The achievement gap between boys and girls is widening. Last year, half of female students at secondary schools passed NCEA Level 3 or gained sufficient attainment to attend university, while 37.1 per cent of male pupils passed.

The figures, issued yesterday by the Ministry of Education, showed girls had bettered their 45 per cent pass rate in 2007, while boys had also improved from the 33 per cent who got university entrance.

Principals' Federation president Ernie Buutveld said the growing gender gap reflected what he was seeing in primary schools where boys were being outperformed in literacy-oriented subjects.

"Despite what we hear about in the OECD data, boys do tend to catch up but that tends to be more in mathematics and science," he said.

"The gap that is apparent at primary school still seems to be evident at that late stage. It begs the question - when do they catch up?"

Secondary Principals Association New Zealand president Patrick Walsh said the figures were disappointing.

His overall impression was that NCEA favoured a girl's disposition.

Boys favoured competition and examinations but found it hard to stay motivated for the regular assessments during the school year.

The figures showed the overall pass rate for university entrance was 44 per cent.

Last year, Asian students had the highest success rate, with 65 per cent of school leavers achieving a university entrance standard - 34 per cent higher than the percentage of Pakeha students on 48 per cent. Pasifika students on 24.6 per cent and Maori 20.1 per cent had the lowest rates.

The figures showed that in 2008 New Zealanders with no qualifications had, on average, 63 per cent of the relative earning power of those with a bachelor degree or higher.