A shake-up of New Zealand’s major school leaving qualification is underway. The government is making changes to the NCEA exam system, first introduced in 2002. The changes include strengthening literacy and numeracy requirements, having fewer, larger standards, and simplifying the structure of NCEA. Every year about 120,000 students gain an NCEA.

The Ministry of Education says it will make secondary education more equitable and inclusive.

Acting deputy secretary early learning and student achievement Pauline Cleaver says the changes will strengthen every young person’s education.
“The changes will make NCEA simpler and easier to understand so that students, and their parents and wha-nau, will find it easier to make better choices about what they should study so they are well-prepared for their next steps after school.”

The first of seven changes had already happened – fees to sit NCEA were scrapped in May.
That move was a step toward equity, the Post Primary Teachers’ Association (PPTA) says. President Jack Boyle says the removal of fees will help bring out the best in every child.
“Anything that makes school more equitable for every child in New Zealand is something we support wholeheartedly.”

Other changes proposed in the NCEA overhaul were things PPTA had advocated for over a number of years.

“An acknowledgment of the need for better resources and supports, particularly for teaching and learning for Ma-ori, is welcomed. We can also see where considerable effort has been made to try and reduce excessive workload for teachers and students.”

Strengthening literacy and numeracy

Business New Zealand says strengthening literacy and numeracy is a welcome move.
Chief executive Kirk Hope says it is vital students leave school with a strong foundation.
“With approximately 40 percent of our workforce having lower levels of literacy and numeracy skills than needed, it is critical to make sure literacy and numeracy are cornerstones of the NCEA qualification so our young people can be lifelong learners.”

The creation of a Vocational Entrance Award – to show that students are ready to move onto higher-level vocational education training after NCEA – is also a win, Kirk says.
“There is massive demand in the trades, and we welcome better links between schools and industry to provide a pathway into apprenticeships.”

Public policy thinktank The New Zealand Initiative says the proposed changes mirror many of its own recommendations.

The group released a report in 2018 that called for English, te reo Ma-ori and maths requirements to be raised, a reduction in the number of standards and less reliance on internal assessment.

“Just common sense”

Report author and former deputy principal Briar Lipson says the changes are a step in the right direction.
“It trades a little of NCEA’s vast flexibility for greater rigour and reliability, better teaching and less assessment workload for teachers. What’s proposed is not radical or an overhaul, just common sense.”

She says since NCEA was implemented in 2002, the performance of 15-year-old New Zealand students in the core areas of reading, maths and science has consistently declined, according to international benchmarks.
“Subjects exist in the school curriculum for well-established and helpful reasons. A review that strengthens their role, and the voice of subject experts, will improve NCEA for everyone. It could also make teaching more appealing to the passionate graduates we need to attract to the profession.”

Boyle says the changes will provide more certainty for teachers.
“Amongst the considerable changes proposed in our education sector, we are pleased to have some clarity about the direction of the NCEA.”

He says there is a lot of work to be done by schools to implement the changes.
“We await with interest the details of the implementation plan and support for teachers to manage the increased workload that will accompany these changes.”

Cleaver says other changes to the system, such as redesigning achievement standards and introducing a literacy and numeracy co-requisite, will happen over the next five to six years.

“We’ll be supporting schools, students, parents and wha-nau with more information on timing and exactly what is changing well before those changes come into effect.”
Source: https://conversation.education.govt.nz/conversations/ncea-review/change-package/information-for-parents-and-whanau

1. Make NCEA more accessible

  • There are no longer fees to sit NCEA
  • More resources and support for students with disabilities or learning support needs
  • NCEA will become more accessible and inclusive of other languages, cultures, identities, disabilities, genders, and sexualities.

2. Mana o-rite mo- te ma-tauranga Māori (Equal status for ma-tauranga Māori in NCEA)

  • More quality assessment resources and teaching and learning guides for Ma-ori education, new ma-tauranga Ma-ori achievement standards that are recognised by NCEA, and greater teacher capability around ma-tauranga
    Ma-ori and te ao Ma-ori.

3. Strengthen literacy and numeracy requirements

  • Standards for literacy and numeracy that students can sit whenever they are ready, which could be as early as Year 7. This learning would sit outside of NCEA but would be required in order to achieve any NCEA. It would be marked by external markers.

4. Have fewer, larger standards

  • Fewer achievement standards for each subject, but standards would cover a broader range of knowledge, skills and capabilities
  • Fewer assessments each year, which should help stress levels both at school and at home
  • Vocational education and training to be promoted in NCEA so that it’s seen as being just as important as traditional ‘academic’ learning.

5. Simplify NCEA’s structure

  • Students would need only 60 credits to pass any level, and they shouldn’t really be entering more than 120 credits for Levels 1 and 2, 100 for Level 3. They won’t be able to ‘carry-over’ credits from one level to the next, and only resubmissions that would take them from ‘Not Achieved’ to ‘Achieved’ will be allowed.

6. Show clearer pathways to further education and employment

  • Vocational Entrance Award created to show that students are ready to move onto higher-level vocational education training after NCEA
  • The Record of Achievement will be clearer in showing what students know and can do.

7. Keep NCEA Level 1 optional

  • NCEA Level 1 will continue to be an optional level for schools who want to offer it. Others would be free to adopt alternative approaches to Year 11,
    in a way that best meets the needs of their students.


  1. Fascinating article that goes some way to outlining the “new” direction for NCEA but again any changes have not been made in consultation with the disability community.
    No disability representation has occurred at the highest level and only piecemeal consultation post major decision pathways.

    These changes will increase inequity to children and young people with disabilities.

    We have requested disability inclusion at all stages of the development of the NCEA changes but no inclusion has occurred.

    The new NCEA as it has been currently outlined will not increase inclusion of achievement of those groups that have been traditionally failed by education and NCEA those with disabilities, Maori, and Pasifika, as identified in numerous reports.


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