So Auckland Grammar School (AGS) has decided to do “officially” do away with NCEA for its Year 11 (5th form) students, as reported in the NZ Herald.
I love how the greengrocer’s apostrophe appears in error in the article’s title, one with educational standards as a theme.
What does this actually mean? It is well known that AGS has not been a fan of NCEA for various reasons, and has pushed the Cambridge exams (what we call the IGCSEs and International A-Levels in New Zealand) for its students ever since the introduction of NCEA. This is not a radical step for them, merely an extension of what they have been doing for a long time.
Of course as a state school, it must offer the state qualification NCEA. Anne Tolley, in reaction to this announcement so far only has only released a slap with a wet bus ticket statement in response.
Trevor Mallard has blogged about this on Red Alert trying to put the heat on Tolley, attempting to link this snub of official educational policy by the school to that relating to National Standards for primary schools. I think he should be far more worried about statements like this from the article:
but the school could allow “some exceptions” with weaker students to have a “backup” plan and allow them to sit NCEA maths and English.
These sorts of statements posture Cambridge exams for the smart students, and NCEA as a poor relation for the dumb kids. This posturing has been a key disadvantage of the NCEA qualification since its introduction. Because some schools were strongly dissatisfied by it, they sought alternatives like the Cambridge examinations or the International Baccalaureate (IB).
This posturing increases the negative discrimination based on what school one went to. Simply put, under the old system, a 70% mark in Bursary history from Aorere College was just as good as the same from AGS. That is not the case now. A two-tier system has been created in our schools.
Mallard has made a subtle error in making the link to National Standards. National Standards are more popular with parents, and less popular (in fact not popular at all!) with teachers. NCEA is less popular with parents and more popular with teachers.
One thing to note is that NCEA is a lightning rod for education issues. What this means is that NCEA gets the blame for the perceived ills of New Zealand’s education system, even for issues that have nothing to do with the exam format or qualification structure.
Also, it is important to realise AGS is not a typical state school at all.
Some accuse schools using Cambridge exams as a marketing tool. AGS doesn’t need to market itself at all. It spends thousands of dollars every year trying to keep students out – it costs the school a lot to combat enrolment fraud.
I would go far enough to say it’s a de facto private school with full state funding. It asks for a very large (probably the biggest) “donation” in the country, which most parents pay. Even disregarding the donation, if one does not already live inside the school zone, it’s arguably more expensive to send your son to AGS than a private school. Only the well off can access real estate in the “Grammar Zone”, which commands a big house price premium.
I also can’t think of anywhere else in the world where having a prison in your own backyard doesn’t dampen the demand for real estate.