22 Sep 2021

Auckland students need more help for NCEA - principal

10:00 am on 22 September 2021

Auckland principals are hoping the government will make further changes to help their students get the NCEA qualification.

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Otahuhu College principal Neil Watson said the Qualifications Authority should provide more learning recognition credits for Auckland students and also make changes to exams. Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

They say students will lose at least 33 days of classroom time because of the city's lockdown and that will have a huge impact.

Currently they are eligible for one extra credit for every five they achieve and lower benchmarks for merit, excellence and University Entrance because they have been in lockdown for more than 20 school days. Slightly fewer extra credits are available to students who have had 16 school days in lockdown.

Year 13 student Luis Seetai from Otahuhu College told RNZ this week's confirmation of two more weeks of lockdown under alert level 3 for Auckland had increased the pressure on teenagers doing the NCEA.

"For the majority of the students, especially us Year 13s, what we need is time. We're aware that exams have been pushed back another two weeks, but it all comes down to time. The longer we stay in lockdown the less time we'll have."

He said that would make the fourth term especially busy.

"It's pretty depressing, it's pretty sad to know it is our last term in high school and it's going to be clouded with so much catching up on work that we won't be able to enjoy our final days there," he said.

Seetai said he did not need any more changes to the qualification, but others did.

"Some students are actually struggling. They would need extra credits," he said.

Otahuhu College principal Neil Watson said the school had been playing catch-up after earlier Auckland lockdowns this year and the loss of more classroom time to the current lockdown was taking a toll.

"Despite the early lockdowns we had caught up to where we normally are before the start of this lockdown. Now we've dropped back again, so we're probably at least a month behind where we normally are and you just cannot catch that up in the month of school left," he said.

Watson said the Qualifications Authority should provide more learning recognition credits for Auckland students and also make changes to exams.

"With the last seven weeks of the third term taken up by lockdown and the impact that's had on students there needs to be serious thought given to how the externals can be run so it's fair for all students throughout Auckland," he said.

Auckland Secondary Principals Association president Steve Hargreaves said Auckland students "absolutely" needed more help with NCEA.

"Auckland students are going to need more than what's already been published as compensation for those students outside of Auckland but what that is is yet to be seen. Last year Auckland students received extra compensation compared to those students outside of Auckland but this year if this lockdown continues and potentially now even into term four there might need to be a new plan entirely," he said.

He said Auckland students could get more learning recognition credits for Auckland students, or something else.

"It's too difficult to say what that might be because we're trying to anticipate just how long we're going to be out of school. It might be we don't return in time to run exams in term four and then we're looking at something new that hasn't been put on the table such as accrediting students with their externals."

Education Minister Chris Hipkins said he was actively looking at further support for students in Auckland and would have more to say soon.

Cambridge exam students stressed

While the government was considering further changes to the NCEA, a student enrolled in the Cambridge International Exams said many of her peers were feeling stressed and ignored.

Year 13 student Stella Lynch told RNZ that unlike NCEA, Cambridge exams had not been postponed and students were not being awarded extra marks to compensate for the effect of the lockdown on their studies.

The government had no control over the qualification, which was run by a company in the UK. Lynch said students wanted assurances from universities that the effect of the pandemic would be considered when they applied to limited-entry courses.

She said the exams would begin on Friday 1 October while Auckland was still in lockdown so some students would miss some of their exams.

"People are beyond stressed and if it goes to teacher-assessed work there's no evidence [for] quite a number of students throughout the year that they deserve the As and A-stars that they deserve," she said.

"That's what a lot of people are worried about, that whilst we've been reassured multiple times that we'll get the marks we deserve, and that's great, but if there's no evidence to back it up we're really not certain that's going to happen and people are worried about getting into courses such as engineering or advanced science if they're not certain they can sit their exams under normal conditions."

Lynch said students were asking the government to put pressure on universities to change entry requirements for students sitting the Cambridge International Exams and the International Baccalaureate.

"We'd like them to make it easier for IB and CIE students to get into university by lowering the threshold to get in and taking the situation, especially of those students in Auckland, into account when they are looking at academic scholarship applications, especially when comparing them to NCEA students who have had help with their credits," she said.

Lynch said she did not begrudge the changes that had been made for NCEA students.

"But to sit on the sidelines and watch them get assistance and then nothing be spoken about publicly about IB or Cambridge, you really do feel like you've been ignored by the government and that's been quite a hard pill to swallow for a bunch of us," she said.

Cambridge International regional director (Southeast Asia and Pacific) Dr Ben Schmidt said if exams could not occur due to the pandemic, students would get a mark based on teachers' assessment of their work earlier in the year.

"For Cambridge International students in New Zealand, we are currently still planning for exams to go ahead, provided that it will be permitted and safe to do so," he said.

"We have created extensive extra measures to support them and their schools, including adjustments to aspects of assessments, and exemptions from components that are difficult to run during the pandemic.

"We have also expanded our special considerations process to enable students to receive a grade, when for good reason they miss some exams, for example in case of brief school closures during the exam period.

"We are closely monitoring the situation in New Zealand. We are consulting with school leaders and will update them immediately if it becomes clear that exams cannot go ahead, and we need to switch to an approach based on teacher assessment."

Schmidt said the organisation would also work with universities to ensure they could make informed admission decisions.

Universities New Zealand chief executive Chris Whelan said it was talking to Cambridge Assessment International Education about lowering the entry requirement for students with Cambridge qualifications.

He said last year the requirements were lowered by 10 points because of the disruption caused by the pandemic.

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