Enrolling at school and enrolment schemes

Every child and young person in New Zealand has the right to an education. As parents and caregivers make their enrolment decisions, Boards of Trustees manage their school rolls and we monitor enrolments across all schools to ensure a balanced network that has places and opportunities for everyone.

Note: The Education and Training Act 2020 is making some changes to the way enrolment schemes are developed and operated. These changes will be in effect from 1 January 2021, and the advice on this page will be updated. Until the end of 2020, the enrolment scheme provisions in the Education Act 1989 (ss11A-11Q) still apply. For more information about the changes, see development and consultation of school enrolment schemes.

Starting school

Children are entitled to free enrolment and education at any state school from their 5th birthday to 1 January after their 19th birthday. They can start primary school between the ages of 5 and 6, but they must be enrolled at school by their 6th birthday[1].

Some students might attend school after their 19th birthday. Young people receiving funding through the Ongoing Resourcing Scheme (ORS) can stay at school until the end of the year in which they turn 21. Even if their 21st birthday is on 1 January, they can stay at school until the end of that year. ORS funding is used to provide specialist services and support for students with the very highest learning support needs.

Cohort entry

Cohort entry is when children start school in groups at the start of each term rather than on their own on their 5th birthday.

If a school has cohort entry and a child’s birthday is before the mid-term date, they can start school at the beginning of that term. If their birthday is on or after the mid-term date, they can start at the beginning of the next one.

The mid-term dates for each year are set by the Minister of Education before 1 July in the previous year. If the Minister hasn’t determined mid-term dates for a particular year, the same dates as the year before apply[2].

Note that four year olds are not able to start school as part of a school's cohort entry policy. 

Early learning

The first five years of a child’s life are critical for development. For all children the learning pathway begins well before they start primary school. The early experiences they share with their first teachers – parents, grandparents, caregivers and whānau – help shape the adults they’ll become and set the foundation for starting Early Childhood Education (ECE) or school.

Children can attend ECE between the ages of 0 and their 6th birthday (or until they’re enrolled at primary school, whichever happens first). ECE isn’t compulsory in New Zealand but it's encouraged, as it helps prepare children for school. In 2019, nearly 200,000 children attended 5,682 early learning services (including kōhanga reo and playgroups). Of those, average attendance across all age groups was about 21 hours per week.

All early learning service providers operate independently of the Ministry, either as commercial businesses or one of various types of not-for-profit organisations. Nearly half of all licensed early learning services are privately owned. The rest are community-based services, which means they’re run by incorporated societies, charitable trusts, statutory trusts, community trusts, government departments, health boards, city councils, and public education institutions.

The network of schools doesn’t include ECE, but when parents, caregivers, families and whānau are considering early learning options, their decisions have flow-on effects in terms of which school they might then decide on for their child. We take attendance at early learning services into account when we’re looking at how many places might be needed at a local primary school.

We value the role of early learning services in Communities of Learning ǀ Kāhui Ako because working collaboratively and in partnership means when changes to a school, or schools, in the Kāhui Ako are proposed, the services and schools can work together to achieve the best outcomes for all local children and young people.


There are lots of factors influencing why a particular school might be preferred by parents and caregivers over another.

It could be the one closest to where they live or work, or it might be the one they or other family members went to.

It might offer the curriculum in te reo Māori, be the one where a child’s friends from their kōhanga reo, kindy or primary school are planning to go, or it’s part of their church or parish.

The distances between home and nearby schools might be compared, public transport options and school bus services considered, or a child's potential eligibility for school transport assistance might be important.

The range of subjects offered, and learning programmes and opportunities available, might be a deciding factor, or how a school supports children requiring special assistance or support.

When parents and caregivers are weighing up all the options, Education Review Office (ERO) reports might be compared to understand the quality of education a school can offer, and its culture and approach to wellbeing.

Sometimes decisions might be influenced by the standard and visual appeal of school buildings and grounds, the levels of attendance dues or donations requested, or the style and colour of the school uniform.

If a state school has an enrolment scheme and a student lives outside the school’s home zone, they might not have the option to go to the school, even if it’s where their siblings or friends are enrolled. If it’s a state integrated school, enrolment will require parents and caregivers to show a connection with the special character of the school.

Everyone’s reasons for selecting a school are different but if one school is the preferred option for lots of students at the same time this can lead to issues – not just for the school everyone wants to attend, but for other schools nearby, and the rest of the network too.

Whatever the decision parents and caregivers might make, we keep an eye on what’s happening across the whole network in terms of enrolment preferences so that access, investment and space is balanced.

Areas where there’s a lot of growth happening can bring opportunities for a community, but growth can also create issues for the schools that have to cope with the extra demand. A school that hasn’t experienced much growth previously might suddenly be preferred by lots of parents and caregivers because there’s been a change in the school’s leadership, a new property development is planned for land nearby, or there’s been a change to the enrolment scheme of another local school.

