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Working paper

Student Mobility Across Schools and its Links to Under-achievement (WP 18/01)

Issue date: 
Wednesday, 18 April 2018
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JEL classification: 
I21 - Analysis of Education
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This paper provides information on the extent of student mobility between schools in New Zealand, measuring mobility rates at both the student and the school level. The paper focuses particularly on students who change schools at non-standard times and do so relatively frequently.


This paper provides information on the extent of student mobility between schools in New Zealand, measuring mobility rates at both the student and school level. It explores the characteristics of mobile students, the extent to which they become disengaged from school, and their NCEA level 1 achievement rates. It also compares the student turnover rates of different types of schools.

We find that mobile students make up a sizeable sub-group within the set of students who do not achieve NCEA level 1. Analysing data for the 1998 birth cohort, we find that mobile students (defined as those attending five or more schools while aged 8-14 years) represented 9% of all students, but 26% of those who did not achieve NCEA level 1. The association of mobility with poorer attainment means that strategies to raise student achievement must work well for children who change schools frequently, as well as for children with more stable schooling patterns.

At the school level, we find large variations between schools in student turnover rates and in the proportion of students who are frequent movers. Because high student turnover increases a school’s workload and costs and the complexity of teaching, it could have implications for the schooling system in areas such as resourcing, learning support and information exchange.


The author would like to thank Barclay Anstiss, Lis Cowey, Margaret Galt, Marian Loader, Jennie Marjoribanks, Rosanne Mulder, Rachel Robson and Cathy Wylie for their feedback and helpful comments on earlier drafts of this paper.


The views, opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this Working Paper are strictly those of the author(s). They do not necessarily reflect the views of the New Zealand Treasury, Statistics New Zealand, or the New Zealand Government. The New Zealand Treasury, Statistics New Zealand, Ministry of Justice and the New Zealand Government take no responsibility for any errors or omissions in, or for the correctness of, the information contained in this Working Paper. The paper is presented not as policy but with a view to inform and stimulate wider debate.

The results in this report are not official statistics – they have been created for research purposes from the Integrated Data Infrastructure (IDI) managed by Statistics New Zealand. Ongoing work within Statistics New Zealand to develop the IDI means it will not be possible to exactly reproduce the data presented here.

Access to the anonymised data used in this study was provided by Statistics New Zealand in accordance with security and confidentiality provisions of the Statistics Act 1975. Only people authorised by the Statistics Act 1975 are allowed to see data about a particular person, household, business or organisation. The results in this report have been confidentialised to protect these groups from identification.

Careful consideration has been given to the privacy, security and confidentiality issues associated with using administrative and survey data in the IDI. Further detail can be found in the privacy impact assessment for the Integrated Data Infrastructure available from Statistics New Zealand.

The results are based in part on tax data supplied by Inland Revenue to Statistics New Zealand under the Tax Administration Act 1994. These tax data must be used only for statistical purposes, and no individual information may be published or disclosed in any other form or provided to Inland Revenue for administrative or regulatory purposes.

Any person who has had access to the unit-record data has certified that they have been shown, have read and have understood section 81 of the Tax Administration Act 1994, which relates to secrecy. Any discussion of data limitations or weaknesses is in the context of using the IDI for statistical purposes and is not related to the data’s ability to support Inland Revenue’s core operational requirements.


Last updated: 
Wednesday, 18 April 2018