Forty current and former principals think 16 weeks is not enough time to have their say on the NCEA review. They claim principals are sidelined in the process and worry that young people are being asked what they think.

Some of the names are familiar as implacable NCEA opponents. They’ve been having their say for 16 years. Some were decrying NCEA before it began.

They might have noticed that the sky has not fallen. NCEA makes it perfectly possible to identify our most academically gifted students. Under NCEA you can compete for scholarships and excellence grades and all the proper credits. NCEA has also been shown to provide a good preparation for modern university study, where cram and exam is not the only way things are done.

But NCEA also recognises a wider range of skills and achievements, and areas of ability, so that hopefully a lot more of our kids head out of school with a chance to make a go of life, with a qualification that values who they are and what they can do.

For that reason alone it is a good idea that this review talks to parents, teachers, employers, and especially young people themselves. They are the group that has to live most directly with the consequences of NCEA. Their success may be helped or hindered by the trust and credibility NCEA enjoys.  Those principals that have spent the last 16 years undermining public confidence in NCEA have done 800,000 young people no favours in that regard.

There are most certainly areas for improvement, and unmet potential in NCEA. By my observation, principals do not appear to be excluded from the review process. However they are not the only voice that matters, just as NCEA recognises there is more than one kind of achievement that matters.

Josh Williams was formerly a member of the Ministry of Education’s Qualifications Development Group that developed NCEA.


  1. Of course everyone should be consulted, but we need to be careful about how we prioritise feedback from end-users in relation to feedback from industry experts. In the design of a building, for instance, I would expect the user to be consulted about surface detail – What can we do to provide ease of access? How can we ensure this building is a place you want to spend time in? – that type of thing. Considerably more time, however, should be spent consulting with engineering experts around matters of structural integrity.
    Unfortunately, for some time in Education, far too much weight has been given to the opinions of groups and individuals who possess a passing interest in, but have little specialised knowledge of, the Education system. If we want to develop a system that is truly fit for purpose then I believe we need to shift that imbalance.
    The fact that the sky hasn’t fallen in doesn’t mean NCEA was the best system we were capable of developing. Its quite possible that, had our Principals, senior teachers, and other education ‘experts’ been more actively involved in the process of NCEA design, we could have come up with something infinitely superior. Isn’t it worth a try this time round?


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