NZ Legal & Administrative Issues

This page introduces the government’s requirements for home education. Home educators often interpret things differently from most bureaucrats. This is not intended as legal advice. If you need legal advice, consult a lawyer.

Sadly not many lawyers have experience or interest in educational laws – especially those relating to home education. Conversely not many home educators have the legal skills to stand up to officials who overstep the mark. Fortunately in the current environment most education officials who deal with home educators take a professional approach, and few home educators experience major problems with the system.

Note that advice from any of these sources is independent of this site and we accept no responsibility for it – even if published here. We have done our best to give an impartial overview of the situation, based on a decade of experience – but we are not lawyers.

Legal

In New Zealand children must be enrolled in a registered school between the ages of six and sixteen. In practice, children start school at the age of five. To get an exemption from enrollment at a registered school, you must satisfy the Secretary of Education that your child will be taught “as regularly and as well as in a registered school”.

The word “teach” and phrase “as regularly and as well” have not been defined (although an early home education group called themselves Prunes to reflect the first part of the phrase).

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Administration

Exemptions

The Ministry of Education issues exemption certificates, based on your application. Therefore you have to provide them with enough information to allow them to satisfy themselves that your child “will be taught as regularly and as well as in a registered school”.

Please read the “getting started” page. With the information you have documented in these steps, preparing your application should now be a relatively simple process.

The hardest part may be adapting your information and approach to the MOE’s forms. obviously you have to complete the application form with names, birth dates, etc. However, often people find that the approach of the supporting forms is too fragmented for their application.

Also parts of it are irrelevant. For example, describing the children’s work area is, in our opinion, a complete waste of time. When children are say baking, they will work in the kitchen. When they are shopping, they will be in the shop. They may do times tables and spelling in the car. They may do reading on Mum or Dad’s lap – or in bed. They may be part of sports or other clubs. When writing, they may be at a computer, on the floor, at the dining table, or a lounge table, or a desk, depending on a number of factors. Their materials will often be spread around the house, wherever space can be found.

Another area that often causes concern is the request for a timetable. Many people at the Ministry cannot see that children can learn as regularly as in a school without following a school-like timetable. This ignores the fact that home-based education is much more time-effective than classroom-based teaching. At home we generally don’t have to take rolls, control 20 – 30 children, etc. We also know our children so assessing progress is much easier. Also of course, learning at home is not limited to the class time. We already mentioned where children learn – many of these activities are outside school hours. Home-based learning usually happens the whole time children are awake.

One possibility for a timetable is to say, or example, that you will probably do social / physical activities in the mornings, and quieter more academic type activities in the afternoons (or vice versa depending on your children and lifestyle).

Areas of learning is another problem area on the forms. The Ministry assumes we will teach the same stuff they teach at school. I don’t know about you, but I remember almost nothing of what I “learned” at school. We have discussed subject areas in the “getting started” page. Legally home educators, unlike private schools, do NOT have to follow the national curriculum.

As for the question on socialisation! Do they really think that any person planning on locking their children in the basement is going to say so? Despite the evidence that home educated children, on average, outperform their schooled peers academically and socially, most people still worry that our children will be social misfits.

In every area, leave yourself enough flexibility to be able to adapt your approach as your family’s needs change, and as you gain experience.

How you balance these requirements (keeping flexibility while satisfying the Ministry) is up to you. The Ministry should identify any weaknesses in the content of your application and give you a chance to expand on these, rather than simply rejecting it outright.

Currently they often ask for more rigorous applications, including asking for detail which is not strictly relevant or necessary.

One strategy to handle a request for additional details is to ask for the request and reasons for it in writing. That way you (and your advisors) can analyse it to see if it is reasonable, or if it goes beyond what is required. If the latter, you can ask the Ministry to explain further.

Of course it is important to ensure that your application does contain sufficient information. The MOE might not always be as supportive as we would like, but they do have a legal responsibility to make sure that children will be taught at least as well as they are in schools. This might not be a high standard, but it does cause problems when people equate “as well as” with “in the same way as”.

We were given a really good tip. Keep a record on a calendar or in a diary, from about six months before the child’s birthday, of all the “educational” and / or “socialisation” activities and field trips that children do during that time. List these in your application as examples of what you will be doing.

See “Planning your exemption application” for additional suggestions.

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Regular requirements

Twice each year, the Ministry sends a statutory declaration asking you to confirm that you are still home schooling all of the children for whom you have an exemption. They will then send you (unless you choose not to receive it) half of your annual supervising allowance for all of your exempt children. You will then receive two equal payments per year. The amount paid per child reduces for each child, as follows:

$743 First child
$632 Second child
$521 Third child
$372 Subsequent children

The allowance is paid from the date of the exemption. Since children under six do not have to attend school, they cannot get an exemption until they are six. Therefore the MOE’s position is that allowances do not apply to children under six.

Some home schoolers choose not to accept the allowance on the basis that “he who pays the piper calls the tune”. However, currently the supervision allowance is just that – an allowance for supervising our children’s education. It is not (yet) tied to the national curriculum or anyother factor.

This could change as many politicians and bureaucrats seem unable to comprehend that education can occur outside of the national curriculum.

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Reviews

In the past the Education Review Office has reviewed the education of homeschooled students according to a schedule set annually. Since 1 July 2009 ERO carries out reviews only when requested by the Secretary for Education,or in other particular circumstances. For more information please contact ERO’s Homeschooling Unit at their Corporate Office:

Education Review Office – Corporate Office
Level 1, 101 Lambton Quay
PO Box 2799
Wellington

Phone: 04-499 2489
Fax: 04-499 2482
Email: info@ero.govt.nz

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