To understand the New Zealand schooling system, start by thinking of it as being divided into a number of parts, based approximately on student age:
Then understand that the boundaries between these parts are not necessarily always rigid. For example, some so-called “Primary” schools will hold children of “Intermediate” age until they move straight from “Primary” School to “Secondary” School. Or, some rural areas with small populations may have “District High Schools”, which combine Primary, Intermediate and Secondary functions.
All schools hold a high degree of autonomy, with genuine power in the hands of locally elected Committees and Boards. They tend to operate flexibly within the general rules in ways that are responsive to the communities they serve. New Zealanders, on the whole, like this degree of flexibility and are normally very supportive of their local schools in all their diversity.
Some useful School and Education websites include the Education Review Office and the New Zealand Qualifications Authority. For Primary, Intermediate and Secondary Schools, Search for Schools by Region or find Independent Schools of NZ. Tertiary Education, Universities and Institutes of Technology/Polytechnics examples are below:
Auckland University of Technology
Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology (CPIT)
Eastern Institute of Technology (Hawkes Bay) (EIT)
Manukau Institute of Technology
Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology (NMIT)
Northland Polytechnic (NorthTec)
Southern Institute of Technology (SIT)
The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand
Universal College of Learning (UCOL)
Waiariki Institute of Technology
Waikato Institute of Technology (Wintec)
Wellington Institute of Technology (Weltec)
Western Institute of Technology at Taranaki (WITT)
Whitireia Community Polytechnic
The state provides a “free and universally available” education system through taxpayer funding, but once again, there is flexibility. For example, parents are often asked to make voluntary donations to state-funded schools to enable that particular school to go beyond basic standards. That level of “voluntary” donation ranges from insignificant to modest, and the attitude of the school can also vary, from treating the donation as truly voluntary and optional to the sort of “volunteering” Sergeants Major in the Army use! At a local community level, these issues can sometimes create controversy. Still, the system is about as “free of cost and universally accessible” as anyone could reasonably expect on any international comparison.
Alongside and integrated with this state system are church and privately funded schools which require varying financial contributions from parents depending on the school's individual philosophy or level of endowment. In this part of the system, there is a wide variation in cost. For example, when controlled by churches or well endowed, some very excellent private schools are close to free, while others may reach fee levels comparable to private schools overseas.
In the State sector, most Primary and Intermediate schools are mixed-sex. Secondary Schools may be mixed or single-sex, and controversy always swirls around which are best. The church and private sectors tend more towards single-sex schools, but there is no hard and fast rule.
Most schools are “day schools”; a few are residential; some offer associated “hostels”, and some manage “homestay” programmes.
At tertiary level study, there are fees to be paid which range widely depending on the course of study. These fees are subsidised by the government for NZ residents and citizens as well as interest-free loans.
In addition to all the above, there are three other parts of our system that need a brief explanation.
There are a few schools that specialise in children with disabilities, but not many because New Zealand is committed to “mainstream integration”. Physically or intellectually handicapped children are usually given special support that allows them to be educated along with everyone else, or sometimes in “units” integrated within mainstream schools.
There are also schools where, by consent of local communities, education is undertaken in an environment of Maori language and cultural immersion. These schools still maintain the same curriculum standards and are often attended, by choice, by non-Maori children. The fact that they are sometimes called “Maori” schools or have Maori names does not indicate any degree of separation but simply of choice of cultural emphasis. Many see the bi-lingual outcomes of such schools as a distinct benefit.
There are schools in New Zealand called “Middle Schools”. These are like “Intermediate” schools but hold their students longer so that they are more mature before they enter the “Secondary” system. Supporters of this initiative are very positive about the benefits.
Dress codes vary, but a common model in the State Sector is for Primary schools to be relaxed about dress code (while often insisting on hats for sun protection); Intermediates to be relatively firm on a uniform dress code, and for Secondary schools to usually require a uniform but with some adopting a “liberal” stance. Where dress code is required, uniforms are normally based on low cost, durable, easily obtainable clothing. In the Private sector, uniforms tend to be more elaborate, distinctive and expensive.
