ERO notes that no one of the five aspects plays a more important part than any other. The interplay across the aspects is evident in every school and TEO. Each provider may place their emphasis on a different aspect, depending on their unique circumstances, the challenges they face and the priorities they set. The findings focus on schools and then TEOs.

Courageous leadership makes a difference

Leaders were often the key influence in schools that successfully overcame challenges presented by working with NCEA. These leaders came from across the school types. They addressed the challenges they and their students faced, making sense of the issues underlying the challenges, and worked to find solutions. They included their school community in the process, so the changes were understood before they were implemented. These leaders were focused on achieving the best for their students, enabling their staff to design relevant, culturally responsive, local curricula that met individuals’ learning needs and interests.

Courageous leaders allocated resourcing according to priorities. Of note was the allocation of funding according to the programmes catering for students’ choice of pathways rather than disproportionately to pathways leading to university.

It is interesting that four of the nine schools visited had a change of principal in the past three years. In each case the principal took a fresh look at the school, identifying where improvements could be made to build on the work of the previous principal. In each school progress was made towards a more student-centred approach.4

Common themes from schools5

Almost all schools had a focus on student wellbeing. Some successfully mitigated the pressures of the assessment load placed on students. Most, to a greater or lesser extent, provided a responsive curriculum with flexible timetabling. They monitored and mentored students well, providing clear guidance for relevant learning pathways.

The common themes across schools tended to be in the challenges faced. Challenges found in many of the schools included:

  • competition between schools for students and funding

- schools are often judged in ‘league tables’ based solely on NCEA and University Entrance (UE) results

  • variability of practice

- quality of pedagogy

- focus on credit acquisition rather than learning 

- siloed learning areas meant lost opportunities for authentic learning contexts and assessment across learning areas

  • assessment

- parents’ poor understanding of NCEA hampered their ability to support and advise their child

- relentless assessment pressures, sometimes created by students’ own and parental expectations

- validity and integrity of assessment practices

- student perception of the relative ‘worth’ of credits, some appear much easier to achieve than others

  • timetabling decisions that seriously compromised students’ ongoing learning and attainment of qualifications

- streaming students according to their ability, restricting their access to the full curriculum and choice of vocational pathways

- resourcing of the timetable that favoured academic over vocational pathways.

4 Harekeke, Nikau, Horoeka and Ngutukākā Colleges.
5 See Appendix 3 for how elements featured across the schools.