Choosing a primary school is one of the most important decisions you’ll make for your child. The experience they have during these formative years will have a profound effect on their skills, attitude and abilities later in life. It’s not an exaggeration to say that in choosing a primary school you are, to some extent, choosing the person your child will become.

It is no wonder, then, that selecting a primary school is a decision fraught with anxiety for many parents. To make the decision easier, and to give yourself confidence in that decision, it is essential you take the time to research the schools that are available to you.


In New Zealand it is compulsory for children to follow a recognised course of education from the age of 6 through to the age of 16.

Primary schools provide education from Year 0, or “new entrant”, (age 5-6 years) to Year 6 (age 12 years). “Full” primary schools provide education for Years 0 to 8.

Schools in New Zealand are either state, state integrated, or private. State and state integrated schools are government funded. Private schools are funded primarily through tuition fees. Only about 5% of New Zealand children attend private schools.


Many schools in New Zealand operate a zoned enrollment system. A zone is a geographical area from which the school will accept students. Any child wishing to attend the school must live within this zone.

Zoned schools may accept students living outside their particular zone if the child’s sibling is a past or current student at the school, or if the child has been accepted into a special program administered by the school.

Alternatively, out of zone children may enter a ballot for unfilled places at the school.

Beginning the Quest

Before you begin the search for your child’s primary school, it is a good idea to take stock of both your child’s needs and strengths, and your own situation.

Your Child’s Needs

Ask yourself what your child enjoys, what he or she is good at, what their weaknesses and talents are. This is valuable information that will help you assess the suitability of each school you investigate.

Your Situation

Do you intend to move house before your child has finished primary school? Do you travel a long way to work? Would you prefer your child’s school to be closer to your place of employment, or to your home? Are you able to drive your child to school each day, or is it important that they be able to make their own way there?

The answers to these questions will help you determine the general location of potential primary schools for your child.

Assessing Potential Schools

Once you’ve made a shortlist of location-suitable primary schools you can begin the assessment process.

Word of Mouth

One of the best ways of getting a user’s perspective on a particular school is to speak to parents of children who go there. Word of mouth can reveal both a school’s strong points and its weaknesses. It is also a great way of getting a feel for the general attitude and quality of administration that prevails at the school.

School Visits

Make an appointment to visit the principal of the school. When making the appointment let the school know that you’d also like to tour the facilities, grounds and classrooms. If you make your appointment for a time when children are in class you’ll be able to observe the day to day running of the place and perhaps gauge the quality of the teaching and the level of happiness of the students. The look of a classroom can tell you a lot.

Important Questions

While visiting the school, or speaking to parents of students, ask as many questions as possible. Listed below are some of the more important areas to cover.

  • How big are the classes?
  • Are classes composite i.e. composed of students of different ages?
  • What is the policy on bullying and how is the problem handled? Is it prevalent at the school?
  • Is the school involved with the local community?
  • What subject areas does the school focus on? If your child has an interest in music, say, will the school foster this talent? If your child leans towards science, can the school cater for this?
  • Does the school set homework? If so, how much?
  • How does the school report to parents on a child’s progress?
  • Do they run an open door policy – how easy will it be for you to speak to your child’s teacher?
  • What extra-curricular activities will be available to your child?
  • Are there school plays or performances?
  • What are the school’s discipline procedures?
  • Why does the principal think his or her school is better than neighbouring schools?


All schools charge some sort of fee, but there can also be unexpected charges for certain courses, excursions or sporting activities. Make sure you know exactly what will be expected of you financially. It doesn’t hurt to check out how much you’ll need to spend on uniforms, books and stationery too.

Education Review Office Reports

The Education Review Office reviews schools every three years on average and provides comprehensive and easy to understand reports on its website: Make sure you read the report for each school you are considering – they provide essential information on the standard of the school’s administration and staff as well as the quality of learning experienced by its students.

A Confident Choice

It may be that no primary school is perfect in every way, but by thoroughly researching a shortlist of schools, comprehensive questioning and visits to the principal, facilities and classrooms, you’ll be confident that you’ve chosen the best primary school available to your child.

How to Choose a Primary School for Your Child, 3.8 out of 5 based on 4 ratings

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