QA News

QA News Issue 89
- 30 Sep 2015

ISSN 1170-3318 (Online)

QA News provides information about NZQA activities. It is produced by NZQA four times per year.

In this edition:
Chief Executive's News
Making examinations happen: behind the scenes with John Pihema
Examination preparation resources for students
Changes to online submission of material for moderation
11,000 students complete digital mathematics assessment
Māori students participate in pilots
Don Tapscott to visit New Zealand
Hong Kong delegation visits NZQA
Inside Qualification Recognition Services
Enhancing mobility - referencing of the New Zealand and Australian Frameworks
Updated resource: The New Zealand Qualifications Framework
2015 Top Art exhibition concludes

Chief Executive's News

Karen PoutasiIt’s that time of year when approximately  143,000 senior secondary school students across New Zealand have their heads down preparing for external assessment for NCEA and New Zealand Scholarship.

Here at NZQA preparation for this year’s examination season is also in full swing. The examination process is a major undertaking, with approximately 1.4 million examination papers to be marked by a team of around 1800 markers.

End to end the examination process takes about 18 months, which means by the time students receive their results in January planning for the next examination season is already well underway.

Manager of Operations and Logistics, John Pihema, oversees the examination season. This is no small undertaking. You can read more about what goes into making examination season happen in this edition of QA News.

This year, examinations run from Friday 6 November until Friday 4 December.

Earlier this month approximately 11,000 students participated in an online computer-based mathematics assessment called the eMCAT. This is an electronic version of a common mathematics task. This year, for the first time the credits counted towards NCEA. This pilot is part of our Future State programme of work and is in line with our goal for NCEA external examinations, where appropriate, to be online by 2020.

2020 is a significant year for NZQA.  We are aiming to have Qualification Recognition arrangements with at least 50 countries and, in partnership with other education system agencies, to have supported a 50% lift in Māori student achievement at NCEA level 3, in one or more standards in science, technology engineering and mathematics (STEM) subject related areas.

NZQA is committed to helping ensure all students “qualify for the future world”. We are continuing to work with whānau, schools and other organisations to help provide Māori students with experiences that will inspire them to consider the potential a future in digital technology, science, engineering or mathematics could bring. You can read more about one such initiative in this edition of Q.A News.

Last but certainly not least, I would like to wish all of you involved in this year’s examination  season in any way, all the very best.


Making examinations happen: behind the scenes with John Pihema


John P for webEach year around 143,000 students take part in NCEA external examinations.

For the past eight years, NZQA’s manager of Operations and Logistics, John Pihema has managed the delivery of this process.

The role includes managing examination centres; printing, distributing and returning booklets to candidates and procuring vendors.

Mr Pihema, who came from the New Zealand Customs Service where his last role was to manage operations at three international airports, was looking for a career change when he saw this role advertised.

“There were not a lot of similarities between my previous role and this one, other than managing people within service oriented organisations. I was also very fortunate when I arrived at NZQA as there were some very clever people already here who were in the process of automating sorting processes within the operating system.”

“We have to have processes in place to ensure the system runs smoothly. It’s a large scale operation with approximately 1.8 million pieces of printed material being produced each year.”

NZQA’s operations team begins preparation at least nine months in advance of the first scheduled NCEA examinations in November each year.

Each year, NZQA contracts an additional 4,800 temporary staff who are involved in the logistical side of running examinations including Exam Centre Managers and Exam Centre Supervisors. Most of the temporary staff have worked with NZQA over a number of years and are very experienced.

“NZQA provides training to Exam Centre Managers including refresher courses about anything new or changes to process.

“They need to be highly organised, to manage staff and candidates and to ensure the right students receive the right papers. They also need to liaise with the courier and manage the examination centre workforce who supervise examinations sessions.”

During examination season, each day follows a strict schedule. Calls begin early in the morning with examination centre managers reporting on any potential issues that arise.

“At 10am, here at NZQA we have a stand up meeting to discuss any issues from the previous day and discuss how they will be resolved.”

“Between 10-12 if there are any issues the phone starts ringing. We may also get calls after the first session ends and then the process starts again at 2pm.”

Issues could include fire alarms during exams, or traffic jams on the day with candidates trying to get to centres.

