Moving to New Zealand from the UK: How Does New Zealand’s Education System Compare?

A crucial part of preparing to move to New Zealand with children is considering how they might adjust to the change. Naturally, you’ll have questions about New Zealand’s education system? Will your children be able to start school immediately? How does New Zealand’s education system differ to the UK’s?

Our blog article takes an in-depth look at the New Zealand education system for international students with a particular focus on how it differs from the UK. We hope it eases any concerns about emigrating to New Zealand and are happy to answer any additional questions you may have.

New Zealand’s Education System at a Glance 

Each year the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) assesses and compares educational systems across the world. Here’s how New Zealand’s education system measured up for early childhood education and schooling:

  • New Zealand ranked in the top third of OECD countries for early childhood indicators like participation and expenditure
  • New Zealand’s education system has some of the lowest teacher-child ratios
  • Youth employment, when compared to other OECD countries, remains high and New Zealanders are more likely to leave school sooner to pursue employment or further education opportunities
  • New Zealanders, between the ages of 15 to 29, not in employment, education or training (NEET) is lower than the OECD average

Overall, these results are quite positive. Students studying in New Zealand can expect to receive more individual attention from teachers due to the low teacher-child ratios and continue on to promising employment and education opportunities post-graduation.

Moving to New Zealand with Children: How Does New Zealand’s School System Work?

New Zealand provides free access to education for students between the ages of six to 16. Unlike British students, who typically start school between the ages of 4 to 5, New Zealand students don’t start school till after their 5th birthday and parents can choose to delay their education till the age of six.

Similar to the UK, the New Zealand education system also includes 13 years. Students typically attend primary schools from year 1 to 8 if it’s a ‘full’ primary school or year 1 to 6 if it’s a ‘contributing’ primary school. Pupils at ‘contributing’ primary schools then attend an intermediate school for years 7 and 8 before moving onto secondary school.

Secondary school, also sometimes referred to as ‘college’ or ‘high school’, covers years 9 to 13. New Zealand has a great teacher-student ratio for years 7 to 10 with most classes only having 16 students per teacher — well below the teacher-student ratios in the UK. Legally, students in New Zealand are allowed to leave secondary school before finishing year 13 but are not allowed to leave school till after their 16th birthday.

Types of Schools

The New Zealand education system has three types of schools:

  • State schools. State schools, also known as public schools, are owned and funded by the government. 75% of New Zealand students attend state schools. Education is free, but parents may need to pay for supplies or uniforms.
  • State integrated schools. Integrated schools are schools that follow a certain religious belief, teaching style, etc. These schools are funded by the government but may charge a compulsory fee of NZ $1,500/year for upkeep.
  • Private schools. Only 5% of New Zealand students attend private schools. Some schools have boarding facilities while others are only for day students. As private schools are not government funded, parents need to pay tuition which typically costs NZ$20,000 per year.

Key Takeaway: In general, New Zealand’s school system is very similar to the UK so students, as well as teachers, can seamlessly transition between the two.

New Zealand Education System: Smaller Class Sizes, More Individual Attention

New Zealand has a fantastic student-teacher ratio. In fact, one of the most notable differences between UK and New Zealand school systems is class sizes. Most New Zealand classes only have between 17 to 30 pupils and the official OECD ratio is 1:14 for secondary schools. On the other hand, the UK is known for large class sizes and OECD reports reveal that British schools have some of the largest class sizes in the developed world.

As such, students studying in New Zealand can expect to get plenty of focused, personal attention. Smaller class sizes can allow students to achieve better academic results, feel more supported and develop a closer relationship with their teachers.

New Zealand National Curriculum 

State and integrated schools throughout New Zealand use a national curriculum focusing on values, key competencies and subject areas. Students are encouraged to think creatively and analytically while building skills in core subjects like maths, English and science.

New Zealand also emphasises ecological sustainability, community and local cultures. As such, students are often taken on educational trips to explore New Zealand’s unique natural beauty and learn about local plants and animals. Studying in New Zealand will allow your child to learn about the nation’s Maori culture, history and experience once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.

Key Takeaway: Attending a state or integrated school allows your child to learn about your new home’s incredible natural beauty and local culture.

Moving to New Zealand from the UK: Different School Days and Holidays

As a country in the Southern hemisphere, New Zealand’s seasons are almost the exact opposite of UK seasons. Summer in New Zealand runs from December to February while winter is from June to August. This also impacts school schedules:

  • Term 1: Late January to early April (two-week break)
  • Term 2: May to early July (two-week break)
  • Term 3: Late July to late September (two-week break)
  • Term 4: Mid-October to mid-December (six-weeks summer holiday)

Similar to the UK, Students still get a six week summer holiday. However, unlike the UK, the summer holiday happens between mid-December and late January!

For exact school holiday dates, check the Ministry of Education’s website.

How to Enrol Your Child in School

Once you’ve secured a job and know which town you’ll be living in, you need to start the enrolment process. Each school follows slightly different procedures so you’ll need to contact them directly and get their enrolment forms. When your child can start school will depend on whether they’ve had previous schooling.

Children Starting School Without Previous Schooling

Children in New Zealand typically start school on their fifth birthday, but parents can choose to delay their child starting school till their sixth birthday when they’re legally required to be enrolled in school.

Some schools allow students to start at any time of the year after their fifth birthday, while others have ‘cohort’ entries which means that all students start at the school at the beginning of the year. If your child is attending a school using the ‘cohort’ system, you can still choose to delay their entrance till their sixth birthday.

Children Starting School With Previous Schooling

If you have an older child that’s already received some previous schooling, you can enrol them in New Zealand schools at any time of year. They’ll be placed in the same year as other similarly aged students; for example, ten-year-olds will be placed in year 5 or 6.

Does Your Child Need a Visa to Study in New Zealand?

Whether your child can attend a state or state integrated school for free will depend on if they qualify as a domestic student. To be a domestic student, your child must be a New Zealand resident, permanent resident, citizen or obtain a student visa based on your temporary work visa.

As the child of a GP on a work visa, your child will qualify for a dependent child student visa and will be able to enrol in school as a domestic student.

Emigrate to New Zealand as a GP

Ready to start the process of emigrating to New Zealand from the UK? View some of our latest job vacancies or speak to one of our specialist recruitment consultants today.

We’re happy to answer any questions you might have or help you get started on the move down under!

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