Early leaving exemptions

Why This Is Important

In order to achieve in education, students must be engaged and interested in learning.  For many students this means staying at school.  All schools face the constant challenge of ensuring that students feel they belong and are encouraged to participate.  This promotes motivation, interest and achievement in learning.

Enrolment in school is compulsory for all students aged between 6 and 16 years. However, parents of 15-year-old students may apply to the Ministry of Education for an exemption from schooling on the basis of educational problems, conduct, or if the student may not benefit 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. However, Youth Guarantee Fund initiatives improve the transition from school to work by providing a wider range of learning opportunities, making better use of the education network, and creating clear pathways from school to work and study. The Youth Guarantee Fund is part of a wider Youth Guarantee suite of initiatives that includes Vocational Pathways and Secondary-Tertiary Programmes (such as Trades Academies). These initiatives provide opportunities for students to achieve a minimum of the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) level 2 or equivalent, to enable progression to higher levels of study, training or employment.

There is a strong correlation between leaving school early and unemployment and/or lower incomes.  In New Zealand, recent data show that those with no qualifications have higher unemployment rates and lower median incomes when compared to those with school level qualifications. After tracking students for seven years post leaving school, those who achieved NCEA level 1 on average earned 15% less and those with no achievement earned 51% less than their peers who achieved NCEA level 2 (Scott, 2018)


Early leaving exemptions


Numerator: (Data Source: Ministry of Education: Early Leavers Data Cube)


Total number of 15 year-old students (excluding International Fee paying students) enrolled who obtain an early leaver exemption during the school year.

Denominator: (Data Source: Ministry of Education: July Roll Return)


Total number of 15 year-old students (excluding International Fee paying students) on the roll as at 1 July of each year.

Interpretation Issues

International fee paying students are excluded as generally they have a visa to come to a specific school and study, and granting an early leaving exemption would invalidate the visa.

Each year, there was a small percentage of students for which no ethnicity code had been recorded. The distribution of cases with non-missing ethnic codes has been applied to the set of students with no ethnicity code so as to equate numbers by ethnic group with total numbers of cases. For this reason, all comparisons by ethnicity should be viewed as estimates only.

The data includes students without a "Last school attended". These students were either:

  • home schooled
  • newly arrived in New Zealand (so had never been to school here) or
  • truant (that is, the student was not enrolled at school when the exemption was granted; with the exemption possibly being with the assistance of the Attendance Service)

These students have been excluded from analysis by school quintile and region, however, they are included in the totals.


  1. The Attendance Service combines the Non-Enrolled Truancy Service (NETS) and the District Truancy Service (DTS) into one integrated service. Its prime objectives are to support schools to effectively manage attendance, reduce unjustified absence rates and non-enrolment, and reduce the time taken to return students to education.