"Both Māori and Pacific school leavers’ achievement of NCEA level 2 or higher increased slightly, against the overall trend which saw a slight downturn," Jones said.

"More Māori and Pacific school leavers also achieved NCEA Level 3 and University Entrance."

He said a higher percentage of both Māori and Pacific students are now staying at school until at least age 17, and successfully completing higher level qualifications.

Additionally, almost 90 per cent of school leavers in 2017 had NCEA Level 1 or more, and more than 80 per cent had NCEA Level 2 or more.

A slightly higher percentage - 54.4 per cent -  of school leavers in 2017 achieved NCEA Level 3.

Meanwhile, there was a slight increase in the number of students leaving school before age 17, Jones explained.

"Employment statistics suggest that many of the year 11 and 12 students who left school in 2017 moved directly into employment.

"There was an increase of 1.5 per cent in the employment of 15-19 year olds in 2017 compared with the previous year," he said.

School leaver data also covers vocational pathways, which provide new ways to achieve NCEA Levels 1, 2 and 3 and are aligned with the skills needed for particular sectors of the workforce.

There was a 1.4 percentage point increase in students achieving vocational pathways to 34.4% of school leavers in 2017, according to the Deputy Secretary.

"Finally, in 2017 there were fewer 2016 school leavers transitioning to tertiary study," he said.

The results relate to the last year before the Labour Government's first year fees-free tertiary study policy was introduced.

The school leavers’ achievement data is published annually by the Ministry of Education on the Education Counts website.