Getting the Kids to School

Getting the Kids to School

If you have school going aged children, then you won’t want to miss our escapades and adventures, if you are otherwise lucky enough to only have to consider your own needs, then this blog post won’t be of any use to you,  so skip ahead to the next one.

Tony Blair, a previous UK Prime Minister said his three priorities were ‘Education, Education, Education’. No matter where in the world you go, you will need to look at the educational system, unless you intend to home school your children. Information about the schools and catchments is available from each individual school or in New Zealand from the main education website Ministry of Education.

The New Zealand school system starts at Kindergarten, often referred to as ‘Kindie’ between the ages of 2 -5. Children will then move onto primary school between the ages of 5-13 and high school between the ages of 14 -16. Many children go on to college or university thereafter. Some schools in New Zealand have adopted a middle school system. Their intake covers a smaller age range, covering the transition from primary school and high school and typically have children aged 12 and 13 years old who will spend two years in the middle school system before entering the high school system.

I have to admit that when I was trying to work out which year group my child would fit into, I struggled to understand the year groups and age related class as to where she would fit in coming from the UK system. But, in reality, it is quite simple as you can see below on the table of the equivalent year groups that your child would enter when they entered the New Zealand educational system.

UKNew Zealand Equivalent
ReceptionYear 1
Year 1Year 2
Year 2Year 3
Year 3Year 4
Year 4Year 5
Year 5Year 6
Year 6Year 7
Year 7Year 8
Year 8Year 9
Year 9Year 10
Year 10Year 11
Year 11Year 12
Year 12Year 13

You should also take into account that the school year in New Zealand typically starts from February through to December so you will have to work this accordingly into your schedule. There are four terms in the year and no half terms. The main summer holiday runs from mid-December until early February. The school days vary between schools, but generally they run from 9-3 pm.

We arrived in September 2010; my daughter had just finished Year 7 in the UK and had just turned 13 years old. There followed a term of limbo as she was not ready for high school in New Zealand and would have to return to a primary or middle school for one term – again we had not quite timed this right at all. The options were for her to attend a middle school for her final term or she could attend a primary school that catered for children up to 14 years old before transferring to high school.

Having done my due diligence of the best schools, scoured the equivalent of league tables, I opted for a middle school for the term. Therein lays the tale of disaster and not listening to a head strong 13 year old that you have dragged half way across the world.

Intermediate Normal School, was situated in the city centre and catered for girls and boys aged 12-13 years old and was one of the most highly sort after schools in the area. Yes, it had ‘Normal school’ in the title. Google it if you don’t believe me. Many schools in New Zealand are called ‘Normal’ school, there was ‘Central Normal School’, ‘Central College Normal’ and of course ‘Intermediate Normal School’. In this day of political correctness, I’m not sure why the schools continue to use the word ‘normal’ in their title ?

Anyway, I collected the application forms for the Intermediate Normal School (more forms  – groan). Again we fell into catchment area issues as when we were applying for this school, we were still living with my parents who were in the required zone. I had to therefore, obtain the signature of a Commissioner of Oath and had to swear under oath that I would remain in the catchment area of the school once we moved into our own house. We completed all this formal rigmarole and jumped the hoops to get her into this highly sort after normal middle school. So if you think that you are leaving behind the regulations of the UK, you may need to stop and think again

I then forked out a fortune in school uniform. School uniforms in New Zealand are astronomically priced and there are limited suppliers so there is little competition driving the prices higher. Make sure that you set aside a budget for the cost of uniform and not just a couple of dollars either as the uniforms will set you back several hundred dollars. As she was only going to be attending for one term, this really ate into the budget especially as I would need to outlay this expense again in a terms time for her high school uniform.

There are no formal school fees to pay in order to attend school in New Zealand but you will be expected to pay a ‘donation’. You may be forgiven if you thought that a donation means that you decide if you wish to donate because you will be wrong. Donation here means that it is due and payable but it can’t be called a school fee as there are no school fees in New Zealand. Confused? Yes, so was I but you will do well by remembering that is not a voluntary donation but an expected donation, so does that mean that it is not really a donation after all?

Additionally, you will need to purchase all exercise books for your child to write in. Each school will provide you with the list of sizes of books they will need and the number of books required for the term or year. Schools do not supply any exercise books and this will be your responsibility and will set you back some dollars at the start of each school term.

So armed for her first day at Intermediate Normal, all dressed and kitted correctly, all paperwork in order, donations at the ready, I transported her to the school. It was to be the first and last day of transporting as she came out at the end of the day and declared that she would not be returning. I guess the school wasn’t ‘normal’ enough for her. I saw no reason to make her settle into a school where she didn’t feel happy, and should have listened when she told me initially that she didn’t want to go to a school with normal in its name following our initial visit. We were back to square one on the education front.

