About Situational Analysis

Why is education important?

A high performing education system is essential to the Government’s broad goal of creating a society where all New Zealanders have the opportunity to succeed. In particular, a high performing system will ensure that New Zealanders have the skills that employers demand, leading to successful, well-paying jobs and a better quality of life for individuals and families.

Government expenditure on education

At $11,969 million, Vote Education is the third-largest item of New Zealand government expenditure after social security and welfare, and health. Government expenditure on education has increased around 4 per cent per year between 2000 and 2008 (in real terms). As a percentage of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP), spending on education has remained relatively stable over this period.

New Zealand’s education system rates highly

New Zealand students’ average achievement equals or exceeds that of students from other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries in core areas such as reading, mathematics and science. Our top students are among the best in the world. 1

  • New Zealand students rate higher than the OECD average in literacy, mathematics (at Year 9) and science. Of the 57 countries participating in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2006, New Zealand ranked third in scientific literacy, fourth in reading, and sixth in mathematical literacy.
  • The number of tertiary-type A (degree level) graduates in New Zealand is above the OECD average in all fields except for engineering, manufacturing and construction.
  • Student achievement, as measured through the secondary school National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA).
    qualification system, has been continuously improving since 2003. In 2008, the proportion of school leavers achieving NCEA Level 2 (71 per cent) had increased by 35 per cent since 2003 (52.6 per cent).

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Percentage of New Zealand 15-year-old students reaching the PISA mathematical literacy proficiency levels (2006)


View a larger version of the bar graph which shows the percentage of New Zealand 15-year-old students reaching the PISA mathematical literacy proficiency levels (2006).  [GIF; 24kb]

Percentage of school leavers with NCEA Level 2 or above, by ethnic group (1993 to 2008)


View a larger version of the line graph which shows the percentage of school leavers with NCEA Level 2 or above, by ethnic group (1993 to 2008).  [GIF; 33kb]

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Percentage of New Zealand 15-year-old students reaching the PISA reading literacy proficiency levels (2006)


View a larger version of the bar graph which shows the percentage of New Zealand 15-year-old students reaching the PISA reading literacy proficiency levels (2006).  [GIF; 26kb]

Government expenditure on education in New Zealand (1996/97 to 2006/07)


View a larger version of the line graph which shows Government expenditure on education in New Zealand (1996/97 to 2006/07). [GIF; 23kb]

Source: Ministry of Education’s Education Counts website

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The system is not fully meeting the needs of some students

Although there is a relationship between socio-economic status, ethnicity and achievement, this is not a predeterminant for success or failure. There is a spread of achievement within these groups, and many high performers come from Māori and Pasifika families, and from schools located in low socio-economic areas.

While the education system works well for most students and leads the world in some respects, it does not adequately meet the needs of some groups. Although gains in participation and achievement have been made overall, there remains a significant gap between our high performing and low performing students. Māori, Pasifika, learners from low socio-economic areas and learners with special education needs, on average, continue to achieve at lower levels than their peers. 2

Lifting system performance

National and international evidence suggests there is no single reason why the education system is not fully meeting the needs of all students. Nor is there a single quick fix solution. The evidence suggests a need to adopt a continuous improvement model that focuses on a few key things that are known to be important in raising student achievement:

  • high quality educational relationships between teachers and learners
  • strong learning-based relationships between teachers and parents
  • learning environments with high expectations, high levels of trust and high levels of respect of learners
  • developing strong educational leadership and then building it across providers.

We know that getting things right in the early years of every child’s life is essential to success in later life. We know that participation in early childhood education (ECE) can set the foundation for better educational achievement in later education. For children with special education needs, we know that the earlier we can start providing support, the better their chance of fulfilling their potential. We must direct resources and expertise to address these issues early.

Building strong student literacy and numeracy skills early in primary school ensures students are more engaged with school, and succeed across the entire curriculum throughout their schooling and tertiary education. Effective teaching, strong relationships and quick, effective support for students who begin to fall behind their peers are all vital to improve student achievement.

We want more students to complete high level qualifications that lead to improved job prospects and higher earnings. Improving course and qualification completion rates in tertiary education will see more students gain qualifications, so they have the skills to take up well-paid jobs in a productive workforce.

Social factors can also influence educational achievement. Learners’ levels of achievement are influenced by their health and level of well-being; the quality of their home and family life; their motivation and interest in learning; their sense of identity, culture and level of self-esteem; their expectations of themselves, the expectations of others; and the level of support they experience in education.

1 Based on results from three international comparative studies measuring aspects of reading literacy proficiency and mathematics proficiency (PIRLS, TIMSS and PISA).

2 Data and explanation of the areas of disparity are provided in the Operating Intentions section.



Content last updated: 16 April 2014