A well-functioning education system that delivers good outcomes for all is essential to New Zealand’s future prosperity and the wellbeing of its people. However, there have been a number of recent reports highlighting New Zealand's declining educational performance.
Arresting this trend will require a better understanding of the problem and potential causes. To that end, this report takes a closer look at the evidence on New Zealand students’ educational achievement and examines whether a lack of funding may be playing a role. In particular, this report examines the recent performance of New Zealand’s education system through the lens of three international education surveys: PIRLS, TIMSS and PISA. These surveys cover the mid-1990s to 2019 and provide snapshots of primary and secondary students’ performance in reading, mathematics and science every three to five years. The results help us track the performance of New Zealand students and make comparisons with other countries.
The analysis shows that both primary and secondary students’ performance has declined over recent decades. As a result, New Zealand's international rankings in reading, maths and science have slipped, in some cases markedly. At the same time, New Zealand’s per-pupil education spending on primary and secondary students has increased substantially, both in absolute and relative terms. It appears additional investment has not borne fruit, and New Zealand should not necessarily expect it will in the future. Indeed, OECD analysis suggests there is virtually no relationship between per-pupil spending and achievement beyond a certain level of spending, a level New Zealand has surpassed.