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Education in New Zealand
Flag of New Zealand.svg
Ministry of Education
Minister of Education
Minister for Tertiary Education
Secretary for Education
Hekia Parata
Paul Goldsmith
Peter Hughes
National education budget (2014/15)
Budget NZ$13,183 million
General details
Primary languages English, Māori
System type decentralised national
Enrollment (July 2011)
Total 762,683
Primary 475,797
Secondary 286,886
Attainment (2015)
Secondary diploma 88%

The education system in New Zealand is a three-tier model which includes primary and intermediate schools, followed by secondary schools (high schools) and tertiary education at universities and polytechnics. The academic year in New Zealand varies between institutions, but generally runs from early February until mid-December for primary schools, late January to late November or early December for secondary schools, and polytechnics, and from late February until mid-November for universities.

In 2009, the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), ranked New Zealand 7th best at science and reading in the world, and 13th in maths. The Education Index, published as part of the UN's Human Development Index consistently ranks New Zealand among the highest in the world.


Prior to the arrival of Europeans, Māori ran schools to pass on tradition knowledge including songs, chants, tribal history, spiritual understanding and knowledge of medicinal plants. These wānanga were usually run by elders called tohunga, respected for their tribal knowledge and teaching was confined to the rangatira (chiefly) class. Reading and writing were unknown, but wood carving was well developed.

Formal European-style schooling was first introduced in 1815 and was well established in 1832 by the London Missionary Society missionaries, who learnt Māori and built the first schools in the Bay of Islands. Both children and adults were taught. The main resources were the Christian New Testament and slates, and teaching was in Māori. For many years the bible was the only literature used in teaching, and this became a major factor in how Māori viewed the European world. In the 1850s a Māori trade school was established at Te Awamutu by John Gorst to teach Māori practical skills associated with European-style farming, but in 1863 was burnt down by Rewi Maniapoto in the early stages of New Zealand Wars.

In 1853 missionaries Mr and Mrs Ashwell had been running a school for 50 Māori girls for 3 years at Taupiri in the Waikato, teaching arithmetic and reading.

By 1860, 75% of Māori could read in Māori and 33% could write in Māori.

Teaching by missionaries and in Native schools was in Māori between 1815 and 1900. The Young Māori Party MPs, especially Sir Maui Pomare and Ngata, advocated the teaching of Māori children using English, as well as teaching hygiene to lower the Māori sickness and death rates. Pomare was knighted after WW1 for his work in improving Māori learning and integration into New Zealand society.

New Zealand did not establish a state education system until 1877. The absence of a national education system meant that the first sizable secondary education providers were Grammar Schools and other private institutions. The first Grammar School in New Zealand, Auckland Grammar School, was established in 1850 and formally recognised as an educational establishment in 1868 through the Auckland Grammar School Appropriation Act.

Early childhood education

Many children attend some form of early childhood education before they begin school such as:

  • Playcentre (birth to school age)
  • Kindergarten (ages 3–5)
  • Kohanga Reo
  • Licensed Early Childhood Centres (ages 0–5) (usually privately owned)
  • Chartered Early Childhood Centres (ages 0–5) (state funded)


Primary and secondary

State and state integrated schools are allocated funding from the Government on a per-student basis to fund the running of the school. Smaller schools receive additional funding due to the added fixed costs of running them compared to larger schools, and schools also receive funding based on the school's socio-economic decile rating, with low-decile schools (i.e. those in poorer areas) receiving more funds. They may also receive funds from other activities, such as hiring out school facilities outside school hours to outside groups. Schools also ask for a voluntary donation from parents, informally known as "school fees", to cover extra expenses not covered by the government funding. This may range from $40 per child up to $800 per child in high decile state schools, to over $4000 in state integrated schools. The payment of this fee varies widely according to how parents perceive the school. Typically parents will also outlay $500–$1000 per year for uniforms, field trips, social events, sporting equipment and stationery at state schools.

