Child and youth voice research findings

Transitions from Secondary School

AUTHOR: The Tertiary Education Commission (TEC)

This research involved an initial analysis of the data on all 60,000 students that leave school each year, charting what pathways they take next. The researchers then surveyed over 500 school leavers and held in-depth interviews with 56 school leavers across the country, to understand the ‘why’ behind these pathways.

The findings cover what the top careers are that students are aspiring to; what skills, knowledge and confidence they need to make their decision; what barriers make the transition most difficult; and what helps them the most. The results show:

  • A growing proportion of school leavers are Māori, Pacific or other ethnic minorities; 15% of school leavers have a disability and 9% are neurodivergent; 82% of leavers have work or caring responsibilities outside school.​
  • Forty percent of school leavers achieve University Entrance (UE), but one in five only achieve NCEA​ Level 1 or less. The majority go​ on to tertiary study, with 36% of those entering foundational levels (1-3). Twenty-nine percent of school leavers​ go straight into the workforce.​
  • More than anything else, school leavers want to do something they enjoy, but their career choices reflect a need to balance enjoyment with practical factors such as pay and job demand.
  • Factors that prompt students to pivot from a dream to other careers include perceived barriers to entry, job stability and demand. 
  • School leavers need to be equipped with decision-making skills for complex decisions.
  • Confidence is a common barrier to school leavers doing what they want to do when they leave school,
  • Learners need an environment that makes it safe to experiment with different options before making a decision, and need to be connected into those opportunities.
  • Learners on different kinds of pathways have specific needs. 
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