Leaving school before the age of 16

By law children in New Zealand aged 6 to 16 years old must be enrolled in school. There are some situations where your 15 year old can get permission to leave school early. This could be to go on to other training or a job. To discuss this option contact the local Ministry of Education office.

My child is not benefiting from staying at school. What should I do?

As a parent it is really stressful to see your child struggling with school. You can end up thinking that your child would be better off leaving school to get a job or study elsewhere.

Young people do better when they gain a NCEA level 2 qualification (or equivalent qualification).

Research shows that those who leave school without qualifications are more likely to have difficulties when they get into the workforce, earn less money, find it harder to continue studying later on and have higher unemployment rates.

The senior secondary school years help prepare students for further study. Students who leave school before the age of 16 for tertiary study may not be prepared for it and often drop out before they finish.

There are lots of options for you and your child and lots of people that can help.

Talk with your child and whānau before making any final decisions. As your child is under 16 you are still legally responsible for your child so this is a shared decision. You need to work together to understand the pros and cons and risks of staying at school or leaving.

Talk to the school principal, your child’s home teacher, career counsellor, guidance counsellor, someone else at school that you trust, or your local Ministry of Education office(external link). These people can tell you what all the options are and help you access them – things like using the Youth Guarantee(external link) scheme to develop a plan for your child that includes study and career goals.

If you’ve done these things and think your child won’t benefit from staying at school you can discuss the options including an early leaving exemption on their behalf.

What is an early leaving exemption?

It is an approval from the Ministry of Education for your 15 year old child to be exempt from enrolment at a school.

Is my child eligible?

The rules for getting an early leaving exemption are very strict and it’s important that you’ve looked at and discussed all the other options to help your child stay at school and gain a qualification first.

Your child may be eligible if they meet all of these criteria:

  • their educational problems
  • their conduct
  • the unlikelihood of them benefiting from staying at school

You will need to show that you and your child have a plan for what they will do to successfully get into further training or a career.

How do I apply?

Contact your local Ministry of Education office(external link) to discuss your child’s circumstances and the best ways they can support you. An early leaving exemption may be looked at as an option. If this is the case the Ministry will talk you through the process.

What other help is available for my child?

There are lots of options that could help your child, like:

  • Youth guarantee
  • work experience, visits or work courses
  • Gateway programmes
  • STAR programmes
  • Te Kura (formerly known as the Correspondence School)
  • Education outside mainstream
    • Alternative education
    • Activity centres
    • Service academies
    • Trades academies

Get in touch with your local Ministry of Education office(external link) - they can talk to you about these and other options.

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