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two kids looking at books and computers on a table with an election 2023 spinoff logo on top
Schools and childcare effect millions of New Zealanders (Image: Getty, with additional design by Archi Banal)

PoliticsOctober 12, 2023

Election 2023: The schools and ECE policies in two minutes

two kids looking at books and computers on a table with an election 2023 spinoff logo on top
Schools and childcare effect millions of New Zealanders (Image: Getty, with additional design by Archi Banal)

Providing education is a core function of the government, and therefore of the policies offered in the 2023 election. Here’s a fast rundown of what is on offer. 

The New Zealand government spends billions of dollars on education each year: there are 2,544 schools, most of them public, with 815,151 students. Additionally, the government provides 20 hours a week of paid early childhood education for kids three and over; the current government has earmarked funding to extend this to children who are two and over from 2024. 

The working conditions of teachers has been a big focus in 2023; thousands of primary, secondary and early childhood teachers participated in industrial action for better pay, while fears were stoked of a mass exodus of teachers moving to Australia. The Ministry of Education has meanwhile been revisiting and changing the New Zealand curriculum to include New Zealand history – and the opposition has been quick to leap on suggestions that New Zealand children are scoring poorly on standardised maths and literacy tests. So what is each party promising to change for schools and education in New Zealand? has policies in greater depth, and we have the abbreviated version. 

a wavy border around a top-down photo of a kid drawing
Early childhood centres provide learning and fun for thousands of kids and their families (Image: Archi Banal)

Paying for education

Labour wants to extend 20 hours of free early childhood education to two-year-olds, as promised in the 2023 budget. National doesn’t want to do this; instead it would create a childcare tax rebate for those earning under $180,000 a year, which would allow families to get up to 25% of their childcare costs to a maximum of $3,900 a year.

Act, which has pushed for “choice” in education via charter schools for many years, suggests that each child should receive $250,000 to pay for education anywhere their parents like, instead of having schools paid for by the state. To save money, David Seymour’s party would halve the number of non-frontline staff employed at the Ministry for Education. 


The Green Party wants to increase the teacher-student ratio to improve learning for students and work conditions for teachers. As part of a greater focus on sport and recreation, New Zealand First says it would lessen the amount of administrative work teachers have to do so there is more time for sport. The Opportunities Party also wants to reduce the burden on teachers by hiring more teaching assistants and support staff. 

National is proposing assessments for teachers and evidence of professional development to show that they’re continuing to learn. It would also abolish teacher registration fees. To incentivise teachers, Act would have a fund for rewarding teachers whose students perform especially well. 

School operations 

The Green Party would ensure that all schools have safe walking and biking options, as well as social service and health hubs and increased access to free lunches to increase student wellbeing overall. Labour also supports the existing free lunch programme and would reduce the climate impact of schools by removing coal boilers and diesel generators. Te Pāti Māori wants to ban expulsions of students under the age of 16 as it says Māori students make up 50% of those excluded, which impacts long-term outcomes. 

National would ban cellphones in schools because it says the devices distract children and impede learning. Student absence is a much-discussed challenge in schools; Act would allow schools to hire their own truancy officers and issue infringement notices to the caregivers of absent children. It also wants to relax the operational regulations for running early childhood centres but increase random inspections to increase adherence.

a graph of zigzag lines overlaid over an orange tiinged desk in a classroom
School achievement is a big concerns for some parties (Image: Tina Tiller


There’s only so much time in the day, the week, the term and the school year – so what makes it into the curriculum (or doesn’t) is hotly contested. In some cases, what parties want to do is similar, as in the case of Te Pāti Māori, which wants to increase teaching of te reo and Māori history as a core subject until Year 10 and increase funding for kaupapa Māori education – a policy path they share with Labour. Both parties, as well as the Green Party, also want to support kohanga reo and te reo Māori at an early childhood level. The Opportunities Party wants to add in more civics education, while the Green Party wants to introduce education about healthy relationships and consent. New Zealand First wants no teaching about relationships, gender and sexuality at all. 

National and New Zealand First want to get back to basics by mandating reading, writing and maths in schools for minimum amounts of time. National wants to make sure standards are being met by increasing monitoring of students with regular assessments and would completely rewrite the primary and intermediate school curriculums. Act would completely repeal the new curriculum which includes matauranga Māori and New Zealand history because it says it is too ideologically driven; instead, it wants the curriculum to be created by the private sector.

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