01.03.08. Education system overview | New Zealand

01.03.08. Education system overview | New Zealand

14 Sep 2022

New Zealand’s education system (Ministry of Education, n.d.) has 3 levels:

  • Early childhood education — from birth to school entry age

Early Childhood Education (ECE) isn’t compulsory but 96.8% of children attend ECE. The government subsidises all children who attend ECE for up to 6 hours a day (to a maximum of 30 hours per week).

  • Primary and secondary education — from 5 to 19 years of age 

Education is free between the ages of 5 and 19 at state schools (schools that are government owned and funded) if they’re a New Zealand citizen or a permanent resident. Schooling is compulsory from age 6-16. The education system for schools is made up of 13 Year levels. Primary education starts at Year 1 and goes to Year 8 (around 5-12 years of age). Secondary education goes from Year 9 to Year 13 (around 13-17 years of age).

  • Further education— higher and vocational education.

Trades academies teach trades and technology programmes to students in Years 11-13 (ages 15-18). They are run through schools and other providers.

Industry training organisations (ITOs) represent particular industries (for example, agriculture, building and construction, motor trade) and offer training and qualifications for those sectors.

Institutes of technology and polytechnics teach professional and vocational education and training from introductory studies to degrees.

New Zealand has 8 state funded universities. Each university offers degrees in a large choice of subjects and has strengths in specialised professional degrees.


Adult literacy in New Zealand was measured in 2006 using the Adult Literacy and Life Skills survey to assess basic proficiency levels across different domains. Prose literacy is defined as the ability to read and understand continuous text such as news articles and instruction manuals. Document literacy is the ability to read and understand discontinuous texts such as maps, job applications, and timetables. Numeracy is the ability to read and process mathematical/numerical information in diverse situations. Level 3 approximates the skill level required for successful secondary school completion and is considered the “suitable mimimum level for coping with the demands of everyday life and work in a complex, advanced society” (Ministry of Social Development, 2016).

Table 20 outlines the proportion of individuals achieving level 3 proficiency or above by age and gender. The results show just over half of the population achieve level 3 in each of the 3 categories. Table 21 shows the differences between ethnicities, with the proportion of Māori and Pacific people achieving level 3 literacy in each of the domains almost half that of Europeans. Pacific people perform particularly poorly in numeracy, with only 14% achieving at a level 3 standard or above.

Table 20: Adult literacy by age and gender 2006

Prose Document Numeracy
Age Female Male Female Male Female Male
16-24 49 44 54 49 40 45
25-34 59 56 60 61 49 57
35-44 63 56 61 62 52 60
45-54 63 61 57 62 45 58
55-65 51 52 43 53 34 51
Total 57 54 56 58 45 54


Table 21: adult literacy by ethnicity 2006

Prose Document Numeracy
European 64 64 56
Maori 37 36 25
Pacific 21 24 14
Asian 34 43 39
Total 56 57 49



Ministry of Education. (n.d.). Education in New Zealand. Available from: https://www.education.govt.nz/our-work/our-role-and-our-people/education-in-nz/.

Ministry of Social Development. The Social Report 2016 – Te pūrongo oranga tangata. Wellington Ministry of Social Development 2016.