One in five quit school unqualified
A third of all school leavers dropped out last year without getting level two NCEA and nearly one in five failed to make the qualification's most basic rung.
Thousands of dropouts risk becoming beneficiaries or getting low-paid casual jobs.
But the Government says figures are improving, more pupils are leaving school better qualified than ever before, and Maori are making the biggest gains.
Education Minister Chris Carter will today release the 2007 national school leavers report. It shows nearly one in five of last year's 56,670 school leavers dropped out without level one National Certificate of Educational Achievement, an improvement of six percentage points on 2006.
NCEA level one replaced School Certificate in 2002 as the most basic secondary school qualification.
One in three school leavers did not gain level two - the minimum qualification needed for many trade training courses and modern apprenticeships.
But the percentage of school leavers getting level two or above, including University Entrance, has improved.
Girls stayed at school longer than boys and left with more qualifications. Maori fared significantly worse than non-Maori, but made the biggest gains.
Mr Carter said more students were leaving with qualifications, fewer were being left behind and the report was encouraging.
But he added: "I remain concerned that too many young New Zealanders are leaving school without the qualifications or skills they need to succeed in a 21st-century society."
Schools Plus, a scheme to keep young people engaged in learning or training till they are 18, would help more people to gain qualifications, he said.
Wellington High School career head Anne Grimmer said pupils who dropped out without level one had very low chances of success.
"They may get some labouring jobs or low-skill jobs. They may be the trolley boy at the supermarket. They could be the person stacking the shelves. The later they leave school the more successful their chances will be."
The Dominion Post