Tag Archives: NCEA

NCEA Review Package

4 Jul


NCEA Review Package

It’s worth reviewing the key goals of the NCEA Review.  They were to seek improvements in:

  • Wellbeing of students and teachers
  • Inclusion and equity
  • Curriculum coherence
  • Pathways through and beyond school
  • Credibility of the qualification.

The changes announced by the Minister don’t go as far as some wanted, e.g. abolishing Level 1 NCEA as recommended by PPTA however, the package of NCEA changes announced on Monday 13 May are going to make a good contribution to improving equity for students nationwide. The elimination of fees that will do this.  This will ensure that students get proper recognition for what they have achieved and are not deprived of that recognition by their families’ inability to pay fees.

The shift to fewer and larger standards and a return to about half the standards being externally assessed will mean that all students will access the key knowledge and skills of the subjects they take. Currently, the excess of standards available in many subjects, most of these internally assessed, means that teachers can design courses to maximise credits earned rather than to ensure that all their students access the important knowledge of the subject. This tends to impact most negatively on students in lower decile schools and Maori and Pasifika students. With less choice of standards, and standards that cover a broader scope, all students should access the core elements of the curriculum in future.

There are important improvements for Māori-medium education. New suites of standards for both English and Māori Medium will be created as part of the same process. This constitutes a big improvement on previous processes where Māori Medium have followed along behind the work on English Medium instead of being equal partners.

This change tackles workload issues. There will also be significant reductions in both teacher and student assessment workload, once the new standards have bedded in. The excessive workload attached to the current form of NCEA has been well-documented (e.g. see herehere, and here). Half the credits will be externally assessed, but in most cases only one of the two external standards will be assessed in an exam.  The other external standard will be a different type of assessment, e.g. an investigation, a portfolio, a performance, etc.

It was announced that re-submissions will only be allowed if they would get a student from Not Achieved to Achieved.  Re-submissions are not the same as we currently call Further Opportunities, which is where there is another assessment event or task that assesses the same standard, giving a student another shot at showing what they can do.  These Further Opportunities will still be allowed for all grades, but, given the size of the new internal standards, it is likely that achievement of these will come from a series of learning opportunities from which the teacher will be able to judge the student’s best level of achievement, rather than a specific assessment event that is a further opportunity.  So, for example, in Science there might be a standard that is about scientific investigation, and students would do a few investigations across the year in different contexts.  The grade would come from an overall judgement of what they had achieved in that area across the year.

Data Analysis Time

3 Mar


Leading a conversation about data can be a daunting task. Data analysis is an emotional experience for classroom teachers and senior leaders alike. When teacher teams analyse classroom and course analysis data, they often experience something similar to the Five Stages of Grief (Kübler-Ross & Kessler, 2005). The five stages for teacher teams are similar because each person on the team may experience a different emotional reaction to the data that is presented.

In my course analysis korero I ask staff to reflect on the last time you or your teacher team reviewed data from a common formative assessment, NCEA, benchmark scores, or feedback from a school audit or ERO. Did you experience any of the emotions listed Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression or Acceptance?

Were you frustrated because some members of the team denied the data? When teachers see data for the first time they may experience anger, denial, or depression. The initial reaction will not be the same for all teachers in a school and it is important to remember that the five stages are not linear. In my role, I hope that all members of the teacher team ‘accept’ the test data and develop SMART goals to address the strengths and weaknesses highlighted in the data report. The reality is that some teachers may not be able to ‘accept’ the data. If you are on a teacher team with six members and your third period class had the lowest scores, then you may experience denial or anger.

Douglas Reeves offers Five Tips for Effective Data Teams. Reeves’ cautions educators to remember “Data Trumps Opinion.” When teacher teams meet to analyze data about students, more informed decisions about curriculum and instruction. Teachers can use data analysis tools and protocols to assist each person with the range of emotions associated with test data. Leadership involves assessing the current reality and facilitating crucial conversations.

