The interest in homeschooling (aka Home Education) is on the rise, and folks have a lot of questions about what they need to do to get started. This post is a starting point, where I will briefly explain the required steps, and try to answer the most commonly asked questions. (Also visit the Information Index for a list of other topics/articles)
If your child is less than 6 years old....
However, prior to your child turning 6 years old, you will need to obtain a certificate of exemption, as explained below. Applications may be submitted any time after the child's 5th birthday, and will be processed and approved, but the start date of your exemption will be the child's 6th birthday, as before then there is nothing to be exempt from.
If you wish to find out about curriculum ideas and resources right away, you may find my manual called Planning Your Home Education Programme helpful, and you can also find ideas and resources at www.nchenz.org.nz.
6-15 year olds need an Exemption
To gain a long term exemption from enrolment so you can homeschool, you must apply to the Ministry of Education, demonstrating in your application your intention to "teach your child at least as regularly and well as in a registered school." This is known as a "homeschooling exemption."
There is one other kind of exemption, but it applies ONLY to 15yo students who meet certain other conditions - it is called an Early Leaving Exemption (ELX) and is primarily for 15 yos who can gain no further benefit from school and have a job or alternative training course to move onto. This kind of exemption is not the focus of this article.
* All NZ and Australian citizens and NZ residents have domestic student status. For more on who else that applies to, or what happens if you are a foreigner living in NZ, read THIS article.
Where to find the application forms
Things to note:
- Section One of the form is the data section - name, date of birth, address etc and a legal declaration. You do need to use this section of the official form.
- The rest of the form is optional - you need to cover all the information required, but you do NOT have to use the Ministry's document to do it in. If you prefer, you an use a Word document or similar to write up your information, and for most folk this is much easier to do and safer in terms of saving the data than the MoE's form. You would then attach this separate document to your email when you submit the application, along with the official form with just Section One completed.
- Many folk who are new to homeschooling find the Ministry's form confusing, which is why I have created a Guide to Homeschooling Exemptions which will walk you through the requirements and help you write your application. It includes a template Word document you can use to write your application in, if you wish.
Before completing the application you have decisions to make
The whole point of the exemption application is to "satisfy" the Ministry as to "as regularly and well.." - in order to do so, you show them your plan for the first year, whereby they can see that what you propose to teach is suitable to the child's age and needs, sufficiently broad, and that you have sufficient planned topics, resources etc to enable you to carry this out. So first, you need to do some research and make some decisions about what your programme will look like.
I get asked a lot about resources and what to choose, so to help with that I have put together a manual on Planning Your Home Education Programme which outlines many resources for all ages and subjects, as well as additional ideas on teaching each subject. You may find this very helpful.
The website www.nchenz.org.nz also lists some resource ideas, and has selected discounted resources available to members. And, of course, there is lots of info available online.
Need more help with your application?
- There are lots of Facebook groups for NZ homeschoolers/home educators. Many are general groups, but there are also special interest ones such as for families with ASD children, those who wish to unschool, folk using some (various) specific curriculums, Christian home educators and so on. These groups can be a great place to ask questions, see what others are using, and in some cases view examples of applications folk have chosen to share. Just hop onto Facebook and use the search to look for "homeschooling" or "home education" and then look for specifically NZ groups in the results.
- You may be able to connect with some local home educators through the regional support groups. For a list of these, see https://www.nchenz.org.nz/support-groups/
- Don't forget to check out my guide to exemptions and my programme planning manual.
- Once you've written your application, getting it looked over by an experienced home educator can be helpful. I offer this service for a fee. See HERE.
- I also offer a service writing applications - I only do this for families who have chosen suitable curriculum resources for English, Math, Science and Social Studies, and are also able to provide me with information about the rest of their programme by filling in a questionnaire. I put together the information and wording to ensure it meets the requirements, but can only do so based on information you have provided (or in regards to the curriculum resources, that I can access online). I cannot make up your programme for you. For more on this service see HERE.
I'm doing multiple applications - can they be similar?
To read about how similar/different applications can/must be, see HERE.
To read about the possibility of combining information for children in one application, read HERE
Submitting your application
When you submit your application, you need to include:
- Section One of the Ministry's form, including all the required information. There is a declaration at the end of this section; you need to check the box to acknowledge it. You do not have to physically sign the form (though can if you wish) so long as you check the box and also include one parent's first and last names in the email to which you attach it (if emailing - if you're posting, then you'll need to print this out and physically sign it). Only one parent need apply or be named on the application.
- Sections 2-4 of the form, either in the same document of the official forms, OR in your own format, such as written up in Word etc, as discussed above.
- A copy of your child's birth certificate, even if not born in NZ (this shows that you the child's parent/s and so can legally apply for an exemption). If the child was born in NZ or Australia, it also shows domestic student status.
- If you are not the child's parent, then you need to include documents which show your legal guardianship - only parents or legal guardians can apply for exemptions. This does not mean, however, that only parents/guardians can do the day to day homeschooling of the child. In foster situations, for example, the application can be done mostly by the foster parent who will be homeschooling, with the Section One form signed by a legal guardian. These kinds of cases are a bit special, so Contact Me for more info or help around these.
- If the child was not born in NZ, then you also need to include a copy of their passport/visa or residency/citizenship paperwork to show they have domestic student status. If their DSS is attached to the parent having a work visa, then you'll need to send a copy of that too.
