New Zealand Education System – A Guide

The education system in New Zealand was largely overlooked by the rest of the world, but is now coming into its own as leading the way in innovation and excellence. Here’s a brief overview of the system, and if you’d like to find out more about life in New Zealand and how to make it your new home, check out our in-depth guide on Moving to New Zealand.


Daycare centres cater for children of pre-school age and can be run by the local community or privately owned. At least one teacher must be a registered teacher. There will be a charge and fees vary widely from centre to centre. Examples of these daycare centres are Montessori nurseries.

Kindergartens require that all teachers are registered, but other than that they are run in much the same way as daycare centres. Children are taken in up to the age of school and hours can be flexible, but generally, children attend in sessions i.e. morning or afternoon sessions 5 days a week.

State Education

Legally a child must be enrolled in full-time education by the age of 6. School years start at Year 1 and end at Year 13, although once children reach Years 11 and 12 they do have the choice to leave school early if they wish. From Years 1 to 2 the children are referred to as ‘primers’ or ‘joiners’, from Year 3 to Year 6 they are ‘standards’, Years 7 and 8 are ‘Forms 1 and 2’ and Years 9 to 13 are ‘Forms 3 to 7’.

Normally primary and secondary schools are separate but in some rural areas, you may find what they term as composite schools, where primary, junior and secondary are all in the same location.

School years are obviously different in New Zealand because of the differing seasons. The school year begins in January/February and ends in December with a 6-week break for the summer holidays.

School uniforms are the norm and parents will be expected to ensure their children are properly attired. Read the government produced an online booklet about state education in New Zealand.

Alternative education choices

As well as state education there are a number of independent and private schools in New Zealand along with religious institutions. Home education is also a possibility.


The secondary school qualifications are the NCEA which stands for National Certificate of Educational Achievement, very much like the UK GCSE. Students are given credits depending on their performance in certain standards (i.e. speaking, writing, reading etc). 80 credits are needed to gain an NCEA which comes in 3 levels.

  • Level 1 equivalent to GCSE in the UK at a grade lower than C.
  • Level 2 equivalent to a GCSE at grades A-C.
  • Level 3 equivalent to an A Level.

Universities and Colleges

There are numerous colleges or polytechnics and 8 universities throughout New Zealand that offer degrees as well as full and part time courses.

Universities are not free but the government contributes to the cost of state university education meaning that the students only pay for around 26% of the course costs. Student loans and allowances are also available.