Most state integrated schools also charge "attendance dues", a compulsory fee paid to the school's proprietors to cover the cost of maintaining and upgrading school land and buildings. Unlike voluntary donations, attendance dues are not optional and parents are contractually and legally required to pay them, and schools can take action to collect these or cancel the enrollment of a student if they are not paid.

Private schools rely mainly on tuition fees paid to the school by the parents of the students, although some funding is provided by the government. As of 2013, private schools receives from the Government (exclusive of GST) $1013 for every Year 1 to 6 student, $1109 for every Year 7 and 8 student, $1420 for every Year 9 and 10 student, and $2156 for every Year 11 to 13 student. However, the government funding is more of a partial tax rebate, as the GST payable to the government on the tuition fees collected often exceeds the government funding received in turn.

Salaries and wages for teaching staff in state and state integrated schools are paid directly from the Ministry of Education to the employee, and are not paid out of a school's funding. The salaries are fixed nationwide, and are based on the teacher's qualifications, years of service and workload, with middle and senior management awarded extra pay through "units". In 1991, following the decentralisation of school administration (the "Tomorrow's Schools" reforms), there was an attempt to move the responsibilities of paying teachers' salaries from the ministry to each school's Board of Trustees, in which each board would receive a lump sum from the government for all costs, including the payment of salaries. Known as "Bulk Funding", the proposal met strong opposition from teachers and their unions, particularly the Post Primary Teachers' Association, and wildcat strike action occurred among teachers as some schools' boards of trustees gradually elected to move to the new system. Bulk Funding was eventually scrapped in July 2000.

Special needs students are entitled to Ongoing Resource Scheme (ORS) funding, which is used for facilitating the adaption of the curriculum to fit the student, funding of teacher aides and specialists, and procuring any special equipment required. There are three levels of funding based on the student's needs: very high, high or combined moderate. For example, a student who is totally blind or deaf is classified as very high needs, while a student who is partially sighted (6/36 or worse) or severely or profoundly deaf (71 dB loss or worse) is classified as high needs. ORS funding is permanent, so it continues until the student leaves school.

Tertiary education

Funding for tertiary education in New Zealand is through a combination of government subsidies and student fees. The government funds approved courses by a tuition grant based on the number of enrolled students in each course and the amount of study time each course requires. Courses are rated on an equivalent full-time Student (EFTS) basis. Students enrolled in courses can access Student Loans and Student Allowances to assist with fees and living costs.

Funding for Tertiary Institutions has been criticised recently due to high fees and funding not keeping pace with costs or inflation. Some also point out that high fees are leading to skills shortages in New Zealand as high costs discourage participation and graduating students seek well paying jobs off shore to pay for their student loans debts. As a result, education funding has been undergoing an ongoing review in recent years.


Most tertiary education students rely on some form of state funding to pay for their tuition and living expenses. Mostly, students rely on state provided student loans and allowances. Secondary school students sitting the state run examinations are awarded scholarships, depending on their results, that assist in paying some tuition fees. Universities and other funders also provide scholarships or funding grants to promising students, though mostly at a postgraduate level. Some employers will also assist their employees to study (full-time or part-time) towards a qualification that is relevant to their work. People who receive state welfare benefits and are retraining, or returning to the workforce after raising children, may be eligible for supplementary assistance, however students already in full or part-time study are not eligible for most state welfare benefits.

Student allowances

Student Allowances, which are non-refundable grants to students of limited means, are means tested and the weekly amount granted depends on residential and citizenship qualifications, age, location, marital status, dependent children as well as personal, spousal or parental income. The allowance is intended for living expenses, so most students receiving an allowance will still need a student loan to pay for their tuition fees.

Student loans

The Student Loan Scheme is available to all New Zealand citizens and permanent residents. It covers course fees, course related expenses, and can also provide a weekly living allowance for full-time students. The loan must be repaid at a rate dependent on income and repayments are normally recovered via the income tax system by wage deductions. Low income earners and students in full-time study can have the interest on their loans written off.

