New Zealand

Education Policy Outlook Highlights: New Zealand


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  Last update 25 June 2013 (EAG 2013)
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‌New Zealand’s educational context

Students: New Zealand has been a top PISA performer since 2000, with students performing above the OECD average in reading, science and mathematics. New Zealand has an inclusive early childhood education curriculum, national standards, comprehensive schooling until the age of 16, low levels of grade repetition, and flexible options in upper secondary education.

Individuals in New Zealand have higher tertiary education attainment than the OECD average, and upper secondary education attainment is around the OECD average. Many vocational education and training programmes are offered in post-compulsory education. Labour market perspectives for students are positive, and during the financial crisis (2008-11), the number of 15-29 year-olds not in education and not employed remained below the OECD average.

Institutions: A highly devolved self-managing school system like that in New Zealand gives school leaders and teachers much autonomy, which requires capacity and professional development to meet responsibilities and use of evaluation and assessment tools to improve student learning.

Governance and funding: Schools and universities are among the most autonomous across OECD countries. Schools are managed by school boards with a focus on student achievement. The government sets annual objectives in a Statement of Intent for its central education agencies, and the Ministry of Education develops a national policy framework. Funding aims to support free schooling, and, while tertiary study involves cost to the student, significant financial support is available.

Key policy issues

The average impact of socio-economic background on student’s performance is above the OECD average, and large performance and completion gaps persist within the student population. Moreover, Māori and Pasifika students represent more than one-third of the student population, and diversity of the student population is increasing, while they face lower outcomes and may be less likely to complete their secondary education. System-level policies, schools and post-secondary schools should focus on improving the educational success of students from diverse backgrounds and delivering quality education across all schools.

Recent policy responses

Recent policies have focused on developing specific plans to support Māori and Pasifika students’ performance, including the Pasifika Education Strategy, a Māori Education Strategy and specific Māori-medium education. A recent reform is looking to provide more choice for students through the development of new partnership schools, which will need to be managed to ensure equity.

A number of reforms in vocational education and training have focused on preventing early school leaving and ensuring upper secondary completion and beyond, including trades academies and the Youth Guarantee.

To clarify learning objectives, expectations and provide support to improve performance, New Zealand has also defined National Standards (2010) and the National Curriculum (2010), and is developing a Student Achievement Function to support schools (2011).

New Zealand achieves higher-than-average scores in PISA 2009 (521 mean score compared to the OECD average of 493) and the impact of socio-economic status on attainment (17%) was higher than the OECD average of 14% (see interactive chart below).


Secondary education attainment in New Zealand is lower than the OECD average while tertiary education is higher (Figure 2). 80% of 25-34 year-olds have attained secondary education (compared to the OECD average of 82%), and 46% have attained tertiary education (compared to the OECD average of 39%).


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