Considering, proposing and establishing an enrolment scheme

When the Ministry or a Board of Trustees becomes concerned about a school’s roll, capacity and the potential for overcrowding, an enrolment scheme might be considered as a response to growth if a school doesn’t already have one.

The Education Act

The Education Act requires that an enrolment scheme should:

  • enable students to attend a reasonably convenient school
  • as far as possible exclude no more students than necessary to avoid overcrowding
  • make the best use of existing networks of state schools
  • ensure the selection of applicants for enrolment is carried out in a fair and transparent way
  • as far as possible, not exclude local students.

The Act also requires that an enrolment scheme must contain:

  • a home zone with clearly defined geographic boundaries
  • zone boundaries that touch or overlap the boundaries of the home zone of any adjacent state school that has an enrolment scheme (unless there is a school in between that doesn’t operate one)
  • a home zone drawn in such a way that every student within its boundaries can attend a reasonably convenient school
  • evidence of consultation with:
    • parents and caregivers of students at the school
    • people living in the area for which the school is reasonably convenient
    • current and prospective students of the school
    • Boards of Trustees of other schools that could be affected by the enrolment scheme proposal.

Before approving a home zone, we need to be satisfied it meets the above requirements.

The ins and outs of enrolment schemes

There are differences between the enrolment schemes of ordinary state primary, intermediate and secondary schools, compared with state integrated schools, Kura Kaupapa Māori and other designated character schools, which can have their own enrolment schemes too. The starting point for all Boards of Trustees when considering an enrolment scheme is the same – current and future student numbers are monitored against the physical capacity available (or the maximum roll for those types of schools that have them), to identify any potential overcrowding issues.

Schools aren’t required to have an enrolment scheme unless overcrowding might be an issue, so not all schools have or need one. Currently about 40 percent of all New Zealand schools have an enrolment scheme to manage student populations, and this will increase as our communities continue to grow.

If a state school doesn’t have an enrolment scheme, any student can enrol and attend that school provided there are no other criteria applied to their application (there might be if it’s a state integrated school or a designated character school, or their enrolment might be turned down if they’re currently excluded or expelled).

The main priority

If a state school doesn’t have an enrolment scheme, all enrolments from all students who apply to enrol must be accepted regardless of where they live. When an enrolment scheme is proposed to manage overcrowding, it means enrolments from students who live inside the school’s home zone must be accepted and enrolments from students who live outside the home zone may be accepted if there are out-of-zone places available and an application meets requirements.

To be able to do this, Boards of Trustees at state schools keep an eye on the number of applications likely to be received from in-zone students, to help them determine the places they might have available for out-of-zone students once all in-zone enrolments are accepted.

‘Local’ and ‘reasonably convenient’

The requirements under sections 11A-11Q of the Education Act 1989 are specific to enrolment schemes. Under the Act, an enrolment scheme of a state school must as far as possible ensure it doesn’t exclude local students.

‘Reasonably convenient school’ is defined as meaning a state school that a reasonable person living in the area in which the school is situated would judge to be reasonably convenient for a particular student, taking into account their age, the distance to be travelled, the time likely to be spent travelling, the reasonably available modes of travel, common public transport routes, and relevant traffic hazards.

The meaning may vary depending on whether the school is:

  1. a single sex or co-educational school
  2. an ordinary state school, a Kura Kaupapa Māori, a designated character school, a state integrated school, or a special school
  3. a primary, intermediate, secondary, composite, or area school.

When developing an enrolment scheme, the above interpretation of ‘reasonably convenient’ is used by Boards of Trustees to help determine the boundaries of the school’s home zone, in order to be able to differentiate between the enrolment applications of students living inside and outside the home zone. You should keep in mind that a ‘reasonably convenient’ school might not be the one that’s closest to where you live.

Roles and responsibilities

To ensure a balanced school network, Boards of Trustees monitor their school rolls, and we monitor enrolments across all schools, so there are opportunities for all students to learn and achieve.

The Education Act 1989 is very specific in relation to the obligations and responsibilities of Boards of Trustees and the Ministry when developing and operating enrolment schemes. The secretary for Education has issued guidelines and instructions to help schools meet their obligations under sections 11A-11Q of the Education Act 1989.

