A common question is: How can my child gain high school qualifications while home educated, so that they can access tertiary study or meet the requirements of future employers? This is an important topic to think about, and should not be left until they are mid teens (if at all possible) to explore.
Let's look at some of the key considerations, and qualification options.
Does my child need a high school qualification?
But, it is not necessarily essential to have high school qualifications to access those things. There are other options, which I will explore in future articles. For now, let's acknowledge that gaining high school qualifications, because they provide recognisable evidence of learning, is generally the easiest way to gain access to the above, where such qualifications are usually needed.
If your child is NOT likely to want or need to enter tertiary education, then they may not need a qualification at all. It may be that a more general programme of learning and life skills will suit them better. However, until you know this for sure, it is usually wiser and better to assume they will want to gain qualifications, and set them up with the skills and knowledge and options they need to do so.
Most accessible high school qualification options
- NCEA (National Certificate of Educational Achievement) - the state school qualification. I'll discuss this in more depth shortly.
- Cambridge Exams - these are external exams which can be sat by home educators as a Private Candidate. Specific coursework (using suitable text/workbooks from an available selection) needs to be completed to prepare for the exams. IGCSE exams are typically sat at year 11, and A levels at Years 12/13. An A level with a certain number of points meets the U.E requirements of NZ universities. There are options to study Cambridge via an international distance provider, independently (a tutor strongly recommended for A levels), or via registering with a NZ private distance school (there are currently 2 offering Cambridge - Crimson Global, and 3H international - both quite costly, and voiding an exemption).
- CENZ (Christian Education NZ) Level 3 Certificate - this is available through Homeschooling NZ (and some NZ Christian schools), and is an excellent programme of learning which combines meeting specific requirements with individual choices from various curriculum options and elective courses (including ACE, Abeka, Apologia, Lifepac, Saxon, Math U See and much, much more). Work from Years 9-13 all counts towards the certificate requirements, though there are adjustments for late starters and those with high diagnostic test scores.
- ACE (Accelerated Christian Education) Level 3 Certificate - similar to the CENZ Certificate, except that it is based strongly on the ACE curriculum - at least 75% of all credit work must be ACE. This is available through Accelerate, the distance learning arm of SCEE in Australia; it is also offered by some NZ Christian schools, including a distance programme option from Amana.
- GED/SAT tests - these are American tests which are accessible in NZ, and the combined suitable scores from these are recognised by the Universities for U.E. These tests are usually sat in Year 13 - prior to that, a student does a general programme of learning of your choice, and then prior to sitting the exams does 6-12 months of specific preparation work. See Lime Feather Learning for more info (formerly Learning Set Free).
Please note: the NCEA system is in a state of transition. New requirements will be in place from 2024 (for Level 1), and so this overview will outline the current (I'll call it "old") system and the new - which applies to your child, will depend on in which year they will be completing each level. Any student starting Level 1 from 2024 onwards will be under the new system. Any student who started sooner, and/or is doing Level 2 in/before 2024 and Level 3 in/before 2025, will be under the old system (it's not as totally cut-and-dried as that, but I'm keeping it simple).
Under both systems, NCEA has 3 levels. To gain University Entrance, students must achieve NCEA Level 3, with a certain number of credits in relevant subject, and also complete required literacy/numeracy standards.
When student complete units of work to a suitable standard, they are awarded a given number of credits. Each unit of work may have varying numbers of credit attached, though they are typically 3-4 each. A full year's work in one subject is typically worth around 20 credits, though students don't have to complete all available work of any given subject to gather enough credits to pass a level.
Old (present) system:
- Level 1: achieve 80 credits at any level (1,2 or 3), including 10 literacy and 10 numeracy credits from approved standards. Gaining Level 1 is optional - it is not required in order to do Level 2.
- Level 2: 60 credits at Level 2 or above + 20 credits from any level (these are also known as "carry over credits" as they may be credits already achieved at Level 1). Level 1 literacy and numeracy requirements must also be met (may have been done prior) - so these often comprise the 20 extra credits.
