13 Oct 2021

School reopening delays raise NCEA fears

4:22 pm on 13 October 2021

The uncertainty surrounding the reopening of Auckland schools has dented some secondary students' confidence and raised fears about NCEA exams.

Generic Library / Students

Students studying for NCEA exams. Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

Principals told RNZ they were running out of time to prepare teenagers for the end-of-year exams and there had even been suggestions the exams should be waived or cancelled for some or all of the city's students.

Auckland Year 13 student Michael Taylor said he had been organised with remote learning, but the decision to keep Auckland's students at home for at least another week knocked his already-flagging determination.

"I lost my motivation a long time ago and was purely just acting on discipline, trying to discipline myself to work every day and when I heard that school wasn't opening next week honestly I just got tired of it. I just need to get back to school to build up the motivation that I lost over lockdown," he said.

Year 13 student Emily Freestone said she was worried she would now have one less week in class to prepare for exams.

"Next term I only have five weeks before I go on study leave to do the NCEA exams and now I'm not going to go back to school for at least the first week it means I have four weeks or maybe even less at school and, in that time, I'm also trying to do assessments so I can get a mock exam grade," she said.

She said the uncertainty surrounding Auckland's alert level was undermining her motivation to study for exams because they would not proceed under level three.

"I don't want to study and then find out there are no exams," she said.

Māngere College principal Tom Webb said the situation was having a big impact on NCEA preparations.

"The longer this goes, on the bigger the impact it will have. It's already been the longest lockdown and the timing of this lockdown feels so different to what we've had in the past.

"Being so close to NCEA exams it's really hard to come back from it, we just don't have the time to be able to prepare students," he said.

Webb said principals were expecting the government would make further changes to the NCEA because some Auckland students would need even more help with passing the qualification than was currently on offer.

He said there had been a variety of suggestions about what help was required.

"There are different calls at the moment ranging from not running externals at all this year and schools accrediting students, to continuing on with the learning recognition credits," he said.

Webb said principals were also aware that some students had been able to study relatively well at home and their hard work should not go to waste.

Mount Albert Grammar headmaster Patrick Drumm said Auckland schools had not had time to run the mock exams which provided a basis for calculating derived grades if students were unable to sit end-of-year exams.

"A lot of the collected evidence is picked up through your practice exams which happen obviously later in the year, normally in the lead up to NCEA. Most schools haven't done the practice or mock exams. That's your source of making your judgement, particularly for your Year 13 leavers, of where they're at," he said.

Meanwhile primary school principal Nardi Leonard from Jean Batten School in Māngere said the ongoing lockdown made it harder to keep up with families, but that was just a challenge schools had to meet.

"I've had teachers turn up and do deliveries to houses, they stand at the letterbox and just a little wave from the kids really gets an excitement going for everyone. We regularly phone call," she said.

Leonard said the difficulties children and teachers were facing had to be considered in light of the serious nature of the pandemic.

"Is learning to read, write and add really important at the moment when you're talking about people's lives," she said.

The Education Minister Chris Hipkins said Auckland students were already entitled to the highest level of NCEA support of any students in New Zealand.

They could receive one learning recognition credit for every four they achieved up to a maximum of 16 credits at NCEA level one and 12 at levels two and three.

"Students unable to go to school aren't getting the same in-classroom time as their peers around the country, which is why we have made these changes. Any concern is understandable and has been heard," he said.

"How long Covid-19 restrictions remain in place relies on the public health advice at the time which informs any decisions that are made. This includes any consideration on changes to NCEA."

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