Helicopter Institutions

4 Sep


It is Mock Exam time at our place next week. It is a busy term with a variety on. We are busily running extra sessions for students so it made me question: Does the presence of extra sessions, Study Days, or 24 hour access through the flipped classroom give the message to students that even if you produce minimal work in lessons then there is still time for you to catch up later on? Are we creating a helicopter institution?

I chatted to a knowledgeable student today and posed this exact question about additional catch up sessions.  They came up with a number of reasons in a balanced way justifying their place, and even their removal, from school.  One of the biggest things he said was that the presence of them might be giving students who “can’t be bothered” a reason to choose not to do any work.  The knowledge that they could catch up at a later date might allow them to pick and choose when they wanted to do anything in actual lesson time.

With the creation of additional sessions after school, are we inadvertently creating two schools?  With the school day ending does another one begin?

Are the pressures of teaching being passed onto students?

With the increased levels of accountability and pressure for results, do teachers feel that they are required to run these sessions to fulfil targets?

With this in mind, is the expectation and requirement of students to attend these sessions actually removing the love of learning?   Are additional sessions shifting the responsibility for student’s grades from the student and onto the teacher?  Does it feel like we have to work harder to get students through their NCEA or National Standards?

With workload itself being a national talking point, are we laying more pressure on teachers to not only teach their timetabled lessons, but to also teach additional lessons outside of curriculum time?

Because we want the best for our students, and we want to ensure we have the best results possible for our own professional progress, do we feel that we should be doing these sessions?  Is that part of the problem though?  If they weren’t rolled out in schools would students work harder?  So can we be that little bit better at using catch up classes?

Vocational Pathways

1 May


How do you define University and Career Readiness? Vocational Pathways is going some way to helping guide schools in this. Sir Ken Robinson, world-renowned education and creativity expert, shares how education has changed over the past century.  Visit Changing Education Paradigms.  I have been reflecting if Robinson’s view of the changing role of education reflect the vision of educators at my school?

As a teacher we must reflect on the following:

1)  How do I support Vocational Pathways and my students being career ready?

2)  How does the role of a guidance counselor and mentor teacher change when we view every student as a “Vocational Pathways Graduate?”

3)  Does Vocational Pathways begin at primary school?  What does it look like at each level?

4)  How do we assist parents and community members in seeing that Vocational Pathways is for every student?

5)  How does Vocational Pathways change curriculum, instruction, and assessment?

Our Government has set clear and challenging Better Public Service targets. 98% of children who start school in 2016 will have participated in early childhood education, and 85% of 18 year olds will have achieved NCEA Level 2 or equivalent in 2017. To ensure the connections across the system, I have set an additional target of 85% of primary school students meeting national standards in 2017. These are ambitious targets, but we are on track to meet them.

When politicians make a speech, it may come across as political rhetoric.  However, teachers can begin having a conversation about what it means to understand Vocational Pathways and have students career ready.  The changes will not come from speeches, new standards, new assessments, or hoping that more students will achieve.  Change will come when educators define Vocational Pathways and then begin to ask, “What is my role?”


Lets Go One Better

4 Apr


“Great teaching cannot be achieved by following a recipe, but there are some clear pointers in the research to approaches that are most likely to be effective, and to others, sometimes quite popular, that are not.  Teachers need to understand why, when and how a particular approach is likely to enhance students’ learning and be given time and support to embed it in their practice.”

Professor Robert Coe from Durham University.

I have been thinking this week about our NZQA results. They are by the way outstanding. But in the best tradition of great leaders we continue to ask how can we do better.

If we are going to change and improve maybe we need to focus on core components of teaching and learning: understanding not just the why but really get to grips with the why and the how.  We need to ask questions like: Why is feedback effective?  How can we improve the way we approach planning?  Why is one particular questioning strategy better than another?  Asking questions like this, reflecting on what we do, and then refining our practice is a lot easier than starting from scratch.  So what have been the game changers in your own practice over the last few years?