So, I placed the uniforms on the website, Trade Me (great site for selling and buying items in New Zealand, as well as a lot of other useful information) and recouped some of our losses. I made arrangements for her to go to the country school that her younger cousins attended. No school uniforms. Result!

This final term in a small country school with less than 80 children in the whole school, a big change compared to her UK high school which had over 1500 on the school roll, was to be the best term of all her school years thus far. My daughter, settled almost immediately fitting into the life in this small and caring environment and made many friends and was often invited out which helped in becoming part of the community. Most of all she was nurtured and was learning the New Zealand culture in a small and friendly environment. Sometimes, it is not just about education, it is about the connections that we make, the network of friends and most of all feeling happy in the environment that is most important.

The highlight of her time in a country school had to be the annual prize giving assembly. This was a lot of fun as assemblies go and we were rather surprised at the prizes that were being given out. The ceremony started with the main prizes; the best kept vegetable garden, the biggest grown vegetable, the best kept lamb and the best kept calves. It suffices to say that she didn’t win any of the prizes coming from the city. There was one prize for Maths and English which came right at the very end. No we didn’t win those either, but it was not in the winning, it was in the taking
part and she loved every aspect of her life in a small little country school. So don’t despair at the options, choose what is right for your child and follow what will make them happy. You don’t need the added stress of them not wanting to attend a school that they don’t like half way across the world. When a child is happy they will learn in any environment.

Off to high school

The high school system is pretty similar to that of the UK. There are the rounds of open evenings in the year prior where you can go around the schools and view what they have to offer. The best work is laid out, tours are given by the well behaved pupils, and the talk by the head teacher is to inspire you to send your child there. Now the talk by the head teacher is always an interesting one and one that has usually helped me to make up my mind previously.

We attended an open evening for a well-regarded girl’s school or should I say, I dragged an unwilling 13 year old to an all-girls school open evening. It seems that I hadn’t learnt from my previous experience and was still in search of the best and most regarded school. We sat down to the talk by the head teacher when a mobile phone in the audience of parents went off. The head teacher berated the parent and provided a stern warning to any prospective pupil who would dare to bring such a device into the school and outlined the consequences of said behavior. She then proceeded to talk about the achievements of their girls, the goal for every girl was to attend university – it was university or you had not succeeded in life.

Secretly, I believe she was in with Tony Blair, but after that we knew it was not the right school for my daughter. I spared myself the expense of buying a summer and winter uniform and her attending for one day. We opted for a more down to earth high school, whose head teacher’s ethos was that children would learn in a happy and caring environment and that was the aim of their school. They encouraged creativity and expression of the child’s interests and offered a performing arts section, sports academy and free music lessons for any instrument during their first year as well as being advanced in offering digital classrooms and the use of iPad and laptops for pupils. We were sold on simplicity, forward thinking and nurturing your talents.

Sport is a huge aspect of New Zealand schools and if your child loves sport then they are going to love New Zealand. Unfortunately my daughter, would come up with some mysterious illness every PE lesson or would conveniently forget her PE kit when we were in the UK so it did not bode well for sporting life in New Zealand. One aspect that hugely impressed me was the netball season. All schools throughout the region took part and the girls actively trained from the age of 7 upwards. They took part in matches against other schools on a weekly basis and trained once a week in their teams. The spirit was friendly but competitive and parents actively took part in the coaching and refereeing of the matches. It was all extremely well organised and coordinated. My daughter did take part in the netball but she only played one match and then, now that I come to think about it, her leg went stiff (read on to the next chapter to find out more about this) and she had to use crutches after only one training session.

Just because you move across the world, don’t think that you are leaving all problems behind. A school IS a school wherever you go. There is bullying, pupils smoking and playing truant. There is the inevitable problem of girls hitching up their skirt which is not such a huge problem in many New Zealand schools due to the ankle length skirts; a hitched skirt would soon some come to a teacher’s attention. There will be some practices that your child will need to get used to such as the wearing of regularity Roman sandals. Yes they are part of the school uniform in most schools and everyone has to wear them. I do believe that New Zealand schools need to bring their school uniforms into the 21st century and this may be one of the biggest hurdles you may have with your child if New Zealand is your choice.

One aspect that I did like is the form group system which is called Whanau (pronounced farnau). Whanau means family in Maori. Many schools use this system consisting of form groups made up of pupils from year 8 -12 who are considered as being part of the same Whanau or family. The idea being that the older pupils will support and mentor the younger pupils as part of one family. What better way to settle into a new culture and school and feel a part of the Whanau.

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