New Zealand's fourth-biggest school, Macleans College, has joined a small stampede away from the first year of the national qualification system as school principals take fright at proposed reforms.
Macleans principal Steven Hargreaves told parents of his 2523 students today) that Macleans will not offer Level 1 of the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) from 2020.
The Bucklands Beach college will also stop entering students in the International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) in Year 11, but will continue to offer both NCEA and Cambridge exams in Years 12 and 13.
Ormiston Senior College also said last week that it would abandon NCEA Level 1 from next year and its Year 11 students would work towards achieving Level 2 over two years.
Auckland's Hobsonville Pt Secondary School and Hamilton's Fairfield College and Rototuna Senior High School have previously withdrawn from NCEA Level 1, and Hargreaves said more schools would follow suit.
"I heard that there were up to five [in Auckland] that were considering dumping Level 1, and more throughout the country," he said.
Their decisions come two months after a Government-appointed review group proposed reducing NCEA Level 1 from 80 credits to 40, scrapping external exams and leaving only internally-assessed literacy and numeracy tests and a project chosen by each student.
It also proposed requiring 20 out of 80 credits in each of NCEA Levels 2 and 3 to come from a "pathway" course such as a trades course, a research project or a "community action project".
More than 70 of the country's 349 secondary principals have now signed a petition asking Education Minister Chris Hipkins to delay the review.
Hipkins has agreed to extend the consultation deadline from September 16 to October 19, and a spokesman said a Cabinet decision was expected "very soon" on creating a professional advisory group of principals and teachers to feed into the review.
Auckland Grammar School principal Tim O'Connor slammed the proposal to scrap external exams at Level 1 and said Grammar would replace NCEA Level 1 with its own "Pre-Q" assessments for Years 10 and 11, in which end-of-year exams would be "the predominant part of the assessment system".
Hargreaves said Macleans' decision to scrap Level 1 was only partly driven by the reform proposals.
"This is a move that we would have made anyway. The review probably stimulated our thinking and made us consider it," he said.
He criticised the proposals to scrap external exams at Level 1 and encourage project work.
"If you are interested in the wellbeing of students you don't remove exams, you remove internal assessment, because that is what dogs them through the bulk of the year and weighs kids down, it's not the three or so weeks of external assessment," he said.
"As for project work, the reading I have done indicates that project work is ineffective unless there is an awful lot of professional development and reshaping of how we go about things."
But he said the main reason for scrapping NCEA Level 1 and IGCSE in Year 11 was to reduce the amount of teaching time lost to external exams.
"The external exams for IGCSE begin right at the beginning of Term 4, so we have those predominantly 15-year-olds who don't attend lessons in Term 4," he said. "We will be able to keep our Year 11s at school into mid- and late November."
He said another factor was that neither NCEA Level 1 nor IGCSE gave students entry to any tertiary education or employment.
However he acknowledged that dropping Level 1 was easier for Macleans, a high-income decile 9 school, because Level 1 was the highest qualification achieved by "very few [students], almost in single figures". He said it was different at decile 1 Wesley College, where he was principal until last year.
"My previous school I was principal at would never have considered this because Level 1, for many of them, was the only qualification they got," he said.
Secondary Principals Association president Mike Williams, who is principal at Pakuranga College, said his school still saw some merit in NCEA Level 1 and he did not believe the Government was committed to the "six big ideas" in the NCEA discussion document.
"They were just some ideas out there for people to think about," he said.
"Most of the professional sector are not focusing on the six big ideas, they are focusing on what is working well and what is not working well and what can we do to improve it."
He said 140 principals had registered for a closed-doors Secondary Principals Association "NCEA summit" which Hipkins will attend in Wellington next Monday.