17 December 2019

Secondary schooling in New Zealand

Susan Elijas
Teacher

New Zealand is fast becoming a major destination for international students looking to experience something a little different during their high school years.

Currently, there are around 17,000 international students from over 50 different countries studying at New Zealand secondary schools, drawn by the high-quality education and New Zealand’s laid-back lifestyle.

We asked Susan Elijas, a secondary school teacher at Avondale College in Auckland, what international students could expect from studying in New Zealand.

The Kiwi learning style

According to Susan, the teaching style in New Zealand secondary schools is all about collaboration between the teachers and the students. And while the school year used to build up to a big, end-of-year exam, that’s not the case anymore.

“Students spend a lot of time working with their teachers to achieve the academic results they’re after. Classrooms are probably more informal than you’d find in other countries, and there’s a lot of one-on-one teaching.

“Part of the reason for that is the way we assess students. A couple of decades ago, we moved away from the big exam at the end of the year, and now there’s a lot more emphasis on internal assessment and individual assignments. It doesn’t all hinge on one exam at the end of the year.

A high performing education system

Susan says the New Zealand education system is highly regarded internationally, and a qualification from a New Zealand secondary school positions you well for future study and work.

“In fact, we’re the number one English-speaking country when it comes to preparing students for the future.

“Whether you study for the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (often referred to as NCEA), the Cambridge Assessment International Education programme or the International Baccalaureate programme, you’re going to be set up well for the future.”

International students fit right in

New Zealand secondary schools put a lot of effort into helping international students feel at home, and Susan says she loves having international students in her classes.

“They bring a real diversity and the Kiwi students love talking to them, finding out where they’re from, and what they think about things. It’s a really enriching environment for us, and for the students as well.

“New Zealand is a really diverse country that’s home to people originally from different places around the world.

Sometimes it can take international students a few months to find their feet but there are well-established programmes to help them get used to the new environment.

“There’s a lot of support for students who need extra help with their English – many schools will run dedicated ESOL classes (English for Speakers of Other Languages). And there will often be guidance counsellors or a department for international students where you can go if you’re feeling lonely or just need a chat if you’re having any problems.”

Study applications

New Zealand accepts international students of all ages but Susan points out that there can be age restrictions on some courses, so it pays to do your homework before you apply.

“But if you’re keen to study here, it’s really easy to apply. Just head to the Study in New Zealand website, and that’ll get you set up in no time!”

Quick facts about secondary school in New Zealand

  1. The New Zealand school year starts in February.
  2. There are four terms with two weeks of holiday in between, and a six week holiday at the end of the year.
  3. Most students generally go to school from 9am to 3pm, Monday to Friday.
  4. At most schools in New Zealand students wear uniforms.
  5. Single-sex schools are common.
  6. Students generally bring a packed lunch to school, although most schools will have a canteen that sells food and snacks.

Want to know more about studying at a New Zealand school? Check out our video playlist of students answering some of our most frequently asked questions.

Footnote: The Worldwide Educating for the Future Index, by the Economist Intelligence Unit, ranks New Zealand among the best 3 countries in the world – and the best English-speaking country – for preparing students for the future.

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About the contributors
Susan Elijas
Teacher

Susan Elijas is a secondary school teacher at Avondale College in Auckland.