Does a private or public school suit your child

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Yvonne Walus takes a look at the private and public schooling options within Aotearoa.

In New Zealand, schools funded by the government are called state or public schools. Their buildings are usually owned by the Ministry of Education, and the curriculum is set by the government.

Private schools are called independent because they’re not government-controlled, and they have greater freedom regarding the curriculum, property decisions, feeds and enrolment.

There is also a third type: integrated schools, which are a hybrid of the two. Integrated schools teach the national curriculum and they operate like state schools. However, they maintain a special character (typically religious or philosophical), and they can restrict enrolment.


Theoretically, state schools are free. Nevertheless, most ask for an optional donation to supplement the government funding. These donations (on average several hundred dollars a year per family) contribute towards running the costs of the school, additional programmes, better education materials and sports equipment. Some state schools opt into a government scheme that secures them more funding in exchange for not soliciting donations.

Because their land and buildings are privately owned, integrated schools charge compulsory annual fees called “attendance dues”, that average one or two thousand dollars.

Private schools receive very little government funding, so they rely on school fees and fund-raising events. This makes them much more expensive than state schools, with annual school fees in excess of $10,000 per child.


Teachers in all schools must register with the Teaching Council of Aotearoa New Zealand to prove they are qualified, competent and fit for teaching. They also need a current practising certificate to show satisfactory recent teaching experience. Deborah James, Executive Directory of Independent Schools of New Zealand, corrects the myth that private schools are different: many years ago, private schools were able to employ teachers with qualifications not necessarily recognised but he Teaching Council, but it is no longer the case.


Education at state schools and integrated schools is based on the New Zealand Curriculum. Private schools do not have to adhere to the national curriculum, but they must use a curriculum that is at least as good.

In all three types of schools, the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) is the main national qualification for secondary school students. Some schools also offer Cambridge International Exams, International Baccalaureate or Accelerated Christian Education programme.


Many state schools are “zoned” — this means they guarantee placement for all children living within the school’s geographic area. Children outside the zone get considered only one all the in-zone children are enrolled. If a state school doesn’t have a zone, anyone can apply to go there.

Because of their special character, most integrated schools aren’t zones. Preference for enrolment may be given to students whose parents best represent the school’s philosophical or religious attribute.

Private schools aren’t zoned. They select their students through entry interviews and tests. Their waiting lists are long so it’s a good idea to apply early, but be aware that the application fees are non-refundable.


The OECD found that the students attending private schools in New Zealand significantly outperform those in state schools. However, after accounting for demographics, this difference disappears almost completely, because private and integrated schools have a more advantaged student population that tends to perform better academically. A study let by the University of York found that the single most powerful predictor of how well the child will achieve at school is the parents’ socioeconomic status, followed by the child’s DNA.

When it comes to sports, three out of the five top achieving schools in the country are public schools. “Every school has got its particular strengths or the sports that is does better at,” says College Sport Wellington executive directory Bryan Dickinson. Private schools often have better facilities and equipment, and this leads to better results, but students may also experience pressure to achieve.

In addition, social and emotional education may be just as important as academic or sports accolades. Smaller schools offer more leadership opportunities and a better chance to be in the top team. Local schools give children the sense of community. Private schools open future networking opportunities. At the end of the day, most children will flourish independently of — not because of — the school they attend.

ERO’s Reports

Before you choose a school, you may like to read the Education Review Office’s reports to see how well the school is meeting its objectives.

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The School Self-Care Checklist

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