Choosing the right school for your child

choosing the right school for your child

Choosing a school for your child is a big responsibility. It pays to ask lots of questions and think long-term when deciding whether a school is the right fit for your child.


Even with the zoning law in place, many households are zoned for multiple schools. Some state schools are un-zoned, while others may accept a percentage of students out of zone. (Check out

private schools

Independent (private) schools are funded with fees paid by parents and supplemented by government grants. They are entirely self-managed, often paying higher teacher salaries and following a different curriculum.

Mark Harrison, an education expert, defines the ‘private school advantage’ in terms of better teaching, policies, school organisation and educational practice. Private schools in New Zealand often reach higher levels of student achievement, however, “their students typically come from households where learning is a high priority, with their own culture of achievement enhanced by the school’s drive to provide quality education in return for tuition fees.”

With the fees $5,000-$15,000, plus uniforms, laptops, etc, what do you get for your money? The schools offer stricter discipline, religious values, better facilities, state-of-the-art equipment and extra-curricular activities. Some parents also feel their children will be part of a network that will make them better connections for the future, from a career perspective.

On the cautionary side, the private school’s drive to perform may be stressful and your child might not learn to work independently without a proverbial rod over their head. They also might not be exposed to cultural and social diversity, particularly if placed in a single-sex school.

alternative schools

Steiner Schools teach respect for nature and for human existence, where learning is more of a teacher-led discovery than a mere acquisition of information.

Montessori Education believes in following the child, allowing the child to choose what they want to learn.

Some parents elect to home-school. Extensive help and resources are available form the Ministry of Education.

how do we choose?

Your decision will be based on your family’s values. Is it more important for children to have a fun and creative or a serious learning environment? Do you believe in big school reputation and advantage, or small school loyalty and familiarity? How vital are extra-curricular activities? Religious instruction? Sports equipment?

a less obvious issue is logistics:

  • How close is the school?
  • Can the children walk or cycle there safely?
  • If the school is far away, how much time will you spend commuting?
  • Is before- and after-school care provided?
  • Does the school have a uniform?
  • How much are donations and fees?

List your education priorities, taking into account your child’s talents and needs. What are your “must haves” and what’s “nice to have“?

the shortlist

Once you’ve written the shortlist, it pays to:

  • Read all the ERO reports (
  • Talk to pupils, ex-pupils and their parents.
  • Get a feel for the school’s personality. Arrange a classroom tour, attend an assembly or a PTA meeting, observe the children in the playground.

The Ministry of Education advises parents to contact the school directly before making a decision: “Ask for an information pack about the school once you get in touch with them. If you want to discuss any queries or uncertainties you have about the school, make an appointment with the Principal.”

ask the principal about:

  • The school’s values.
  • Class sizes.
  • Staff turnover.
  • The school’s strengths.
  • Dealing with underachievers and gifted children.
  • Behaviour policies. Every school will have anti-bullying procedures in place, but is there a bullying problem?

intermediate schools

Weigh up the subject choices available. The subjects should suit your child’s interests and potential. Think in terms of credits for university entrance. A wide choice is usually less limiting.

The purpose of the intermediate school is to prepare your child for college. Does the school have a timetable and a different room for every subject?

Your intermediate school almost always determines which college you choose. After two years of making new friends at the intermediate level, your child will be reluctant to attend a school out of area where they know nobody, while all their friends are at the college next door.


College is a big step, where children go from being the ‘big kids’ in their primary or intermediate school to being the youngest in a much bigger school.

Consider the type of examinations the college offers: NCEA, Cambridge, International Baccalaureate (IB). Each type offers its unique advantages: academic children who love exams thrive on IB, for example, while NCEA caters for more holistic children and hands-on subjects.

The ERO website suggests asking the school the following questions:

  • What is special about this school?
  • What values and social skills do students learn?
  • What homework is expected?
  • How does the school communicate with parents?
  • How does the school keep students safe?
  • What fees or donations does the school ask for?
  • How does the school advise students about careers?
  • How do students get involved in sports teams, music groups or plays?

what makes a good school?

In a word: vibe. Consider the atmosphere of the school, how it makes you feel the minute you walk in and whether their philosophies are what you have in mind for your child’s education.

