There are three levels to New Zealand’s education system. The first level is early childhood education (ECE) for children from infants to school entry age. This is not compulsory, but 96.8% of children attend ECE and government subsidies are available for children attending ECE for 20 hours a week.
The second level of New Zealand’s education system is primary and secondary education which extends from Year 1-13. Primary education goes from Years 1-8 for children generally aged 5-12. Secondary education starts at Year 9 and goes through to Year 13 encompassing children aged 13-17 generally. Kids must attend school from ages 6 to 16.
The third level is tertiary education.
State schools are non-religious, state-owned, and state-funded schools and make up most schools within New Zealand. They teach the national curriculum and are free if the child is a New Zealand citizen or permanent resident and are aged 5 to 19.
The board of a State school is a body corporate and is a crown entity under the Crown Entities Act 2004. The board is responsible for the governance of the school, including setting the policies by which the school is to be controlled and managed. The principal is the board’s chief executive in relation to the school’s control and management. The principal must comply with the board’s general policy directions (and all applicable legislation) but has discretion to manage the school’s day to day administration.
Primary and secondary state schools are required to design a curriculum in accordance with principles and values set out in the national curriculum. Primary education is predominantly foundational learning with a focus on competency in literacy and numeracy along with a variety of other subjects. Secondary schools provide a balanced curriculum but allow students to specialise in different courses and subjects from Years 11-13. In these years students can achieve the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) at three levels. Some state schools also offer alternative academic pathways such as the International Baccalaureate programme and the Cambridge International General Certificate of Secondary Education and AS & A Levels.
State integrated schools are State schools operating in partnership with privately owned Proprietor boards. State-integrated schools exist to provide education with a special character. This is defined under the Education and Training Act 2020 (ETA) as a framework of education with general religious or philosophical beliefs and associated with observances or traditions relating to those beliefs. The education at each state integrated school will reflect its own values within the context of its specific philosophy or religion. Attendance dues may be payable for attending State integrated schools.
Private schools are privately owned schools that operate more independently of the State school system. They are generally funded by charging school fees though they do also receive some government funding. It is not compulsory for private schools to follow the national curriculum. They are free to design their own curriculum or adopt a particular form of curriculum. Private schools are governed by their own independent boards. However, reviews of private schools are undertaken by the Education Review Office, and the chief executive of the Ministry of Education (the Secretary) has powers to act where private schools are not satisfying requirements set out under the ETA.
Kura kaupapa Māori or kura are state schools that teach in te reo Māori and operate in a manner that reflects Māori values and culture. They follow Māori-medium teaching, learning and assessment and may have students from years 1-8 or years 1-13.
Designated character schools are state schools that have a character that is in some specific way or ways different from the character of ordinary State schools. Kura kaupapa Māori can also be designated character schools. The board of a designate character school may refuse to enrol a student whose parents do not accept that the school operates consistently with its different character.
Distance learning is available for children who may have reasons for not attending schools such as special needs students or students that live a long way away from a school. Te Aho o Te Kura Pounamu (Te Kura) is New Zealand’s correspondence school which teaches the first two levels of New Zealand’s education system through online learning. Te Kura (also known as the Correspondence School) caters for students with health difficulties, or who for other reasons cannot attend a local school. Te Kura is New Zealand’s largest state school. Its health schools are based in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, though it covers the entire country (and some overseas based students). Teachers can work with students both at home and in the hospital.
Special schools provide education to students that have particular needs as a result of special talents, learning or behavioural issues. Special schools operate using the New Zealand curriculum.
Home-schooling is where parents seek to educate their children themselves rather than enrolling them at a school. Registration for home-schooling requires the Ministry of Education to be satisfied that parents wanting to home-school their children will teach their child regularly, and at a similar level as to what the children would be taught in a registered school. Upon being satisfied with this, the Ministry of Education provides a Certificate of Exemption to parents that apply to home-school their children.
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 Education and Training Act 2020, section 125.
 Education and Training Act 2020, section 130.
 Education and Training Act 2020, s 10 (definition of education with a special character).
 Education and Training Act 2020, Sch 7, cls. 9-10.