The school year starts in late January / early February and has four terms (not three as in many overseas systems). The dates vary from year to year to accommodate flexible Public Holidays like Easter, but a rough guide is as follows: (Remember, summer in NZ is December through March; winter is June through October)
From the third year at Secondary School (year 11, or sometimes still known in old terminology as “5th Form”), students work towards units of a National Certificate of Educational Attainment (NCEA). This is a very flexible programme made up partly of external exams and partly of internal assessments. It is part of a “National Qualification Framework” that is designed to provide integrated education incorporating Secondary Schooling, Trade Training and Tertiary Education that will empower life-long learning and the measurement of standards achieved rather than just exams passed.
Like most things to do with Education in New Zealand, this system is, at once, forward-looking and controversial and has its supporters and detractors. Typically, to meet the desires of the traditionalists, New Zealand has allowed parallel systems to develop. Some schools encourage students to pursue external examinations like the International Baccalaureate or Cambridge Exams. It is a matter of parental and student choice.
What binds this system together, and ensures its integrity from your child’s point of view, in spite of its diversity, is that all of the above parts work to agreed, government-mandated, curriculum standards and are independently overseen by a powerful and transparent Education Review Office.
Researching individual schools will sometimes be a little confusing at first, but it will be helpful if you think of the five parts mentioned above; Preschool, Primary, Intermediate, Secondary and Tertiary; and then think of those parts existing side by side in state and non-state sectors.
As a general rule, Primary schools (ages 5-11) are very flexible. Staff tend to be student-centred. Movement between classes and age groups is common. Fitting your child in will present a few problems. The time of year is relatively unimportant. Staff will fit programmes around children, and if, after settling in, it becomes apparent your child needs to move around a little to find their niche that will be seamlessly and sensitively achieved.
Intermediate Schools (ages 11 to 13) often provide a child with the best school years because curriculum and staff motivation focus on the pre-teen child and extracurricular programmes like music, sports, and clubs flourish in this specialised setting. But the age group can be dynamic, and it is often more difficult for newcomers to fit in with established peer groups. While staff will always co-operate, it may pay to try to fit your Intermediate student into the start of a school year, or at least into the start of a term.
When it comes to Secondary schooling (ages 13 to 17), staff focus often moves away from just pastoral care towards an equal or stronger focus on curriculum. Your decision of when, where and how to integrate your child will depend on your knowledge of your individual child and their strengths and weaknesses, both academically and in terms of their personality and maturity. Teen years can be a challenge, and fitting into a new environment can be either stressful or exciting, depending on the individual. Any Secondary school in New Zealand will welcome your visit and work constructively with you to help you make the best decision.
By the time your child is ready for Tertiary education, they will be a young adult. This briefing does not cover Tertiary education in detail, although the associated links will give you access to a lot of information. There is a wide array of both private and public Universities and Tertiary Institutions in New Zealand, offering education from practical through trade training, Diplomas, Degrees and Post Graduate study. Loans are available to assist with most tertiary study, on which interest is deferred until after graduation. Standards of training vary, as they do worldwide, with some having only average reputations to others that are internationally regarded as leading edge.
Our advice is to do your research and choose carefully. It is absolutely true to say that “New Zealand offers world-class tertiary education”, but it is not true to say that just because a tertiary education provider is in New Zealand, it is therefore necessarily world-class.
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In order to address labour shortages in New Zealand's crucial industries the NZ government has implemented a "Green List" of sought-after high-skill occupations. This list offers a prioritised pathway to residency.
There are qualification and/or occupational registration requirements to meet. Occupations are broken down into two tiers:
The recent additions in May 2023 across many sectors on the Green List NZ can be found here
The work visa categories set to close are:
*Excludes high-risk countries.
*Excludes high-risk countries.
A small number of critical health workers (taking up jobs for six months or longer) or specialist workers (taking up jobs that are for longer than six months) who were granted border exemptions may also have eligibility for the 2021 Resident Visa. They will need to have arrived in NZ and lodge a 2021 Resident Visa application.
The government has introduced a limited pathway to residence for people who are already living and working in New Zealand. Applications open on 1 December 2021 for the first wave of people eligible to apply. The second wave opens on 1 March 2022. The deadline to apply for the 2021 Resident Visa is 31 July 2022.
