Factsheet # 1: The development of NCEA

Download this Factsheet (PDF, 69KB)


National Certificates of Educational Achievement (NCEA) were introduced as New Zealand’s main secondary school qualifications between 2002 and 2004.They grew out of a long-term intention to establish standards for national qualifications and recognise a wider range of skills and knowledge. A new set of qualifications was needed to reflect the more flexible learning environments in our schools. 

NCEA was designed to challenge all students, including the most able and highly motivated. It was also designed to give schools the flexibility to develop a range of programmes to suit the specific needs of their students. 

NCEA has been reviewed and refined since its initial implementation in 2002. NCEA results now show a rich and accurate picture of a students’ skills and knowledge.


In NCEA, New Zealand has one of the most open and transparent school qualifications systems in the world:

  • Students, teachers, parents, employers and tertiary providers have access to all NCEA assessment information. 
  • New Zealand is the only country in the world that returns all marked examination papers to candidates. Candidates can review their marked work and, if they wish, apply for a review or reconsideration of their results. 
  • National statistics from internal and external assessments, including qualifications completed and school by school comparisons, are published annually on the NZQA website and analysed in an annual report (view Annual Report on NCEA and New Zealand Scholarship Data and Statistics (2010) (PDF, 3MB)). 
  • Reports on the quality of internal assessment at every school are published on the NZQA website.These are called ‘Managing National Assessment’ reports. 
  • The standards that teachers and examination markers use to assess student work are publicly available on the NZQA website (search NCEA standards). Additional material is published for each achievement standard to help everyone understand the standards and the levels of student performance required to meet them. 
  • For internally assessed standards, examples of student work that meet the standards, for all grades along with commentary from moderators are available on the NZQA website. Pre-approved assessment tasks are also available online. 
  • For externally assessed standards, examination papers, marking schedules and samples of marked examination scripts from previous years are available on the NZQA website. 

The teaching experience

"NCEA is hugely challenging for students. To achieve Excellence is far more demanding than a high mark was in the previous exam system. But the good thing is NCEA is utterly transparent – everyone knows what you have to do to get good grades."

Julia Davidson,
Principal of Wellington Girls College and Chair of New Zealand Principals’ Council

"Less able students who would lack motivation if they were only assessed in a one off external exam, such as School Certificate, are engaged with NCEA as it provides opportunities to be assessed throughout the year."

Principal, Lincoln High School

"The NCEA has been designed as a unique New Zealand Qualification System which meets well the diverse learning needs of students. It is academically robust, internationally recognised and equips students for tertiary study and the world of work."

Patrick Walsh,
President of the Secondary Principals’ Association of New Zealand (SPANZ)

Comments from the sector


Professor John Hattie, 2009, The Black Box of Tertiary Assessment: An Impending Revolution, University of Auckland

Shulruf, Hattie & Tumen, 2009 New Zealand’s standard-based assessment for secondary schools (NCEA): Implications for policy makers. University of Auckland

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