Pre-enrolment processes

A student is officially enrolled at a school when they start attending classes. But if a school has an enrolment scheme, there are a few steps to get through before that happens and these are called pre-enrolment processes.

If a school doesn’t have an enrolment scheme, depending on the type of school, its enrolment processes are likely to be pretty straightforward.

Parents and caregivers will probably visit the school to see if it will meet their child’s educational needs. They’re likely to meet with the principal and prospective teachers to find out about the school’s culture and its teaching and learning priorities.

There will be enrolment forms and other paperwork to complete, and subject to agreement, attendance will usually commence on the first day of the next term, or the beginning of the next school year.

But if a school has an enrolment scheme, it has pre-enrolment processes – and Boards of Trustees must ensure all parents and caregivers are clear on what’s required of them, and when, in relation to enrolment applications.


‘Pre-enrolment’ means the period in which applications for enrolment are invited and processed by a school that has an enrolment scheme.

Key dates

In the year prior to which enrolments apply, Boards of Trustees, and parents and caregivers, have a number of responsibilities to be met under the requirements of the Education Act. There are also deadlines for completing certain steps in the pre-enrolment process.

Fees and donations in relation to pre-enrolment processes

State and state integrated schools can’t charge parents and caregivers for any part of the pre-enrolment process, including for access to forms or getting into a ballot. They can’t solicit donations in respect of any application for out-of-zone enrolments, and state integrated schools can’t make payment of the first terms attendance dues a condition of entry into a ballot.

Out-of-zone enrolment applications

To ensure fairness and transparency for all out-of-zone students, all Boards of Trustees must be consistent in how pre-enrolment processes for out-of-zone enrolment applications are managed – especially ballots.

Consistency in how out-of-zone enrolment applications are processed across all schools reduces the likelihood of too many students enrolling at one school while other schools have capacity for them. This is critical to all students being able to attend a school that’s close to where they live, managing the risk of overcrowding in some schools, and at the same time balancing the number of students across all schools.

The Education Act requires that once all in-zone enrolments are accepted, if the school accepts enrolments from out-of-zone students and there are places available for them, out-of-zone enrolment applications must be accepted in the following order of priority:

  1. Students accepted for enrolment in a special programme run by the school.
  2. Brothers and sisters of current students.
  3. Brothers and sisters of former students.
  4. Children of former students.
  5. Children of board employees and board members.
  6. All other students.

Once a priority category is reached where there are more applicants than there are places available, the applications go into the ballot and are accepted in the order they’re randomly drawn until all of the remaining places available are filled. Those who aren’t offered a place are put on a waiting list in the order they were drawn from the ballot, and will be offered a place in that order if any places become available later in the year.


If a school with an enrolment scheme has more places available than the number of out-of-zone applications it receives, there’s no need for a ballot and the Board of Trustees advertises that all out-of-zone enrolment applications will be accepted.

If more out-of-zone applications are received than there are places available, a ballot is required.

A ballot means the names of out-of-zone applicants, or numbers associated with them, are drawn randomly out of a ballot box, the order they’re drawn noted, and the corresponding out-of-zone enrolment applications accepted in that order until all of the available out-of-zone places are filled. All entries in the ballot are drawn, and those drawn after all available places have been filled are put on a waiting list in the order they were drawn.

All out-of-zone applicants must be advised by Boards of Trustees if their application will go into a ballot, when and how the ballot will be held, when they’ll be notified of the outcome, and their rights and responsibilities.

Ballots for secondary schools are held once a year, and ballots for primary schools can be held more than once a year, if required. As well as the number of out-of-zone places available and deadlines for applications, Boards of Trustees advertise the dates of when their ballots will be held.

Ballot process

To ensure ballots are fair and transparent, and that they’re properly carried out, the process must be supervised by a Justice of the Peace, a practising lawyer, a sworn member of the Police or a local government returning officer. The person can’t be an employee or member of the school’s Board of Trustees, or a relative of a child included in the ballot.

The supervisor ensures the names drawn in the ballot are recorded in the order they’re drawn, until the number of out-of-zone places available are filled. Beyond that point, the remaining names are drawn and must be recorded on a waiting list in the order they’re drawn.

Waiting lists

Only schools with an enrolment scheme can have waiting lists and these apply only to students who live outside the zone and want to enrol. Waiting lists expire after the next ballot is held.

Advising outcomes

Within three school days of a ballot being held, Boards of Trustees have to advise out-of-zone students the outcome of their enrolment application, including whether they’re on a waiting list.

Parents and caregivers of out-of-zone students whose applications have been successful in the ballot have 14 days to confirm whether they accept or decline the offer of a place. If they don't respond within that period, the place is offered to the first student on the waiting list established by the ballot.

