Story: Primary and secondary education

Page 1. The state system in the 2000s

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In July 2011, 762,683 children attended state primary and secondary schools in New Zealand – slightly over 17% of the population.

Compulsory schooling years

In New Zealand children must attend school between the ages of six and 16. Most children start school at age five. The levels of schooling they go through are primary (Years 1–6), intermediate (Years 7–8), and secondary (Years 9–13).

Breaking barriers

Because students from low socio-economic communities face more barriers to learning, there is a system of assigning a decile number to each state primary school. Deciles range from 1 (the lowest) to 10 (the highest), and are based on socio-economic factors derived from the census. Low-decile schools receive more funding to help their students overcome educational obstacles.

The intermediate years may be spent in a stand-alone intermediate school, a primary school that caters to Years 1–8, or a secondary school that includes Years 7–13. In some country districts, there are ‘area’ or ‘composite’ schools that include the primary, intermediate and secondary years.

Co-ed and single sex

State primary and intermediate schools are co-educational. So are many secondary schools, but there are others that are just for boys or girls. These single-sex schools are mainly older-established, and located in larger towns and cities where there are several secondary schools.

Other options

In addition to the general state schools, there are a range of other state-funded options, all of which teach the New Zealand curriculum. These include:

  • kura kaupapa Māori, state schools catering for Years 1–8 or Years 1–13 where the teaching is in the Māori language and is based on Māori culture and values
  • special schools for students with disabilities
  • integrated schools – schools that used to be private, and that keep their special character. They receive government funding for each student but as they own their own buildings and land, they charge attendance fees
  • designated character schools, which have been allowed to develop their own objectives to reflect a particular set of values
  • the Correspondence School, which provides distance education for children who have medical or other problems or live too far from a school.

Private schools and home schooling

Aside from state schools, there are private schools that charge fees. They are governed by their own independent boards, but must meet certain standards to be registered and receive government subsidies.

Some parents and caregivers also choose to educate their children at home, but must provide an education equivalent to that given at a registered school. They receive an annual grant to cover the cost of learning materials and can purchase teaching services from the Correspondence School.


Many private schools have boarding facilities, and so do some state schools. In both cases, boarding fees are charged.

How to cite this page:

Nancy Swarbrick, 'Primary and secondary education - The state system in the 2000s', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 19 June 2024)

Story by Nancy Swarbrick, published 20 Jun 2012