“Breaches of examination rules are an exception rather than the rule, we generally see around 300 cases each year and when you’re talking about 143,000 students that’s a really small percentage.”

We also have very good security in place, around printing of examination booklets, distribution of booklets and storage prior to the examinations.

The job is not without its high stress moments. One incident that stands out for Mr Pihema was in 2013, when NZQA received calls from around the North Island that the power grid was shutting down.

“It was dealt with really well and candidates still sat their exams. Our first concern whenever we have an incident like this is what it means for students, such as consideration of derived grades for candidates impacted by a situation or how we can be best support the Exam Centre Managers through these situations.”

As for the future, Mr Pihema says it’s an exciting time for his team as NZQA increasingly digitises its processes.

“Helping young people qualify for the future world will continue to be at the heart of everything we do. We will see the incorporation of digital initiatives into our business as usual activities.”

It’s an interesting time to be involved in assessment, and Mr Pihema is confident his team is up for the challenge.

Examination preparation resources for students

Resources for students web The NZQA website has a number or resources designed to provide students with all the information they need this examination season.

A specific page will be available from late October, which will contain study tips, timetables and examination rules.

Social media, including Facebook and Twitter are also a useful way to keep up to date.

NZQA will also produce a video featuring NCEA students giving their best study advice along with advice from Richard Thornton, a former school principal and NZQA’s Deputy Chief Executive for Assessment.

This will be available on our YouTube and Facebook pages.

Changes to online submission of material for moderation

We are making changes so it is easier for schools and tertiary providers to submit material to us for moderation online via the NZQA website.

Currently, schools and tertiary providers submit material for moderation in hard copy or via the website, by entering a link (URL) to where the materials for moderation have been uploaded (such as Google Drive or MS Sharepoint).

A change was made this month, enabling credentials (i.e. user name and password) to be entered. This means that temporary login details can be provided as appropriate. Step-by-step information on how to do this is available on the NZQA website.

NZQA continues to look at how materials might be submitted for moderation online in the future, and plans to consult with stakeholders on this next year.

For more information see the NZQA website or email

11,000 students complete digital mathematics assessment

Approximately 11,000 NCEA students participated in a trial of a computer-based maths assessment this month.

NZQA delivered an electronic version of the normally paper-based Mathematics Common Assessment Task on 8 and 10 September to 11,000 students from 146 schools (about 30 per cent of the eligible cohort) with the results counting towards NCEA Level 1.

Deputy Chief Executive Assessment, Richard Thornton says as NZQA moves towards introducing digital assessment, it is vital that trials are run in real world environments, and NZQA receives feedback from participants, to build its understanding about how to best meet the needs of our users.

“This is an important first step towards our end goal that assessments will be on line, moving towards being accessible anytime, and eventually anywhere,” he says. “We expected there would be challenges in taking an exam designed for paper and putting it online, and some of the feedback reflects this.”

Mr Thornton says that while the initial feedback about the eMCAT has been mixed, 54% of students indicated that the experience was satisfactory. NZQA will seek further qualitative information from the schools and markers involved, and a results comparison with the MCAT will provide quantitative data.

NZQA also worked with Te Kura (The Correspondence School) to deliver eMCAT to 14 students who are currently residing overseas including in Malaysia, Bolivia, Kuwait, Zambia, Brazil, Thailand, Egypt, Australia and Denmark. This process worked well, with these students logging in and completing the assessment online.

Students who sat the computer-based assessment also sit a paper-based assessment, with their highest mark counting towards NCEA.

NZQA will also trial two digital practice assessments at NCEA Level 1 this year in French Listening and Science - Mechanics. These assessments will not count towards NCEA credits, but will provide schools and NZQA the opportunity to better understand and prepare for delivering digital assessment.

“Again, the sector response has been very positive for these assessments, with 13,336 students signed up for the Science-Mechanics assessment, and 1500 (from a cohort of 2000) for the French Listening assessment.

“Overall, 242 schools are involved in the 2015 NZQA pilot and practice digital assessments – more than 50 per cent of all secondary schools.”

Mr Thornton says building on learning from last year, these assessments and subsequent feedback will assist NZQA to further progress the transition to online digital assessment.

More information on the pilot can be found here.

Māori students participate in pilots

IMG 0931NZQA is working with partners, schools and communities to provide inspirational learning experiences for Māori students.

