School Enrolment and School Zones

School Enrolment and School Zones

Enrolling your child in school is not always simple, there are school enrolment and school zones issues to consider. Learn more in our Enrolment and Zoning article.

It would be wonderful to believe that because all New Zealand children between the age of 5 and 19 years are entitled to free education, we parents could send them to whichever school we deemed best for them.

Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple and this is because the Education Act 1989 requires some schools to put in place enrolment schemes.

The idea for this came about from the government changes in the 1990s known as ‘Tomorrow’s Schools’. The Tomorrow’s Schools review currently underway looks set to keep this system in place.

Enrolment schemes that specify home zones and ballot processes apply to state schools only. For State Integrated, Kura Kaupapa Maori or Designated Character Schools the rules are different. These schools may operate enrolment schemes but need not include a home zone or provide for a ballot. (Further information down page).

School Enrolment and School Zones

What is an enrolment scheme?

An enrolment scheme is a means of limiting a school’s roll to prevent overcrowding. It also enables the Ministry of Education to make best use of the current classrooms at schools in the surrounding area.

Legally an enrolment scheme should:

  • as far as possible exclude no more students than necessary to avoid overcrowding;
  • enable the Ministry to make best use of the existing network of State schools;
  • ensure that the selection of students for enrolment at the school is carried out in a fair and transparent manner;
  • enable students to attend a reasonably convenient school;
  • as far as possible, not exclude local students.

Each school’s Board of Trustees is responsible for the details of the enrolment scheme, but the Ministry of Education has to agree that a scheme is necessary and approves the content of the scheme.

What about a school with no enrolment scheme?

Enrolment schemes are not compulsory for schools to put in place.  It may be the case therefore that the school you approach doesn’t have one.  This will be the case if the schools’ roll is not full and there is no need for it to restrict the number of children enrolling there.

If the school you wish to enrol your child/children at does not have an enrolment scheme then there is no reason for them not to enrol your child/children.  If this happens you need to contact the Ministry of Education.

If a school has cause to put an enrolment scheme in place after you have enrolled your child/children there will be no effect on their enrolment.  This is even the case if you find you are living outside of the new ‘home zone’.  Once your child is enrolled in a school their position is secure.

What is school zoning?

Each enrolment scheme must contain a home zone with clearly defined boundaries and this is where the terms ‘zoning’ and ‘zoned’ come from.

Students who live in the home zone of a particular school have an absolute right to enrol at that school.

How is ‘living in the home zone’ defined?

To be deemed as “living in the home zone” means that the residential address you use and your usual place of residence must be within the school’s home zone. You will be required to provide this information and declare that it is true when you enrol your child.

If the school finds that you have given false information, the school may cancel your child’s enrolment.

If you currently live at an in-zone address but move to an out-of-zone address before your child’s first day of attendance at the school, your child will not be entitled to enrol at the school.

You can check with your intended school regarding their zone, and whether your home address is in-zone for this school.

there are school enrolment and school zones issues to consider. Learn more in our Enrolment and Zoning article.

Alternatively the TKI website will show you an interactive view of all schools and school home zones.

What if I live outside the home zone?

If you find you live outside the home zone of a school you’d like your child to attend, then you are entitled to apply for enrolment.

Students who apply to attend a school on enrolment scheme grounds must be accepted in the following order of priority:

  1. students accepted for enrolment in a special programme run by the school;
  2. brothers and sisters of current students
  3. brothers and sisters of former students
  4. children of board employees
  5. all other students.

If there are more applicants in priority groups (2)-(5) than there are places available, selection within the priority group must be by ballot.

What if I want to apply for my child to attend a school?

Where a school does have an enrolment scheme in place the school’s Board of Trustees must place a notice in a newspaper circulating in the area every year.

This notice must state:

  • how many out-of-zone places are likely to be available;
  • the date by which applications for out-of-zone places must be received;
  • the date(s) of any ballot(s) for out-of-zone places.

If the Board receives fewer out-of-zone applications than there are places available, then there is no need for a ballot to be held and all applicants will be enrolled.

What is a school zone ballot and how does it happen?