Home zones

A home zone is a clearly defined geographical area around a school, with its boundaries indicated by street names and numbers, or other geographical features. The home zone is usually presented as a map, and described in a way that makes it easy to identify any address as being inside or outside the zone.

Students who live inside the home zone are guaranteed a place at the school. Students who live outside the home zone can apply to enrol but acceptance of their application is subject to places being available for them – and if there are places available, but more applications received than places, their acceptance is subject to the outcome of a pre-enrolment process called a ballot.

‘Pre-enrolment’ means the period in which applications for enrolment are invited and processed by a school that has an enrolment scheme.

Bringing everyone into home zone conversations

Exploring options for an enrolment scheme requires an open, community-focused, network-wide approach. Community engagement and formal consultations are critical parts of the decision making process because they ensure a strong foundation for informed decision making, understanding decisions, and having trust and confidence in decisions that are made.

Boards of Trustees must ensure anyone in their community who might be impacted by an enrolment scheme understands what the implications might mean for them and is kept well informed whenever any aspect of a scheme might change. Everyone must have access to up-to-date relevant and factual information when they need it, and be aware of the opportunities they have to share their views on a proposed change and have feedback considered.

Developing options for where a home zone should be positioned takes collaboration, can involve a variety of engagement activities, and might take time. Providing opportunities for communities to take part in the process helps if Boards of Trustees of all schools in an area work together with their communities, rather than in isolation, so the outcome that’s in the best interests of all students and all schools can be achieved.
Some aspects of community engagement on enrolment schemes are directed by statutory requirements under the Education Act. This means under some circumstances Boards of Trustees are required to formally consult with:

  • the parents of students at the school
  • the people living in the area for which the school is reasonably convenient
  • the students and prospective students of the school (depending on their age and maturity)
  • Boards of other schools that could be affected by the proposed scheme.

When we’re approving an enrolment scheme, or a change to a scheme, we have to be satisfied Boards of Trustees have met their consultation responsibilities as outlined under section 11H of the Education Act.

Initiating an enrolment scheme

Boards of Trustees cannot start developing an enrolment scheme until we have given notice for them to do so. We begin the process by instructing the school in writing that an enrolment scheme is required. This instruction typically happens as part of initial discussions about roll growth.

Most Boards of Trustees are proactive about setting up an enrolment scheme. But if a Board of Trustees is slow to start developing their scheme within a reasonable period, or isn’t taking steps to implement one, section 11IA allows us to develop an enrolment scheme on their behalf, and to direct them to implement the scheme by a particular date.

Early learning services

The network of schools doesn’t include early learning services, but our planning for growth in the network takes Early Childhood Education (ECE) roll data into account to make sure nearby primary schools are ready for any potential increase in enrolment numbers.

Boards of Trustees should factor early learning services into their planning conversations when a new enrolment scheme, or a change to an existing one, is proposed. This is because introducing a scheme could influence the decision-making of parents, caregivers, families and whānau when they’re considering early learning options, which would then have flow-on effects for local primary schools in the network further down the track.

Amending an enrolment scheme

Populations and communities are continuously changing and Boards of Trustees need to regularly review and sometimes amend an enrolment scheme to reflect the changes. What’s meant by ‘reasonably convenient’ might have changed since the scheme was put in place.

A nearby school might be introducing their own enrolment scheme or have had in zone growth if they already have one, a new housing development might be planned for land nearby, there could have been a change to public transport routes, or a major roading upgrade – all of these things might lead to a change in the interpretation of whether the school is still considered to be reasonably convenient for a particular student, or another school is.

Reviewing an enrolment scheme

Boards of Trustees review the need for their enrolment scheme either on a yearly basis, or every 2-3 years. All Boards of Trustees with an enrolment scheme must complete a review of its operation every year before 1 May, or as specified by us. We remind Boards of Trustees of this and can help with reviews.

As part of their review process, Boards of Trustees are required to assess whether there’s still a need for the scheme and they then seek our approval of their recommendation. Sometimes if we agree the scheme should continue, the Board of Trustees may be exempted from the annual review process for up to three years.


[1]Education Act 1989, s11PB Enrolment schemes of certain State schools

[2] Education Act 1989, Part 2 Enrolment schemes, and suspension, expulsion, and exclusion of students, ss11A-11Q Enrolment schemes

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