Hobsonville Point Secondary School has made a brave decision regarding NCEA and it’s paying off for students.

There’s an air of quiet satisfaction this year around Maurie Abraham, Principal of Hobsonville Point Secondary School. But heading towards the end of 2017, it was another matter. The first cohort of his Year 12 students to controversially bypass NCEA Level 1 were about to sit their NCEA Level 2 external exams; the collective breath was held as the community awaited the results in January.

Maurie wasn’t particularly surprised by the results, but some were. “We couldn't be happier with how things have played out,” he said, in his blog. “Our students have achieved NCEA Level 2 to expectation, and the level of Merit or Excellence-endorsed qualifications was higher than expected.” 

The ethos behind going against the status quo and dropping NCEA Level 1 in 2016 was mostly about student wellbeing. Stress levels for 15-year-olds entering the NCEA system are high. And yet for most students the Level 1 qualification is superseded by Level 2 and/or 3 in the following years. “All of us on the staff had seen many examples of over-stressed kids in Year 11 who were losing all engagement with deep learning in their pursuit of credits,” says Maurie.

All those credits require constant assessment, resulting in relentless paperwork for teachers. This further limits deeper learning in context – there simply isn’t time to explore interesting subtopics. International studies have confirmed that a credit-focused educational model promotes superficial learning, not the quality stuff that sticks with us.

Is the school worried about keeping up motivation throughout the year, without the framework of assessment and examination? Maurie is emphatic: “Students aren’t motivated by continual high-stakes assessment. They’re motivated by challenge and inquiry in areas they’re interested in and see as authentic.”

It was tough to convince parents to come on board with the new system, he admits. “They were concerned that their children might not be prepared well enough for externals and that less formal assessment meant less learning.” But many parents were very keen to tackle teenage anxiety, so after much discussion they were prepared to give it a go. Happily, the results spoke for themselves.

 A 2018 NCEA review is already in progress, and Maurie hopes the HPSS experience can contribute to it. He’s already thinking of a three-year journey towards a single qualification, instead of getting “hung up on where every kid’s results are sitting at the end of each calendar year”.

 For Principal Maurie, quality learning occurs when there’s less stress – and at HPSS, the students seem to be proving him right.