New guidelines that will let students get qualification credits for helping out at home during the Covid-19 lockdown have been slammed as "succumbing to mediocrity".
The guidelines, issued by the NZ Qualifications Authority, will allow credits towards the National Certificate of Educational Assessment (NCEA) for activities such as buying groceries for the family, working part-time, voluntary community work and "identifying and managing stress".
They recognise the disruption to learning caused by the eight-week physical closure of schools from March 23 until all students were asked to return on May 18.
But Auckland Grammar School headmaster Tim O'Connor said they would "demean the rigour of the national qualification".
"It is a shame that after NZQA had taken positive steps forward to make NCEA a creditable qualification, they have succumbed to mediocrity by allowing 'help around the home', 'part-time work' and 'voluntary work' to be assessed and awarded credits on our national qualification framework," he said.
The National Party's new education spokeswoman Nicola Willis, appointed after former minister Nikki Kaye resigned today, said it was "easy to see this approach could be open to abuse".
"For this to work, teachers will need absolute confidence that standards granted for work at home are just as rigorously assessed as standards granted for work done at school. That's a big ask," she said.
However Secondary Principals Association president Deidre Shea said the provisions would only be used for a few "specific individual cases".
"It's really for students who have been particularly challenged through circumstances in terms of the learning programme they had been planning," she said.
"I'm thinking here particularly of a student who didn't have access to online learning and has been disadvantaged in other ways. This is credentialing learning that matters and can move them quite well on to certain next steps.
"It's the last piece of the puzzle to give support to schools so that they can manage the process in a valid way."
It follows decisions announced last month to give students one bonus credit for every five that they earn towards NCEA this year up to a maximum of 10 bonus points at level 1 and eight at levels 2 and 3.
NZQA has developed new "evidence-gathering templates" for 10 unit standards that schools can use to recognise lockdown learning - four at level 1, four at level 2 and two at level 3.
Two, worth three credits each, are for "self-management" - "produce, implement and reflect on a plan to improve own personal wellbeing", and "demonstrate knowledge of purchasing household consumables".
Four are for "communication skills", and four are for "core generics" - "apply a problem-solving method", "plan and engage in an activity intended to benefit the community", "develop strategies to enhance own learning" and "manage own learning in a programme".
Shea said all 10 unit standards were already available, but were usually assessed in school or through activities planned at school.
"The only difference really is NZQA helping schools to credential learning that has happened off-site. Normally it's under school auspices," she said.
"We haven't used these credits in this kind of recognition of prior learning."
The guidelines suggest that schools should assess such learning through verbal or video interviews with the students, written descriptions by the students, and interviewing family members, employers or people involved in a community project.
Shea said there was "considerable consultation" with schools about the guidelines.
"The only concern was around making sure that the learning was verified," she said.
"It can seem to be relatively easy credits, but they have existed for some time because they actually do have a purpose in a learning pathway."
Students doing all the unit standards listed could gain up to 10 credits towards the 80 credits required for NCEA level 1, up to 11 credits towards the 60 credits required at level 2, or up to 9 credits towards the 60 required at level 3.