Almost every school in Auckland will have a zone by 2023, as part of the Government's widespread education reforms. Over time most children in the city will have to attend their local school, unless their parents can afford private school. With more than 50 schools about to get zoning proposals for the first time, it's a new concept for many parents. We answer the big questions.
Why are so many schools getting zones?
Auckland can expect 60,000 more school-aged children between 2019-2030, according to Ministry of Education forecasts, and that growth won't be evenly spread. Pockets of housing intensification and state housing redevelopments in lightly zoned areas like Tāmaki, Manurewa and Māngere mean schools that currently have low rolls could end up bursting at the seams.
About 300 of Auckland's 500-odd schools already have enrolment schemes, mostly in higher-income areas such as central and east Auckland. The ministry is in the middle of a three-year push to create or amend zones at 135 schools, many of which haven't needed a zone before.
The ministry says its first tool to cope with overcrowding is "managing down" out-of-zone student numbers using enrolment schemes. Diverting students to local schools with spare capacity lets the ministry delay building new classrooms at overcrowded schools, at a cost of about $650,000 each. Zones are also meant to reduce competition for students between schools - the Government believes competition has made it harder to share good practice and made ethnic and socioeconomic segregation worse.
There are also plans to build 30 schools in Auckland, mostly in greenfield growth areas such as Drury and Warkworth.
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When will my local school get a zone?
The first 47 schools - many on the verge of overcrowding - got new or amended zones in Term 1 after consultation last year, with
A second tranche of schools is to be announced within the month, with 51 new zones and four amendments to apply from next year. Another 20-25 schools will be consulted next year, with zones in place by 2023. Further tweaks are likely as Auckland keeps growing, but a few schools in rural or hard-to-reach areas won't need zones.
It's safe to assume that if swathes of infill housing are popping up in your area or Kāinga Ora has demolished homes and is building apartments in their place, local schools will be filling up and an enrolment scheme is coming. The Government Education Counts website shows zone boundaries, where they exist. Any new proposed zone should be on a school's website once it's announced.
Will I be forced to send my kids to the local school?
Enrolment schemes are meant to guarantee every student can attend a "reasonably convenient" local school, and avoid schools being overcrowded. All children who live within a school's zone are entitled to enrol, and the school must make space for them. You can still choose to send your child elsewhere, but your preferred school may not have the space - many schools are full and have stopped taking out-of-zone students.
Extra spaces can be filled by out-of-zone students via ballot, with priority for students accepted to a special programme at the school, followed by siblings of current students, siblings of former students, children of former students, children of board employees (such as teachers) or board members, and finally all other students. Public feedback is also being sought on proposals to give less priority to former students' families.
Who draws up zone boundaries and will there be consultation?
Boards of trustees previously had the power to draw up and consult on school zones, but the Ministry of Education has taken over those powers. A local team will draft each zone's proposed boundary lines but the ministry must consult the school's board and take "reasonable steps" to understand the views of the community and neighbouring schools before making final decisions.
The ministry says it wants to be more open and get locals on board earlier, especially in controversial areas where it expects pushback. Ministry deputy secretary Katrina Casey says consultation will likely include "public meetings, school meetings, public notices through community newspapers, letters, surveys and use of the school's own communication channels".
Casey said the purpose of consulting was to "take on board any community feedback", adding that "there are no predetermined outcomes".
Many of the schools with extra headroom have emptied out because they are less popular and will have to improve their reputations to attract more kids; the ministry is promising more support and investment to help those schools improve.
The changes put us out of zone for my older child's school. Can their younger sibling still enrol?
Only if there's space. Casey says there are arrangements to keep siblings together when a zone is created or amended. However these transitional arrangements can only be used if the school is not at risk of overcrowding.