Education in New Zealand: A Round-Up of Schools And Curriculum For Your Child

Emerging as one of the top-ranked educational hubs in the world, education in New Zealand is non-traditional, outdoorsy, and enormously diverse. Only eight universities are located across the island, with around 2,500 private and public schools. Consistently ranking well by global standards, education in New Zealand has maintained excellent literacy, science, and mathematics standards through a well-updated national curriculum.

The small country is also becoming increasingly international, sporting a diverse society that welcomes students from different religions, origins, and ethnicity. Education in New Zealand is structured in a three-tier model, starting from early childhood education for students below five years in pre-school stages. The next step is primary and secondary education for students aged 5 to 19 years, followed by further/higher/tertiary education comprising university or vocational training. 

If you’re an expat settling abroad and looking to get practical advice on the country’s education system and curriculum, this detailed guide on education in New Zealand might be helpful in answering all your questions.

Schools in New Zealand

There are 13 year levels of education for children in the island country, with three main categories of schools: public, state-integrated, and private schools. Other types of schooling options include international education, homeschooling and day special schools. A national curriculum is primarily followed by some schools offering an International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma. Let’s learn more about each type of school to help you weigh your options.

1. State-Owned Schools

Also called Government or Public schools, state schools are entirely owned and funded by the New Zealand Government, keeping education free of cost for domestic students up to 19 years of age. Parents need not pay for the tuition but might be expected to pay for extra educational tools such as uniforms, textbooks, school bags, exam fees, and course-related costs.

State schools may also ask parents to pay for outside-of-school trips and events such as expeditions and sports activities. However, if the event is part of the core curriculum, your child can still participate even if you do not pay for it. In cases where the event/trip is not part of the school’s curriculum, you can opt to exclude your child from the activity. Education in New Zealand at State schools might be free, but parents usually give donations amounting to $1,000 per year.

The school operates under an elected Board of Trustees, consisting of a school principal, ideally five trustees elected by parents, one staff trustee chosen by the school’s staff, and one student trustee selected by the students – usually in secondary schools. Comprising of 85 percent of students of the island country, State schools are strictly secular.

2. State-Integrated Schools

Schools that used to be private but have now become part of the State education system are called State-integrated schools. They teach the national curriculum but keep their own special character (usually a philosophical or religious belief) and its principles as part of their school programme. Since these schools were formally private, they are usually run by a religious community or specialist group, like the ‘Catholics’.

Usually, integrated schools are Catholic, with only a few of them belonging to Christians and other entities representing different educational and religious philosophies. While the government essentially funds them, integrated schools usually come with a price – the ‘attendance fee,’ which is a polite and indirect way of asking for money to maintain their facilities.

Typically, the amount sums up between $240 to $740 for Catholic schools, and $1,000 to $2,300 for non-Catholic schools per year. On average, it costs $1,500 annually to study in State-integrated schools in New Zealand.

Like State schools, integrated schools also span a Board of Trustees comprising the school’s original owners who ensure the ‘special character’ – meaning religious and ethical values – are maintained. Only 10% of students study in integrated schools.

3. Private Schools

Private schools, also known as Independent schools, are not funded by the government. They are privately-owned and operates on the parents’ tuition fees, which generally costs around $10,000 to $20,000 per year on average, depending on the schools. These schools are usually co-educational, meaning both boys and girls study in the same classroom. The same system follows in the other two categories, but there is a greater inclination towards single-sex schooling, particularly for (faith-based) integrated schools.

Since private schools are relatively independent of conformities, they have the freedom to improvise the national curriculum to benefit their students individually. Only 5 percent of students in New Zealand are reported to attend private schools because of expensive fees, but you may enjoy financial assistance provided by the school body if eligible.

For more information on the three types of schools mentioned above, click here.

4. International Schools

There is usually no dedicated term like ‘International Schools’ in New Zealand because all state, integrated, and private schools welcome international students with open arms. International students in New Zealand can choose whichever type of school that best suits their long-term financial and educational plans.

There are 25 IB schools in New Zealand, out of which 13 are authorized to offer an IB diploma. They are ideally offered alongside New Zealand’s National Certificate of Educational Achievement in public and private schools. The popularity of international students in New Zealand is actively increasing, with expats from China, Japan, and South Korea settling in the remote, breath-taking island country to study and work. However, it should be kept in mind that international students are not eligible for free-of-cost education in State schools and may pay premium prices. On average, the tuition fee for an international student is around $15,000 per year.

There are four types of curriculum offered to international students: IB New Zealand, the UK curriculum, the US-style model curriculum, or the International Primary Curriculum. This allows them to study in New Zealand, gain competitive skills, personalized training, and pursue higher studies in other universities.

5. Homeschooling

Homeschooling is optional in New Zealand. Parents, guardians, or caregivers have to request and wait for approval from the Ministry of Education who exempt such students from the requirement to enrol in schools. To get support, the concerned party has to show evidence that regularity and quality of learning will be met as is in regular schooling. Some families may be eligible to receive an annual grant to help with the cost of teaching and learning materials.

For more details on home schooling and application process, click here.

For more information on the cost of home schooling, click here.

6. Day Special Schools

Day special schools are for students who have special or high needs requiring specialist training and services. Some special schools may involve satellite classes on a regular school campus with an integrated social and educational environment. On the other hand, your child may receive mobile teaching services where specialist teaching may be given at a regular classroom in a traditional school.

Specialist schools are available for students from Year 1 to Year 13, with their curriculum adapted and special teaching attention and aid given by the specialist staff.

For more information on the application process and cost for a day special school, click here.

Types of Curriculums in New Zealand

There are two types of curriculums in New Zealand – the National Curriculum for English-medium schools and Te Marautanga o Aotearoa for Māori-medium schools. All curriculums are framed under the New Zealand Qualifications Framework (NZQF) that is well-renowned, high-quality, and regularly updated.

1. The National / New Zealand Curriculum

A National Curriculum is taught in all English-medium State and State-integrated schools. It defines a vision that aims to view students competent in key learning areas as they progress every year. Few primary principles shape the coursework of the National Curriculum, including high expectations, Treaty of Waitangi, cultural diversity, inclusion, learning to learn, community engagement, coherence and future focus.

The eight key learning areas of the National curriculum include English, the Arts, Health and Physical Education, Learning Languages, Mathematics and Statistics, Science, Social Sciences, and Technology.

Beyond academics, it inculcates ecological sustainability within students, the result of which we can see in New Zealand’s robust, green, and healthy environment, alongside innovation, critical thinking skills, and diversity.

The National curriculum awards the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) to the senior secondary qualified students.

2. Te Marautanga o Aotearoa

Tailored to be taught in Maori-medium schools, it produces exceptional learners who are confident leaders and powerfully communicative in their language. Like the National curriculum, it aims to develop practical skills and prepares students for the wider world.

There are nine key learning subjects in the curriculum, including Mathematics, Science, Technology, The Arts, Social Sciences, Māori language and literature, Health and Wellbeing, English language, and learning languages.

For more information on the two types of curriculums in New Zealand, click here.

New Zealand is a few of the world’s countries that embeds an underlying culture focused on children’s early and well-maintained learning. Since December 2012, it has been granted the rank of eight out of 40 countries, according to a global education report published by Pearson.

New Zealand, closely affiliated and having great affinity to the neighbouring island country, Australia, enjoys the same educational standards, quality maintenance, and an intellectually abled student body. With its easy admission, comparatively low cost of education, and myriad opportunities for international students, teaching in New Zealand is poised to become the upcoming leader of global educational systems.

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