School leavers with NCEA Level 2 or above
What We Have Found
In 2019, 79 percent of school leavers achieved NCEA Level 2 or above.
Updated: August 2020
Percentage of school leavers with at least an NCEA Level 2 or equivalent qualification.
Why This Is Important
The National Certificate of Educational Achievement Level 2 (NCEA Level 2) is the second stage of upper-secondary education, and serves as a foundation for further study and/or employment. NCEA Level 2, as with all levels of NCEA, encompasses a wide range of learning. Students can attain credits through internal and external assessment, and they can accumulate these credits both within and across years.
The attainment of an upper secondary school qualification is linked to labour force status and incomes. Every year around 60,000 young people leave school and face choices about what to do next. Not being in employment, further education or training (NEET) affects between 15%-17% of school leavers.
The recent research done by Scott (2018) found that NCEA level 2 leavers are slightly more likely to go directly into work than their Level 3 peers, who are slightly more likely to enrol in a tertiary institution. The group with NCEA 2 has more accumulated earnings in the 7 years since leaving school than the UE group. While there is not much difference between earnings for NCEA level 2 and level 3 groups, those with NCEA level 1 school achievement have earned 15% less than NCEA level 2 peers, and those with no achievement are earning 51% less. (Scott, 2018).
How We Are Going
In 2019, 78.8% of all school leavers attained at least NCEA Level 2 or equivalent, a 1.6 percentage point decrease compared to 2018. However since 2009, there has been an 11.3 percentage point increase with respect to those who attain at least NCEA Level 2 or equivalent (67.5% in 2009).
Female school leavers were more likely to attain at least NCEA Level 2 or equivalent than their male counterparts in 2019.
When looking at ethnicity, in 2019, Asian students had the highest proportion of school leavers attaining at least NCEA Level 2 or equivalent (89.7%), followed by European/Pākehā students (82.0%).
Figure 1: Percentage of total school leavers with at least an NCEA Level 2 qualification or equivalent (2009 to 2019)
In 2019, the proportion of Asian school leavers attaining at least NCEA Level 2 or equivalent was 89.7%, which was 7.7 percentage points higher than European/Pākehā (82.0%). Pacific was 73.7% and Māori was 64.7%.
Compared to 2018, 2019 has seen an overall decrease in the proportion of leavers achieving NCEA Level 2 or equivalent. For Māori this decrease was 2.5 percentage points, Pacific had a 1.9 percentage point decrease, Asian a 1.5 percentage point decrease, and the decrease for European/Pākehā was 1.2 percentage points.
However, from 2009 to 2019, all ethnic groups saw an improvement in school leaver NCEA Level 2 or equivalent achievement rates, with Māori school leavers showing the biggest increase of 19.0 percentage points. Pacific school leavers had an increase of 17.3 percentage points, followed by European/Pākehā school leavers (9.2 percentage points) and Asian school leavers (6.8 percentage points). These changes indicate that the disparities between ethnic groups have reduced over time but a large achievement gap remains for Māori and Pacific students.
Figure 2: Percentage of school leavers with at least an NCEA Level 2 qualification or equivalent, by ethnic group (2009 to 2019)
Māori Medium Education
Of the 15,104 Māori students who left school in 2019, 3.9% of them were learning in Māori Medium Education (MME)2 when they left school. This proportion decreased 0.4 percentage points in the last year
In 2019, 78.7% of Māori school leavers from MME achieved at least NCEA Level 2 or equivalent, down 2.1 percentage points from 2018, and this proportion was 0.1 percentage points lower than that of total school leavers3. The proportion of Māori school leavers from English Medium Education (EME) who achieved at least NCEA Level 2 or equivalent was down 2.5 percentage points from 2018 to 64.1%, this is 14.7 percentage points lower than that of total school leavers
Figure 3: Percentage of school leavers with at least an NCEA Level 2 qualification or equivalent, by education type (2009-2019)
Learners4 in Māori Medium education (MME) have high rates of attainment5 in Māori language standards6. In 2019, 70.6% of Māori school leavers from MME had attained in Te Reo Māori at level 2 or above, compared to 6.1% of Māori school leavers from English Medium education (EME)
Māori school leavers from MME are also more likely to attain at level 2 in English (36.9% compared to 33.0%), mathematics and statistics (27.0% compared to 23.8%), and the arts (21.6% compared to 18.5 %), but less likely to achieve level 2 in sciences (13.4% compared to 19.1%), social sciences (23.0% compared to 25.5%), and health and physical education (24.3% and 34.4% respectively).
From 2009 to 2019 there has been a consistent pattern of female school leavers attaining NCEA Level 2 or equivalent at higher rates than male school leavers. In 2019, 81.3% of females achieved compared to 76.3 % of males. The size of the gender gap has decreased from 8.2 percentage points in 2009 to 5.0 percentage points in 2019.
From 2018 to 2019, male achievement decreased by 1.2 percentage points and female achievement decreased by 2.1 percentage points. The gender disparity decreased by 0.9 percentage points over the same period.
Figure 4: Percentage of school leavers with at least an NCEA Level 2 qualification or equivalent, by gender (2009-2019)
A clear positive correlation can be seen between the socio-economic mix of the school the student attended, as measured by school decile, and the percentage of school leavers attaining at least an NCEA Level 2 or equivalent qualification. Schools in the lowest deciles (deciles 1 and 2) draw their students from communities with the highest degree of socio-economic disadvantage.
In 2019, 91.3% of students from schools in the highest deciles (deciles 9 and 10) left school with at least an NCEA Level 2 qualification. This was 26.4 percentage points higher than the percentage for school leavers in deciles 1 and 2 schools (64.9%).
There is, however, a great deal of variation amongst schools within each decile, with some schools in the lowest deciles with a greater proportion of students achieving a level 2 qualification or above than some schools in the highest deciles.
Figure 5: Percentage of school leavers with at least an NCEA Level 2 or equivalent, by school decile (2019)
- Total response ethnicity collection involves counting people who identify with more than one ethnic group in each of these ethnic groups. For the New Zealand total, individuals are counted only once.
- Māori Medium Education is where students are taught all or some curriculum subjects in the Māori language for at least 51 percent of the time (Māori Language Immersion Levels 1-2).
- Total school leavers include school leavers of all ethnic groups in both MME and EME.
- Learners included in learning areas analysis do not include school leavers with international qualifications, or leavers who attended schools where a mix of NCEA and International assessment were offered.
- Attainment is defined as attaining 14 or more credits where the result in standards is achieved, merit, or excellence.
- Standards derived from the New Zealand Curriculum, Te Marautanga o Aotearoa, industry training, and tertiary institutions.
- Deciles are used to provide funding to state and state-integrated schools to enable them to overcome the barriers to learning faced by students from lower socio-economic communities. Students from schools with a higher decile have a smaller proportion of students with the lowest socio-economic factors.
Evidence about what works for this indicator can be found in:
- Alton-Lee, A. (2003). Quality Teaching for Diverse Students in Schooling: Best Evidence Synthesis. Wellington: Ministry of Education.
- Anthony, G., and Walshaw, M. (2007). Effective Pedagogy in Mathematics/Pāngarau: Best Evidence Synthesis Iteration. Wellington: Ministry of Education.
- David Scott. (2018). Post-school labour-market outcomes of school-based NCEA. Wellington: Ministry of Education.
The Ministry of Education has established an Iterative Best Evidence Synthesis Programme to systematically identify, evaluate, analyse, synthesise and make accessible, relevant evidence linked to a range of learner outcomes. Please visit BES (Iterative Best Evidence Synthesis) Programme to find out more.