Education system in New Zealand

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Written by Sam Wetherell


In New Zealand, education is free and compulsory for everyone between the ages of 5 and 16.

Before the age of 5, however, New Zealand boasts a world-class system of preschool education, that is centred around 400 publicly funded preschool centres around the country. There is a unique degree of autonomy among preschool centres in New Zealand, in their management (many are run by qualified supervisors, others simply by parents), and their ethos (some have a particular religious slant, others are based around the Maori culture and language).

Primary education in New Zealand usually continues until age eleven, and is co-educational in all state schools. Children then progress to Intermediate schools, where usually they remain until age the age of 13, from whence they progress to secondary schools, which usually cater for students between ages of 13 and 18. While school years used to be identified by a system of standards and forms, they are now simply assigned a number, from year 1 (age 5) to year 13 (age 18). The system of qualifications for children in secondary schools has been overhauled considerably since 2000. Currently qualifications are based around the three-year National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA), which offers a wide variety of subjects and qualifications awarded both in and outside of schools. Students sit NCEA level one (which replaced the School Certificate in 2001) in year 11 (age 16), and NCEA levels 2 and 3 (which replaced Sixth Form Certificate and Higher School Certificate in 2003/2004) in years 12 and 13 (ages 17 and 18). There are four grades possible for students to obtain:

  • Not Achieved (NA)
  • Achieved (A)
  • Achieved with Merit (M)
  • Achieved with Excellence (E)

However, it is important to note that not all schools have accepted this system, and many institutions have chosen to adopt the International Baccalaureate, or the British system of AS and A levels as an alternative.

The curriculum for Primary and Secondary education is based on the national standardised New Zealand Curriculum which, among other things, places emphasis on learning Maori language and culture, as well as basic standards in English and Maths.

New Zealand has a well developed tertiary education system, with eight national universities, as well as a range of Polytechnics, Institutes of Technology, and Wananga (higher education institutions based around the Maori culture and language). As well as awarding degrees and graduate diplomas many of these institutions offer post-graduate diplomas and masters degrees. The eight universities (along with one institute of technology) can also offer doctorate programs. The two largest universities in New Zealand are The University of Auckland, and Massey University, which has campuses in Auckland, Wellington and Palmerston North. Although Tertiary education funding has been undergoing review for a number of years, it is funded by a mix of government subsidies and student fees, with the government offering tuition grants for approved courses based on the number of enrolled students. Students are supported financially through a student loan program. From 2004, University entrance has been dependent on students NCEA scores.

Alternative Education

While the vast majority of children in New Zealand attend state schools, there also exists a variety of alternative educational methods and institutions that are prominent throughout the country.

Perhaps the most important of these are Karu Kaupapa schools, which are state funded schools centred around the Maori language. They usually cater for children aged between either 1-8, or 1-13.

There are also independent (private) schools. Although these are run by their own independent school boards, they must meet minimum government standards. They are largely funded with fees paid by students, but also receive limited government grants. There is also a large number of Integrated Schools, which used to be private, but are now entirely state-funded. They usually retain a particular ethos, be it a religious belief or particular educational philosophy.

The Correspondence School (TCS) is a remote learning organisation in New Zealand that serves 18,000 students who cannot attend school, either for medical reasons, or because they live in too remote a location. TCS also offers support for adults in education.

Although home schooling in New Zealand has risen in popularity in recent years, and is legal on the condition that the student receives permission from the Ministry of Education, it remains unpopular, with less than 1% of children in home schooling.


The New Zealand Ministry of Education (Visited 04-July-05)

How New Zealand's fine example turned upside down - David Cohen, (2004 - The Education Guardian),11146,1357035,00.html (Visited 04-July-05)

Devolution and Choice in Education: The School, the State and the Market - Geoff Whitty, Sally Power, David Halpin (January 1 1998 – Open University Press)

Useful Links

The New Zealand Ministry of Education (Visited 04-July-05)

New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) (Visited 04-July-05)

The University of Auckland (Visited 04-July-05)

Go to the education systems index page