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Developing knowledge and skills

Facilitating a learning environment where everyone can achieve to the best of their ability contributes to raising living standards.Children who develop in a strong and positive learning environment are more likely to have better education and labour market outcomes – such as higher incomes and lower unemployment. This can also lead to better social outcomes and mental and physical health outcomes.[54] International evidence suggests that the development of non-cognitive or social/emotional skills, as well as educational achievement, will be increasingly important as our economy continues to move towards knowledge work and service occupations.[55]

Skill development and education take place in all facets of our lives.[56]Better outcomes are achieved when both formal and informal, technical and soft skill development work together. This process begins well before formal education, with families, communities, technology and the natural environment all providing opportunities for learning. Developing and supporting life-long learning practices within formal and informal education as well as training and re-training within workplaces are important for sustainably raising living standards.

The schooling and tertiary systems work well for the majority of New Zealanders, equipping them with the skills to participate in society and the economy. The OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) data suggest that New Zealand school students have performed better than the OECD average on international measures of achievement – particularly in both science and reading.[57] However, there are some signs of a decline in performance for New Zealand students in PISA across the achievement distribution, in maths and science in particular. On the other hand, New Zealand has high participation and completion rates in tertiary education. In 2015, 21 percent of adults had a bachelor degree or higher level qualification.[58]

But the education system could work better for some New Zealanders. There is significant variability in performance within and between schools, including between schools with similar socio-economic mixes.[59] Furthermore, socio-economic background has more impact on educational attainment in New Zealand than in most other OECD countries[60] and fewer students from disadvantaged backgrounds go on to study at a higher level after completing schooling. There has been a significant improvement in the proportion of Māori students achieving National Certificate of Educational Achievement(NCEA) level 2 in recent years and some closing of the gap with the overall population,[61] however, too many Māori still leave school without NCEA. The education system should remain focused on enabling all students to reach their potential.

While problems become more visible at NCEA level, the solutions need to start much earlier. There is mounting evidence that the first three years of life are crucial for the development of the foundations that underpin cognitive, language, social and emotional functions. And there is a strong correlation between the development of these functions and a child's socio-economic status.[62] This underscores the importance of investing early in children at risk of poor outcomes. High quality early childhood education for the most disadvantaged children can significantly improve their outcomes.[63] And early childhood interventions need to be followed and reinforced by the schooling system.[64]

Effective and responsive teaching is a key contributor to learner outcomes within schools and other learning environments.[65] There is strong evidence that the best drivers of collective shifts in teaching practice are:

  • evaluative practices involving data and evidence clearly focused on learner outcomes;
  • collaboration among educators; and
  • leaders creating conditions that encourage learning and collaboration.[66]

These practices are at the heart of a learner-focused education system that has high expectations for all children; recognises – and is responsive to – the diversity of learner needs; and provides early identification and intervention for children who need additional support.


  • [54] See, for example,
  • [55] See, for example, Airan Liu (2016) Non-cognitive skills and the growing achievement gap. Population Studies Center Research Report 16-861. University of Michigan: Ann Arbor; and Pedro Carneiro, Claire Crawford, and Alissa Goodman (2007) The impact of early cognitive and non-cognitive skills on later outcomes. London School of Economics: London.
  • [56] John Hattie (2009) Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement. Routledge: Oxfordshire.
  • [57]
  • [58] Ministry of Education (2016) Profile and Trends – Tertiary Education Outcomes and Qualification Completions 2015
  • [59] For example, see (click on decile bar).
  • [60] OECD (2013) PISA 2012 Results: Excellence through Equity. Giving every student the chance to succeed. Volume II.
  • [61]
  • [62] Sneha Elango, Jorge Luis García, James Heckman, and Andrés Hojman (2015) Early Childhood Education. NBER Working Paper No. 21766
  • [63] Lynn Karoly and James Bigelow (2005) The economics of investing in universal preschool education in California. Rand Corporation.
  • [64] Kathy Sylva, Edward Melhuish, Pam Sammons, P, Iram Siraj-Blatchford, Brenda Taggart, and Steve Hunt (2008) The Effective Pre-School and Primary Education 3-11 Project (EPPE 3-11): Influences on Children's Attainment and Progress in Key Stage 2: Cognitive outcomes in Year 6. London: DCSF / Institute of Education, University of London.
  • [65] See, for example, John Hattie (2009) Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. Abingdon: Routledge and Adrienne Alton-Lee (2003) Quality teaching for diverse students in schooling: Best Evidence Synthesis. Ministry of Education.
  • [66] See, for example, John Hattie (2015) What Works in Education: The Politics of collaborative expertise. London: Pearson; Michael Fullan, Santiago Rincon-Gallardo, and Andy Hargreaves, A. (2015) Professional Capital as Accountability, prepared for Education Policy Analysis Archives; and Viviane Robinson, Margie Hohepa, and Claire Lloyd (2009) School Leadership and Student Outcomes: Identifying what works and why Best Evidence Synthesis, Wellington: Ministry of Education.
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