Some children will do well wherever they are. Others might be discouraged by a teacher whose approach is incompatible, or a group of friends with different priorities. Ultimately though, children learn best at a school where they are happy.

higher and lower deciles

The Ministry of Education emphasises that the decile rating of a school does not measure of the standard of education delivered. A school’s decile indicates the extent to which the school draws its students from low socio-economic communities; and the lower a school’s decile rating, the more government funding it receives.

national standards

In future, it may become possible (and tempting) to choose a school based on its national standards performance. But even once the moderation issue has been sorted out (so that each level of achievement at any one school means the same thing as that level of achievement at every other school in the country), the average achievement level per age for any given year only gives parents a static picture. What really matters is whether achievement levels improve over time. That is the ‘added value’ the school is providing, i.e., the effect of the quality of teaching. learning environments that cover all areas of play. One Educator cares for up to four preschool children not attending school, with no more than two children under 2-years at any one time.

early childhood centres

These are generally drop-off centres which cater to a wide variety of parents’ needs. Some cater for working parents who need their babies and children in full-time care. Others have more casual hours where your child doesn’t need to commit to going daily. Every childcare centre in the country is reviewed by the Education Review Office approximately every three years. Check past reviews online at This will give you a good idea of a centre’s strengths and weaknesses. Remember, most centres do have waiting lists so it pays to begin looking well in advance.

Barnados early learning centres

What is the Barnardos philosophy?
In our early learning centres, children enjoy learning and growing in a safe, caring and educational environment. Our centres have high ratios of trained teachers to children, and learning programmes developed in line with Te Whãriki, the early childhood curriculum. We focus on extending each child’s interests and abilities, and our daily programmes are tailored to each child’s needs. During the day, children are involved in group activities, free play and restful times, and each centre has indoor and outdoor areas to encourage play and exploration.

How do staff guide children’s behaviour and manage conflict between children?

Our early learning centres have a policy of positive guidance for children. Our staff know and understand child development, and promote positive behaviour appropriate to the child’s age, skills and understanding. We guide their behaviour through praise and encouragement, using the six SKIP principles: love and warmth; talking and listening; guidance and understanding; limits and boundaries; consistency and consequences; a structured and secure world. Throughout each day, our teachers support children to learn to socialise and help them recognise which behaviours enable them to be accepted by their peer group

Lollipops educare centres

How would you describe the Lollipops philosophy?

Lollipops Educare Centres have their own uniquely developed philosophies. The philosophies are developed by the educators in consultation with the families and community of the centre. In some centres, individual rooms also develop a philosophy with the support of the families and the children. This is an empowering process for everybody involved.

How do staff guide children’s behaviour and manage conflict between children?

At Lollipops, we use a strengths-based approach to learning and developing children’s social competencies. Educators take time to establish safe environments and talk to children about ways to build and establish relationships, modelling kindness and friendship alongside children.


Playcentres are licensed early childhood education centres that are run by parents and implements Te Whãriki, the early childhood curriculum. To support this, Playcentre runs a free NZQA-approved parent education and training programme that covers aspects many of early childhood education, practical play workshops, and management.

What is the Playcentre philosophy?

The philosophy is that parents are a child’s first and best educators. Parents learn skills for parenting and employment through the opportunity to share in running every aspect of the organisation, as well as having the support and company of other families, many of whom become friends for life. Children learn alongside caring adults whom they know well. Playcentre gets great results through trained and involved parents/whanau, great ratios of adults to children (minimum 1:5), strong links between home and centre, and a rich and stimulating play environment.

Do you have a flexible or structured  daily schedule?

Playcentre believes play is vitally important to children, and especially child-led play, where children choose what to do and for how long, so that their passions are encouraged, and many connections in their brains are made and stimulated. At Playcentre, children can complete their work to their own satisfaction, instead of having to follow a strict timetable, as is often the case at home and in society generally.

20 Hours ECE

For those of you who’d heard about changes to the 20 Hours ECE policy last year but weren’t sure what they meant for you, we can confirm that the Government has retained and expanded the policy so that all Playcentres and kõhanga reo have become eligible to offer 20 Hours ECE. And for those of you with 5-year-olds who still attend preschool, they are also now eligible for the free hours.

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