How we chose a school for our kids in New Zealand

Our twins are 10-years-old and they loved their school in Denmark. They went to the same school and same class – they have been together since they started in daycare and that has never been anything but positive. I knew it would be important for us all, that the twins got into a nice school.

First, how we chose the city where to live in New Zealand?

Christchurch

Population: around 400.000 (2021)

is now the most populous city on South Island and the second largest city (after Auckland) in New Zealand.

First, we needed to choose the city in which to live in New Zealand. We could choose between Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. At first, Auckland was the obvious choice for us both. We are used to live in a bigger city (or Copenhagen is more or less the same size as Auckland) and I knew there was an active Finnish community there. If I wanted to find a job, it would probably be easiest in Auckland. Plus the risk of earthquakes was lower than in Christchurch or Wellington and the weather was better (or at least, warmer).

But.. the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to choose a smaller city. I was mainly thinking of the time you use commuting in bigger cities – and I pretty fast found out, that the traffic in Auckland was at least as chaotic as it is in Copenhagen. And Auckland is the most expensive place to live in New Zealand. Viking´s salary would be the same, no matter which city we chose – so more money (and time) to spend, if we lived outside Auckland. So, Christchurch or Wellington. We did not know anything about either of them. After some google research we ended up choosing Christchurch. Mainly, because we wanted to explore South Island. Christchurch was also big enough but so small, that you would not spend more than 30 minutes driving to work, no matter where you live. And it was close by the sea, close to the mountains with skiing opportunities and the nature seemed lovely.

How to choose the school in the new country and new city?

After we had chosen Christchurch, I started researching the city closer. Different parts of the city, what people were writing about them, YouTube videos about living in New Zealand, school system in general… I also asked some expats about their opinion about different suburbs. But it was hard – people have their own backgrounds and preferences and I got many different opinions and contradicting advice.

However, I learned about school deciles and ERO-reports. The decile rating of the school tells you how much the government is funding the school:

Deciles are a measure of the socio-economic position of a school’s student community relative to other schools throughout the country.

In the Nordic countries I could see this was becoming a more and more relevant factor. Not politically correct to say it aloud, maybe, but well, it is an indicator on the schools in the area. Unfortunately, the schools in the Nordic countries are no longer able to help students with lower socio-economic-status families enough (at least in Denmark and Finland) and many times it leads to various problems in the classroom. However, this could not be my only criteria when choosing the school. Our school in Denmark was not known to be any kind of elite school. In fact, some of our friends chose not to have their kids in that school, because it did not have “the best reputation”. Nevertheless, we were very happy about the school, teachers, staff and management all those years our twins went there. So the reports and statistics can tell you something – but they always tell about the situation in the past, not about the situation today. But reports and statistics were all I had as I could not really ask anyone or rely on friends and neighbors…

Soon, I found out about ERO-reports. The webpage was easy to navigate and you could find a report for each school easily.

Education reviews are reports to boards of trustees, managers of early childhood education services and the Government on the quality of education provided for children and students in individual centres and schools.

These reports were really good and detailed and provided a lot of information about the schools. But I was not going to go through every single school in Christchurch and read their reports… So I did some shortlisting of the suburbs first. 1) We wanted to live as close to the sea as possible. 2) It should be relatively easy to drive or bike to the city center. 3) The area should have services like supermarket, pharmacy, cafés and restaurants within walking distance from home. 4) There should be a full public primary school (from years 1-8) so that the twins would not have to change school after one year. Here is a bit more information about full primary school:

Primary and intermediate school

Schooling begins at primary school. Children can attend either a contributing primary school or a full primary school. Contributing primary schools are more common than full primary schools.

  • Contributing primary schools go from Year 1 to Year 6.
  • Full primary schools go from Year 1 to Year 8.

If your child attends a contributing primary school, you will need to enroll them with an intermediate school to complete Years 7 and 8.

