Education and Schools in New Zealand

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school children at christ's college in cantebury, new zealandThe quality of education in New Zealand is ranked among the best in the world. The country consistently gains high ratings by organisations such as the UN Human Development Index, and as many as three quarters of New Zealanders have upper secondary or tertiary qualifications – well above the OECD average.

Expats moving to the island country with kids will have no difficulty finding an affordable, high-quality school for their children, and cities such as Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch have a broad range to choose from. State education in New Zealand is fully-funded by the government, while private schools are given a 25 percent state subsidy.

Only citizens and permanent residents are entitled to attend public schools in New Zealand for free. Parents in the country on a temporary visa will need to apply for a student visa for their children and will also be liable for additional international student fees which are used to supplement funding from the state.

New Zealand has a three-tiered approach to education, with primary school, secondary school and tertiary institutions. Education is compulsory up to the age of 16 years, and parents who wish to homeschool their children need to obtain an exemption from enrolment at a regular school from the Secretary of Education.

Public schools in New Zealand

The vast majority of children attend public schools in New Zealand. Known for providing a high standard of education, state schools can be either co-educational or single-sex and are usually secular, although a small number of “state-integrated” schools operate according to a particular religious ethos. These institutions are usually privately-owned but controlled by the state.

School is compulsory from age six up until aged 16, although it is possible to enrol at the age of five. Most children in New Zealand do, however, continue to Years 12 and 13 to acquire the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA). The NCEA is internationally regarded and readily accepted by overseas universities. It is awarded at three levels that correspond to Years 11, 12 and 13 – the final three years of schooling as far as most New Zealanders are concerned.

Children attend the state school that serves their geographic zone. For this reason, the best schools typically push up property prices in the suburbs they are in.

Private and international schools in New Zealand

Unless expats have permanent residency in New Zealand, they will be liable for international school fees at state schools. However, even with these fees, state schools are still a cheaper option for expat parents looking for affordable schooling in New Zealand.

Private schools receive about a quarter of their funding from the government, and the rest from school fees. There are a range of private schools in New Zealand, including several offering the International Baccalaureate and the IGCSE/ A-Levels. Some international schools in New Zealand are among the best in the world.

Tertiary education in New Zealand

There are a wide range of formal and vocational options when it comes to tertiary education in New Zealand. There are different types of institutions in this category, each with their own focus and approach. These include traditional universities, Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics (ITPs), Private Training Establishments (PTEs), Industry Training Organisations (ITOs) as well as Wänanga (Mäori institutions).

Formal courses are offered by the country's eight universities, where students must meet a minimum level of English language proficiency to gain acceptance. The University of Auckland is generally recognised as the best university in New Zealand, although several of them are ranked internationally and all provide a high standard of education. Degrees in New Zealand tend to either be three-year courses, followed by an optional one-year Honours degree or four-year qualifications, depending on the field of study.

Tertiary education is partly state funded, and permanent resident students need only contribute about a third of tuition costs. Expats who travel to the country with the express purpose of studying will, however, need to acquire a New Zealand study visa if their course lasts longer than 12 weeks.

Homeschooling in New Zealand

Parents wanting to homeschool their children in New Zealand will need to apply for permission from the Ministry of Education. They will also need to prove that their child will be taught as regularly and as well as in a regular school – although the law is rather vague on what counts as sufficient proof. Once the ministry has granted an exemption certificate, parents are then entitled to claim a state-sponsored stipend to help with costs. Homeschooling is not a particularly popular method, but nevertheless, there are good online resources and support groups to help expat parents, such as the Home Education Foundation.

School fees in New Zealand

Although residents do not pay public school fees, some schools ask for voluntary donations from parents, which can cost as much 1,500 NZD per child (but is usually less than that). School costs, such as uniforms, sporting equipment, field trips and stationary can, however, cost as much as NZD 5,000 per year. Tuition at an elite private school can, on the other hand, cost as much as NZD 25,000 or NZD 37,000 if boarding costs are taken into account.

International students who are not permanent residents are liable for higher fees than New Zealand residents at both state schools and some international schools – it is best to check with individual schools, as it can cost as much as 10,000 more a year for a non-permanent resident.

School year in New Zealand

New Zealand follows a southern hemisphere school calendar, meaning the school year begins in late January and ends in mid-December. There are four terms each year, and the longest holiday periods are in July and December. Dates often differ slightly for primary and secondary schools.

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