As far as I'm aware children start out school life at Kindy (Kindergarten) where, amongst other things, they learn to knock nails into bits of wood whilst acquiring social skills, all under the watchful eyes of the Kindy educators, who tend to be degree-level qualified in early years education. As well as Kindy and other pre-school groups, pre-school children and their families can also enjoy Playcentre, which can be an excellent way for families new to New Zealand to meet other local families- or just somewhere to take the kids where they can make a lot of mess and noise in a fantastic environment! http://www.playcentre.org.nz/
Children start primary school in New Zealand from age 5. They can commence any day from their 5th birthday- there are no yearly or termly intakes, though some schools will often suggest dates that would be most suitable- but they must have commenced by the time they turn 6 unless an exemption has been granted by the Ministry of Education (MOE) for the child to be home schooled/educated. Home schooling/education is quite strong in New Zealand where families home school/educate for a wide variety of reasons and active local groups are widespread. Primary schools start from age 5 where children enter year 0 (or straight into year one depending on their birthday) and children usually finish at the end of Year 6, though if their school is a "full primary" it will include the intermediate years (7 and 8) and if it is an "area school" it will include all the years up to school leaving age (school years 0-13 inclusive). Full primaries are more common in rural areas and area schools tend to be found in only the most rural-remote locations. Children with special needs are often accommodated within the mainstream schooling system and there are also schools that are solely for students with special needs. For more information on how to access services and support for children with special needs in NZ, refer to the MOE site: http://www.minedu.govt.nz/NZEducation/EducationPolicies/SpecialEducation/ServicesAndSupport/HowSpecialEducationWorks.aspx
The New Zealand education system ranks very highly according to international surveys such as link PISA (which places it in the top ten for reading, science and maths) but foreign language teaching appears to be patchy.
Most schools in Auckland and other densely populated areas are zoned. You might find you have to pay a premium for a house in a good school zone.
Rural schools are still around in New Zealand, some with only one or two classes and one or two teachers but there are also rural bus services to most areas for children to travel to and from larger schools.
Schools are rated by a Decile number, 1-10. This rates the socio-economic status (SES) of the families of students attending and the subsequent levels of funding per students the school receives from the government (the lower the Decile of the school, the more funding per student), and is not an indicator of a poor performing or high achieving academic status school; Decile numbers are not comparable with UK OFSTED grades, for example. However, many expats tend to prefer schools with higher Decile scores as these schools draw students from higher SES backgrounds but Decile ratings should be considered a rough tool- much more useful are the inspection reports made by the Education Review Office (ERO), which can be accessed here: http://www.ero.govt.nz/Early-Childhood-School-Reports/School-Reports
There are no 'fees' for attending a state school but there are often "voluntary donations", which vary from <$50 per annum to > several hundred, usually depending on the Decile of the school (higher Decile schools receive less funding from the government and tend to make this shortfall in voluntary donations and fees). State-integrated schools can make charges for property maintenance and will usually also request voluntary donations too. They will give you a break down of these costs and they should be made clear in the school brochure too. Parents are expected to pay for stationary- which may need to be purchased direct from the school- and uniform if the school has one. Uniform is often purchased directly from the school and can be several hundred dollars per student per year. Many schools do not have a uniform and it is common for primary schools to just have compulsory fleece or polo and be more relaxed about pants/skirts etc. Where High schools insist on a uniform bought directly from the school it can be a considerable expense. State integrated schools are semi-private and there may be fees of around $1,000 a year to send your child there. Private school fees start at around $10,000 per annum.
There may also be a fee towards school trips or IT or home economics costs which could be around $100 a year, although some schools may include this in their compulsory payments list.
There may be discounts avaiable on the fees and payments for more than one child of the same family attending.
Enrolling your child is easy and most schools deal with this directly, not via the local authority education department. You can find out which school zones your house is in from the local Real Estate Agents. You can make an appointment to visit the schools, collect a starter pack from reception, have an interview with the headteacher and ask any questions. The enrollment forms are easy to fill out and usually your child can start the next day if they wish!
School uniforms, I think, are expensive. Although some schools will allow cheaper non-embroidered items, eg plain navy short-sleeved polo shirt, from more reasonably priced stores, a lot of schools don't and sell the required clothing themselves or insist on the recommended retailer, eg Postie Plus. Some schools have stocks of good quality second hand clothing which they either provide at no charge, or are selling on behalf of other parents and each item will be priced. There is no stigma apparent here in wearing second hand uniform.
A school kilt, ankle length, is the norm for girls over Primary age. This will cost around $180-$240. A school blazer, boys and girls, for senior school is around $220 upwards.
If you do not have a Work to Residency Visa or Permanent Residency status (visitors visa) you may have to pay International Student fees for Primary, Intermediate and definitely for Tertiary eduction, which can be very expensive.
The school day lasts from around 8.45 to 3.15 but this will vary slightly depending on the school.
The school year starts in February. There are 4 terms each year, two summer terms and two winter terms. At the end of each term the children have a two week break. Summer holidays start around mid-December and school re-starts at the beginning of February the following year.
The schools usually have heaps of after school and lunch time activities, mainly sports-based. School trips are educational and fun and the children here are encouraged to build their own personal skills and confidence along with their academic abilities.
Some high schools, as elsewhere in the world, so have problems with bullying, anti-social behaviour, drugs and alcohol related issues. You should check with the school what policies they have in place if you are at all concerned about such issues.