1 December 2015
There was a rather troubling article in the weekend papers. It was about the “bold” move of Hobsonville Point Secondary School to do away with NCEA Level 1.
Now let’s be clear, this school is clearly setting a high standard in its commitment to the new pedagogy and in its comfort in giving to students a higher degree of responsibility for their learning. It is innovative in its use of space and in all respects seems to be pushing the direction of secondary education towards a much more positive set of outcomes than is typical. So, all power to their bow for this.
If I could be a little more mischievous. I read reports are that a group of parents have removed their children from this school to send then to such schools Conventional College and the Examination Excellence Academy. This encourages me to think that the HPSS is headed in a positive direction. When you see who is against them you have to want to support them!
But I believe that their desire to jettison NCEA Level 1 is based on some misunderstandings about NCEA and is to misjudge its usefulness in supporting the very things that HPSS wishes to emphasise.
For a start, NCEA is not about examinations. This could have been the journalist speaking but the article claimed in support of the move that this would free students from the pressure of examinations. The tragedy of NCEA is that schools have had great difficulty in understanding the freedom that NCEA offers, assessment by examination is not essential and a whole array of assessment techniques can be brought into play – especially at Level 1.
Secondly, NCEA is not in any shape or form related to either time served or age reached. There is no connection in regulation or law between Year 11 and NCEA Level 1, Year 12 and NCEA Level 2, or Year 13 and NCEA Level 3. Furthermore, there is no requirement that assessments be restricted to one level at a time. For a school aiming to liberate the curriculum I cannot think of a more ideal assessment framework. For a school aiming to devolve power to students I cannot see a more motivating assessment framework that allows for assessment at any time and at multiple levels.
Could the school not have chosen simply to free up the curriculum with NCEA being available for students to nominate the points and levels at which they wish their progress to be assessed? This could start in Year 8 with no problems.
Well, the argument might run, what would you do in the more senior years if the students have attained earlier than Year 13 their New Zealand “school qualification”? The answer to that is: do what a school qualification intends, use it as a staging post for getting on with non-school / postsecondary qualifications. This would allow students to lay a sound basis for future careers while they can still access education at no cost to the parents.
Each level of the education has a role to play – primary lays down the base of essential foundation skills, secondary hones those skills into sets of discipline related pathways into careers and employment while tertiary delivers the technical skills required to start and continue in those careers.
Nobody in education plays the role of being the be-all-and-end-all to a young person’s journey through the system – we all play only a part. Using the flexibility that NCEA was designed to bring into the system is a key.
One day NZQA will deliver (and it will!) on its promise (as outlined by CE Karen Poutasi in her SPANZ 2013 speech) to make available “assessment to anyone, anywhere, anytime, online and on demand.” We need schools such as Hobsonville Point Secondary School to start showing us the way forward towards this new world.