Auckland Grammar head John Morris responds to a Herald editorial on the school opting out of NCEA.

I feel the need to rebut some of the incorrect assumptions, emotive arguments and misleading conclusions in the article.

I must stress that we did not make "it public on Sunday ..." to coincide with NCEA results. The decision was made in April 2010, communicated to parents in April, discussed at a public meeting of parents in August and details of the change have been in every school publication since April. The school did not release this information last week. It was released by the Herald on Sunday.

State schools do not have to offer NCEA. The Ministry of Education has issued a statement accepting this fact.

The editorial suggests in its opening paragraph that there has been a move towards more external assessment in NCEA. This is incorrect. Rather, it is quite the opposite. With the new Achievement Standards being introduced from 2011, there is a mandated move to less external and more internal assessment, especially at Level 1.

The implication in the query as to whether "Grammar should get away with it" brings into question the school's integrity. It implies that we were acting unethically and illegally. This could not be further from the truth.

I have never challenged the need for an externally assessed national examination. I have previously challenged what I consider to be a deeply flawed and patently unfair system of assessment which undermines the validity of national standards.

My additional concern about the impact of internal assessment on the academic progress of boys does not replace the previous concerns but adds to it. This concern is based on well researched material both here and overseas.

Your assumption that Grammar prefers rote learning and opposes inquiry learning simply because we have opted for Cambridge examinations is bemusing.

On what basis do you judge either the nature of Cambridge International Examinations or the pedagogical approach of Grammar teachers simply because of an opposition to NCEA?

Regardless this judgment is an outdated one as can be seen in our latest Education Review Office report which stated: "Teachers, many of whom have specialist teaching knowledge, create challenging and stimulating learning environments ... Students are able to engage in high quality discussions and debates with many of their teachers. Critical thinking approaches, and a high level of respect for learning, are encouraged in these classrooms".

Finally, at the heart of this debate is a question of what education is for. Is it about credentialism and just getting enough credits to get a leaving certificate? This belief has led to subjects being divided into digestible chunks, checklists have proliferated and knowledge has become atomised, schools and students are incentivised to drop "hard" subjects in favour of those where passes are easier; all tragic steps in the retreat from academia. Or is it about creating an educated citizenry by providing a rounded, substantive education based on subject knowledge which will enable our students to engage purposefully, meaningfully and intelligently with the world?

All of which is underpinned by an assessment system that is fair, consistent, reliable, transparent, accurate, appropriate and internationally recognised.

* The editorial noted Auckland Grammar's decision had been made public as NCEA results were being posted last week. It did not say Grammar announced it - Editor.
- John Morris is headmaster at Auckland Grammar School.