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Children now have a better chance of attending their parents' old high school, following a change in out-of-zone enrolment rules.

The news has been welcomed by many schools, who say family history and tradition is important and it is nice to offer the children of former students a place if one is available.

However, it has been criticised by others, who say it's unfair to put one child's right to an education at a certain school before another because of family connections.

The change comes as a result of the Education Amendment Act which was passed in December and states priority can be given to children of former students in the out-of-zone ballot.

It is the fourth on a list of six priorities that must be taken into account when selecting students from outside of the school zone.

Before that, children of former students were treated the same as any other out-of-zoner and it came down to the luck of the draw as to whether their name was pulled out of the ballot.

Many schools described the new rules as "Auckland Grammar legislation" - a dig at the decile 10 school which has long lobbied for the change.

Auckland Grammar headmaster John Morris said enrolment schemes were written by individual schools during the 1990s. Grammar's criteria included priority rights for sons of old boys.

That right was taken away when schemes changed in 2000 and children of former students were not given priority. As a result many family connections had slipped away.

Mr Morris said the school had kept up a "quiet lobby" to reinstate that right since 2000 and he was now delighted it had become law.

"It allows us to reconnect with our old boy community and particularly with our Pasifika community who no longer live anywhere near our zone. It does allow their children to come to school which is really good."

Mr Morris said critics needed to remember there were already several other priority factors in place, so adding one more wasn't really any different.

But not all schools see it that way. Secondary Principals Association president Patrick Walsh said he couldn't see the justification of giving former students' children priority entitlement.

"It erodes the whole concept of having enrolment schemes."

"It wasn't a general call from most secondary schools to make this change and it seems to me to be an initiative prompted by the Government or the ministry itself, led by a couple of influential schools."

He said possible consequences included circumnavigating the Human Rights Act and students without family links missing out on an opportunity to attend a good or popular school.

Rangitoto College principal David Hodge said the new priority "puts the ordinary person further down the waiting list".

About 40 per cent of Rangitoto's 550 Year 9 students come from outside of the zone. Auckland Grammar takes only a handful of students because most positions are filled by in-zone students.

Priority 1. Must be given to any applicant who is accepted for enrolment in a special programme run by the school.
Priority 2. Given to any applicant who is the sibling of a student at the school.
Priority 3. Given to any applicant who is the sibling of a former student of the school.
*Priority 4. Given to any applicant who is a child of a former student of the school.
*Priority 5. Given to any applicant who is either a child of an employee of the board of the school or a child of the member of the board of the school.
Priority 6. Given to all other applicants.
*Priorities 4 and 5 will come into effect for 2012 enrolments.