- Level 3: 60 credits at Level 3 or above, plus 20 credits from Level 2 or above (again, "carry over credits"). Level 1 literacy and numeracy requirements must also have been met.
- Current U.E requirements with NCEA: the student must achieve ALL of the following:
2) Literacy - 10 credits at Level 2 or above, including 5 credits in reading and 5 credits in writing
3) Numeracy - 10 credits at Level 1 or above, made up of specified achievement standards or
a package of 3 specific numeracy unit standards.
- Level 1 (from 2024): 60 credits at Level 1 + new lit/num co-requisite* (this level is optional)
- Level 2 (from 2025): 60 credits at Level 2 + new lit/num co-requisite*
- Level 3 (from 2026): 60 credits at Level 3 + new lit/num co-requisite*
- Credits can no longer be "carried over"
- Each level is a 60 credit qualification
- The new literacy/numeracy co-requisite must be completed before any level of NCEA may be awarded (more below)
- All NCEA subjects are being re-built with 4 achievement standards – 2 internally assessed, 2 externally assessed – worth 20 credits total.
- Learners can use unit standards as well as achievement standards to reach the credit requirement for each level of NCEA. They will also be able to use any skills standards set by Workforce Development Councils. The only unit standards they cannot use for the 60 credit requirement are the compulsory Literacy and Numeracy standards.
- Any changes to U.E requirements under the new system have not yet been made clear (and likely won't be in place until 2026 when the first of the new cohort reach Level 3).
One of the most significant changes to NCEA is the new lit/num co-requisite. This needs to be completed only once, and can be done in any year from Year 9 upwards, but until it is completed, no level of NCEA will be awarded. The co-requisite is completed by sitting an external test, known as the CAA (Common Assessment Activity), which is done online, and offered, at this stage, 2x per year. This is currently being piloted, so there may be changes. There will be both Te Reo and English alternatives available.
The CAA is organised in schools. It is not yet known how home educators will be able to access the CAAs; I have a follow up conversation scheduled with the NCEA Change Team in about August when they hope to know more, after they figure out how Te Kura students will be able to do the CAAs.
Accessing NCEA as a Home Educator
The only ways for a home educated student to gain NCEA therefore are:
- Study NCEA via Te Kura, the correspondence school. This is free to enroll in for students ages 16-19. Younger students with homeschooling exemptions may enroll in any number of courses on a fee-paying basis - about $1800 per subject per year (or a pro-rata amount if they turn 16 during the year of study).
- Enroll in a private distance school which offers NCEA (would no longer be officially home educated as do not need an exemption, though would be learning at home). Currently the only one doing so is Mt Hobson Academy Connect
- Find a secondary school willing to act as a "Link School" - this can be either for external exams only (so you would prepare your student at home with suitable course work, and they would gain credits only for the external exams), or also for internal assessment, where you would submit work to the teachers and they would assess it for internal credit. While it is usually not too difficult to find a school who will allow home educated students to sit external exams at their school (they do this for Te Kura students also), it is very rare for them to agree to act as a link school for internal assessment. After all, they receive no funding for the student, and already have full workloads caring for their enrolled students. Officially it is possible, but no school is required to agree, and few will. This doesn't mean you shouldn't try though. You would need to talk go the Principal's Nominee at the school, show them THIS section of the NZQA website, and download and take them the form that is there to fill in.
