starts school, it's helpful if they can:

  • do up their shoes
  • put on and take off their coats
  • go to the toilet and wash their hands
  • blow their nose
  • unpack and hang up their bags where they are told
  • recognise when they are thirsty and get a drink of water
  • ask for things they need.

Help them get ready to learn

They may find it easier to participate in the class if they:

  • can sit on a chair at a table for a short time to complete an activity
  • are comfortable being away from you
  • know how to take turns, and wait for things
  • know the names of colours
  • know the letters of the alphabet
  • know the numbers 1 to 9
  • can hold a pencil correctly and use scissors
  • can write their name
  • are able to hold a picture book and turn the pages carefully.

Checklists for starting school and getting settled

Starting school or kura for the first time or beginning a new school is a new and exciting stage for all the family. These checklists cover some of the important things to help the first days run smoothly. They are also useful for settling your child in at the start of each new school year.

In your child’s school bag

  • lunch and a water bottle. Get your child to help you pack their lunchbox. Talk about what is for morning tea and what is for lunch
  • pencils, exercise books, and other supplies the school has asked your child to bring. Some schools and kura provide a list before school starts, others will give you a list in the first week
  • in the spring and summer terms a sunhat and sunblock (it's a good idea to apply sunblock at home before they leave as well) 
  • in the autumn and winter terms a warm hat and some extra layers in case it gets really cold
  • their name on everything particularly hats, shoes and sweatshirts. Show your child where to look for their name on their clothes.
  • a change of clothes. This can be reassuring for a child starting school or kura for the first time, especially if they prone to toileting accidents  

In the morning before you leave

  • get up early so that you have plenty of time to get ready and your child doesn't feel rushed and stressed
  • have a nutritious breakfast
  • if there is no school uniform, choose clothes and shoes that are easy for your child to manage by themselves
  • allow plenty of time for getting to school or kura. On the way chat about what they think their day will be like and what they want to do when they get home.

When you get to school

  • go into the classroom and say hello or kia ora to the teacher with your child
  • tell the teacher about after school arrangements if you won't be the person picking your child up - although it can help them settle in quicker if you can pick them up for the first few times 
  • show or remind your child where the toilets are and any other place it is important to know about, such as where they will be collected at the end of the day
  • it helps children to feel they belong if they know other children. Make a point of stopping to chat with children and parents and/or carers you know as you arrive
  • make goodbyes short. Teachers have a lot of experience helping children to settle in and managing an upset child.

After school

  • if you pick up your child ask the teacher how their day went
  • expect your child to be very tired in the first few weeks. Make time when you get home to just hang out. They might need to run around outside, chill out on a bean bag with some picture books, or just collapse in front of the TV
  • don't schedule in lots of afternoon activities to begin with - let them just get used to their new routines first
  • offer them a nutritious afternoon tea. They will probably be very hungry!
  • Let them adjust to being at home before asking too much about their day. It's a lot easier to get children of any age to talk about their day when they are doing something else with you – helping to make dinner, tidying up, or drying the dishes
  • have a space where school papers goes – this is the beginning of you being inundated with newsletters, permission slips, parent help requests etc. It's useful to make the space close to a calendar so you can write in important dates
  • make a time to read together. Some schools will send home a reading book to share on the first day – others may not. But get in the habit of having some shared reading every day, right from the start.

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