It’s a big job to understand and plan for all the changes that might happen in our communities, but we focus on how to get the most out of the space available in all schools based on what the regional and local data shows for all the different types of schools in the network.

Learning support and special programmes

Children and young people learn best when they feel accepted, when they enjoy positive relationships with their peers and teachers, and when they are active, visible members of their learning community.

Learning support is available in your local school. Most children and young people with learning support needs will be in regular classes at their local school and have extra support provided by the school and/or the Ministry.

Some who need the most intensive support might be able to go to one of the 28 day specialist schools around the country. Sensory specialist schools such as the Blind and Low Vision Education Network NZ (BLENNZ), and Ko Taku Reo, Deaf Education New Zealand are also available. The education centres of Deaf Aotearoa also offer educational services and programmes to help students with their learning support needs. Some specialist and sensory schools also run satellite classes or operate on the grounds of a regular school.

Some schools have special programmes, classes or units that take a different approach to learning from the rest of the school, and must be approved by the Ministry. A school with an enrolment scheme and an approved special programme means enrolments of out-of-zone students who meet the criteria for enrolling in a special programme have first priority above all other out-of-zone enrolment applications where the school has out-of-zone places available.[3]

If you’re interested in enrolling your child in a specialist school or one of their satellite classes, you will need to have what is known as a 'section 9' agreement – section 37 of the Education and Training Act 2020 (formerly section 9 of the Education Act 1989) covers enrolments at specialist schools. Talk to your school about special programmes and other learning support options they have available. 


There are also residential specialist schools and health schools, which help children with different needs, and Te Aho o Te Kura Pounamu, which offers distance learning in certain circumstances.

Access to learning support when it’s needed

Every child and young person’s needs and circumstances are unique and support differs for everyone depending on their needs, age and circumstances. We provide specialist support for children and young people with a wide range of needs, including disabilities, developmental or learning delays, behaviour difficulties and communication difficulties. 

Sometimes high demand for access to some of our specialist support means our wait times can be too long. We’re working to better meet the expectations and needs of students, parents and caregivers so that everyone has access to the support they need when it’s needed.

Section 9 agreements

A 'section 9' agreement is a formal agreement between the Ministry and the parent or caregiver of a child allowing them to enrol in a specialist school or regional health school. It also allows students to enrol outside the legal age in exceptional circumstances.

Section 9 of the Education Act 1989 provided for enrolment requirements of special education, and has now been replaced by Section 37 of the Education and Training Act 2020[4]. Enrolments at day and residential specialist schools are only accepted through a 'section 9' agreement, and learning can be delivered in base or satellite classrooms, or an Intensive Wrap Around Service (IWS)[6].

We can help you work out the best option for your child

Our Learning Support team is dedicated to ensuring all children and young people can be an active part of their local learning community.

We work with particular children and young people who have learning support needs, provide advice and guidance to the adults around them, and ensure the schooling network provides options and opportunities for particular needs to be met.

We identify strategies, approaches, equipment and environmental changes that can support children and young people to be engaged and challenged and experience success.

Māori medium education

Te reo Māori and tikanga Māori are part of our national identity and culture, and are protected as taonga under Te Tiriti o Waitangi. Under the Education and Training Act 2020, schools are required to instil in each child and young person an appreciation of the importance of diversity, cultural knowledge, identity, different official languages, and Te Tiriti o Waitangi and te reo Māori[5].

The network of schools provides a range of primary and secondary Māori medium options through a number of schools and kura throughout New Zealand. Māori immersion and Kura Kaupapa Māori education is a setting in which teaching and learning is mostly in the Māori language – students are taught all or some curriculum subjects in Māori for at least 51 per cent of the time (Māori Language Immersion Levels 1-2).

Individual kura and schools develop a local level curriculum that reflects the aspirations of their learners, whānau and wider community. The curriculum is offered in Te Marautanga o Aotearoa – an indigenous curriculum unique to New Zealand – or the New Zealand Curriculum – which is taught in all state and state integrated schools, in English (note Te Marautanga o Aotearoa isn’t a translation of the New Zealand curriculum).

Learning in te reo is also offered in units at mainstream state schools and may be at immersion level (ie for at least 51 per cent of the time) or bilingual level (less than 51 per cent of the time). This is also known as ‘dual medium’ education – where some students learn in English and others learn in te reo.

Some designated character schools teach in English but use Māori philosophy and context as the basis of their teaching, but all state schools are expected to uphold and support Māori culture and language. Even though te reo Māori isn’t a compulsory subject in kura and schools, the Education and Training Act requires boards to take all reasonable steps to provide instruction in te reo Māori.

Where any school is at risk of overcrowding, an enrolment scheme would be considered to manage the risk, including those providing Māori medium education.


Education Review Office (ERO) reports

All schools and licensed early learning services in New Zealand are reviewed by the Education Review Office (ERO). ERO reports provide an independent view of the quality of the school or early learning service.


