Wellington Girls' College will ditch NCEA Level 1 from 2023 – the first school in Wellington to do so.

Wellington Girls' College will ditch NCEA Level 1 from 2023 – the first school in Wellington to do so.

Wellington Girls’ College​ will drop NCEA level 1 in 2023, in an effort to stop over-assessing students.

The all-girls secondary school is the first in the capital to opt out of year 11 exams, although principal Julia Davidson believes others may follow.

Schools “over-assess shockingly” in New Zealand, she said.

The school will stop offering level 1 for most students from 2023 – a move it has been wanting to make for the past seven years.

“The Ministry [of Education] has said it’s optional, and the reason I think it’s optional is because it’s not needed any more.

“We are one of the few countries in the world that has three years of this kind of assessment at high school.”

Davidson said level 1 wasn’t necessary for university entrance, which is based on level 2 and 3 results.

Wellington Girls' College Principal Julia Davidson says NCEA Level 1 is not needed and removing it will give more flexibility and time for students.

Wellington Girls' College Principal Julia Davidson says NCEA Level 1 is not needed and removing it will give more flexibility and time for students.

The school would still prepare students for levels 2 and 3 with end-of-topic tests and assessments, she said.

Christchurch’s Lincoln High School, Auckland’s Macleans College​ and Epsom Girls’ Grammar​ are among a handful of schools to have also stopped offering NCEA level 1.

Three years of constant internal (in-term) and external (end-of year) assessment resulted in anxiety and burnout among some students, Davidson said.

“So many parents have said to us, ‘NCEA has ruined our family life’.

“Our kids work so hard, they really do, they get top grades and our pass rates are above 95 per cent, with many endorsements.”

A new mandatory NCEA literacy and numeracy test could be too tough for some pupils. The Education Ministry has unveiled draft versions of standards that secondary school students will have to pass to get any level of NCEA from 2023.

Davidson hoped a side-effect would mean students retain a “passion for learning”.

All core subjects would be offered, but breaking away from level 1 allowed flexibility, Davidson said.

The school can still offer economics or media studies at year 11, to be ditched at that level in NCEA subject changes from 2023.

Financial literacy, careers planning, health and wellbeing, and personal fitness are likely to become more of a focus.

Scrapping the assessments would add an additional 10 weeks of teaching time, Davidson said.

“We will still have some kids who need level 1, and if that’s going to be their final leaving qualification we will have to make sure they’ve got access to it.

“Schools make the decision for their community. This is not Wellington Girls’ saying ‘we’re doing this and everybody else should have to’. This is what’s going to work for us.”

NZQA deputy chief executive for assessment Andrea Gray said in 2020, five schools across the country had opted out of all internal and external level 1 exams.

Another 19 secondary schools did not take part in level 1 external exams in 2020.

“This is a valid choice for schools to make, based on what they consider will best meet the needs and aspirations of their communities and promote student success and pathways into further education,” she said.

Many schools chose to keep level 1 because it helped to “motivate students” by giving them a goal, Gray said.

But Head of Initial Teacher Education at University of Otago, Dr Naomi Ingram​ said many schools were interested in changes to NCEA Level 1, and were taking a “wait and see approach”.

Parents worried it would leave students unprepared for levels 2 and 3, but schools would adjust and have their own processes for the higher stakes exams, she said.

“What these schools are saying is, let’s have another year of ... deeper learning, more of a citizen’s approach to teaching, and an inquiry approach to teaching.”

If level 1 went, schools would have the opportunity to design learning programmes that would support students to become “fully engaged citizens in the world”, Ingram said.