Most schools will open tomorrow, following hundreds of closures after a large earthquake struck the South Island overnight.

More than 100 schools were closed in Wellington, 91 in Nelson-Marlborough region, and 81 in Canterbury following the 7.5 magnitude quake which rocked much of the country at 12.02am.

All six schools in the Kaikoura area, the region worst hit by the quakes, were closed.

Students due to sit their NCEA exams were asked to request a derived grade if their school could not open, while exams went ahead across the country.

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A total of 276 of 524 schools in the affected areas of Canterbury, Nelson-Marlborough, and Wellington were closed today, the Ministry of Education said this afternoon.

"We advised schools to close this morning so that buildings could be inspected," acting Secretary for Education Katrina Casey said.

"Thankfully, most of the damage has been minimal which means most will be open tomorrow.

"We have asked structural engineers to assess schools with more obvious damage, to ensure they are safe.

"Secondary schools have been our top priority because their students are sitting NCEA exams. We've not been advised of any significant structural damage in Wellington, Canterbury or Nelson, so most schools that were closed in these areas today are expected to be open tomorrow, subject to final checks.

"That includes most secondary schools and area schools. As far as exams themselves are concerned, NZQA informs us that where schools are open, exams will be going ahead.

"Where schools are closed, or if students sit an exam and believe their performance has been affected by the earthquakes, students can apply for a derived grade."

Some final engineering checks would take place at a small number of secondary schools, Casey said, but the Ministry expected most to be open.

Parents are advised to check with their school in the morning.

"There is one area we haven't been able to get a good picture and that's Kaikoura because roads in and out of the town are blocked," Casey said.

"There are six schools in this area and police advised they were all closed today. We expect to know more about that status of those schools soon."

Any school concerned about further damage caused by aftershocks expected in the coming days is advised to contact the Ministry.

CLOSURES TODAY:
Wellington: 104 of 195 schools
Nelson/Marlborough: 91 of 132 schools
Canterbury: 81 of 197 schools
Kaikoura: all 6 schools