Schools and Education

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Attending school is compulsory for all New Zealand children aged 6 to 16. Most children start attending primary school when they are 5, and many children will attend early childhood education centres (preschool) before starting their primary education. The education system is based on 13 years of formal schooling with students finishing high school around 18 years of age.

The OECD’s 2013 Better Life Index showed that New Zealand dedicated the highest percentage of Government funding to education amongst the 32 countries surveyed. New Zealand has a world class education system that is modern and at the forefront of learning and development.

Many children attend a school close to where they live. Depending on the range of schools in your area, there may be the option to send your child to a single-sex school or co-educational school.

Most schools are owned and funded by the state and teach a national curriculum. The curriculum is standard across all schools, with some secondary schools offering specialisation in certain subjects once students reach Years 11-13 (ages 15-18). New Zealand state owned schools are secular; religious studies are not part of the official curriculum and they do not adhere to a specific religion.

There are some special education facilities in New Zealand for children who have disabilities or special care requirements. Many mainstream schools also offer special education assistance through teacher aides and specialist support.

If living rurally, correspondence school is an option. It’s also available to children who are not comfortable in a standard school environment, or parents who prefer to teach their children from home. Distance learning is arranged through New Zealand’s Correspondence School Te Aho o Te Kura Pounamu.

Early childhood education in Christchurch

From birth, children are permitted to participate in early childhood education (ECE). ECE is not compulsory in New Zealand but around 95% of children go to an ECE service. There are different types of ECE services in New Zealand, such as:

  • kindergartens
  • education and care services
  • home based education and care
  • Te Kura (correspondence school)
  • playcentres
  • playgroups

Christchurch has a great range of ECE providers, with local providers in most suburbs.

Primary schools and intermediate schools in Christchurch

Children’s formal education begins at primary school in New Zealand. There are different types of primary schools, the types available will generally depend on the size of the region and the amount of children in the area.

The types of primary education schools are:

  • Full primary school – children attend from age 5-12 years.
  • Contributing primary school – children attend from age 5-10 years of age, and then move to an intermediate school.
  • Intermediate school – children attend from age 11-12 for their final years of primary schooling, before moving on to high school.

Contributing primary schools and intermediate schools usually exist where the population of school aged children is high.

  • View a list of Christchurch primary and intermediate schools here

For an in depth overview of Christchurch suburbs and their schools please see the Cowdy & Co. Suburb Guide.

Secondary schools and high schools in Christchurch

Children begin secondary school, also known as high school or college, following their primary schooling. Generally they will be aged 13 when starting secondary school.

There are various types of secondary schools. It is quite common in New Zealand for high schools to be separated by gender. There are also co-educational high schools where both boys and girls attend classes together.

There are a range of qualifications students work towards during their time at high school. The most common qualifications are:

  • NCEA Level 1
  • NCEA Level 2
  • NCEA Level 3
  • University Entrance

The National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) is a focus for most schools, with many of these qualifications required to achieve University Entrance and acceptance to New Zealand’s universities.

Cost of schooling in New Zealand

Attending a state school is free for New Zealand citizens and New Zealand residents. Some schools will ask for a donation towards the administration costs of running the school or will ask for contributions towards other activities, like class trips, that are not covered by the standard school funding arrangements.

Private schools charge for student enrolment. Each school sets their own fee, with many offering boarding services for additional fees.

Private Schools in Christchurch

Many areas in New Zealand, including Christchurch, also have private schooling. Private schools in Christchurch and the wider Canterbury region include:

  • Christ’s College
  • St Margaret’s College
  • Rangi Ruru Girls’ School
  • Medbury Preparatory School
  • Seven Oaks Secondary School
  • Selwyn House School
  • Cathedral Grammar School
  • Jean Seabrook Memorial School
  • St Michael’s Church School
  • Nova Montessori School

You can download a list of all schools in New Zealand here and filter to the type of school you are looking for.

School zones

Many schools in New Zealand have zones, meaning that if you live inside the zone for a school then you’re guaranteed your child will be allowed to attend that school.

Some schools have a great reputation, and people from outside of the school’s zone will apply for enrolment there however, their child’s place will not be guaranteed. This also means that some suburbs in Christchurch are more expensive to rent or buy property in, as families try to move to a preferred school zone.

School reviews and the school rating system

The Education Review Office conducts 3 yearly reviews on each school. They report on the school’s curriculum, and any special features or programmes going on within the school community.

The Government gives each New Zealand school a rating of 1-10. These are called decile ratings. Schools with a low decile number get more funding from the Government than those schools with a high decile rating, as they are recognised as requiring more support

Universities and polytechnics in Canterbury

The University of Canterbury is located in Central Christchurch, and is known for its engineering and teaching programmes, whilst Lincoln University is located a short drive from Christchurch and is focused on agriculture and horticulture.

There are also a range of polytechnic and practical based tertiary education providers. Here’s a list of the most popular tertiary education providers in Christchurch and wider Canterbury:

  • University of Canterbury
  • Lincoln University
  • Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology (CPIT)
  • Aoraki Polytechnic
  • Canterbury Sports Management College
  • CCEL Christchurch
  • The Design and Arts College of New Zealand
  • International Aviation Academy of New Zealand
  • Languages International
  • National Trade Academy

For a full list of tertiary education providers in Christchurch, Canterbury see here.

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