History of NCEA

The National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) is New Zealand’s main secondary school qualification and was introduced between 2002 and 2004. This replaced School Certificate, University Entrance, Sixth Form Certificate and University Bursary qualifications.

Since its introduction, the qualification has evolved to reflect the changing world young people are living in. Changes have been made to recognise the diverse needs of learners and ensure they are equipped with the right skills for further education and employment.

Why was NCEA introduced? 

Previously, secondary school qualifications had a strong focus on academic subjects. Students interested in vocational subjects couldn’t get qualifications in those subjects or gain recognition for their skills and knowledge.

Secondary school qualifications relied heavily on exams (external assessment) meaning not all a student’s learning throughout the year was considered. Also, students were graded against their peers, with only a limited number of students allowed to pass each year.

NCEA provides a fuller picture of a student’s competencies and skills. Assessment is continuous throughout the year, so everything the student completes counts towards their qualification. A student is graded against the outcomes of a standard. Any student who demonstrates the required knowledge and skills of a standard achieves the NCEA credit.

Since NCEA was introduced, more students are leaving school with qualifications. NCEA is accepted both in New Zealand and overseas by most employers and tertiary education providers. Its placement on the 10 level New Zealand Qualifications Framework (previously the National Qualifications Framework) shows how it fits more broadly into the New Zealand education system and the pathways in offers into further academic and vocational education. 

How has NCEA changed since it was introduced? 

Since its introduction, NCEA has evolved to become a more flexible and inclusive model of education. NCEA recognises and caters to the diverse needs of students and their different learning pathways.

Key changes include introducing the NCEA certificate endorsement, designed to recognise student achievement at Merit or Excellence across all learning areas. This has been further expanded to include endorsement for strong performance in individual courses.

The Ministry of Education has reviewed standards against the New Zealand Curriculum and newly aligned standards have been introduced progressively.

As part of NZQA’s Future State initiative, NZQA introduced NCEA Online as an option in external exams. NCEA Online allows students to be assessed online, using a computer instead of traditional pen and paper. This 21st century approach to digital assessment will support innovation in teaching and learning and will change along with evolving technology.

Skip to main page content Accessibility page with list of access keys Home Page Site Map Contact Us newzealand.govt.nz