Principals uncertain about their right to discipline international students have asked the Ministry of Education for clarity.

Principal of Rotorua's John Paul College, Patrick Walsh, also a spokesman for the Secondary Principals' Association, said schools had taken a view they had responsibility for international students 24/7.

But a recent High Court decision against Tauranga Boys' High School appeared to contradict that, Mr Walsh said, and concerned principals hoped to meet with ministry officials this month.

"Up until this point our understanding was the code of practice required us to be responsible for the international students 24/7, and added to that, we have obligations under health and safety law."


The code of practice for institutions teaching international students, including schools, was updated for the first time in 14 years this month.

Mr Walsh said the update - which was unrelated to the Tauranga case - had not provided clarity for secondary schools.

Last week the High Court ruled that Tauranga Boys' College acted unlawfully in expelling and excluding German international students caught smoking cannabis off school grounds and outside school hours in 2014.

The college had asked the court for a judicial review of a decision by the International Education Appeal Authority that it had no right to suspend and expel the teenagers.

Contracts with the students' parents allowed it to take action, the college argued, including the agreement that the students would abide New Zealand laws.

But that was rejected by the High Court.

Hon Rebecca Ellis refused the school's application for a judicial review and said that the contracts could not give the right to terminate on grounds that were inconsistent with the Education Act.

On Friday new regulations came into force that govern all education institutions that enrol foreign students.

The Education (Pastoral Care of International Students) Code of Practice 2016 is the first update since 2002.

It includes a new dispute resolution scheme for resolving contract and financial disagreements between students and providers, including schools.

A Crown company specialising in dispute resolution, FairWay Resolution, will operate the scheme.

A spokeswoman for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment Minister Steven Joyce, who released the updated code of practice, said it wasn't clear that it would have made any difference to the Tauranga Boys' case.

There are more than 120,000 international students in New Zealand attending schools and tertiary institutions.