Early leaving exemptions

What We Have Found

As a result of the Ministry of Education strengthening its early leaving application and approval process, the rate of early leaving exemptions for 15 year-olds dropped by over 90% since 2006.

Date Updated: May 2013

Indicator Description

Proportion of 15 year-old students enrolled who obtain an early leaving exemption.

Why This Is Important

In order to achieve in education, students must stay at school, be engaged and interested in their learning.  All schools face the constant challenge of ensuring that all students feel they belong and are encouraged to participate at school.  This is the foundation for motivation, interest and achievement in learning.

Enrolment in school is compulsory for all students aged between 6 and 16 years.  However, parents of students aged fifteen may apply to the Ministry of Education for an exemption from schooling on the basis of educational problems, conduct, or the unlikelihood of the student benefiting from attending available schools.  Parents are required to give details about training programmes or employment that the student would move on to in the event of an early leaving exemption being granted.

Young people who leave school without qualifications may have difficulty performing in the workforce and may face difficulties in terms of life-long learning, or returning to formal study in later years.

There is a strong correlation between early school leavers and unemployment and/or lower incomes, which are in turn generally related to poverty and dependence on income support.  In New Zealand, recent data show that those with no qualifications have higher unemployment rates and lower median incomes when compared to those with qualification.

How We Are Going

There were 313 early leavers in 2012. This is a sharp drop from nearly 4,000 early leavers in 2006.  Prior to 2007, the number of applications for early leaving exemptions was high, at around 70 applications per 1,000 15 year-old students. The number of applications has dropped tenfold since 2007, to around 7 applications per 1,000 15 year-old students in 2012.

In May 2007, the Ministry of Education strengthened its early leaving application and approval process in order to reduce the number of early leaving exemptions, and the associated social and economic disadvantages that face those students who leave school early.  The process involved:
  • imposing a stricter interpretation of the early leaving legislative criteria, which sets a very high threshold for early leaving eligibility
  • ensuring direct contact between parents and Ministry staff at the first stage in the early leaving process, to actively discourage early leaving and to support parents to find ways of keeping their children engaged in learning, and
  • promoting alternatives to early leaving, such as a combination of school- and work-based learning.

The evidence suggests that these approaches have been highly successful.  Between 2006 and 2012, the early leaving exemption rate dropped by 92% from 65.3 to 5.4 early leavers per 1,000 15 year-old students. 

Figure 1: Early leaving exemption application approval and decline rates (2000 to 2012)
The decline in rates of early leaving exemptions between 2006 and 2011 was similar for all ethnic groups; 91% for Māori , 92% for European/Pākehā,  94% for Pasifika. The biggest decline (97%) was seen for the Asian ethnic group.

Māori students have higher rates of early leaving exemptions compared with students from other ethnic groups.  In 2012, the early leaving exemption rate for Māori students (13.0 per 1,000 15 year-old students) was over three times as high as the rate for European/Pākehā (3.8 per 1,000 15 year-old students).  The Pasifika rate was 3.2 early leavers per 1,000 15 year-old students. 

Figure 2: Early leaver exemption rates, per 1,000 by ethnicity (2000 to 2012)

In 2012, 64% of all early leavers were male. The female rate was 4.0 per 1,000 15 year-old students. The male rate was 6.8 per 1,000 15 year-old students, under twice that of the female rate – a comparative decrease from the previous year where males were more than twice as likely to have an early leaving exemption.

There is a clear correlation between the socio-economic mix of the school students attend and early leaving exemption rates.  Schools in the lowest quintile (deciles 1 and 2) draw their students from communities with the highest degree of socio-economic disadvantage.  In 2012, the early leaving exemption rate for students from these schools was 9 times higher than the rate for students in the highest quintile (deciles 9 and 10). There were 8.5 per 1,000 15 year-old students who had an early leaving exemption from quintile 1 schools, compared to 0.9 per 1,000 students in quintile 5 schools.

Figure 3: Early leaving exemption rates, by gender and school quintile (2012)

A Training Provider course was the most popular destination for a 15 year-old student who received an early leaving exemption, with the majority (74%) of early leavers going there in 2012.  A further 13% of all 2012 early leavers went into full time employment, with the same percentage intending to enrol in a Polytechnic course.


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