School leavers with NCEA Level 2 or above
What We Have Found
Eighty percent of school leavers achieved NCEA Level 2 or above in 2017.
Updated: April 2019
Percentage of school leavers with at least an NCEA Level 2 or equivalent qualification.
Why This Is Important
A formal school qualification is a measure of the extent to which young adults have completed a basic prerequisite for higher education and training and many entry-level jobs. The main qualiﬁcation available to secondary school students is the NCEA, which encompasses a wide range of learning. NCEA enables students to undertake multilevel study to attain credits, perhaps at different levels in any one year, towards an NCEA qualiﬁcation. Students can attain credits through internal and external assessment, and they can accumulate these credits both within and across years. Future educational and job prospects will be limited for those who leave school without Level 2 NCEA.
The attainment of an upper secondary school qualification is linked to labour force status and incomes. In 2011, New Zealanders with no qualifications had an unemployment rate 48% higher than those whose highest qualification was a school qualification (OECD, 2013).
How We Are Going
In 2017, 80.7% of all school leavers attained at least NCEA Level 2 or equivalent, a 0.1 percentage point decrease since 2016. Since 2009, there has been a 13.2 percentage point increase with respect to those who attain at least NCEA Level 2 or equivalent, with 80.7% in 2017 compared to 67.5% in 2009.
Female school leavers were more likely to attain at least NCEA Level 2 or equivalent than their male counterparts in 2017.
When looking at ethnicity, in 2017, Asian students had the highest proportion of school leavers attaining at least NCEA Level 2 or equivalent, followed by European/Pākehā. Pacific and Māori were found to have the lowest rates of attainment.
Figure 1: Percentage of total school leavers with at least an NCEA Level 2 qualification or equivalent (2009 to 2017)
Total response ethnicity collection involves counting people who identify with more than one ethnic group in each of these ethnic groups. However for the New Zealand total, individuals are counted only once. In 2017 Asian students had the highest percentage of school leavers attaining at least NCEA Level 2 or equivalent (91.7%), which was 7.9 percentage points higher than European/Pākehā (83.8%). Pacific (75.9%) and Māori (67.9%) had the lowest rates.
Looking at the ethnic group trends, the largest percentage point increase in those attaining at least NCEA Level 2 or equivalent has been in Māori school leavers, with an increase of 22.2 percentage points between 2009 (45.7%) and 2017 (67.9%), and Pacific school leavers, with an increase of 19.5 percentage points between 2009 (56.4%) and 2017 (75.9%). This can be compared to the European/Pākehā school leavers, who had an 11.0 percentage point increase between 2009 (72.8%) and 2017 (83.8%), and Asian school leavers, who had an 8.8 percentage point increase between 2009 (82.9%) and 2017 (91.7%). These changes indicate that the disparities between most ethnic groups have reduced slightly over time but a large achievement gap remains for Māori and Pacific students.
Since 2016, the highest improvement in those attaining NCEA Level 2 or above was seen in Māori, with an increase of 0.9 percentage points. This was followed by Pacific (0.6 percentage points), Asian (0.4 percentage points) and a slight decrease for European/Pākehā (0.2 percentage points).
Figure 2: Percentage of school leavers with at least an NCEA Level 2 qualification or equivalent, by ethnic group (2009 to 2017)
From 2009 to 2016 there has been a consistent pattern of females attaining NCEA Level 2 or equivalent at higher rates than males. In 2017, the trend of female school leavers (83.2%) achieving at a higher rate than their male counterparts (78.3%) continued. However, the size of the gender gap is closing with the difference reducing from 8.2 percentage points in 2009 to 4.9 percentage points in 2017.
From 2016 to 2017, male achievement remained the same while female achievement decreased by 0.2 percentage points. This reduced the gender disparity by 0.2 percentage points over the same period.
Figure 3: Percentage of school leavers with at least an NCEA Level 2 qualification or equivalent, by gender (2009-2017)
A clear positive correlation can be seen between the socio-economic mix of the school the student attended 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 2017, 92.7% of students from schools in the highest deciles (deciles 9 and 10) left school with at least an NCEA Level 2 qualification. This was 24.5 percentage points higher than the percentage for school leavers in deciles 1 and 2 (68.2%).
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 4: Percentage of school leavers with at least an NCEA Level 2 or equivalent, by school decile (2017)
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.
- OECD (2013). Education at a Glance 2013: OECD Indicators . Paris: OECD.
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.
Where To Find Out More
Education Data Requests
If you have any questions about education data then please contact us at:
Email: Requests EDK
Phone: +64 4 463 8065