How the New Zealand education system works

Learn about the structure of the New Zealand education system.

Schooling in New Zealand

Children in New Zealand generally start school at age 5 and spend 13 years at school.

There are:

  • public schools, which are funded by the Government
  • Kura Kaupapa Māori schools, where children are taught some or all curriculum subjects in the Māori language at least 51 per cent of the time
  • private schools, where families pay fees set by the school.

Primary school

Primary school takes children from year 0 or 1 (age 5) to year 6 or year 8, depending on the school.

Intermediate school is for children in years 7 and 8, where their primary school does not go to this level.

The primary curriculum is known as the The New Zealand Curriculum and the Māori language edition is Te Marautanga o Aotearoa.

Secondary school

Secondary education runs from Year 9 (around 12-14 years old) up to Year 13 (around 16-18 years old). Students generally work towards the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) when they begin level 1 in Year 11 and work through to level 3 in Year 13.

NCEA levels 1, 2 and 3 are on the first 3 levels of the New Zealand Qualifications Framework (NZQF). At each level of the NZQF, students pass by achieving a number of credits.

Coming to New Zealand for secondary school

More about the New Zealand Qualifications Framework

How NCEA works

University Entrance (UE) is the minimum requirement to go to a New Zealand university, and is awarded to students that have gained NCEA Level 3 and have met additional requirements.

University Entrance

For more information about the New Zealand education system, visit:

Types of schools and year levels – Ministry of Education

Education system – Study in NZ

Tertiary education

In New Zealand, tertiary education can be gained through:

  • universities
  • Te Pukenga – the New Zealand Institute of Skills and Technology
  • wānanga
  • private training establishments
  • workplace training
  • Government training establishments.

Different types of tertiary provider – Ministry of Education

Study New Zealand qualifications

The New Zealand Qualifications Framework

The New Zealand Qualifications Framework (NZQF) is a qualifications framework for all vocational and academic qualifications in New Zealand.

It has 10 levels, which are based on complexity – level 10 is the most complex. The NZQF is where to look for accurate and current information on all quality assured qualifications, from senior secondary school to doctoral degrees.

Understanding the NZQF

Check a New Zealand qualification

Recognition of qualifications from other countries

If you have completed qualifications in other countries and want to have them recognised in New Zealand, you can apply to NZQA for an assessment.

Getting overseas qualifications recognised by NZQA

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