Culture of Learning: Part One

10 Jan

As I walked my daughter to her holiday programme this morning I got to thinking about the learning journey we are on. I started to think of the culture of learning we insist upon in our schools.

Students enter  kindergarten full of questions, ideas, curiosity, and imagination. By the time students reach intermediate and beyond, many of them are bored and do not enjoy school. For many schooling teaches students to memorize and recall the correct answer, learn because ‘this will be on the test,’  or ‘you will get credits for this’ and avoid risk taking because failure means a lower mark.

More often than not students will choose the books they know how to read rather than those they cannot as they do not want to fail. Successful students are rewarded with accolades and unsuccessful students are told to try harder. Our schooling system is designed to move students from one level to the next. Once students earn enough credits, they are rewarded with various levels of NCEA.

Schooling focuses on teaching. Some schools in our nation are moving away from this and towards a culture of learning which focuses on the whole child and student understanding. A culture of problem solving. A culture of resilient young people who will continue to lead our nation to great things.

But what is a culture of learning?

Purchasing a laptop or tablet for every student will not transform traditional school. While technology has the ability to transform teaching and learning, teachers still need to focus on learning goals, authentic tasks, transfer of understanding, student voice, and student contribution. Learning with digital technology is a student-centered approach to creating a learning experience whereby the learner interacts with other students.

A well-designed flipped classroom experience  organizes content, support materials, and activities.  Communication and collaboration are necessary functions of this approach. Because formative assessment is embedded throughout learning events, the learner assumes responsibility for his or her learning.

A characteristic of a culture of learning is where students are using a computer as a tool to learn or if a flipped classroom is part of their classroom experience.

What do you think?

Faith Formation or Religious Education/Studies

2 Nov


“How beautiful are the footsteps of those who bring good news” (Rom 10:15-17).

We teach in a time where Religious Studies is rigorously assessed by Achievement Standards recognised by NZQA. Religious Studies is an approved subject for University Entrance. Teachers of the subject are working on textbooks, resources and developing pedagogical ideas as in any other curriculum area.  Still we may ask ourselves what is the purpose of Religious Studies/Education in schools exactly? Is it religious education or is it faith formation?

At a secondary level in New Zealand the perception of this subject is highly topical. With its non-optional nature in Catholic schools, teachers there still face the continual justification of why we spent so much teaching time on Religious Studies/Education in the classroom.

I genuinely believe that teachers of Religious Studies/Education teachers in a Catholic school should be leading teaching practice, delivering the most engaging and relevant lessons to raise perception. My observations indicate Religious Education/Studies practitioners are as good as any in any curriculum area. This is despite the nationwide shortage of subject specific specialists and the fact professional development budgets will not allow for the support of preservice and ongoing training. Being a teacher of Religious Education/Studies does not make you immune from criticism from parents who want a good Catholic education, but are perhaps not so keen on the time spent on the subject, be it Religious Education/Studies or the more senior Religious Education/Studies.

Since robust assessment has become part of Religious Education/Studies in Catholic schools there has been a great deal of discussion on the question whether Religious Education/Studies is the academic study of religion or the formation of personal faith? Perhaps it can be both.

Our curriculum, ‘Understanding Faith’, provides a convergence of the study of religion and the development of faith which will hopefully produce young men and women who are able to think more critically, are religiously literate and able to be more mindful contributors to our Church and society going forward. We must be educating the whole child and it is vital they leave our schools with the qualifications that will set them up for fulfilled life.

At the centre of our schools is faith formation. There is no doubt that faith formation takes place in the Catholic school but where it should primarily take place in the classroom or beyond is up for discussion. Whether that this is the primary role of Religious Studies/Education is the issue I will explore here.

It is a concern to hear some students disengaged in Religious Education/Studies and as a result have become disconnected from their faith. If we cannot teach faith beyond what’s perceived to be relevant and engaging, we do have a real problem. If we cannot make our faith interesting and relevant, at a time where are Church has never been so relevant, what hope is there for the future of our Church?

