Enrolment, attendance, and the school system

Different types of schools

In New Zealand, there are three main types of schools:

  • State schools – this includes ordinary state schools, kura kaupapa Māori, “designated character” schools and specialist schools
  • Integrated schools – integrated schools used to be private schools that are now part of the state school system but still have a special character (Catholic schools for example)
  • Private schools – private schools aren’t covered by the same laws and regulations as state and integrated schools, and most of the information in this guide doesn’t apply to private schools.

For a summary on the law related to private schools, see “Private schools” below

State Schools

State schools are the primary schools, intermediate schools, secondary schools, and composite (primary and secondary combined) schools that are funded by the government and overseen by the Ministry of Education.

Types of state schools

  • English-medium schools – schools where English is the main language of instruction.
  • Māori-medium schools – schools where some or all ākonga are taught the curriculum in te reo Māori (at least 51 per cent of the time).
  • “Designated character” schools – schools that operate according to their own aims, purposes, and objectives. This can be based on a particular worldview, religion, or philosophy. For example, an Islamic school, Presbyterian school, some Kura Kaupapa Māori or Kura ā Iwi.
  • Specialist schools (previously called special schools) – schools established for learners with disabilities.

Māori medium schools

Within the state school system, there are Māori-medium schools with “designated character”. There are different types of Māori-medium schools, such as Kura Kaupapa Māori, Kura ā Iwi, Kura Motuhake, Kura Māori and Wharekura.

These are kura where most of the learning is in te reo Māori, and focuses on Ao Māori perspectives. They are set up in accordance to different philosophies. For example:

  • Kura Kaupapa Māori (Te Aho Matua) operate in accordance with Te Aho Matua. Te Rūnanga Nui o ngā Kura Kaupapa Māori o Aotearoa is the governing body and kaitiaki of Te Aho Matua (see below). Some kura kaupapa may not incorporate Te Aho Matua.
  • Kura ā Iwi operate according to the aims, purposes and objectives of its character that are set out in its strategic plan. These kura localise their curriculum to the aims of their iwi, hapū and whānau based on the values of Tihi o Angitu (peaks of achievement/success). Ngā Kura ā Iwi o Aotearoa is the representative body with a governance arm (Ringa Raupā). For more information, go to www.kuraaiwi.nz

Can I go to a kura if I don’t speak te reo?

Education and Training Act 2020, 204(8)

It depends. Designated character schools (like Kura Kaupapa Māori and Kura ā Iwi) can set terms for enrolment according to their own aims and purposes. This can include making sure that ākonga speak or understand te reo Māori.

Check with the kura you’d like to enrol in to see if they have language or other entry requirements.

For example, a Kura Kaupapa Māori can make a rule that all tamariki must transfer from a Kōhanga reo, or another kura with a strong foundation in te reo Māori. Kura can also say that at least one whānau member must have te reo Māori, or be studying it, to support the learning of their tamaiti at home.

What is Te Aho Matua?

Education and Training Act 2020, ss 201, 202, 204; New Zealand Gazette, No. 32, Official Version of Te Aho Matua o Ngā Kura Kaupapa Māori

Te Aho Matua is the statement of learning and teaching principles (like a philosophy) that many Kura Kaupapa Māori use. It sets out aims for learning based on te ao Māori. It has six parts: Te Ira Tangata, Te Reo, Ngā Iwi, Te Ao, Āhuatanga Ako, Te Tino Uaratanga.

Te Aho Matua asserts the importance of whakapapa, learning alongside whānau, te reo and identity.

An aim of Te Aho Matua is that ākonga will be able to speak both te reo Māori and English. English must be taught in a separate area of the school so that the languages don’t get mixed up. Individual kura kaupapa might set requirements about having te reo before you enrol to support this (see above).

The Education Review Office (ERO) measures the learning outcomes for ākonga at Kura Kaupapa Māori by the standards set out in Te Aho Matua (instead of the ERO standards for English-medium schools).

Many kura kaupapa are guided by Te Aho Matua learning principles, however not all are.

For more information, go to www.runanga.co.nz/te-aho-matua

Integrated (formerly private) schools

What is an “integrated” school?

Education and Training Act 2020, s 10, 211

Integrated schools are schools that used to be private but are now part of the state system.

Integrated schools get the same amount of government funding as state schools, and have to teach the National Curriculum. They’re allowed to keep their “special character” – this is usually a connection to a religion or philosophy. For example, Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Jewish, Muslim, Steiner and Montessori schools.

It can be a condition of enrolling at an integrated school that students, parents and guardians agree to the school’s special character.

Integrated schools can also charge a compulsory fee, called “attendance dues”.

Private schools

What are my rights at a private school? What laws apply?

Enrolment at a private school is managed by a private contract (an agreement) between the school and your parents or guardians. This is instead of the Education and Training Act, and the other laws and regulations that govern state and integrated schools.

When you enrol, you and your parents are making an agreement with the school to provide your education. Your parents will pay the fees, and you will follow the school’s rules.

