Alternatives to your local school

For some Kiwi families, sending their child to local school isn’t the best choice. Yvonne Walus investigates alternative education options and how to access them.

Most New Zealand state schools are zoned, meaning that children who reside within their enrolment zone are guaranteed a placement. This prevents overcrowding and ensures kids can attend a school nearby. If the local school doesn’t appeal, however, families have several other education options.


This one is straightforward: If a school doesn’t have an enrolment zone, anyone can enrol by following the school’s enrolment process. To find out whether a school has an enrolment zone, visit


If you prefer a zoned school outside your local zone, you can apply for an out-of-zone enrolment. Each school has specific procedures and criteria for accepting out-of-zone students, and spaces are often limited. The school must follow this order of priority to fill out-of-zone places:

1. Any applicant who is accepted for a special programme run by the school (for example, a Te Reo Māori immersion class).

2. Sibling of a current student at the school.

3. Sibling of a former student.

4. Child of a former student.

5. Child of an employee or a child of a member of the board of the school.

6. All other applicants.

If the board receives fewer applications than there are places, then all applicants will be enrolled. If there are more applicants than places, the school must hold a ballot (draw) to fill the places available. For example, if there are enough out-of-zone places to take all children from categories 1 to 3, but not enough for everyone in category 4, a ballot will decide which children in category 4 will be accepted.


State integrated schools are special character schools that maintain the school’s unique ethos that guides the education, usually specific religious or philosophical beliefs (such as Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Steiner, Montessori). These schools have the authority to prioritise enrolment for students who identify with the school’s character, and you will probably be asked to provide proof of your family’s alignment, such as a letter from your church. After accommodating all preferential enrolments, schools may admit a limited number of non-preference students.


Private schools have the right to choose their students based on their unique admission criteria and policies. In contrast to state schools, which are typically bound to accept all students residing in their designated catchment area, private schools have the privilege to exercise greater selectivity during the enrolment process.

Various factors may be considered by private schools during enrolment, such as academic performance, special talents, and special skills. The school will typically conduct interviews or assessments to assess the student’s suitability for their programmes and check whether they align with the school’s values and character. The school may ask for references or recommendations from previous teachers, community members or alumni.

Most private schools charge high fees, but they may also offer scholarships. If you’re interested in enrolling your child in a private school, it’s a good idea to research the specific school’s admission requirements and contact them for more information.


For students with high levels of need or disabilities, a specialist school or specialist satellite unit might be an option. There are specialist schools in main centres around the country, including some residential specialist schools where children may board. Accessing these schools typically requires input from various agencies including the Ministry of Education, and the application process can be challenging, as students typically need to receive Ongoing Resourcing Scheme (ORS) funding. Parents with children at specialist schools often say the experience is amazing for their child, but places are extremely limited. Get in touch with your local specialist school or satellite unit to find out what the process is. Some parents report needing to place their child on a waiting list, or reapply several times for ORS funding before it is granted.


Distance learning, also referred to as correspondence schooling, serves as an alternative education approach for kids who are unable to attend a conventional school for various reasons. This option proves particularly beneficial for those residing in remote areas, dealing with health issues, or seeking a more flexible learning environment.

New Zealand’s largest correspondence school is Te Kura. It offers a diverse range of courses catering to students at primary and secondary levels.

To enrol your child in Te Kura:

• Explore the courses on Te Kura’s official website (

• Get in touch with Te Kura’s enrolment advisors to discuss your child’s educational requirements and the desired courses.

• Complete and submit the enrolment forms.

Te Kura provides study materials, resources, and consistent communication with teachers through various online platforms, phone, or mail. This approach allows students to study at their own pace while receiving support from experienced educators.


Kiwi children between the ages of 6 and 16 years are legally required to enrol in and attend a registered school. However, parents or legal guardians have the option of taking on the responsibility of educating their children at home instead. To do this, they need to apply for approval from their local Ministry of Education office. The application must demonstrate to the Ministry that the child will receive education at least as regularly and effectively as they would in a registered school. They don’t have to follow the national curriculum, but they need to prove that the end outcome will be a child that is educated to Ministry requirements.

Homeschooling can be an enriching experience, but it requires dedication, planning, and a commitment to providing a well-rounded education. It’s beneficial to develop an individualised learning program based on the New Zealand Curriculum, keep records of the child’s progress, and participate in regular homeschooling reviews.

Popular homeschooling resources include:

Te Kete Ipurangi (TKI) is New Zealand’s bilingual education portal that provides curriculum resources and support materials for homeschooling. It offers educational guidelines, lesson plans, assessment tools, and other teaching resources aligned with the New Zealand Curriculum.

The New Zealand Curriculum is the official framework for education. It provides detailed information on the learning areas, essential skills, and values to be incorporated into homeschooling programs.

Local libraries host a wide range of books, educational materials, and online resources.

Homeschooling groups and networks facilitate support and collaboration among homeschooling families.

The Ministry of Education website provides additional guidelines on homeschooling.


Kura Kaupapa Maori is a Maori-language immersion school. The term “Kura Kaupapa Maori” translates to “Maori-language school” in English. These schools are specifically designed to provide education through the medium of the Maori language, with an emphasis on Maori culture, customs, and values. To enrol in a Kura Kaupapa Maori, you would typically follow a process similar to enrolling in any other school, however, as these schools generally cater to Maori students, there may be specific eligibility criteria.

The school might require proof of Maori heritage or evidence of a commitment to Maori language and culture.

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