Auckland high school students disrupted by two lockdowns will need fewer NCEA credits to pass than those in the rest of the country.
And struggling teenagers will also have the option of catching up at summer school if needed and students chasing good grades will need slightly fewer credits to achieve an NCEA level with Merit or Excellence, the Government has announced.
Principals are welcoming the move, saying it will come as a relief for students and parents who've been unsettled by Covid-19 and the restrictions without undermining the integrity of NCEA by handing out free credits.
"It's a really good move. There'll be a lot of relieved students, teachers and families at the announcement of some extra learning recognition credits," said Auckland Secondary Schools Principals Association president Steve Hargreaves.
Hargreaves said a "really common theme" among Auckland students was the struggle to catch-up after the second lockdown and school counsellors had been really busy trying to calm students down and help them focus.
"Their learning's been disrupted, but in fact their whole year has been disrupted whether it's family life, social connections or student leadership opportunities - all aspects of their life."
The changes build on the system of bonus credits previously announced for all students.
Instead of earning an extra credit for every five they've earned by the end of the year, students in Auckland - who couldn't go to school for an extra two-and-a-half weeks due to the recent outbreak - will get one bonus credit to every four earned.
Auckland students will be eligible for a maximum of 16 bonus credits at level 1, and 12 at levels 2 and 3. For the rest of the country the maximums are 10 and eight.
And for pupils needing up to 10 credits, the cap on the number of enrolments in the Te Kura Correspondence School over the summer period will increase from 1,000 to 4,000 students.
The programme will also be expanded for students at risk of disengaging from education in Term 4. The programme would be up to five days a week but would be flexible for students working part time with Ministry of Education officials estimating about 400 students would likely participate.
As well, students who'd set their sights on achieving an NCEA level with a Merit or Excellence certificate will need fewer credits with the threshold dropping to 44 credits for Aucklanders and to 46 for the rest of the country. The usual threshold is 50.
Education Ministry advice said it was hard to estimate the impact of dropping the threshold but based on last year's results could see up to 250 more students receiving certificates at each level.
Hargreaves said it almost didn't matter how many would benefit from the measure because students in that group wanting to achieve good marks set quite a high standard for themselves and it would help take the pressure off.
"I think what we've got is a package that will overall make students more comfortable about tackling the end of the year.
"In the end whether it makes a big difference or gets a whole lot more students across the line or not, I think isn't that important. It's about showing students we care for them, we understand what they're going through and we're providing something that goes towards meeting their needs."
Hargreaves said NZQA and principals were really conscious the credibility of NCEA needed to be maintained and he believed this package managed that.
"They're not just giving away credits for doing nothing - they're tagged to learning and obtainment," he said.
"They're good students, they've worked hard."
Education Minister Chris Hipkins said the measures would provide "immediate relief" to students, teachers and whānau who were concerned about the impact of the second lockdown on NCEA while maintaining the credibility and reputation of the qualification.
In their advice, officials also warned the changes could mean NZQA would have to delay the release of NCEA results until January 2021 "which places significant pressure on school planning" and the tertiary sector.
Hargreaves said the delay was relatively short but universities had already indicated they would be using discretion for their 2021 intake.