Transient students

What We Have Found

Around 3,900 students were recognised as transient during the 2016 year. Māori students were more likely to be transient than students in other ethnic groups.

Date Updated: June 2017

Indicator Description

Students who move school twice or more over the period from the 1st of March to the 1st of November.

Why This Is Important

Students need stability in their schooling in order to experience continuity, belonging and support so that they stay interested and engaged in learning.

All schools face the constant challenge of ensuring that students feel they belong and are encouraged to participate at school. When students arrive at a school part-way through a term or school year, having been at another school with different routines, this challenge may become greater.

Students have better outcomes if they do not move school regularly. There is good evidence that student transience has a negative impact on student outcomes, both in New Zealand and overseas. Research suggests that students who move home or school frequently are more likely to underachieve in formal education when compared with students that have a more stable school life. A recent study found that school movement had an even stronger effect on educational success than residential movement.

There is also evidence that transience can have negative effects on student behaviour, and on short term social and health experiences.

How We Are Going

In 2016, 3,907 students were identified as transferring school twice or more between 1st March and 1st November. These students are considered transient. Of transient students, 87% transferred school twice, 11% transferred 3 times, and 2% transferred 4 times or more.

The rate of transient students was 5.0 students per 1,000 over the 2016 measurement period, increasing by 0.1 when compared to 2015. There has been a very slight overall decline since 2009 when there were 5.1 per 1,000 students. The spike in transience in 2011 was due to the impact of the Christchurch earthquake, which raised the rate to 6.5 per 1,000 for that year.

Figure 1: Transients per 1,000 enrolled students (2009-2016)

Ethnic Group

In 2016 Māori had the highest levels of transience (12.2 transients per 1,000 enrolled students), followed by Pasifika (6.0 per 1,000), European/Pākehā (3.2 per 1,000) and Asian students (1.5 per 1,000).

Figure 2: Transients per 1,000 enrolled students by ethnic group (2009-2016)



There have been consistently higher rates of female transient students from 2009- 2016. In 2016 females had a transient rate of 5.2 per 1,000 compared to a male rate of 4.9 per 1,000. In 2009 the rate for females was 12.5% higher than that of males, this has decreased to a difference of 6.4% in 2016.

Figure 3: Transients per 1,000 enrolled students by gender (2009-2016)


Students are more likely to be transient at younger ages, with the highest transient rate for those who were 6 years old at the 1st of March 2016.

There is an exception to this trend at age 14 where there is a spike in the transient rate; this age generally being one year after the transition into secondary schooling and typically before beginning NCEA.

It is interesting to note that both of these spikes are driven by increases in the female transient rate as can be seen in figure 4. This is consistent with what was observed in previous years.

Figure 4: Transients per 1,000 enrolled students by age as at 1st March (2016)


Schools in the lowest deciles draw their students from communities with the highest degree of socio-economic disadvantage. To look at the relationship between decile and transient student rates, students are counted once for each decile associated with each of the schools they attended.

There is a correlation between school socio-economic mix and the rate of transient students. Generally speaking, as decile increases, the number of transient students decreases.

In 2016, the transient rate for students who attended a decile 1 school (27.7 per 1,000) was over 7 times that of the rate for students who attended a decile 10 school (3.6 per 1,000).

Figure 5: Transients per 1,000 enrolled students by decile (2016)


Regional spread of transient students was examined in the same way as the spread amongst deciles. Transient students are counted once in each Region they attended school.

The correspondence school had the highest proportion of transient students (47.9 per 1,000), followed by Northland (19.4 per 1,000), Waikato (13.6 per 1,000) and West Coast (13.6 per 1,000).

Figure 6: Transients per 1,000 enrolled students by region (2016)

Cumulative transience in primary aged children

This section provides a measure of student movement over time.

The earliest that a student may need to transition to the next stage of their schooling is at the start of their seventh school year, when they may need to move into an intermediate or secondary school. We examined how many school movements the 2011 cohort of 5-year-olds had over the six years before they reached this first natural schooling transition.

In their starting year less than 1% of this cohort of students had two or more school movements, explained in part by the shorter time period in which to move in their first year. The proportion with two or more movements increased in a linear progression between 2011 and 2016 to over 14% having had two or more movements by the end of their sixth year since starting school.

Table 1: Cumulative transient measure for 2011* cohort
  1. *All students who started school at 5 years of age in 2011.
  2. Examines a cohort across first 6 years of schooling (before any natural transitions into other schooling types e.g. Intermediate/secondary school).
  3. This table relates to cumulative movements over a cumulative time period unlike other measures in this indicator that look at movement within a given year.
Movements 2011 2011
2 movements 354 1,408 2,531 3,486 4,222 4,886
3 movements 44 345 785 1,187 1,602 1,969
4 movements 3 109 306 555 805 1,026
5 movements
27 124 252 402 510
6+ movements - 12 72 216 390 640
Total Cumulative  Transient (2+ movements) 401 1,901 3,818 5,696 7,421 9,031
Total Cohort 60,439 60,439 60,439 60,439 60,439 60,439

Transience and achievement as a school leaver

Students who have moved school twice or more across Year 9 to Year 11 are less than half as likely to achieve NCEA Level 2 or above by the time they leave school compared to those who have not moved school.

Students who have not moved school from Year 9 to Year 11 achieve NCEA Level 2 or above at a rate of 84.7% by the time they leave school, compared to those who have moved school twice or more who achieve NCEA Level 2 or above at a rate of 39.6%.

Figure 7: Secondary school transience and NCEA Level 2 achievement as a school leaver


Evidence about what works for this indicator can be found in:

  • Bull, A. and Gilbert J. (2007). Student movement and schools - what are the issues? New Zealand council for Educational Research.
  • Bradley, C. Norford and Frederic, J. Medway. (2002). Adolescent's mobility histories and present social adjustment.  Psychology in the Schools. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
  • Neighbours, M. (2002). Transient children - a Worldwide Problem for Educators. NZ Principal Magazine.
  • Lee, A. (2000). Transient Children: Perception of how often transient children come and go. New Zealand.
  • Hutchings. HA, Evans A, Barnes P, Demmler J, Heaven M, et al. (2013) Do Children Who Move Home and School Frequently Have Poorer Educational Outcomes in Their Early Years at School? An Anonymised Cohort Study. PLoS ONE 8(8): e70601. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0070601
  • Scherrer, J. (2013). The Negative Effects of Student Mobility: Mobility as a Predictor, Mobility as a Mediator. International Journal of Education Policy & Leadership 8 (1).
  • Necati, Engec. (2006) Relationship Between Mobility and Student Performance and Behaviour, The Journal of Educational Research, 99:3, 167-178, DOI:  10.3200/JOER.99.3.167-178