Cohort entry in schools

This guidance details the changes, impacts and benefits associated with a school adopting a policy of cohort entry.

Level of compliance Main audience Other


  • School Boards 
  • Principals and Tumuaki
  • Parents/Caregivers/Whānau
  • All Early Learning Services

If schools choose to introduce the policy of cohort entry, they must follow the appropriate rules and regulations as stated in the Education and Training Act 2020, including consulting their community.

Changes to the Education Act

Helping students to have a great start at school is important for their early success. In the past the state and state-integrated schools had only one way to manage the flow of new entrants into school, known as continuous entry, in which parents could enrol their child on their fifth birthday or any subsequent day.

Although some schools had previously adopted cohort entry, they had not been able to enforce it.

From 1 January 2020:

  • children are able start school in cohorts but only after they have turned five
  • there will be two entry points per term, one on the first day of term, and one at a mid-point during a term.

Read more at:

Mid-term dates for cohort entry

Education Amendment Act 2019(external link)

For parents, caregivers and whānau

It is a legal requirement that a child enrol at a registered school from age six.

Whether or not the school your child enrols in has a cohort entry policy, you still have the option of not starting your child in school until their sixth birthday.

  • If you do not want to start your child at a school or kura under a cohort entry policy, you may start your child at another school in your area (subject to zone restrictions) without cohort entry.
  • If all schools in the area have adopted cohort entry, you will need to comply with this policy.

Depending on where their birthday falls within the term, some children could stay in early learning or other care for a slightly longer period than they would otherwise, if the school their family or whānau chooses has adopted cohort entry.

The impacts of cohort entry

Children turning six, or transferring from another school

Cohort entry does not apply to children who have turned six, or who are transferring from another school.

It is a legal requirement that a child enrol at a registered school from age six. Therefore, if not already enrolled, a child can start school on their sixth birthday regardless of a school’s cohort entry policy, but must start school no later than their sixth birthday.

A school with cohort entry cannot enforce that a child turning six, who has not yet been enrolled at any school, will start on a specific entry date.

If a child has already been enrolled at another school, and is moving to a school with cohort entry, the school cannot apply their cohort entry policy to this child’s start date.

Early learning services

If a school adopts cohort entry, this will affect enrolment patterns in contributing early learning services. As part of their consultation, school boards will need to consider the views of local early learning services and give at least one term’s notice before changing their entry policy. This will help ensure early learning services are able to manage the loss of a larger group of children at one time.


The Ministry will ensure that cohort entry schools are funded appropriately equal like other state and state-integrated schools.

New entrant students enrolling as part of a cohort on the first day of Term 3 are not included in the 1 July roll count and therefore it is possible cohort entry schools would receive less funding than they would have received as a non-cohort entry school.

To ensure cohort schools will be funded equally the Ministry will use the number of enrolled students at the beginning of Term 3 who have their fifth birthday between the mid-point of Term 2 and 1 July of the same year to calculate the funding difference.

This amount will be automatically calculated annually and paid as part of the October operational grant instalment.

Ongoing Resourcing Scheme (ORS) funding

Cohort entry does not impact on ORS funding. ORS funding starts when a child starts school. Once a child has ORS funding, they receive it for the duration of their schooling.

Childcare and OSCAR subsidies

Families are still eligible for Ministry of Education ECE subsidies, including 20 Hours ECE, until their child turns six or is enrolled in school.

Through the Ministry of Social Development, children over the age of five remain eligible for the childcare subsidy and children under the age of five are eligible for the OSCAR subsidy.

The benefits of cohort entry

Cohort entry is about helping children to settle better in school. There is evidence that starting school alongside other children helps them build relationships and supports a smoother entry to school life.

Schools that are already using cohort entry believe it offers their children the best start to their school life. It can also mean less disruption for new entrant teachers who can prepare for groups of children arriving on a specific date rather than on an individual and ad hoc basis through the year.

Changing a school's entry policy 

Before introducing any policy change, schools must:

  • consult with their staff, the parents of current and prospective students, and local early learning services and consider whether they find the policy generally acceptable.
  • give at least one term’s notice of the change to parents, staff and local early learning services (this could be done through their website, or in a local community newspaper).

Schools must also inform the Ministry of their change. Schools should email and include:

  • confirmation that a community-wide consultation has been undertaken
  • confirmation that the community found a policy of cohort entry generally acceptable
  • confirmation of the date that you notified your community that you will adopt cohort entry
  • advise which term the cohort entry policy will take effect from (which must be at least one term after you have notified your community and the Ministry).

The exact same process applies if schools wish to consider returning to continuous entry. Schools must consult and provide at least one term’s notice to their community and to the Ministry of Education.

The New Zealand School Trustees Association has developed guidance for schools to assist with community consultation.

Community consultation(external link)

Cohort entry consultation(external link)

Updating cohort entry policies 

Schools and kura which have already implemented cohort entry automatically came under the new legal requirements from 1 January 2020.

They are not required to undertake consultation on the changes if they wish to continue with cohort entry. However, schools and kura should ensure the local community, including local early learning services, are aware of the amended policy and will also want to reflect this change in their policy documentation.

Quality transitions for children who may require additional support 

Where a child would benefit from a staggered transition to school, a transition plan can be agreed between the child’s parents, the school principal and the Ministry of Education.

Early learning services are a valuable resource for supporting a child's transition to school and can contribute to the development of a child's transition plan.

These plans will set out expected absences during the child’s transition into school, providing some flexibility for transitions for children with additional learning support needs, if needed, while still allowing them to start school in accordance with a school’s cohort entry policy.

The child will then be required to attend school in accordance with that plan.

Informal cohort entry 

 A school can run an “informal” cohort entry arrangement if they choose. This would mean the school can encourage five year olds to start school at the start of each term, or another cohort entry point within each term.

Because it is not cohort entry as per the legislation, there are some key differences. The school will not be able to enforce the cohort entry policy and will have to accept all new entrants at the time of their parents’ choosing (ie on their fifth birthday or any day thereafter). The school will not be required under law to run the consultation process and give one term’s notice for this “informal” cohort entry policy (although it is always a good idea to consult when making such decisions).

As good practice, they may also choose to undertake consultation on the change to cohort entry policy (considering the new cohort entry system or a return to continuous entry).

Last reviewed: Has this been useful? Give us your feedback