The evolution of the qualifications framework

Reflecting on Education Review's biggest topics from the past 20 years


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Implementation of the national qualifications framework was high on the education agenda when Education Review first started publishing.

In March 1996 the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) presented its vision of national certificates in employment, arts and humanities and science and technology. Unit standards in conventional school subjects were trialled and teachers slowly grasped the changes that lay ahead. School Certificate, Sixth Form Certificate and Bursary were due to be replaced with the new NCEA qualifications.

QualificationThe work towards a new qualifications framework was led by a coalition that included staff from schools, polytechnics, industry training organisations, private training establishments and unions.

The road to a new framework was not clear cut. Unit standards, in particular, created division. In December 1996 education reporter Jonathan Milne contributed an opinion piece to Education Review outlining how unit standards were not suited for subjects that required more creativity.

A November 1996 issue detailed how NZQA’s proposal to create a hybrid system for seventh form (now year 13) of exams and unit standards was not well received. Concerns like these continued to occupy the pages of Education Review in March 1998.

 The situation became very political and in another November 1996 issue of Education Review acting education minister Wyatt Creech warned that “the debate needs to be depoliticised” and “qualifications must endure through many administrations”.

In February 1997 the PPTA launched an inquiry into qualifications and Creech indicated that the new qualifications policy would be released in April.

By September 1997 questions were raised about the long-term survival of unit standards. NZQA was supposed to give way to a new quality assurance agency, which raised much concern. The NZQA was not in a healthy financial position at that point and calls were made for more government funding and an increase in examination fees.

However, by 2000 a new coalition government had been elected and had quashed the previous government’s policy of downgrading the NZQA’s role by replacing it with a new, overarching quality assurance agency. A broadened framework policy was released and was considered the turning point in getting the proposed changes off the ground.

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