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Choosing your own path through NCEA

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Kristan Mowat, Head of Media Studies at Logan Park High School, describes how her school empowers students to set goals and make choices. Students are supported to make choices about their learning pathways through flexibility with NCEA internals and externals, and the standards that match their interest and needs. Schools can use this video to support their own curriculum decision making about learning pathways.

Professional learning conversations

These questions and suggested actions encourage you to reflect on your own school context.

What do clear learning pathways look like?

In 2013 the Education Review Office gathered data from over 74 secondary schools to evaluate the extent to which the schools were resonding to the need for individual pathways for their students.

In the report, Secondary Schools Pathways for future education, training and employment, ERO recommends that secondary schools:

  • use robust self review to determine the extent to which their curriculum, careers, and pastoral care processes assist students to develop career management competencies and successful pathways from school
  • develop their curriculum and systems to ensure a focus on identifying and responding to the aspirations, strengths, and needs of all students and their families or whānau
  • increasingly work with families, whānau and iwi to develop student pathways to education, training, and employment
  • systematically engage local businesses as well as other community health, social, and education agencies to suitably respond to each student’s future in education, training, and employment
  • identify and implement the innovation required to support the pathways and success of priority learners, including the development of academic courses for Māori and Pacific learners.

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Learning pathways – A possible focus area for curriculum review
This section provides tools, research, resources, and examples to help schools ensure clear learning pathways for students.


Often when students go to the careers advisor and they come back, and they find out actually you need level one or two English to get into this particular course - they’re suddenly much more inspired about what’s going on in the program. Maybe in the past we just relied on students being compliant in wanting to learn things for the sake of it, but I think this generation of young people want to see the relevance. If they can see the relevance and can see that it connects to their long term goals they come back and they’re much more motivated and they’re much more engaged.

I think the new curriculum has given us an opportunity to allow students to make choices about their own learning and their own learning pathways. So in our NCEA courses we’re trying to give students more choice about the standards that they might choose to pursue. We’re looking at really focussing on a well educated person and that encompasses all the key competencies.  What we want our students to be, lifelong learners, we want them to be engaged, and connected and self-managing, able to relate well to others, etc. So that's really infused all of our programmes. I think the great thing in the senior school now with NCEA - there’s more flexibility about the internals and the externals, and students can make choices about what particular standards they want to select in terms of their courses.

Because of timetabling clashes, potentially you could have students studying towards level one two or three within the same class. It just makes sense that students will choose to be doing a standard at their particular level. We looked at trying to get courses that would be relevant to students and their needs. When you’ve got your students and your particular courses we looked at trying to choose standards that match student interests and student needs and then gave them choices within that as much as possible. So a student in a mainstream year 11 course might have the option of doing a static image or doing a speech for a particular assessment. Senior classes for some of the assessment students might choose to be doing an internal or an external, or they might choose to be doing a seminar or a theme study or a director study - those sorts of things. 

If you’ve got a successful careers programme across the school too and we try to work as group teachers also, so that the students set specific aims and goals every year that they’re here. So if your aim is to improve your literacy you might choose to opt into the peer reading programme in the junior school. If your aim is to improve your numeracy skills, as a year 13 student, you might choose to go back and do some level one maths or numeracy standards because you’ve realised through a decent interview with the careers advisor that you need level one numeracy to get into whatever course it is you’re trying to get into. 

There are much higher expectations in terms of workloads with our practice because potentially in one class you could have students working at level one, two or three. As it becomes embedded students come in expecting more choices. So they’ll come in and say ‘Do I have to do this standard? I would rather do this standard, this one suits me better’ or ‘I want to have a look at an alternative task’ so they’re more empowered. So teachers need to be really aware of the assessment you know in the teaching and learning programme and able to negotiate with students.

Passing NCEA - of course it’s an aim, we want our students to leave with level three NCEA, that’s an aim for all of them - that’s not always realistic for every single student. So it’s actually about the learning and it’s actually about setting themselves up to be lifelong learners. So for some students it might take two years to get their level two NCEA certificate. It’s about encouraging them on their journey and making them set realistic, achievable goals as they go from the junior school into the senior school. Then it’s about them leaving as a well educated person who can access learning as they continue and they’ve got a lot of those key competencies - they’re self-managing and they can relate well to others.

Published on: 14 Nov 2012