- Cobble together or gain NCEA credits through a combo of external exams, courses from alternative providers, distance courses, foundation studies courses etc. This is a little harder than it used to be, as the Open Polytechnic will no longer enroll any student under 16, and will not enroll home educated students over 16 for their Foundation Studies courses. Other course providers may do so, though many have become a bit more tricky than in the past. (Contact me if you have issues and want some support.) Foundation Studies or bridging course are aimed at school leavers without NCEA qualifications, to give them the credits they need to go onto other courses. Variations of them are offered by a number of providers. Youth Guarantees courses are aimed at students age 16-19 without NCEA 1 or 2 - these vary in content and how they are provided, and are available from a wide range of alternative education providers. Typically you would look for one that focuses on an area of interest - eg a pre-trade course in building for your budding carpenter, which would be designed to meet credit requirements including literacy and numeracy so that the student can successfully go on to an apprenticeship and/or related Level 3 and above study.
Preparing for high school qualifications
- If you intend for your child to do either the CENZ or ACE Certificates, you can enroll with their respective providers from preschool upwards, and follow the various programme options they will set out for you. Or you can select any suitable, reasonably rigorous curriculum to teach your children independently until you're ready to enroll. I would recommend that by the time they are intermediate age, you do enroll and complete the parent training and diagnostic testing, so that if your children have any gaps in their learning, you have time to work through required catch up work before they start the high school programme. Note that you MUST be enrolled and have completed parent training before your student begins any credit-level work. It is also important that you learn to use proper procedures in administering work early on, and that your children learn the requirements too, so that you don't all have to unlearn a bunch of bad habits in order to meet the strict credit requirements. HSNZ have generously made available a copy of their parent training basics which you can download HERE for parents of younger children who don't want to enroll yet - I recommend you read and apply it if you are using ACE in particular independently, or as much as applicable, any other equivalent programme for earlier learning. If you are going to use ACE, then your children need to complete diagnostic testing, and you should have someone suitably experienced help you determine their initial programme of learning (you're welcome to contact me about this). Other curriculum may include their own placement tests which should be used.
- If you are heading towards Cambridge Exams, there are also course materials available for all ages and levels, which could be used with younger students. Or again, any suitable rigorous course of study in the early years will lay the necessary foundations. Study by distance with one of the providers linked above is also an option.
- If your student will do GED/SAT, then you can choose whatever you like during their younger years, building general literacy/numeracy and general knowledge, until they begin the specific prep courses for the exams.
- If your student will do NCEA, then a suitable broad programme of learning in primary school will suffice. You can check out the NZ curriculum documents HERE for an idea of what is typically taught in schools. If your student is high school age, then doing work using a combination of Education Perfect online platform, and resources such as Nulake Math, Sigma English and some ESA Learning Workbooks or resources from Eton Press should lay a reasonable foundation. Remember that if you are preparing them to sit external NCEA exams, you will need to know what standards are included in the exams, which you want them to sit, and provide specific applicable learning to prepare for those standards. These standards are the number codes you will see on NCEA workbooks.+
- Not every student needs a formal high school qualification, but until you're sure of this, ideally prepare them to be able to gain one. Qualifications can be the simplest way to open doors to tertiary study and some employment.
- There are five main high school qualification options (outlined above) which are reasonably accessible to home educators. Investigate the options and have a reasonable idea where you're headed as early as practicable, so you have something to aim for. You can always change course later.
- In the primary years, either choose a programme of learning that is targeted to the qualifications you will later aim for, or ensure a broad, decent learning experience so that your student has a good foundation from which to launch. During the primary years, though, don't get TOO overfocussed on academics - these are the years to allow plenty of room for play, fun, and hands-on learning, and to take the time to pursue interesting projects and deep-dives into things of interest. Incorporate general aptitudes and character - these are at least as important as academics in preparing your student for future success.
- In the secondary years, your student will usually have a more academic focus, working to lay necessary foundations for success at Levels 1, 2 & 3, or equivalent.
Getting your head around high school qualifications and how they work is a big learning curve, akin to learning a whole new foreign language (and each qualification has it's own language!). Don't be overwhelmed - take it one step at a time, read up, ask questions, talk to others who have been there before you, and hang in there. Until one of your kids is actually DOING one of the above, only so much will stick - it will make more and more sense when it's put into action.