Selection processes at state integrated schools

If there are more enrolment applications received than places available at a state integrated school, the Board of Trustees doesn’t have to hold a ballot to select and accept enrolments. They’re able to determine the method they’ll use to select applications and this might be by ballot or ranking students in terms of the distance they live from the school.

Special programmes

Some schools run special programmes. 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 a school has out-of-zone places available.

A special programme is defined under section 11B of the Education Act 1989. It must be approved by the Ministry, and:

  1. provide
    1. special education; or
    2. Māori language immersion classes; or
    3. any other type of specialised education to overcome educational disadvantage; or
  2. be a programme
    1. that takes a significantly different approach to address particular student needs; and
    2. that would not be viable unless it could draw from a catchment area beyond a school’s home zone; and
    3. to which entry is determined by an organisation or process independent of the school.

We’ve previously approved the following types of programme, which do not require individual applications from schools:

  • Māori language programmes and Māori immersion classes resourced by us at level 1, level 2 or level 3.
  • Special education classes and units for which students are accepted on the basis of special educational needs arising from learning and behaviour difficulties, sensory, intellectual, communication or physical disabilities, or any combination of these.
  • Classes delivering a Pacific language immersion programme and/or a bilingual education programme where at least one Pacific language (being Cook Island Māori, Samoan, Tongan, Niuean, Fijian, Tokelauan or Tuvaluan) makes up 30 per cent of the language of instruction.
  • Classes providing a programme of study to students confirmed by Auckland University of Technology (AUT) Centre for Refugee Education or Immigration New Zealand that they’re part of the Government's official refugee programme and/or have refugee status.
  • Any teen parent unit approved by the Minister of Education and resourced by the Ministry of Education.
  • Any alternative education programme operated under a contract with the Ministry of Education, where students in the programme are required to enrol at the school which has the contract with the Ministry.

We've also approved specific programmes run by individual schools.

We can advise Boards of Trustees whether a programme they run meets the Act’s definition of a special programme, and whether it would be approved for inclusion in an enrolment scheme.

If we approve its inclusion, Boards of Trustees must set out in their enrolment scheme proposal the criteria on which students will be accepted into the programme, and procedures to determine which students will be enrolled if there are more applicants than places available. In-zone students who meet the criteria for enrolling on the special programme must be enrolled ahead of out-of-zone students (provided there are spaces available in the programme).

By 1 September each year, Boards of Trustees must have determined how many in-zone and out-of-zone places will be available on the special programme in the following year.

Because out-of-zone special programme enrolments have priority over all other out-of-zone enrolments, Boards must ensure these enrolment applications are kept separate from all other applications.

Out-of-zone students who want to apply to enrol at a school where they have a sibling or siblings enrolled on a special programme have their enrolment applications managed in the same way as applications of other out-of-zone siblings under the Education Act.


All children and young people who live inside a school’s enrolment scheme home zone are entitled to enrol at that school.

Where out-of-zone enrolment applications for siblings of current and former students are received, for the purpose of clarifying the second and third priority acceptance categories under the Education Act, section 11F (3) of the Act defines what is meant by ‘sibling’. Child A is considered child B’s sibling if:

  1. both children share a common parent; or
  2. a parent of child A is married to, or in a civil union with, a parent of child B; or
  3. a parent of child A was married to, or in a civil union with, a parent of child B at the time when child B's parent died; or
  4. a parent of child A is the de facto partner of a parent of child B; or
  5. both children live in the same household and in recognition of family obligations are treated by the adults of the household as if they were siblings; or
  6. the school is instructed by us to treat child A as the sibling of child B.

Parents and caregivers must provide proof of a sibling relationship if an out-of-zone application is to be considered in a priority category.

Where there are out-of-zone siblings in the same year level at a school, ballot supervisors must ensure their names are kept together for the ballot process, so if one’s name is drawn the other is automatically accepted too.

Directed enrolments

Sometimes it’s in a student’s best interests to move to a different school. If necessary, and if the requirements of the legislation can be met, we can direct a school to accept an out-of-zone student under section 11P of the Education Act 1989, overriding the home zone requirement. This provision isn’t used often, but it’s used in cases where there would be genuine disadvantage or serious consequences for a student if they weren’t enrolled at a particular school.

Directed enrolments are only made by us in exceptional circumstances. 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.

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.

We need to be satisfied that:

  • there would be genuine disadvantage to the student; and
  • the disadvantage would be of a significant degree; and
  • the disadvantage could be objectively or reasonably substantiated; and
  • the disadvantage can be remedied only by enrolment at the school in question.

We can’t direct Boards of Trustees of state integrated schools, 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.

[1] Education Act 1989, Part 2 Enrolment schemes, and suspension, expulsion, and exclusion of students, ss11A-11Q Enrolment schemes

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