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What’s cooking in the NCEA world?

There is a rumour round the traps that attention might soon fall again on NCEA – some people just can’t leave it alone. Over the years, attention has fallen on perceived issues related to the number of credits, the so-called slip/sliding of standards, the relationship between NCEA and other qualifications including foreign examinations and so on. It has even had the formation of a Review Group that drew up some tired possibilities for beating it up. Meanwhile it has gone on offering opportunities for success to many students. It has survived its difficult birth and teenage years to become a rather sturdy twenty-odd-year something.

There are good reasons for this – it has played a central and useful part in an education system that was largely unable to bring focus into the curriculum and to spread success across the range of students in something like an equitable manner. Other developments such as the introduction of secondary/tertiary programmes, the supplementing of the secondary school offerings through the trades academies and the availability of Youth Guarantee (YG) places in tertiary institutions have been useful allies of NCEA.

The YG places have come in for some criticism but this is harsh – the criticism that they were not all that successful in moving students through Level 3 programmes is an elegant misunderstanding of the way in which student pathways develop. One of the promises of Vocational Pathways was that students would have studied a set of subjects and developed a set of skills which had integrity and cohesion prior to reaching Level 3.

Vocational Pathways were introduced in a not fully formed state and with minimal discussion of their role in the secondary school and place in the student pathway. Consequently, they became more useful in as a a posteriori summation of what a student had done (and often the result surprised the student) rather than be a powerful means of an a priori planning tool which would help students shape a pathway that went towards potential careers thus giving a student direction and purpose in their work.

The random completion of NCEA credits combined with the light impact of Vocational Pathways left students still perplexed about their futures until they were at about the end of Level 2 and starting Level 3. At the gateway to tertiary study they realised that they were on a path that had less attraction than a different pathway when it came to working through the more focussed tertiary programmes. Suddenly they needed to make a horizontal correction in their direction and enrol in a appropriate Level 2 programme instead of the Level 3 the YG placement was contingent of their continuing to Level 3 even though they felt ill-prepared and in doing so some did not succeed.

The rumour is that a group is going to undertake a TROQ-Junior exercise because their considered opinion is that there are too many NCEA courses in similar vocational areas. The catalyst for this appears to be a sudden awareness that there are 23 cooking courses – surely one would do?

Well if any of this is correct, let’s hope that those engaged in an exercise that will be difficult, first understand why this has happened – if it has! And if it has, is it such a bad thing?

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