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Trevor Mallard Speech Notes NCEA Forum

10 August 2000 Speech Notes

Trevor Mallard, Minister Of Education

NCEA Forum

I am pleased to have the opportunity to talk again to this forum. The forum is, I understand, meeting to address some of the detailed implementation issues related to the NCEA. This is important business, the NCEA is an essential element in the government's drive to raise educational standards.

We are committed to raising standards of achievement for all students. We want to challenge the minds of the most gifted students and we want to help those groups of students who have been marginalised in our system. I’m not talking about moving the goalposts here. We will not close gaps by lowering standards. The system will now cater for all students. Those who are academically gifted and those that our patched up, stop-go system has failed.

And, if there is anything we can do to make the implementation of the new qualification easier for teachers and schools, we should do that as well.

I want to use this opportunity to dispute some of the misinformation that I believe is hindering the transition process of NCEA.

I'm getting sick of the rhetoric that the NCEA is a sop to those students who traditionally did not do well in school examinations.

I'm getting sick of hearing that we are dumbing down the system to suit those that society considers less able.

I'm sick of the assumption that sitting an examination set 18,000 kilometres across the world will somehow better prepare young New Zealanders for tertiary education or work.

The role of schools is to educate young people and give them the skills to face the challenges they will meet later in their lives – for most people, that includes preparing them to make a valuable contribution for the workplace.

And no matter how bright someone is, I know of no workplace that would judge the success or otherwise of their staff based on what they do for three hours one day at the end of the year. In that respect alone, NCEA provides a realistic alternative to previous systems.

NCEA could enhance young people's ability to think laterally throughout the year while focusing on outcomes. It will force young people to be organised and to pace their workload. It will recognise the success and competence in areas that simply can't be judged through written examinations alone. Speech making and more general communication skills are example's of this. Being able to articulate your views well is a skill in huge demand in many areas of work, yet examinations can never judge that.

As well as skills and knowledge, the NCEA has the potential to develop other kinds of characteristics that young people need in order to succeed in tertiary education and in the workforce.


I want to make it clear that there will be examinations in the conventional school subjects at every level of the NCEA.

This doesn’t mean I agree with having an examination for everything students learn. Common sense should prevail. We’ll examine only that which is suited to examinations.

This meeting will give you the opportunity to explore further how the examinations will work. My expectation is that they will not be noticeably different for students teachers and parents from the current examinations.

I’m aware that for some people there has been uncertainty about the nature of external assessments at level 2. There will be written examinations at this level. I know it will be challenging for NZQA, and the system as a whole, to have national examinations at three levels of the system. This challenge will be met. Your input at this meeting can help to find solutions to these challenges.


There have been some unfortunate comments made about internal assessment in this system. There has to be internal assessment because too much of what this society wants students to learn can’t be properly assessed any other way. In spite of allegations to the contrary there will be a national standard for credit, merit and excellence in the internally assessed standards.

Credible and workable moderation is crucial to the success of NCEA.

This system will work only if all teachers and schools are driven by their professional responsibility to quality qualifications assessment and if, as a consequence, professionals and parents alike believe in the fairness and the comparability of the assessment processes in all schools.

I know that this forum initially proposed a very light-touch approach to moderation. That is a very desirable long term situation but I think we have some way to go to convince the public that we have the professional capability.
I do not want to return to the days of allegation and counter-allegation of malpractices: “So-and-so was accredited because he was in the First XV”. That kind of lack of professionalism cannot be allowed.

At this meeting NZQA will discuss with you what the national system will require of schools. I’m confident that you will consider these proposals carefully and assist NZQA to put in place a system that we can have every confidence in.

The key to reliance on professionalism is professional accountability. The new Education Council will provide an important link in the chain of accountability.


This government is committed to raising standards of achievement for all students. We see NCEA as a tool that all young people can use to strive for excellence. The brightest and best of students will be extended much further than they would be under the traditional examination system. Others will not have their efforts disregarded in a cold and heartless manner.

I believe that the only way to raise standards is to make our expectations as clear as possible and to provide every incentive, and all necessary support, to ensure that teachers, students, and communities know what those expectations are and what it will take to meet them.

In this respect, I know it was this forum that agreed that standards for a credit pass at level 1 be not set too hard. I want to say two things:

First, I know that on making that argument you were requiring only that the new system be no harder to access that the current School Certificate. The key thing here is to set realistic but worthwhile standards – standards that are meaningful and credible, and which will provide successful students with a good start to their post-school careers.

Second. It is much more desirable that we have every student reaching at least level 1 standards. And by this I mean quite the opposite of lowering standards. I believe that we will raise the quality of our teaching and support particularly for Maori and Pacific Island students now that we have an accessible qualification for them to work towards.

The Education Forum critics have suggested that the identification of
standards atomises learning, that teachers will teach to the individual standards, and that students will not be led to a notion of the coherence of the whole. Identifying what we want to report about a student’s mathematics learning does not change the nature of mathematics.

In the current system students do better at some topics than others. Some even avoid some topics completely. That doesn’t destroy the nature of the subject, or necessarily affect they way a teacher will teach it.

I have also been briefed that experienced teachers believe the level one excellence exemplars are at a current bursary level. And that there are still people who don't have a good grasp of the facts and see the NCEA as a dumbing down device.

Professional development

The feedback from the first of the professional development days has been encouraging. The days have been successful in bringing teachers together and opening up dialogue.

I want to announce here, that the Government wants to see the professional exchanges between teachers continued. Such interchange will help to improve standards of teaching and assessment and help to keep expectations of achievement high.

In each of 2002 and 2003 there will be two further full days of interschool teacher meetings focussed on the NCEA standards. The government will provide a teacher only day in each of these years and I am writing to Boards of Trustees to request that they agree to direct staff to participate as one of the contract “call-back” days.

I want next year’s programme to start off this pattern. When I announced the professional development at the last meeting, I said the government would put in two teacher-only days this year. I’m now so convinced of the value of the professional development; I’m persuaded that we should put in a teacher-only day each year. I will ask boards to ensure that one of the “call-back” days next year is dedicated to matching this commitment so that there can be two days professional meetings each year for at least the next three years.


In closing, I want to say that the government has set out with the intention that this qualification will be the best possible qualification we can offer for New Zealand’s school leavers. While I don’t believe that we will ever invent a system that can’t be improved upon, the NCEA will be better than our current qualification system. It will serve school leavers, employers and tertiary providers alike - better than the current system. It will be at least as good as any national school leaver qualifications system anywhere in the world.

I'm not happy that there is still a number of issues around the margins of NCEA that have not been finalised – like the number of times a student can be re-assessed.

I think it is really important to have these kind of issues resolved by the beginning of next year so that we have a year of complete certainty before the system is introduced. Over the next month or so, I will be taking a particular interest in progressing work in some of the 'grey' areas. I look forward to hearing your views on this.

Thank you.

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