Pilot initiatives have been run in conjunction with The Mind Lab by Unitec (involving nearly 200 Māori students in Wellington and Auckland) and with the Digital Natives Academy (involving 45 students in Rotorua).

NZQA Deputy Chief Executive, Daryn Bean, says through providing hands on experiences, these interactive sessions inspired and encouraged students about the possibilities that a future in digital technology, science and engineering careers could bring.

“It’s important to foster curiosity and to teach our tamariki to be resilient. We want to encourage students to make informed choices and to show Māori students that not only can they participate in the future world as Māori, but they can qualify for the future world as Māori too.

Daryn Bean says Māori students will increasingly make up the New Zealand workforce and will be in demand in the future. NZQA is aware of the need to ensure Māori students are not left behind in this digital transformation era.

“Being equipped with cultural competencies such as te reo Māori, tikanga and values such as manaakitanga, as well as STEM related competencies, is a great way to prepare, no matter what industry students might be interested in.”

In 2014, 23% of Māori and Pasifika 18 year olds achieved one or more STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects at NCEA Level 3. For all other ethnicities the achievement rate is 47%. Currently, 60% of the Māori workforce are employed in low to semi-skilled occupations – so it is hugely important to turn this around for New Zealand by having more Māori students graduate with skills in STEM.

Daryn Bean says NZQA has a role to play in creating an environment that inspires students, supports teachers and engages whānau. He adds that the pathway for students should be talked about and planned so students have the pre-requisites for further training or study and are successful in their tertiary education or chosen careers.

Don Tapscott to visit New Zealand

Don Tapscott webThis October, NZQA, in association with the Ministry of Education (MOE), Callaghan Innovation and the Government Chief Information Officer is bringing Dr Don Tapscott, an internationally-recognised commentator on the economic and social aspects of technology, to New Zealand for a three-day programme of speeches, presentations and engagements on innovation and technology-related matters.

Dr Tapscott is a globally-recognised authority on innovation and the social impact of technology. His ideas about technology and innovation can be applied to the 21st century Teaching and Learning work programme, NZQA's Future State programme, and other initiatives related to Better Public Services.

Chief Executive Karen Poutasi says Dr Tapscott’s visit will help raise the profile of trends and challenges related to how the education system is utilising digital pedagogy and its expected impacts on teaching, learning and assessment.

“NZQA has a ‘Future State’ programme of work, which is about responding to the changing needs of modern learners.”

Mr Tapscott holds a B.Sc in Psychology and Statistics, and an M.Ed specialising in Research Methodology. He also holds three honorary Doctor of Laws (honoris causa), granted by the University of Alberta in 2001, Trent University in 2006, and McMaster University in 2010. The concepts of 'Paradigm Shift', and Macrowikinomics are Tapscott ideas.

His TED talk (Four principles for the open world) of 2012 continues to be highly rated. He was ranked fourth among the world's most influential management thinkers by Thinkers50 in 2013.

He was recently made a member of the Order of Canada for his leadership in the field of business innovation, notably for his research on the economic and social impact of information technology.

He has published extensively on business strategy, organisational transformation, and the role of technology in business and society. Mr Tapscott’s ideas about technology and innovation work are strongly aligned to Better Public Services, 21st century teaching and learning, and NZQA's Future State programme.

Hong Kong delegation visits NZQA

Hong Kong Delegation webRepresentatives from the Hong Kong Education Bureau visited NZQA in July to progress the referencing of the New Zealand Qualifications Framework and the Hong Kong Qualification Framework.

This referencing will support the mobility of students and skilled workers between New Zealand and Hong Kong.

The visit followed the signing of a cooperation agreement between NZQA and the Hong Kong Education Bureau, and discussed the referencing, the terms of reference, project plans, timelines, deliverables and criteria.

The delegation also visited WelTec and learnt more about credit recognition and transfer and visited Service IQ and to discuss the assessment of work based training.

Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong are referencing their qualifications frameworks with the European Qualifications Framework.

Jane von Dadelszen, Deputy Chief Executive, Quality Assurance, NZQA has been invited to be a Board Member on the Hong Kong Council for Accreditation of Academic and Vocational Qualifications (HKCAAVQ). The HKCAAVQ accredits academic and vocational programmes and also assesses non-local qualifications. NZQA’s membership will extend the New Zealand and Hong Kong education relationship.

