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Published 9 March 2018

Holes in NCEA curriculum revealed in Victoria research

New research from Victoria University of Wellington has uncovered significant knowledge gaps in subjects taken by Year 12 and 13 students undertaking the National Certificate of Achievement (NCEA)

Dr Michelle Tewkesbury is Assistant Principal at Scots College and recently graduated from Victoria with a PhD in Education. In her work she mapped NCEA chemistry courses against the New Zealand Curriculum and found several areas to be lacking.

Dr Tewkesbury’s research focused on a comparison between curriculum, assessment and teaching practices in chemistry within the NCEA and the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP)—an optional qualification offered in some New Zealand secondary schools.

Teachers that took part in the study believed that students studying the IBDP are better prepared than NCEA students for university, both because of the completeness of the IBDP syllabus and the approaches to learning it encourages.

michelle tewkesbury2

“There are significant gaps in NCEA students’ knowledge because teachers are teaching only what will be assessed,” says Dr Tewkesbury. “There are significant omissions in what students are being taught because course coverage is dependent on which achievement standards are selected.”

Dr Tewkesbury says this means that coherence of learning within the NCEA is compromised, with resulting implications for students’ understanding and disciplinary learning at a tertiary level.

“Grade outcomes for internal assessment in NCEA are higher than for external assessment,” she says. “The implication is that there is too much internal assessment, as courses are designed to maximise grade outcomes, which in turn links to performance outcomes for schools.”

Dr Tewkesbury believes the relationship between the New Zealand Curriculum and the NCEA needs addressing. She says the achievement structure of the NCEA as it currently exists, is coming at a high cost in terms of compromising subject connectedness and teaching and is counter to international directions in curriculum reform.


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