My nephew has just finished his secondary schooling experience. He is a classic product of NCEA. It has been a puzzling experience for his elderly parents who forked out a considerable amount for his private school education. My nephew and I have had to reassure them on numerous occasions that his laid back approach to achievement under NCEA is generally the norm. His reassurances have usually been less convincing than mine.

My nephew is a smart kid, likely the result of a genetic throwback or damage at birth. He has taken a range of subjects including physics and maths to level 3. For those of us in the teaching game these subjects tend to be the preserve of the more academically able students. Not that there is a hierarchy of subjects under NCEA. That would suggest an element of academic bigotry. A dubious belief that some knowledge is more difficult to master than others. Under NCEA, knowledge is knowledge is knowledge. Learning to make a decent coffee can generate credits the same as mastering the dark art of quantum physics or differential equations.

My nephew has been relatively laid back in his approach to learning under NCEA. His parents struggled to understand how he could achieve success  while lying on the couch watching Sky sport and facilitating his ample social life. Apparently they just don’t get it because they were such social dweebs when they were young. He had to constantly reassure them that school was not like in their day, a century ago. There are no real sharp edges these days. The high stakes pass-fail regime of school certificate is a medieval anachronism. A highly stressful rite of passage which is now a distant memory of the aged and infirm, like his mum and dad. Only real, real losers fail these days. Assessment is way different now. Way more user-friendly and child-orientated to ensure maximum comfort and results for least effort. Mum and dad just needed to stop stressing out. Just chill out. Relax. Take a chill pill.

My nephew even missed a few deadlines for internals during his schooling. This completely stressed his mum. But she  gets stressed if Easter is late. No worries. It’s cool, teachers usually offer re submits. They also offer re sits for students who don’t succeed first time around. The onus is on them to ensure they get decent pass rates. It is very important that teachers achieve well under NCEA. Otherwise school administrators get antsy and nervous. School pass rates are reported in the media. They are a window to the world. Bad NCEA pass rates suggest poor teaching. So in the past few years with more and more assessment being done in schools, by teachers, pass rates have rocketed. Maori and Pacific island achievement has also increased dramatically. Schools that were previously performing poorly have seen a dramatic  increase in NCEA pass rates. Everyone is happier and more laid back about academic success. It’s just so much easier than before. Teachers can point to 100 per cent pass rates in internal assessments in their subjects. Students can point to the huge amounts of NCEA credits they have accumulated, often with minimal effort and stress. What a success story. It’s strange other countries haven’t seen fit to copy it.

My nephew decided not to sit a few of his external NCEA exams. This made his parents eyes bulge with disbelief. Their faces contorted turning an unhealthy purple in repressed rage. He reassured them he didn’t need the credits. He had enough already. It was all cool. He had done enough. They looked at me for reassurance. I just slowly nodded, a little sadly and wistfully.

I am very fond of my nephew. He is a smart guy. He has learnt the main lesson that is taught by NCEA. It is called satisificing. Put in the minimum effort in order to achieve the required result. This is the lesson NCEA emphasises to our kids. It is not that hard to understand why New Zealand educational achievement is slipping, under most international measures.

Peter Lyons teaches Economics at Saint Peters College  in Epsom. He is unlikely to ever be employed by NZQA.


  1. A ‘gentleman’s C’ was a satisfactory criterion for an assured social entrance-at Oxbridge.The expansion of the BA and other university ‘graduate’ qualifications from various New Zealand institutions is having a similar effect.Hence the ‘status rush’ by the senior universities in NZ.Is an honors BA better than an A or B pass BA? apart from an extra year or a couple of semesters of time? High pass rates assure ‘bums on seats’.To maintain a supposed ‘quality our universities rely on league tables (eg The ‘Times’) and self advertisement as ‘research’ institutions to distinguish themselves from the lesser breeds judging by their marketing efforts. Some of our schools use English based (often privately owned)examination systems.Even the USA SAC exam.based qualification is appearing,often used by the increasing numbers of Asian students as an extra-curricular qualification.Remember John Morris (AGS) and his battles and faithfully supported by many hoping to maintain enrolments and even advertising the fact.NCEA was insufficient for these schools.But as pointed out by Lyons ,school children can game the system which certainly shows their ability to judge the worth of a subject in the values race.In the days of the UE some schools did not accredit- left this to the formal university exam.If I remember correctly,Kings College was thus.It was not capable of ‘gaming’-a gppd 1st 5/8 was accredited in some schools-so it was alleged.Maybe now the NCEA points loaded PE student will become Dux as suggest recently by an annoyed 7th former.


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