New Zealand was among the countries CIEB profiled in 2015. This profile has been archived and is no longer being updated.

In the first administration of PISA in 2000, New Zealand ranked among the top ten countries for student performance in math, reading, and science; and it maintained a spot among the top performing countries on PISA through the 2009 administration. In 2012, however, New Zealand’s performance on PISA slipped out of the top ten. In the most recent PISA administration, in 2015, New Zealand’s scores did not improve, but its ranking did, since other countries slipped even further. The country placed 10th in reading (up from 13th), 12th in science (up from 18th), and 21st in mathematics (up from 23rd). A relatively high proportion of students are top performers in at least one subject area (20 percent), compared to the OECD average of 15 percent.

Despite its strong outcomes to date, New Zealand remains unsatisfied with its performance and the disparities between its low and high achievers, and continues to strive to improve. The past decade has seen efforts to professionalize teaching and to incentivize collaboration. However, after an election in 2017 that replaced a government led by a right-of-center National Party with a Labour-led coalition, the new government undertook a sweeping review of the New Zealand education system, with an eye toward improving its stagnant student performance.

A key focus of the current review is a proposed overhaul of the National Certificate of Education Achievement (NCEA). New Zealand has long had a very strong national curriculum and qualifications framework. In the early 1990s, the government created the New Zealand Qualifications Authority, a body separate from the ministry, to create a comprehensive Qualifications Framework, extending from basic high school leaving qualifications all the way through university doctorates and advanced technical qualifications, all within a single framework embracing both academic and vocational qualifications. The NCEA is nested into this framework and serves as its foundation. This is a standards-based system in which the pass points on the exams were set to fixed standards of achievement prior to the administration of the exam, and the schools were meant to get as many students as possible to the standards rather than simply sort students out against a fixed distribution of scores. Earning an NCEA qualification entitles a student to pursue a number of pathways to higher education or employment.

In 2017, the education ministry began a sweeping review of the NCEA and the qualifications framework of which it is a part. While the ministry maintains that the overall structure is sound, there are concerns that the NCEA was no longer adequately measuring student progress, that achievement gaps remain large, and that over-testing may be affecting the well being of students and teachers. The ministry solicited input from the general public, a ministerial advisory group, and an advisory group composed of principals and teachers. Based on these comments, the government is expected to propose changes to the NCEA that could go into effect as early as 2020.

In addition to the changes in the NCEA and the qualification system, the government is also proposing changes to streamline school governance by replacing a system in which each school has its own board of trustees to one in which “education hubs” provide support to networks of schools; to improve the recruitment and preparation of teachers; to strengthen education for Maori students; and to revamp vocational education and training by placing the 16 polytechnic institutions under the control of a single entity, the Institute of Skills and Technology, with a single funding stream.




Ethnic Makeup

European 71.2%, Maori 14.1%, Asian 11.3%, Pacific peoples 7.6%, Middle Eastern, Latin American, African 1.1%, other 1.6%


$189 billion; $39,000 per Capita

Major Industries

Services: 72.8%; Industry: 21.5%; Agriculture: 5.7%


Unemployment: 4.7%; Youth Unemployment: 11.5%

Educational Attainment

Upper Secondary Graduation Rate: 95%