People who were lawfully in NZ (or in Australia when the travel bubble closed between April and July 2021) on 29/09/2021 need to meet the visa eligibility criteria:
Is this the only requirement to qualify for residence? No. In addition to the eligible work visa criteria workers also need to be regarded as one of the following:
The first group of workers who can apply online for the 2021 Resident Visa that opens on 1 December 2021 are those that on 29/09/2021:
The second group of workers who can apply online for the 2021 Resident Visa that opens on 1 March 2022 are those who hold an eligible work visa and either meet "Settled", "Skilled" or "Scarce" as set out above. In total Immigration NZ estimate around 110,000 people will qualify to apply for this visa.
The first wave of applicants can apply from 1 December 2021. Around 16,000 applications are expected in this first wave. The second wave opens on 1 March 2022. In total, the government expects approximately 110,000 applications that will include about 165,000 people.
Wednesday, 1 December is fast approaching and it is estimated that around 16,000 individuals and families can apply in the first wave for the 2021 Resident Visa opening next month. It is exciting for the thousands of people who have been waiting patiently to become residents that finally the finish line is in sight.
Applications for employer accreditation closed at the end of June 2021. Applications lodged before the closure date are still being processed. New applications for accreditation open on 9 May 2022. The process will be quite different to what employers have experienced in the past. Businesses will need to meet minimum standards.
From 1 November 2021 anyone who is not a NZ citizen must be fully vaccinated (unless exempt) before travelling to New Zealand. Fully vaccinated means your last dose of vaccine was given at least 14 days before travelling and it was an approved vaccine.
From 1 November 2021
The government recently added more occupations that are now to be regarded as skilled employment and may qualify for job offer points under the Skilled Migrant Category. In order to qualify for points, the job must be paying at least the current median wage (or higher for certain occupations) at the time the residence application is lodged.
Today the government announced a pathway to residence for people living and working in New Zealand. Applications open on 1 December 2021 for the first wave eligible to apply. The second wave can apply from 1 March 2022. The deadline to lodge an application is 31 July 2022 or else you miss the boat.
Today the government announced a pathway to residence for migrant workers who are living and working in New Zealand. Applications open on 1 December 2021 for the first wave who are eligible to apply. The second wave can apply from 1 March 2022. The deadline to lodge an application is 31 July 2022 or else they will miss out on this one off opportunity.
The government has moved the introduction of the new employer accreditation process across to mid-2022. At the same time, the Minister of Immigration announced new work visa rules for migrant workers who are already in New Zealand and working full time.
The government has increased the median wage to $27 per hour from 19 July. Any Skilled Migrant residence application lodged after this date will need to include a skilled job offer that pays at least $27 per hour. For some lower-skilled occupations, the minimum pay rate increases to $40.50 per hour.
From 19 July 2021
From 30 June 2021
Employers of migrant workers must become accredited from 1 November 2021 before work visa applications can be processed. Most employers are not accredited. Those that are accredited will have to roll into the new system when it goes live in late September.
From mid-2020 (delayed)
Skilled occupation "Dairy Cattle Farmer" spilt into three occupations. New occupations are: "Dairy Farm Manager", "Assistant Dairy Farm Manager" and "Dairy Herd Manager". Each sit at different skill levels, therefore, the award of points will depend on pay rates, job tasks and other requirements.
From 15 February 2021
The government has deferred the fortnightly selection of Expressions of Interest from the Skilled Migrant pool for six months (to be reviewed in April 2021). Invitations to Apply for Residence remain suspended. The last selection from the Skilled Migrant pool took place on 18/03/2020.
From 7 October 2020
The government added four new occupations that are now regarded as skilled employment and may qualify for job offer points under the Skilled Migrant Category. These are:
Aged or disabled carer, Bicycle mechanic, Driller and Nursing Support worker.
From 27 July 2020
Anyone invited by Immigration NZ to apply for residence under the Skilled Migrant Category where their invitation is dated between 1 November 2019 and 15 April 2020 (inclusive) has now been granted an additional six months to lodge their residence application.
From 27 May 2020
The government has deferred the fortnightly selection of Expressions of Interest from the Skilled Migrant pool. This means Invitations to Apply for Residence are also suspended. Malcolm Pacific Immigration does not anticipate selections to resume until after the general election held on 17 October 2020.
Immigration NZ is now prioritising Skilled Migrant Residence applications where the main (principal) applicant meets the criteria:
From 7 October 2019
From 24 February 2020