In the New Zealand education system senior secondary schooling encompasses the Years 11 to 13. During this time students have the opportunity to develop formal qualifications at school including the National Certificates of Educational Achievement (NCEA) for Levels 1 to 3 of the New Zealand Qualifications Framework. Following on from their years at secondary school, young people are expected to go on to tertiary education, training or employment.
Student success at senior secondary school can be seen as a culmination of the knowledge, skills and attitudes they have developed throughout their time at school. The qualifications and knowledge students develop at secondary school provide a platform for a learner’s life as an adult. The pathways students start to take in senior secondary school help shape the way they will contribute to our society as young adults.
The importance of students doing well at senior secondary school is reflected in the Better Public Services (BPS) goals of the Government. The BPS goals include the target that 85 percent of 18 year olds will achieve NCEA level 2 or an equivalent qualification by 2017. The same 85 percent target is in place for Māori and Pacific 18 year olds.
Ministry of Education data from 2011 shows that approximately 74 percent of 18 year olds achieved NCEA Level 2. While this represents an increase from earlier years, the education system will have to continue to improve if it is to reach the 2017 goal. In 2011 almost 80 percent of Pākehā New Zealand European 18 year olds, just over 57 percent of Māori 18 year olds, and approximately 66 percent of Pacific 18 year olds achieved NCEA Level 2. A stronger focus on priority learners (Māori, Pacific, students with special needs and students from low income families) is required to increase the percentage of students reaching NCEA Level 2.
The Government has introduced several initiatives aimed at supporting learners to achieve NCEA Level 2. This includes introducing additional learning pathways for students as part of the Youth Guarantee policy as well as those connected to service and trades academies. 
The Youth Guarantee scheme is designed to support learners to develop specific vocational skills. It operates across secondary and tertiary sectors and has as its specific focus the development of NCEA Level 2 qualifications. The five vocational pathways of this scheme are:
In May 2012 the Government announced an increase in Youth Guarantee places for the 2013 academic year. The Government also increased the number of student places in service and trades academies. Service academies are military-focused education initiatives that provide students with the opportunity to develop skills in a range of contexts, including numeracy, literacy, leadership and outdoor education. 
At the beginning of 2013, 22 Secondary Tertiary Programmes (STP) were established with clusters of schools and other vocational education providers in their communities. These STP allow students working towards NCEA Level 2 to spend part of their time in a secondary school and go off-site, typically to a polytechnic or other education provider facility, where they take part in courses which develop specific skills for work in a trade occupation.
In 2012 ERO evaluated the approach of 44 secondary schools to CIAGE. Four schools had high quality approaches to CIAGE, characterised by their innovative school-wide focus on helping students identify, plan and strive for their aspirations for the future. The school-wide focus of these schools meant that students had frequent opportunities to develop career management competencies through the school’s delivery of The New Zealand Curriculum. These schools also had high quality approaches supporting priority learners, especially for Māori students and those with special needs.
The remaining schools did not have the same level of innovation or school-wide commitment to careers (or student aspirations for the future). Typically these schools had a more conventional approach to careers that centred on the work of a careers department. While many of these schools had hard-working careers staff, who provided some very good services, CIAGE primarily operated as an addition to the school’s curriculum, rather than a more integrated component. In some of these schools the students had very few opportunities to set goals, develop self awareness, make decisions about their future and actively explore relevant opportunities.
In this 2012 report ERO investigated how effectively schools used literacy and mathematics achievement information to improve learning for Years 9 and 10 students. Data was collected in 68 secondary schools throughout New Zealand as part of the regular ERO education reviews of these schools.
The report found that most schools lacked well-established processes for using assessment information to help Years 9 and 10 students learn. Generally, information gathered at transition points was not used well by teachers to identify what students already knew, and what teachers and students needed to work on next. Limited information was gathered throughout the year that told teachers how well students were achieving and progressing, or how effectively classroom programmes were improving students’ learning.
Only a small number of Years 9 and 10 students experienced the opportunity to set goals, assess their own performance, and receive feedback about their progress. Given the substantial evidence indicating how effective these processes are in building students’ engagement and understanding of their learning, it was of concern that teachers did not more readily integrate these practices into their programmes.