Religious Education/Studies is an endeavour in sharing faith and it is an intentional activity to develop students who are religiously literate and conversant. There seems to be a close connection between classroom Religious Education/Studies and catechesis. As a classroom teacher who observes that the Religious Education/Studies program has the potential to develop faith in students and it is most effective when it is grounded in a sharing of faith between teacher and student.

There are limits to the ways in which Religious Education/Studies can develop the faith of students. The curriculums capacity to communicate and develop faith of students is much less if it does not relate to the other parts of a student’s life experience. “Understanding Faith” sets out to witness and to teach the Catholic message and to develop in all students’ religious values, attitudes, knowledge and skills. The program does not depend on the faith of the student but it may contribute to faith formation.

It is important to acknowledge that in the Religious Education/Studies classroom aims to understand and appreciate the tradition of the Catholic Church. Complementary to and equally important to this is the experience of liturgy, prayer, retreat and participation in other forms evangelisation.

The “Understand Faith” Curriculum document has an instructive prominence and it recognises that one cannot become personally attuned a religion without first learning something about it. Learning and journey must be part of the student’s experience. Our curriculum links the classroom with the faith community which respects each individual’s faith journey, and the realities of the classroom. As an educator I believe the Catholic school should provide a comprehensive education in faith which will help young people become well informed about the Catholic traditions and its position on current issues. The role of Religious Studies is somewhat different. It does complement this but it is fundamentally an academic study of Religion. The Catholic faith is just one of these. Religious Studies is the study of a Religion from the outside, that is, not always with an emphasis on faith development.

In the Catholic tradition the term Catechesis has been commonly used to mean “Catholic Religious Education/Studies.” Catechesis seems to involve both theological knowledge as well as communication of faith vision. Religious Education/Studies or Catechesis links religious knowledge with faith. Faith is a personal relationship with God. We are called by God. It is a covenant relationship. God dwells among his people and his people live in his presence.

Catechesis cannot instil faith but only awaken, nourish and develop what is already there. Faith is concerned with developing a relationship with God. As teachers we walk beside students in their faith journey both challenging and nurturing them. Religious Educators do not transmit “faith” but would transmit particular interpretations or understandings of faith. Faith is a gift of grace and a personal response to Gods call it cannot be taught. As teachers we cannot force faith on our students through, coercion, indoctrination or manipulation. All we can do is to invite students to build their faith through instruction through example and experience. We cannot choose faith for students but can only give them the freedom to examine, question and reflect, and claim their personal belief.

Faith needs to be linked to everyday life and should not be seen as something isolated to going to Mass nor activities in class. Faith formation in the Catholic school is not just in the classroom, it would be naive to claim so. There needs to be evangelisation taking place throughout the school, at the parish level. The school can only reinforce what is taking place in the home. The Catholic school is concerned with integration of faith and life. It should be evident then that you cannot teach faith any more than you can teach love for a spouse. It has to be a lived experience creating an atmosphere in which students can develop their own faith each in his or her individual way.

During adolescence a young person’s main struggle is to achieve a personal identity or a positive sense of self and this is connected to the development of faith. Complications with faith tend to be part of a broader search for meaning in their lives and that search for positive self-worth. Faith is a dynamic fluid process. The development of faith at a personal level requires a mature sense of self and this occurs at different stages for each person. Watershed moments in this journey may take place outside of the four walls of a classroom.

Religious Education/Studies could be thought of as sharing ones faith with another person. Faith dictates lifestyle. It is a life style that is filled with both emotional and intellectual content.  Some school special character events such as social justice events, retreats and liturgies seek to develop and give a student an opportunity to express personal faith while the classroom curriculum is more concerned with delivering information although this still fosters faith development. The aim of the Religious Education/Studies curriculum is to create in student’s religious literacy, personal autonomy and the ability to be critical. These are all required in order for an individual to develop a mature adult faith.