If it is the case that the number of students applying for enrolment is larger that the number of places available for out-of-zone students, then selection of those who get to enrol will be made by ballot.

The ballot involves the literal ‘pulling out of a hat’ of applicant names sufficient to fill the places available.

All ballots will be supervised by a Justice of the Peace (or, as appropriate, a practising lawyer or a sworn member of the Police or a local government returning officer).

Within three school days of the ballot taking place, the school is required to post letters informing applicants of the outcome of the ballot. Successful applicants then have 14 days to confirm their acceptance or rejection of the offered place. If they do not respond within that period, the place will be offered to the first person on the waiting list established by the ballot.

Some primary schools with enrolment schemes will advertise more than one ballot each year (perhaps one each term) for five year olds who are starting school.

What if I’m new to the area?

If you move to a new area and are within the home zone defined within the school’s enrolment scheme, then the school must enrol your child.

If you want to enrol your child in a school where you don’t live in-zone, then you will have to wait until the school next organises a ballot before your application for enrolment can be considered.

You can phone the school and ask when this is likely to be. You should ask at the same time whether or not there is a waiting list operating at the school and if you are able to place you child’s name on it.

What can I do if a school tells me it’s full and can’t enrol my child?

There are a couple of things you should check in this instance.

First of all ask whether the school has an enrolment scheme. If it does not, the school should not be excluding your child. If this is the case and you are still told your child cannot be enrolled, then contact your nearest Ministry of Education office for advice.

If the school does have an enrolment scheme, check to see whether you live in the home zone. You can ask for a copy of the scheme at the school or check the home zones online at If you don’t live in the school’s home zone, then there will be another school whose home zone you do live within. You will be able to enrol your child there until you are able to apply to have him or her enrolled at the first school of your choice.

If you live out of the home zone of the school you have chosen and your child is unsuccessful in the ballot, you may still feel there are good reasons why a school with an enrolment scheme should enrol your child. The Ministry of Education is prepared to listen to your case and discuss with you the special circumstances involved.

A word of warning

Enrolment schemes and zoning in particular have been controversial.

There are critics who believe these schemes deprive parents and children of the right to choose where they attend school. There have also been those who flout the rules in order to send their child to the school of their choice.

You need to be aware of the possible consequences of deliberately attempting to gain unfair priority in enrolment. Parents have been known to give a false address or make an in-zone living arrangement for their child that they intend to be only temporary.

This includes taking these measures:

  • renting accommodation in-zone on a short-term basis;
  • arranging temporary board in-zone with a relative or family friend;
  • using the in-zone address of a relative or friend as an “address of convenience”, with no intention to live there on an ongoing basis.

If the Board of a school has cause to believe this has occurred, they may withdraw any offer of enrolment if it was made on the basis of the given address.

Similarly, if the Board of Trustees learns that a student no longer lives within the zone once school has begun, and if they have reason to believe that the address given was a temporary measure in order to gain enrolment, then the Board may review the student’s right to attend the school.

If the Board of Trustees reviews the enrolment of their child, then parents have the right to provide the school with a satisfactory explanation within 10 days of notice .

How are things different at a State Integrated School, a Kura Kaupapa Maori or a Designated Character School?

These schools have the authority to operate enrolment schemes if it seems the number of enrolments may exceed the number of places available to students. As mentioned earlier these schools’ enrolment schemes need not include a home zone or provide for a ballot.

The enrolment schemes of these schools may be based on the following:

State Integrated Schools

Every integrated school has a maximum roll which it is not allowed to exceed. They must first cater for students who meet the school’s special character requirements. If there are vacant positions, the school is able to enrol a set small number of students who do not meet the special character requirements.

Kura Kaupapa Maori schools

Kura Kaupapa Maori is able to restrict enrolments to the children of parents who accept the Kura’s aims, purposes and objectives.

Designated Character Schools

These schools are able to restrict enrolments to the children of parents who accept the school’s aims, purposes and objectives.

Now that you know more about school enrolment and school zones, you might want to check out more expert advice in our Education section.

Kylie Valentine

Kylie Valentine is a qualified secondary school teacher, trained journalist, and the mum of two fabulous children.

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