If there’s a disagreement, including if you think the school has breached the contract, you can use the court system.

For small claims, you can go to the Disputes Tribunal. It is a quicker, cheaper way of resolving disputes that sits outside of the formal court system. There are no lawyers or judges – a referee makes a decision.

Although they’re not covered by the Education and Training Act, private schools must still follow all other New Zealand law. This includes the Privacy Act 1993, the Human Rights Act 1993, and the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990.

What curriculum do they teach at private schools?

Education and Training Act 2020 sch 7(2), 7(5)

Private schools don’t have to teach the same curriculum as state schools. They can develop their own curriculum and their own assessment standards, although these are reviewed regularly by the Education Review Office (ERO). The teaching standards must be at least as good as in state schools.

ERO reviews each private school every three years. The review makes sure that the school has suitable premises, staffing and equipment, that it has a suitable curriculum and that the teaching is of a standard at least as good as in state schools.

If it offers national qualifications like NCEA, the school will have to meet the standards set by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA).

Disciplinary processes at private schools

If you break the school rules, you’ll go through the school’s specific disciplinary processes.

You can also expect that the school will behave fairly and reasonably. Any disciplinary process must be legal. For example, a teacher can’t smack a student, because that is against the law.


Education and Training Act 2020, s 38

Home-schooling is when you’re taught at home. You don’t have an automatic right to be home-schooled, but your parents or guardians can apply for a long-term exemption from enrolment at a mainstream school or kura.

To apply, your parents or guardians need to contact the local Ministry of Education office. They need to provide information to show you’ll be taught as regularly and as well as you would be at school. For example:

weekly timetables or routines that show you’ll be taught in a planned way

a plan for how your learning will be assessed (you don’t have to be taught the New Zealand Curriculum).

You still need to go to school until you get the exemption certificate from the Ministry. Otherwise, you will be considered truant. See “Truancy: Wagging school

Specialist schools

Education and Training Act 2020, s 37

A specialist school provides specialist education or support for students with specific physical, social, sensory or learning needs. This can include satellite units and special units. A satellite unit is where a student can be enrolled in a day specialist school (“base school”), and also go to another school (“host satellite”) for specialist teaching.

If you are under the age of 21, your parents or guardians may enrol you in specialist education at a particular state school, specialist school, specialist class or specialist clinic.

Te Aho o Te Kura Pounamu: Correspondence School

Education and Training Act 2020, ss 68, 196

Te Kura Pounamu is where you work from home if you meet certain requirements. It is a registered school that follows the New Zealand Curriculum. You have an assigned teacher that monitors and assesses your work.

There are two types of enrolment. If you are eligible as a full-time eligible student, you won’t have to pay fees and you will go on the roll. You may be eligible if you:

  • live a long way from any school or have an itinerant lifestyle (i.e. move location at least once per term)
  • have been bullied, excluded or expelled from face-to-face school
  • have been referred by the Ministry of Education due to psychological or psycho-social needs
  • are pregnant or a young parent
  • have been referred by Oranga Tamariki – Ministry for Children or the Department of Corrections
  • are a high-level athlete, dancer, musician, sportsperson or performer that can’t make a regular school routine work
  • would like a second chance to complete high-school qualifications.

These criteria are subject to change. To see if you may be able to learn by distance, contact Te Kura on 0800 65 99 88, or go to www.tekura.school.nz

Students can also be dual enrolled – this means they remain enrolled at their current school, but receive extra teaching through Te Kura. This is government-funded in certain situations, including if the student has high health or educational needs.

Regional Health School

Regional Health Schools provide intensive support for students with high health needs (for example, chronic or psychiatric illness).

For more information, visit www.education.govt.nz

High and Complex Needs Unit

A special unit is available to help students (usually aged between six and 14) who are a risk to themselves or others, and who have complex and challenging needs that can’t be met by local services. The student must already be involved with more than one agency from the education or health sectors (including disability or mental health) or Oranga Tamariki. The unit brings these agencies together with the student and their family to develop a plan, and provides tools, and information.

For more information, visit www.hcn.govt.nz

Alternative Education

Students aged 13 to 15 with behavioural difficulties, or who are alienated or disengaged from school, may be able to enrol in an Alternative Education programme or an Activity Centre.

Alternative Education programmes are funded by the Ministry of Education and are linked to a particular school. An Alternative Education student remains on the school roll, while being taught in small groups in a different setting. The school oversees the programme and is responsible for the student.

There are advantages to working with students in the existing school environment. These include students having access to all school resources, and experiencing smoother transitions back into mainstream schooling, if this is in the student’s best interests.

Activity Centres provide alternatives for students exhibiting “at risk” behaviour. They are places where students can have “time out” and then return to regular secondary schooling. They are also an alternative for those who aren’t coping with a regular school.

For more information about alternative education, visit www.alternativeeducation.tki.org.nz

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Enrolment, attendance, and the school system

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