As educators we have a role to make students faith a living conscious and active thing. Faith is a gift, a personal encounter or a response to Gods call. For this reason Religious Education/Studies should be carried out in an atmosphere that complements this. For this to happen only in the classroom is not an ideal. The whole faith process is much larger than what we do or what we teach, it wrapped in the ministry of God’s love and in the free and personal response that people make to that love. We need to create an atmosphere of warmth and relational trust, an environment suitable for listening to Gods call. We need to allow our students the freedom to search, to question and to express one’s own point of view. Faith needs to be intrinsic to our everyday life. Faith formation takes place not only but primarily outside the classroom. Students grow by being part of a faith community and the activities that complement this.

Our curriculum aims to religiously educate students so that they may grow and understand faith. Its effectiveness can only be judged by whether the students can demonstrate religious literacy and a sense of what religion contributes to the human condition. By applying critical thinking to religious issues in the school environment students will develop a mature faith and greater potential to effect change. I believe that our children will have faith if we have faith and are faithful. If we strive to keep our sense of community and keep our identity as a Catholic community then our children will stay with us and grow with us in faith and love. It is the job of us all of to encourage the spread of the Good News not just those teachers in the classroom.

The Teaching Profession

4 Jun

For me, staffing a school is one of the toughest tasks facing a principal today. There are certain positions that are getting more and more difficult to fill.  The attrition rates particularly of young teachers is of concern given the difficulty the profession has of attracting the best and brightest to the profession. The best and the brightest are not been drawn to our profession. Teachers are not even encouraging their children to be teachers.

There is no denying that the quality of school leaders and the culture of learning communities contribute.  We know that schools are only as good as 1) their leaders and 2) the systems that support them

In New Zealand we are building the capacity of our leaders in order to develop our aspiring leaders.  Through ministry initiatives such as NAPP and First Time Principals there is wonderful mentoring. It is about creating the right conditions and the right support systems. Systems such as Ministry, NZQA, PPTA and in my case the Catholic Office.

Students must be at the centre though. If we can create the right conditions for learning to happen for students, we should be able to create the right conditions for teachers to remain engaged and inspired in their work. Teachers deserve greater control over their professional working lives and this should look and feel like the working lives of other professions.

Brainstorm in June

3 Jun

Here are two things we need to do in schools:

Redefine teaching

The industrial model of teaching is failing our 21st century learners. We must rethink everything we’ve ever learned about being a teacher.

Individualize learning

Every student deserves a personal learning plan with the resources provided to ensure success. I would add to this a talent portfolio that outlines the student’s interests, abilities, and learning styles. It’s time to put aside the standardized classroom model and put in place individualized learning for every student. Our system here in New Zealand is ideal for this.

Tags: 21 century, Teaching, NCEA

New Year

27 Jan

I have written and spoken over the past twelve months about the challenges we face. As we begin a new school year those challenges have not diminished, in fact they have increased. And they will continue to do so unless the education community faces up to some truths.

Schools have long enjoyed a competitive position that they can no longer demand or expect to maintain. In a rapidly developing assortment for learning in a connected world, schools are now just one of many modes for learning. Our students love diversity. They love choice. This is reflected no better than in NCEA in New Zealand with the standards and subject they opt in and out of.

How are today’s schools going to position themselves to become the architect of new ways of learning and teaching? What has to change, what has to be done differently? Indeed what is the work of a teacher in today’s world?

I don’t know the answers to these but I do know the answers lie in every school’s capacity to continuously reinvent themselves through innovation and research. Schools have to strive for excellence even if it means being different and embrace change, not avoid it.

We can be very confident that we know what doesn’t work, and we have ample data on why this is so. Those one-off standalone initiatives focusing on teacher control, external monitoring, new curriculum, programmatic solutions suck the oxygen out of schools and stifle the drive and passion teachers have for improving every student’s learning.

Relevance has to be the rule not the exception.


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