Inside Qualification Recognition Services

Pamela Hulston for webHave you ever wondered how NZQA evaluates different qualifications? Pamela Hulston explains her team’s important role.

For more than 12 years, Pamela Hulston has managed NZQA’s Qualification Recognition Services. It’s a role she describes as “ever evolving”.

The team consists of 26 international evaluators, six business support people and four team leaders.

“We’ve got a very international team representing Australia, Scotland, England, Poland, Bangladesh, China, Italy, Philippines, India and Brazil.”

The team’s role is to evaluate overseas qualifications and to benchmark them against the NZQF framework for the purposes of immigration, further study, employment and teaching.

The team has robust processes in place to ensure the authenticity of the qualifications submitted for evaluation.

Each year, there are approximately 13,000 applications, many of which will contain more than one qualification.

“Most of these are from people wanting to come and live in New Zealand. Last month the top country was India, the second was United Arab Emirates. There has been an upsurge in applications from the Middle East.

“The U.K was the top country for many years, this year India has overtaken the U.K and the Philippines.”

Qualifications Recognition Services also assesses refugee qualifications free of charge and Mrs Hulston says her team is expecting a rise in these in line with the Government’s latest announcements to increase the intake of refugees from Syria.

Enhancing mobility - referencing of the New Zealand and Australian Frameworks

NZQF for webA new report referencing the New Zealand and Australian Qualifications Frameworks has been completed.

NZQA and the Australian Government Department of Education and Training agreed in October 2013 to begin the first referencing of all levels of the New Zealand Qualifications Framework with the Australian Qualifications Framework.

This project aligns with the New Zealand Government’s vision of developing and sustaining mutually beneficial education relationships with key partners over the next 15 years. It also builds an understanding of New Zealand qualifications in Australia and Australian qualifications in New Zealand.

Referencing establishes a relationship between the levels of national qualifications frameworks. An important part of the process also examines the quality assurance systems that underpin the education and training systems. NZQA’s Deputy Chief Executive, Grant Klinkum says the report can be used by education providers and employers to support their recognition decisions.

“Students will be able to use the report to work out how the level of their qualification on the New Zealand Qualifications Framework is comparable with Australia. It’s a general guide, so it doesn’t entitle any holder of an Australian or New Zealand qualification to claim automatic recognition.”

Mr Klinkum explains that as qualifications frameworks are constantly evolving, the report will be reviewed at regular intervals in the future.

Updated resource: The New Zealand Qualifications Framework

NZQA has updated its New Zealand Qualifications Framework Resource booklet.

This refreshed resource contains six sections, outlining different aspects of the NZQF as well as outlining its purpose and the principles underpinning New Zealand qualifications listed on the NZQF.

It also includes a convenient guide to define qualifications ranging from a Certificate level 1 to a Doctoral Degree.

NZQA administers the NZQF, which is the definitive source for accurate information about all quality assured qualifications, covering senior secondary school and tertiary education qualifications, and including all qualifications open to international students. The NZQF provides information about what knowledge and experience holders of qualification can be expected to have, and about what further education and/or employment opportunities the qualification leads to.

The NZQF is designed to optimise the recognition of educational achievement and its contribution to New Zealand’s economic, social and cultural success.

Copies of this new resource are available here, or alternatively for a hard copy of the booklet please email

2015 Top Art exhibition concludes

Top Art for webFor the past six months 56 NCEA Level 3 portfolios, which achieved Excellence in Visual Art in 2014, have been touring New Zealand as part of NZQA’s annual Top Art exhibition.

The exhibition showcases five streams: design, painting, photography, printmaking and sculpture, and provides secondary school teachers and students an opportunity to understand what is required to achieve Excellence at Level 3. It also allows the public to see some of the outstanding art being created in New Zealand schools.

The exhibition included a North and South Island tour. The northern tour visited 18 venues, including a maiden visit to Waiheke Island.

The portfolios are all now back at NZQA and will be returned to the artists within the next few weeks.

As the end of the academic school year draws close, this year’s Level 3 Visual Arts students will be putting the finishing touches on their portfolios, which will be collected early in November.

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