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High Schools
in New Zealand

Secondary Schools in New Zealand are divided into two groups: public and private. The public are free for permanent residents, but paid for all others such as international students. There are no major differences in the academic curriculum between public to private schools, and they are more differentiated in relation to their philosophy and religion. Both private and public schools in offer excellent quality of learning. Any resident under 16 years in New Zealand is required by law to attend one of 440 public schools available throughout the country. Many private schools offer religious classes and they can be mixed or just for girls or boys. The government provides free education for residents until the end of high school or 19 years but some students are allowed to leave school after 16 years when no longer is compulsory.

The school hours in New Zealand are usually from 9 am to 3 pm, with two intervals of approximately 30 minutes each, one at 10 am and another at 1 pm. In the secondary schools in general classes are over half an hour after the primary (the system is done to give a little more time for small kids to leave their classes quietly). New Zealand school year usually begins in late January or early February, after an extended summer break of approximately six weeks, and ends in the beginning of December. During the school year, there are four short breaks of two weeks each. These break periods are called terms. At the end of each term, the holiday time or the period for kids happiness and the agony of the parents....

The school terms are :

  • End of January or early February to early April.

  • End of April to late June.

  • Mid-July to late September

  • Mid-October to mid-December (or early December for Secondary schools).

All secondary school students can choose subjects but must include English, Maths and few other subjects such as physical education, sciences etc that may be optional. From Year 11, students begin to focus their studies in a a number of qualifications. The NCEA level 1 has been replaced by School Certificate in 2001. At this level, all students must meet minimum standards in English or Maori and mathematics. The rest of the subjects depends on the school and student, but most students attend five or six subjects. From year 11, students will begin to do deeply studies including more research work, already preparing for assignments they will do in universities. Assignments are done by individuals or in groups and they are an important part to provide students assessment in the end of the year..

In the Year 12 (16/17 years) most schools offer a combination of old and new skills: The NCEA Level 2 and / or Certificate of School Year before last. Most schools will include a wide variety of non-traditional subjects at this level, and starting to prepare the student to be able to continue in the tertiary studies. Students are allowed to choose what they want to study according to their plans and skills.

The year 13  (it is the last one), the student wanting to study other languages ​​and sciences at this level should have studied these subjects before in year 11 and 12. The NCEA Level 3 will replace the university entrance examination, so this last year is fundamental for those who want to enter in a university. Access to university is straightforward, but the student must have minimum grades during the last years to be allowed to entry. These notes are grades are the average of the last three years, and who did well will have more chances to choose the desired university and course. If the student wants to enter in a polytechnic ( vocational course), the process is also straightforward and without the need for high grades.


New Zealand accepts international students in public and private secondary schools, but the tuition is not free. The majority of students coming from overseas are in the range from 16 to 18 years. The last two years of high school, the tuition is more focus on the students preparation to entry in universities.

Note: It is important to remember that to validate a high school diploma from NZ in your country is recommended to select subjects compatible with the tuition model followed by your school at home. Many schools in NZ offer a choice of different levels of difficulty for subjects such as English and Maths in the same year, and that it would fit the level for any student,so usually students do not repeat the year. During the year they are assessed and they just go to a lower level to adjust to their aptitudes.

All students in secondary schools, public or private must wear a school uniform. For international students the school will be responsible for the student during the time that you are studying, including finding a family for Homestay, with all food  included. It is an excellent opportunity for the youth to learn about another culture while studying and touring the country. 

Note from the author: having two sons who have studied in public schools in  New Zealand, I can attest that they are really good but of course they have a different focus from my home country and another educational system. If you are reading this text and you are a parent of a young kid who wants to study in New Zealand, you can be sure about the quality of education and the safety of your child there. It is a worthwhile experience not only in terms of study and improving the English skills but also for the development of the person and life skills.
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