Education: Government makes changes to new NCEA curriculum timeline as Jan Tinetti puts focus on maths, literacy

The Government is delaying a requirement for schools to be teaching some refreshed NCEA subjects by one year in order to put the immediate focus on maths and literacy.

It follows feedback from teachers' and principals' groups as well as the NCEA Professional Advisory Group that schools could struggle to properly implement the planned changes on the current timeline. 

The announcement also comes as the Government faces pressure to address the downward trend in students' achievement in maths and literacy, which the Education Minister has already said she is "not happy with".

As was already planned, from next year, there will be a new list of numeracy and literacy standards that a student must achieve in order to pass NCEA. These are being piloted in some schools this year. 

Education Minister Jan Tinetti called these "essential and foundational" standards. Currently, there are more than 500 maths and 100 literacy standards used, she said. 

In order to make sure these are introduced properly, the Government has decided to ease pressure on teachers by slowing down the implementation of some additional changes.

The Government's been doing a curriculum refresh, with updates to subjects like social sciences, science, technology and the arts. 

These are being rolled out to schools in phases, with the current plan seeing all schools teaching the fully refreshed curriculum by 2026. The NCEA Level 1 changes would be fully implemented by 2024, NCEA Level 2 by 2025 and NCEA Level 3 by 2026.

However, Tinetti announced the implementation dates for NCEA Level 2 and NCEA Level 3 are being pushed back by one year. The NCEA Level 1 changes will still fully go ahead next year.

"We'll prioritise mathematics, English, te reo Māori and pāngarau areas of the curriculum, by deferring the requirement for schools to implement the other areas by one year," she said.

"The refresh and redesign of the curriculum will continue on existing timeframes and be available to all schools from 2026 but teaching it won't be compulsory until 2027."

Education Minister Jan Tinetti.
Education Minister Jan Tinetti. Photo credit: Newshub.

According to statements provided by the minister's office, the changes are being welcomed by the sector.

"This altered implementation timeline has been requested by many in the secondary sector for some time, as concerns were raised about the capacity of schools and teachers to implement the required changes to NCEA," said Secondary Principals Association NZ president Vaughan Couillault.

"With this adjusted timeline, schools will have more time to build their capacity and adequately prepare for the changes, ensuring that the new standards can be more successfully integrated into teaching practice."

Post Primary Teachers Association (PPTA) acting president Chris Abercrombie said the minister was listening to concerns. 

"The new timeline for NCEA Levels 2 and 3 gives the Ministry time to create the resources needed for a successful change. 

"We also need more time and resourcing allocated to secondary teachers for professional development relating to the NCEA changes.

"The minister's decision relating to the literacy and numeracy changes will give schools a little more flexibility to implement these high-stakes changes."

Secondary Principals' Council chair Kate Gainsford said it was a welcome move.

"It honours the work already done by teachers in dozens of schools and supports the work ahead rolling out changes across hundreds of schools with thousands of teachers. 

"Principals, in particular, welcome the certainty this brings to schools, students' learning and communities, especially as it enables the refreshed curriculum to drive the assessment reforms, rather than the other way around."

Tinetti said teachers are exhausted after three years of dealing with COVID-19 disruptions.

"We want to make sure that we are easing that workload a bit and are focusing on what matters to families most.

"The bodies representing over 21,000 teachers and principals have told us that delaying some of these important changes means they can focus on kids' outcomes. Schools have been coping with significant disruption and want a sense of normalcy. 

"We share the same goals of wanting kids at school, attending regularly and learning the basics they need to live fulfilling lives. So we'll keep on with the changes that are needed but roll it out at a pace that works for teachers and principals - which is good for the education system in the long term."

National's education spokesperson Erica Stanford called the announcement a "panicked response from Labour as they finally wake up to how serious New Zealand's declining education standards are". 

"The Government’s pilot of this assessment showed that 90 per cent of students in decile one schools would have failed, and therefore could not obtain any NCEA qualification. Labour has neglected the very students that need a great education to change their lives.

"Overall, more than half of New Zealand students involved in the pilot were unable to pass a foundational writing test the OECD says is necessary to succeed in further learning, life, and work.

"It is clear the Minister and her predecessor had no clue the pilot results would be this bad."

On Monday, Tinetti announced the Government would reduce the teacher-to-student ratio in Years 4-8 by one student by the start of 2025, while also setting up an advisory group to consider other changes and saying more teachers will become available. 

The minister said she was "not happy with the downward trends" observed across maths, reading and writing achievement and believes more teachers "targeted to where they are most needed" will help improve results. 

Last month, the National Party unveiled an education policy focused on the "basics"

It included rewriting the curriculum with clear expectations of what is taught across reading, writing, maths and science at every year level, rather than in bands of year levels. Primary and intermediate students would also be required to do an hour of reading, an hour of writing and an hour of maths every day.