Palmerston North schools are accepting more out-of-zone students, despite criticism pupils are being pulled from providers with more space for them.
Figures obtained by the Manawatu Standard under the Official Information Act show at some schools out-of-zone students were making up nearly 50 per cent of their rolls.
The Ministry of Education imposes zones to regulate overcrowding, with principals saying the system ensures the enrolment process is "fair and transparent".
Three of the city's largest state secondary schools, Palmerston North Boys', Girls' and Freyberg high schools, topped the table for the number of out-of-zone students accepted this year, with a number of primary and intermediate schools' totals reaching upwards of 100.
College Street Normal School had the highest number of out-of-zone pupils among primary schools, with a jump this year caused by a change of record-keeping systems, principal Ross Kennedy said.
Zones were necessary to ensure schools had sufficient land and classroom space. Having too many pupils would pressure resources and compromise children's education, he said.
The Education Ministry states the size of school zones is kept contained in a bid to make the best use of the existing network of state schools.
Freyberg High School principal Peter Brooks said that despite the large number of out-of-zone applications, students were still turned away.
"The key from the ministry point of view is that they are not going to fund new buildings for one school when there is available capacity in other schools."
But principals say schools have been criticised for having growing rolls with a large number of out-of-zone students; they are accused of pinching pupils from elsewhere.
"We don't deliberately go out trying to recruit students from all over the place . . . at the end of the day it's families' choice," said Palmerston North Boys' High School rector David Bovey.
"Everyone is looking for a school that suits their own child and if you live in a zone of a school that you don't think is the right fit for your son or daughter then what choice do you have under the zoning system?"
Palmerston North Intermediate Normal School principal David Jopson said zoning may limit choice, but the city had a number of quality schools to satisfy parents and cater for pupils.
"There's no other way of doing it, really, otherwise you have huge schools and a number which don't have enough students, there's got to be a system in place which is fair."
Students living in a school's home zone are guaranteed a place Out-of-zone students who apply to enrol at the school will be accepted by a priority order of: 1. Students applying for a school's special programme 2. Siblings of current students 3. Siblings of former students 4. Children of board employees or members 5. Any leftover places are then distributed by ballot
- Manawatu Standard
Does more need to be done to protect NZ passports?