The ABCs of the New Zealand education system

Published on 15/02/2020 Living & Working in New Zealand,

Moving your medical career to a new country can be both life changing and daunting—understandably, overseas doctors want to know that their children will receive a quality education if they decide to move to New Zealand with their families.

The ins and outs of the NZ education system is something we're asked about by overseas medical professionals quite frequently, so we thought we'd provide an overview of the New Zealand education system for doctors considering the move to 'the land of the long white cloud.'

New Zealand is ranked as one of the best overall education systems in the world 

Before zooming in on the particulars of New Zealand’s school system, it’s worth considering its position in the global context. The Education Index, an annually published United Nations initiative which measures levels of national literacy and the average of adult years of schooling and expected years of schooling, has consistently ranked New Zealand in the top five countries for literacy and average level of education attained.

Benefits that have more of a direct impact on you, your school age children and university students include:

  • Very low tuition fees
  • Teaching standards are extremely high & the curriculums are hands on
  • Support services for international students are amongst the best in the world
  • Degrees are recognised around the world as being up-to-date and practical.

​Range of schools in New Zealand 

All children who reside in New Zealand (Aotearoa), between the ages of six and sixteen must attend school. Children start school (kura) as ‘new entrants’ when they turn five, often on the day of their birthday or at a date close to it that works in with the family. Some schools have an intake of new entrants at the start of each school term. This is called ‘cohort’ entry. Children must be enrolled at school by their sixth birthday, and once enrolled must attend every day.

There are three types of schools in New Zealand: state schools (schools owned and funded by the government); state integrated schools (schools with a special character); private schools (schools that charge set fees for a term or year). Most New Zealand children attend state (public) schools. While education at state schools is free for domestic students until nineteen years of age, parents are often asked to cover the costs of stationery, exam fees, learning experiences outside the classroom, and to pay for their child's uniform, if the school has one.

When is the best time to start school in New Zealand? 

The New Zealand school year begins in late February and ends in December. It is broken into four terms with three two-week breaks, plus the extended summer break that runs from December to February. Aligning with the start of calendar year can make things a little tricky for students moving to NZ from the northern hemisphere, where school years tend to run from August to May or September to June. NZ schools tend to work through integration for incoming overseas students, with regard to timing and appropriate year level, on an individual basis.

Another factor to consider for students coming from overseas is that New Zealand’s school system of years is generally one year ahead of the equivalent age a child would be in Canada, the USA, India, Japan and Australia. So, for example, if a Grade 5 student was transferring from America, the equivalent class here would be Year 6. The UK is one of just a few countries that tracks at a similar year level as New Zealand.

Some useful links

All schools in NZ fall under the auspices of the Ministry of Education (MoE). The MoE website provides detailed information for parents of early childhood and school age children. The Education Review Office reviews schools every three years. Their reports review the school's curriculum, performance and special features. They also include demographic information.  You can look up the Education Review Office reports on a school you're interested in by clicking here. You can also find out more about the school you’d like your child to attend at the Education Counts website, where you can search by region, address, or by school name. This site will provide details such as roll size, zone boundaries, bus routes and contact details.

New Zealand provides a diverse range of education options and is consistently ranked as one of the best overall education systems on the world stage. No matter where you are in New Zealand, you can access great quality schools.

Would you like to know more?

If you are interested in learning more about living and working as a doctor in New Zealand, you can view our guide here, or download our information booklet.

If you have any questions regarding New Zealand’s education system or options in specific locations, please register here, or get in touch with Anna Drakeford, our NZ Senior Recruitment Consultant.

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