Attendance dues, donations and fees

All children and young people between the ages of 5 and 19 years (or 21 if they’re Ongoing Resourcing Scheme (ORS) funded) are entitled to free enrolment and education at a state school. The right to free education means state schools can’t charge parents and caregivers for information about enrolling, or request fees or donations for any part of the enrolment process including accessing forms and documentation. They can’t demand a fee for interviews and if the school has an enrolment scheme, they can’t charge for any pre-enrolment process such as entry into an out-of-zone ballot.

Boards of Trustees work with their local communities to develop their digital device strategies and are responsible for decisions about what devices their schools use, when and how they use them, and who owns them. The costs will vary between schools because some schools purchase class sets of devices, others might run Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) programmes, and others work with local trusts to establish affordable lease-to-buy arrangements.

While state and state integrated schools can’t charge school fees, Boards (and proprietors of state integrated schools) can ask parents to pay a donation for additional services for the direct benefit of their students. Donations can only be paid voluntarily, and Boards of Trustees are required to advise parents and caregivers that donations to the school or proprietor of a state integrated school qualify for tax credits.

Attendance dues and donations at state integrated schools

State integrated schools are schools with a special character reflecting their own aims and objectives, which are tied to particular values, a religion or philosophy. The majority of state integrated schools in New Zealand are Catholic.

The land and buildings of state integrated schools are owned by proprietors (usually a church or other trust board) not the government. Proprietors are responsible for property maintenance, improvements and construction projects, and maintaining the school’s special character. They receive some government funding to maintain and upgrade property, and can charge attendance dues as a condition of enrolment (to a level agreed by us and if their integration agreement allows them to) to meet remaining property costs.

Fees at private schools (also referred to as independent schools)

Private schools, or independent schools as they are also known, charge fees for enrolment and attendance at their schools. They might receive endowments and some government funding to help run the school, but mainly fund themselves or through fundraising initiatives.

Factors influencing enrolment decisions

Our priority is ensuring that wherever possible all local students can attend their local schools. Making this happen as communities grow and change requires an equal balance between the supply of places across all schools in a particular area, the demand for those places and access to them.

Changes at one school can have flow-on effects for other schools, and we work with Boards of Trustees to determine a response when potential issues are identified.

Some responses might be managed by Boards of Trustees through their enrolment processes, while others might be managed in a different way.

A school can decline enrolments when:

  • it has an enrolment scheme, and
    • all places are filled by students who live inside the home zone, and you live outside the zone, or
    • you live outside the zone, and your application to enter the ballot for an out-of-zone place missed the deadline for applications, was not successful in the ballot for out-of-zone places, or did not meet criteria for any of the six enrolment priorities outlined in the Education Act
  • a student’s parents or caregivers:
    • can’t show a connection to the religious or philosophical teachings at a state integrated school
    • don’t accept the character of a designated character school
  • a student is currently excluded or expelled or has previously been excluded or expelled from the school they’re applying to enrol at.
  • the enrolment would put the school above its allowable maximum roll (for state integrated and designated character schools).

Enrolments declined or annulled under the terms of an enrolment scheme

If a school has an enrolment scheme, and limited places available for out-of-zone students, it means the acceptance of out-of-zone enrolment applications is in order of priority as outlined in the Education Act and is usually drawn under supervision in a ballot. Each year the Board of Trustees will advertise the number of out-of-zone places they have available for the following year, deadlines for applications and ballot dates. .

If a school doesn’t have space for out-of-zone students, a Board of Trustees can restrict enrolments to in-zone students only. Students who live inside the home zone are guaranteed a place at the school and out-of-zone students would need to apply to enrol at another school.

Enrolments can be annulled where a temporary address or false information is found to have been provided as part of a student’s enrolment application for the purpose of gaining enrolment.

Boards of Trustees are required to notify every applicant of the outcome of their enrolment application, including the outcome of a ballot as it relates to them. The parents or caregivers of a student whose enrolment is annulled must also be notified, explaining the reason why.

If the annulment relates to a temporary address being provided, before the annulment can be made the parents or caregivers must be notified the enrolment is being reviewed and they must have the opportunity to meet with the Board.

Directed enrolments

Sometimes, if it’s necessary, and if the requirements of section 11P of the Education Act 1989 can be met, we can direct a school with an enrolment scheme to accept a student’s enrolment when they live outside the school’s home zone[7]. This provision isn’t used often, and only in cases where there would be genuine disadvantage or serious consequences for a student if they weren’t enrolled at a particular school.

To protect the privacy of students, and because directions are based on disadvantage and exceptional circumstances (and each application is assessed on that basis), we don’t share reasons for directed enrolments. But for us to approve a directed enrolment, a parent or caregiver must provide specialist medical, psychological or other expert opinion that supports the reasoning a student would be disadvantaged by not attending a particular school, and that no other school can meet their needs.

Directed enrolments and schools other than state schools

We can’t direct Boards of Trustees of state integrated, kura kaupapa Māori or designated character schools to enrol a student unless their parents or caregivers agree with the direction and accept the special character of the school.

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