On 26 July 2005, the Labour Party announced that they would abolish interest on Student Loans, if re-elected at the September election, which they were. From April 2006, the interest component on Student Loans was abolished for students who live in New Zealand. This has eased pressure on the government from current students. However, it has caused resentment from past students many of whom have accumulated large interests amounts in the years 1992–2006.

Dropping standards in New Zealand

In 1995 New Zealand students finished 18th out of 24 countries on an international survey, Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). There was considerable public concern so the Government created a taskforce to address the problem. In 2001, the Ministry introduced the Numeracy Development Project, which was supposed to lift student performance. Instead, the new teaching methods appear to have "confused teachers, children and parents by presenting multiple alternative problem-solving strategies but neglecting basic knowledge" and over the next few years New Zealand's rating dropped even further.

In December 2012, the latest TIMSS survey found New Zealand 9-year-olds ranked 34th out of 53 countries — and were bottom equal among developed nations. Almost half could not add 218 and 191 compared to 73% internationally. Ministry of Education figures show the number of 12-year-olds who were able to answer simple multiplication questions correctly dropped from "47% in 2001 — the year new maths teaching methods were introduced — to 37% in 2009". The problem flows on to high schools, where "there are still students who have difficulty with the very basics such as knowledge about whole numbers and decimals".

Sir Vaughan Jones, New Zealand's foremost mathematician, is concerned about the way maths is now taught in New Zealand arguing that children need to learn how to multiply and add and really understand those processes before moving on. Jones said children "need to know basic arithmetic before they try to start problem solving".

In December 2012 a broader ranking process put New Zealand eighth out of 40 countries — seemingly giving the country one of the top education systems in the world. This ranking came from The Learning Curve global education report, published by education firm Pearson. The report assesses performance rates of pupils in reading, writing and maths and is based on data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. However, the validity of Pearsons' testing process for students has been questioned following the discovery of numerous errors in its tests and controversy regarding a question about a talking pineapple.

On a more general note, the Pearson report said the quality of teaching was key factor in a successful education system but also highlighted the importance of an underlying culture focussed on children's learning. The report noted that Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore, which were all ahead of New Zealand, had societies "where education and learning was of the greatest importance and where parents were very much involved with their children's education".

Māori & Pacific Island standards

According to Education Minister Hekia Parata, New Zealand needs to raise the academic achievement of its Māori and Pacific Island students to match those of Pākehā students. In 2013, she said that the PISA international standard showed Pākehā were ranked second in the world, Māori were 34th equal and Pacific students were ranked 44th.

School bullying

Bullying is a widespread issue in New Zealand schools. In 2007, one in five New Zealand high school students reported being cyber-bullied. In regard to physical bullying, an international study in 2009 found New Zealand had the second highest incidence of bullying out of the 40 countries surveyed.

In 2009, the Ombudsman launched an investigation into school bullying and violence after serious incidents at Hutt Valley High School in Lower Hutt, which included students being dragged to the ground, "removing their pants and violating them with screwdrivers, pens, scissors, branches, drills and pencils," a student "being beaten unconscious and a student being burnt with a lighter". The Ombudsman's report recommended schools' guidelines be amended to make anti-bullying programmes compulsory in schools. Post Primary Teachers' Association president Robin Duff said the report illustrated a systemic failure by the Ministry of Education to help schools deal with bullying.

The Government responded by putting $60 million into a Positive Behaviour for Learning plan but the results were less than satisfactory. In March 2013, Secondary Principals Association president Patrick Walsh asked the Ministry to "urgently draft a comprehensive bullying policy for schools, after being surprised to find it did not have one." Mr Walsh believes that since schools are supposed to be self-managing, each school has "work it out" for themselves which "would mean that all 2500 schools all have to reinvent the wheel".

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