Reduced credit requirements for high-school qualifications are being mooted to make up for the closure of schools in the coronavirus lockdown.
South Auckland's Aorere College principal Greg Pierce says the assessments required for the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) should be reduced in proportion to the school time that has been lost due to the lockdown.
Auckland Secondary School Principals president Richard Dykes said schools need early decisions on NCEA requirements, and on any possible extension of the school year to make up for time lost in the lockdown, so that they can plan for the rest of the year.
Kaipara College principal Steve McCracken has also written an open letter to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern proposing that NCEA level 1 should be abandoned for this year and that the requirements for levels 2 and 3 should be reduced by 20 credits.
However the proposals are not supported by either of the two main secondary principals' groups.
Pierce, who chairs the Aim Hi group of nine low-decile South Auckland high schools, said students in low-decile schools learned through relationships with teachers and many lacked the quiet spaces, computers and Wi-Fi required to learn effectively at home.
"Every day that students from low-decile schools are not at school, they are disadvantaged by that," he said.
"Students at our sort of school rely more heavily on the guidance counsellors and the social worker network and the nurses that are all working in tandem with the teachers."
If there were no changes to NCEA requirements, he said his staff would need to provide catch-up workshops on weekends and in school holidays later this year.
He said the fairest way to give all students a chance would be to reduce the credits required at each level of NCEA in proportion to the number of weeks of the school year that schools are closed.
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"By the time everything settles down it will be at least a month, which is a good tenth of a school year, so that's up to 10 per cent of the assessment requirements," he said.
McCracken, whose decile 7 school includes students from both affluent and low-income families, said his call to suspend level 1 and reduce the credits required at the other two levels came out of talking to senior students over the past week.
"What we were hearing is that there is a severe increase in stress and anxiety around NCEA and what that is going to mean for them post-secondary school," he said.
"The students are really concerned about their ability to receive a quality education, rather than teaching to assessments and being forced to just tick the box."
However Secondary Principals Association national president Deidre Shea and Secondary Principals Council chairman James Morris both argued that there was enough flexibility in the NCEA system for schools to cope. The NZ Qualifications Authority (NZQA) has provided guidance on which units can be assessed online and which should be held to assess when schools reopen.
Morris said some schools had already abandoned level 1 over recent years because most students go on to level 2 anyway.
Papatoetoe High School principal Vaughan Couillault said reducing the credits required for this year would risk international recognition of NCEA.
Grant McMillan of James Cook High School, which is part of Pierce's Aim Hi group, said the Government was already moving towards reducing the credits required at level 1 from 80 to 60 in the next few years, but that change should not be rushed because of the lockdown.
"I think we should work out what we want the future of NCEA to look like and then change to something, not do two things at the same time at the risk of doing something badly," he said.
Instead, McMillan expects that NZQA will take account of the lockdown in its NCEA assessments, as it did in Canterbury after the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes.
"As I understand it, they ended up scaling results in Canterbury," he said.
"We had a lot of school-level evidence before the quakes, and for Years 12 and 13 there is evidence from the previous year or two about how well students performed in NCEA. The statisticians will be well up to the task."
NZQA has been asked for comment.
• Official advice: covid19.govt.nz.