Student Rights

Free legal help for students, parents & caregivers

Attendance requirements: When you have to be at school

Between what ages do I have to go to school?

Education Act 1989, ss 20, 25

You must be enrolled at and attend school from your sixth birthday until you turn 16.

However, a six-year-old doesn’t have to go to school if they’d have to walk more than three kilometres to the nearest school.

Exemptions from having to go to school

Education Act 1989, ss 9, 20(2), 21, 22

There are some exceptions to the rule that all children between six and 16 have to go to school:

  • Long walking distances (6-year-olds)A six-year-old doesn’t have to go to school if they’d have to walk more than three kilometres to the nearest school.
  • Home-schooling – The Ministry of Education can allow you to be taught at home by your parents if it’s satisfied you’ll be taught as well and as regularly as you would at school (see “Home-schooling”)
  • Special needs – A child who has special needs may have all their schooling provided by a specialist service
  • For more about students with disabilities, see “Special education”.Early leaving exemption (15-year-olds) – If you’ve turned 15, the Ministry of Education can allow you to leave school if it’s satisfied that because of educational or behavioural issues you’re not getting any benefit from staying in school.

Can I go to school part-time?

Education Act 1989, s 25

No. Between the ages of 6 and 16 you have to go to school regularly and full-time.

If you’re 16 or older, it may be possible to arrange with the school to go part-time – but this would be unusual.

Can students take days off for funerals or other good reasons?

Education Act 1989, s 27

Yes, but only with the principal’s permission. Principals can allow students to be away for up to five school days at any one time. Going on holiday usually won’t be an acceptable reason.

Can I take my child out of school for an overseas holiday?

Education Act 1989, s 25

If you’d like to take your child out of school for longer than five days, you should talk to the principal. If the principal gives their permission for a holiday during term time, you’re unlikely to run into any issues.

But while many principals will give their permission, they are not legally obligated to do so.

If you choose to take your child out of school anyway, this could technically be considered truancy. Even though it’s unlikely, you as a parent could be prosecuted (see “What can happen to me if I wag school?” below).

As long as you’ve let the principal know about the absence, your child can not be removed from the school roll.

What if parents want to teach their children themselves?

Education Act 1989, s 21

Parents can apply to the Ministry of Education (MOE) for an exemption to allow this, which is commonly known as “home-schooling” (see “Different types of schools”).


Do I have to be immunised to attend school?

Health (Immunisation) Regulations 1995, reg 12

No, students who haven’t been immunised cannot be prevented from enrolling at school. However, the Ministry of Health recommends that all children complete their immunisations on time, particularly before starting school. Diseases can spread very quickly in the classroom environment. Immunisation also protects other students and members of the community who are immunocompromised (this means that their body is unable to respond normally to infection due to a weakened immune system).

School Immunisation Register

Health (Immunisation) Regulations 1995

Before or soon after enrolling, all primary schools must ask a student’s parents for their immunisation certificate. Parents must provide the information. All primary schools must keep an immunisation register of all students, showing which diseases they have been immunised against and if they are fully immunised. If parents do not provide their child’s immunisation certificate, the school must keep note of this.

The school must keep the immunisation register confidential. However, if a student has contracted a serious infectious disease, the local Medical Officer of Health can look at the register without parental consent and contact parents of unimmunised students to offer immunisation.

What happens if a student contracts a vaccine-preventable disease?

Education Act 1989, s 19
Health (Infectious and Notifiable Diseases) Regulations 1966

The principal can make a student stay home to prevent the spread of disease (see “Being sent home on health grounds”).

Students suffering from particular infectious diseases (including chickenpox, meningitis and mumps) must be excluded from school for a specified period to allow them to get well.

Unimmunised students who have been exposed to particular infectious diseases (like measles, diphtheria and whooping cough) must also be excluded for a specified period.