As we wanted to find a full primary school, the list got short – there are not that many available. Especially because we wanted to fulfill our other wishes as well. Eventually we found a suburb that had everything (except houses to rent — haha, minor issue…), also a school with a good decile rating and ERO report – yay! Now I only needed to find a house. Peace of cake (not) but I will leave that to another post.

Enrollment system

While we were in Queenstown, I contacted the school by e-mail. They replied immediately and I got some documents to fill. We agreed that I would come by and fill in the documents at the school and show other docs, like our tenancy agreement (to show that we live in the school area – otherwise it is not that simple to enroll) and passports (parents and twins) as well as our VISAs.

It took around 15 minutes to fill in the information. Apparently it is the mother, who is the Number One caregiver in New Zealand…

School Uniforms

Twin´s school has nice and relaxed uniforms with polo shirts and sweaters with the school logo on it. Bottom is simple navy blue shorts/trousers and they can wear their own shoes.

Both of the twins like their uniforms and they think it is nice and easy when they don´t need to think about what to wear.

Also easy for me as a parent – the only stress is to always have some clean ones in the closet.

The next day I got a message from the school that the girls could start on the following day. Whaat! That went fast. Luckily, I could buy some second-hand uniforms from the school and ordered new ones online. Then there was a list of stationary to order. In Denmark we did not have uniforms and stationary is provided by the school. But it was nice and easy to order online and the school had a list on all the items to order. The cost for the whole year was 156 dollars (around 95 €) per child. Second-hand uniform clothes cost 5$ per item. New shirts and sweaters cost 20-40$ each and luckily it was OK to use own shoes.

The first day at school and the Vol. 2 first day at school after lockdown

On their first day we just visited the school shortly. The teacher had found four girls, who were showing the school to the twins, and they disappeared fast and run around the school together. I was waiting in the classroom and talked to the teachers.

The classroom was somewhat different from what we had in Denmark. First of all, everything was new and modern. I suppose they were forced to build new / renovate a lot after the earthquakes in 2010/2011. Second, they use, what they call here, “modern learning space” – meaning two classes were basically in the same, big, room. The rooms had removable glass walls so it was possible to divide the groups (year 5 and year 6 pupils), if they wanted to. Both groups had their own teachers, though.

The second day the girls spent at school the whole day – that is from 9:00 to 15:00. They were tired but happy afterwards. Both said they could not understand anything but yet they were able to tell me a lot of stories about their new classmates – how many siblings they have, where they live, what they had played together.. So they were able to communicate somehow 🙂

The twins were at school for 4 days before lockdown in New Zealand started on 18th August. Both went to school gladly and really seemed to enjoy it. Now, on 9th September, the schools opened again – bliss! Twins were happy to return to school and start their third language and culture journey all over again. The first day at school Vol. 2 was just as good as the first first day.

Below my first impression on similarities and differences between the Danish and New Zealand school, including home schooling during lockdown:

Similar to Denmark
  • You bring your own lunch
  • 22 kids in the classroom
  • Kids get a computer from school
  • School day lasts 6 hours
  • Online meetings with the classroom during lockdown
  • After lockdown: Parents are not allowed to come to school to drop / pick up their kids
  • Focus on hygiene (hand sanitizer, no sharing of stationary)
  • Summer holiday is about as long in both countries (6 weeks)
Different from Denmark
  • No uniforms in Denmark
  • You need to buy stationary in NZ
  • School donations – parents pay “voluntary” donations to the school (to cover e.g. different types of online tools used during lockdown
  • modern learning space (NZ) vs. old fashioned classroom (DK)
  • During lockdown: online meetings only 2-3 times a week and 30 minutes at the time vs. real time teaching online in Denmark via Teams meeting platform
  • School starts later, at 9 (in DK at 8)
  • After lockdown: The whole school is one big bubble – the kids and staff are not divided into bubbles like they were in Denmark

3 thoughts on “How we chose a school for our kids in New Zealand

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