Principals fear this year will be the worst of the pandemic for NCEA credits

Secondary school principals are warning that this year could be the worst of the pandemic.

Principals interviewed by RNZ said two and a half years of Covid-19 disruption had left many young people short of motivation and the credits they needed to get their NCEA qualifications.

Their warning came just weeks after the government announced a $20 million package to provide additional teaching and tutoring.

Figures from the Qualifications Authority (NZQA) showed that as of September 20, schools had reported an average of 32.5 credits for each pupil, just 0.9 credits more than at the same time last year last, 1.5 more than in 2020, but 3.9 less than in 2019.

The number of failed credits reported to the NZQA was also higher than in the previous two years.

Students need 60 credits to earn the benchmark NCEA Level Two and Level Three qualifications, but can earn up to eight as “Learning Recognition Credits” for learning they have completed but which has not been evaluated.

NZQA Deputy Chief Assessment Officer Andrea Gray said that once learning recognition credits were taken into account, students achieved on average a similar number of credits as students in September 2019 .

But Porirua College principal Ragne Maxwell said the cumulative toll of two-and-a-half years of disrupted learning was evident and the stakes were particularly high for teenagers in their final year.

“For a lot of these students they will just never get that final level or if they do get it it will be through higher education rather than school and I think that’s a national issue. C is particularly high in lower socio-economic areas like Porirua and it certainly has a huge impact on our students,” Maxwell said.

While learning recognition credits would help many young people, the decision to let schools award the credits again this year came too late for some, she said.

“By the time they heard, many had given up,” she said.

“For a number of students now, they’re so behind, no, that’s not going to be enough at this point.”

Sir Edmund Hillary Collegiate headmaster Kiri Turketo said the effects were worse among Year 13 students.

“You’re talking about a particular cohort of students who had a two and a half year hiatus so their NCEA has been sporadic and there’s been ups and downs and there’s been a mix of online learning and face-to-face, but it’s been disrupted and now we’re starting to see what that disruption looks like to that end with 13 years in their senior year,” she said.

However, it was not just schools in socio-economically disadvantaged areas that were concerned.

Albany Senior High School principal Claire Amos said the repeated absences that have characterized this year have been more disruptive than the closures of previous years.

“What we have had are continuous absences, so we have had students who have been absent for weeks at a time, they may have been isolated. Until recently they may have been home because family members had Covid and they had to self-isolate because of them,” Amos said.

“So we’ve had students with really intermittent learning and really intermittent opportunities to get the credits that they would usually get at this time of year, and so I know I’m one of a number of principals who are deeply concerned that our Grade 13 students in particular have not earned the credits they would normally have at this point in the year.”

Ōtāhuhu College Principal Neil Watson said this year was “definitely worse” than 2020 or 2021.

“It’s really tough,” Watson said.

“It puts a lot of pressure on staff and students to cross the line, and one of the things with Tier 3 and with UE [University Entrance] is it more mostly outdoors [exam] based and which requires in-depth knowledge and understanding, and because students have missed school so much over the past two and a half years, it really impacts readiness.”

He thought learning recognition credits weren’t much help.

“One of the key elements is how to prepare our students for the next steps towards further studies, towards good jobs, and to do this these students need a good understanding of their subjects, so handing out credits extra doesn’t help students with their learning or understanding. It’s basically inflation.”

Between struggle and success

Porirua College students told RNZ it’s hard to stay motivated this year

“It’s been quite difficult for me because I lack motivation and I’m not good at school work,” said 12th grader Tion, although he admitted his recent results had been good.

“I think if I don’t pass this year, I can finish it next year.”

John, a 12th grade student, said motivation was the biggest challenge.

“I feel like I’m struggling and doing well,” he said.

Another student, Dawt, said he was “a little worried” about his progress.

But the boys didn’t think the pandemic was an unfair barrier.

Tion said the disruption caused by Covid-19 has made earning an NCEA qualification more important.

“It would be more of an achievement for me, because I know I’ve been successful in tougher times,” he said.

“That’s just life. When there are obstacles, you just have to work hard to overcome them,” John said.

The boys agreed that the learning recognition credits were a welcome help.


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