Starting School 101

When your child's fifth birthday is looming, you'll be the one who needs to school up and educate yourself on the New Zealand education system. Most children start school shortly after they turn five, and all children must be enrolled by their sixth birthday.

Here's the rundown on starting school: 

  1. Every child is guaranteed the right to go to their local school. You can check what school zone you are in by visiting This is a neat website that also shows bus routes, and can show you all the other schools in your area. 
  2. Every school is regularly reviewed by the Education Review Office. You can read your school's latest report by visiting
  3. When you're contemplating which school to send your little one to here are some things to consider:
  • Has the school been recommended by friends or family? 
  • What is transport like? Can you walk there, or will you have to take the car? Is there a bus route? 
  • Is there an after school care programme available? 
  • What donation does the school ask for? (public state schools don't have compulsory fees, but many ask for a donation and this is a really important source of funding for schools). 
  • Is there a uniform and what does it cost?
  • Also inquire about extra curricular activities available eg. music and sports, as well as language and culture opportunities.
  • Many schools will hold open days for prospective families and these are a nice way to visit a school and talk to teachers and other students. A good question to ask an existing student is "If you were Principal for a day what would you change?"
  • Also think about the long-term - what intermediate and high-school options are available in your neighbourhood?

For more information visit the parent's section on the Ministry of Education's website.

When you've decided on a school you'll need to make contact with them to have your child enrolled. Many pre-schools or kindergartens will have the information for the schools they feed into, otherwise contact the school directly. It's important to do this long before your child's fifth birthday - ideally by the end of September of the year before they first start school - to help the school plan for its future rolls. 

There are lots of different types of schools eg. contributing, private, public, composite, kohanga reo etc. There are also home-school and correspondence options. You can school up on the full list by visiting

Schools are also ranked according to their deciles. These range between 1-10 and are important because it's how the Ministry of Education allocates funding.  

The other thing that's different since many of us were at school is that we don't have primers, standards and forms anymore. It's all years. So your child will either start in Year Zero or Year One depending on the date of their birthday. Check with your school but generally the cut-off is around the end of April.

Before school starts, your child will attend some weekly sessions in their new entrant class in the few weeks ahead of their official start. It's OK for parents to stay for the first couple of sessions, but after that it's a good idea to leave the child to encourage their independence.

The Ministry of Health also offers all children a "B4 school health check" to make sure they are fit and well to start school. Visit for more.



Under 5

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