What happens next?
- The acknowledgement of receipt will include a reminder that if your child is between 6 and 16 they need to remain enrolled in/attending school during the application process. If you are considering not having them in school during this time, read THIS.
- The purpose of inviting comment from the school principal is to find out about the child's progress, so that they have something from which to gauge whether the content of your application is appropriate to the child's needs. Some principals choose to comment beyond that. Keep in mind, that the Ministry are aware that some principals are hostile towards home education, and to consider their comments accordingly, and that if anything is raised that the Ministry considers relevant, then they should inform you of it and give you the opportunity to respond. A school principal (or other staff member) cannot prevent you getting an exemption just because they don't think homeschooling is a good idea for your child.
At no point are you required to meet with or be interviewed by staff. You may, however, be contacted by phone in the first instance if more info is needed - you can ask for the questions to be emailed to you, and take the time to consider your response - you don't have to just answer over the phone, unless you are comfortable doing so. You may also be offered the option of meeting with them in person to discuss your application, but it is your choice whether or not to do so.
Once the Senior Advisor is finished assessing your application (including, if applicable, any additional information you have provided) they will recommend it be approved (or declined), and then pass it to another staff member to peer review before having it signed off by the manager. At that point the certificate of exemption is issued, and sent to you by email or post, and the school are also advised it has been approved.
If the exemption is declined, they must have it peer reviewed by a different regional office before officially declining.
The processing of an application normally takes 4-6 weeks. However, it varies greatly by region and by what is going on - sometimes they are turned around very quickly by some offices, and at other times they can take much longer.
How often are applications declined? What can I do?
If I get approved, do I have to start right away?
Otherwise, once your exemption is approved with an immediate date on it, the Ministry will advise the school the child is now exempt, and to remove them from the roll, as an exemption and an enrolment are mutually exclusive under the law - they cannot both exist at the same time.
My child has special needs - is it harder to get approved?
The Ministry may also suggest a conversation with Learning Support staff around the child's needs and whether they can provide any additional support to you. It is up to you whether or not to do this.
Support available at home that is funded by the Ministry is limited in that you cannot access funded teacher aid hours and similar in-school supports. You can however, access certain other things like SLT, OT, assistive technology etc. For more details on this, see HERE.
Can I use Te Kura, the Correspondence School?
Funded gateways include geographical isolation, itineracy, elite athletes, and psycho-social needs. If your child qualifies under one of these gateways, they will be fully funded and enrolled full time in Te Kura as their registered school - you do not need a homeschooling exemption, but do need to follow the enrolment criteria and process. For details about these funded gateways, see the enrolment policy HERE.
If your child does not meet the criteria for funded access, and you still wish to use Te Kura for one or more subjects, you can choose to pay for this, after you get the exemption. To enroll in Te Kura as a fee-paying student, your child must be exempt. The fees are around $1800 per subject per year (for the fee schedule see HERE). Most homeschoolers do not wish to pay for Te Kura, and there are certainly many other programme choices.
However, Te Kura is free for 16-19 year olds who are not enrolled in school - some home educators may choose to enroll their students at 16, so that they can complete NCEA qualifications if they wish to.
Can my child gain high school qualifications or U.E?
- Doing NCEA via Te Kura as mentioned above.
- Doing Cambridge Exams - the student studies at home using appropriate course materials, and then sits the exams as a Private Candidate at specific exam centres. THIS Facebook group is a good place to find out more, or visit the website HERE.
- Completing the CENZ (Christian) Academic Certificate Level 3 - for more on this, visit Homeschooling NZ - www.homeschoolingnz.org.
- Completing a GED/SAT combo. For more see HERE
How much does homeschooling cost? Is there any funding?
Once you have an exemption, you will be sent a declaration to sign every six months (more on that below) along with which will be a form asking if you wish to receive the Supervision Allowance, a small allowance paid by the govt to home educators, which you can use or spend in any way you wish. The annual amounts are as follows - they are paid in two installments in about June and late November:
- first child $743.00
- second child $632.00
- third child $521.00
- subsequent children $372.00
Once exempt, do they check up on us? How often?
Additionally, there is the possibility of an ERO review. These used to be routine, but the government withdrew funding for routine reviews of all home educators some years ago; now they fund reviews for up to 35 students per year. These students are identified through a complaints basis, and even if someone does complain, there is a process of giving you an opportunity to update them on your child's programme before they decide whether or not to request a review. Most years currently only around 10 or so students end up with an ERO review. A review process may also be initiated if you don't return the six monthly declaration (or respond to the reminder). For more on this (including history and stats) see HERE.
So, in general, apart from signing a form every six months, no, you won't be checked up on, other than the statistically very small chance of an ERO review. Unless, of course, future governments decide to re-fund routine reviews.
How long does the exemption last? Do I have to reapply?
- The child turns 16 OR
- You enroll your child in a registered school OR
- Your exemption is revoked by the Ministry after an ERO review determines your child is not being taught as regularly and well
What if I put them back in school and it doesn't work out?
Because under the law an exemption and a school enrolment are mutually exclusive, enrolling your child in school automatically ceases the exemption, but this policy allows families to trial school so they can explore the option of school and determine what is best for their child, without the concern that they'd automatically have to go through the whole exemption process again if after a few weeks at school they realise that home education is best.
If they are in school for longer than 10 weeks and you wish to return to home education, you will need to do a new exemption application.