Student Rights

Free legal help for students, parents & caregivers

Different types of schools

In New Zealand, there are three main types of schools:

Note: The rights and obligations of students in state and integrated schools are mainly contained in the Education Act 1989. The Private Schools Conditional Integration Act 1975 deals with how integrated schools fit into the state system.

Private schools aren’t covered by the same laws and regulations as state and integrated schools, and most of the information in this booklet doesn’t apply to private schools. A student’s rights at a private school are summarised below under “Private schools”.

State schools

Types of state schools

Education Act 1989, ss 2 (“State school” definition), 9, 155, 156

State schools are the primary schools, intermediate schools, secondary schools and composite (primary/secondary) schools that are funded by the government and overseen by the Ministry of Education.

State schools also include:

  • kura kaupapa Māori
  • “designated character” schools – a designated character school could be, for example, an Islamic school
  • special schools – schools established for students with disabilities.

Integrated (formerly private) schools

What are “integrated” schools?

Private Schools Conditional Integration Act 1975

Integrated schools are schools that used to be private but that have now been “integrated” into the state system.

They receive the same amount of government funding as state schools and have to teach the New Zealand Curriculum, but they’re allowed to keep their “special character”, which is usually a connection to a particular religion or church. It can be a condition of enrolling at an integrated school that the student and parents agree to the school’s special character.

Integrated schools can also charge a compulsory fee, called “attendance dues”. Integrated schools include, for example, Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Jewish, Islamic, Steiner and Montessori schools.

Private schools

What are a student’s rights at a private school?

Enrolment at a private school is governed by a private contract (an agreement) between the school and the student’s parents, rather than by the Education Act and the other laws and regulations that govern state and integrated schools. When they enrol, parents and students are making an agreement with the school: the parents will pay fees and the student will obey the school’s rules, and in return the school will provide the student with an education.

If there’s a dispute, including if the parents think the school has breached the contract, parents can use the court system. For small claims, parents can go to the Disputes Tribunal. It is a quicker, cheaper way of resolving disputes that sits outside of the formal court system. There are no lawyers or judges – instead a referee makes a decision.

Although they’re not covered by the Education Act, private schools must still follow all other New Zealand law. As well as standard contract law, this includes the Privacy Act 1993, the Human Rights Act 1993, and the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990.

What curriculum do they teach at private schools?

Education Act 1989, ss 35C, 35I(5), 35F

Private schools don’t have to teach the same curriculum as state schools. They can develop their own curriculum and their own assessment standards, although these are reviewed regularly by the Education Review Office (ERO). The teaching standards must be at least as good as in state schools.

ERO reviews each private school every three years. The review makes sure that the school has suitable premises, staffing and equipment, that it has a suitable curriculum and that the teaching is of a standard at least as good as in state schools.

If it offers national qualifications like NCEA, the school will have to meet the standards set by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA).

Disciplinary processes at private schools

If the student breaches the school rules, they’ll be dealt with under the school’s specific disciplinary processes. However, parents and students can also expect that the school will behave fairly and reasonably. Any disciplinary process must be legal. For example, a teacher can’t smack a child, because that is against the law.


What if I want to teach my child myself?

Education Act 1989, s 21

You do not have a right to home-school your child, but you can apply for a long-term exemption from enrolment. To do this, you’ll need to satisfy the Secretary of Education that your child will be taught as regularly and as well as they would be at school.

You’ll need to provide enough information to prove that you are meeting these requirements. For example, the Ministry will want to see weekly timetables or routines that show you can teach in a planned way. You don’t need to teach the New Zealand Curriculum, but you need a plan of what you’ll teach and how you’ll assess your child’s learning. The Ministry will want to make sure you’re confident and prepared

There are online support groups for home-schoolers that will help you to complete your application.

Note: Your child must attend school until you receive the exemption certificate. Otherwise they will be considered truant (see “Truancy: Wagging school”).

Options other than mainstream schooling

Enrolment in a special school

A special school provides specialist education or support for students with specific physical, behavioural, sensory or learning needs. This can include satellite classes and special units. Parents with children under the age of 21 years may enrol their child in special education at a particular state school, special school, special class or special clinic.

Te Kura: The Correspondence School

This is a distance learning school where students who have become disengaged from school can work from home. It is a registered school which follows the New Zealand Curriculum. Students have an assigned teacher that monitors them and assesses their work.

There are two types of enrolment. If your child is eligible as a full time eligible student, you will not have to pay fees and they will go on the roll. Your child may be eligible if they:

  • compete in art or sports at an international level, which makes school attendance difficult
  • live a long way from any school
  • lead an itinerant lifestyle (i.e. move location at least once per term)
  • are a young parent
  • are in the care of Child, Youth and Family or the Department of Corrections
  • have been excluded or expelled from school
  • have severe psychological or psycho-social needs.

These criteria are subject to change. To see if your child may be eligible, contact Te Kura on 0800 65 99 88.

Students can also be dual enrolled – this means they remain enrolled at their current school, but receive extra tuition through Te Kura. This is government-funded in certain situations, including if the student has high health or educational needs.

Any student can also pay to be dual enrolled at Te Kura.

Regional Health School

Regional Health Schools provide intensive support for students with high health needs (for example, chronic or psychiatric illness). See

High and Complex Needs Unit

A special unit is available to help students (usually aged between 6 and 14) who are a risk to themselves or others and who have complex and challenging needs that can’t be met by local services. The student must already by involved with more than one agency from the education or health sectors (including disability or mental health) or Child, Youth and Family. The unit brings these agencies together with the student and their family and whānau to develop a plan, and provides tools, resources and information. See

Alternative Education

Students aged 13–15 with behavioural difficulties, or who are alienated or disengaged from school, may be able to enrol in an Alternative Education programme or an Activity Centre.

Alternative Education programmes are funded by the Ministry of Education and are linked to a particular school. The Alternative Education student remains on the school roll, while being taught in small groups in a different setting. The school oversees the programme and is responsible for the student.

There are advantages to working with students in the existing school environment. These include students having access to all school resources, and experiencing smoother transitions back into mainstream schooling, if this is in the student’s best interests.

Activity Centres provide alternatives for students exhibiting “at risk” behaviour. They are places where students can have “time out” and then return to regular secondary schooling. They are also an alternative for those who aren’t coping with a regular school.