Some teenagers are warning the pandemic has ruined the school year and the most disadvantaged students are losing motivation and need more NCEA changes.
Their comments come after the Education Review Office reported that a third of secondary principals it interviewed in June and July said students were worried the national lockdown earlier this year had harmed their NCEA achievement.
They also come amid calls for further NCEA concessions to recognise that Auckland teenagers had been shut out of their classrooms by two lockdowns.
The group of Year 12-13 students at a high-decile Wellington secondary school told RNZ the national lockdown earlier this year and ongoing uncertainty caused by the pandemic had harmed their education.
Year 13 student Tokorua Turua said some were now worried they would not be able to get into tertiary courses.
"We're just on edge. We don't know if we're going to get into these courses that we want to get into just because of this year. I know if I ask around my friends they're going to say 'yeah, this is probably one of my worst years in school' just because of this huge blow to our routine and how we go through our year," he said.
"It's quite stressful at times."
Year 12 student Sara Habib said the situation made her work harder but it had the opposite effect on some of her friends.
"The pressure in a sense makes me more willing to put in the effort and work. I also do have friends that have stopped going into classes very often because of how quarantine and Covid's impacted. They look at it like 'oh, we've just had two months off school, might as well just stop'," she said.
Year 13 student Yona Fernandez said some students were coping well but others were not.
"There's some people who are really feeling the pressure because they know they're not doing very well," she said.
"Something about lockdown just pulled away all the motivation, blew everyone's momentum away."
The government made NCEA easier this year because of the lockdown, but a report from the Education Review Office said more changes might be needed if there was a second lockdown.
That happened in Auckland and the president of the city's Secondary Principals' Association, Steve Hargreaves, said it cost students an extra two-and-a-half-weeks out of the classroom and that needed to be recognised.
"That has had a big impact on their preparation for external exams and the completion of some of the big portfolio subjects," he said.
"If there is no consideration then there's no doubt that these students will be really disadvantaged," he said.
Hargreaves said the Qualifications Authority should increase the number of extra "learning recognition credits" Auckland schools could award to students.
Students could get one learning recognition credit for every five they achieved up to a maximum of 10 extra credits at level 1 and eight at levels 2-3.
Hargreaves said Auckland students should be allowed a further five credits at level 1 and four at levels 2-3.
The Wellington teenagers spoken to by RNZ agreed Auckland students should get more concessions to help them through the NCEA.
But they also warned that disadvantaged students throughout the country needed more help.
Year 12 student Angus Duncan said learning recognition credits were going to people who passed their courses, not to those who were failing.
"They're treating everyone as equal when it shouldn't be like that," he said.
"You should get an advantage based on how disadvantaged you are. The added credits, the one-for-five, was good for the people who are on track anyway, but for people who aren't on track or are struggling to keep up with their work it's not doing anything."
The government said it would consider whether further support was needed.
Exhaustion, illness among post-lockdown problems
An interim report from the Education Review Office has highlighted problems with exhaustion and illness among school staff following the national lockdown this year.
The report based on interviews with school principals and board of trustees chairs from 110 schools in June and July also noted high levels of stress for principals, and lower levels of concern about children's achievement.
It said staff wellbeing was the most commonly cited ongoing challenge for schools.
"Three-quarters of schools reported one or more challenges relating to exhaustion and sickness, teacher stress about workload, teacher anxiety about health, or principal stress," the report said.
It said a quarter of schools were worried about their finances due to the loss of foreign students, fundraising income or increased costs related to the pandemic.
Half the schools planned to focus on students with additional learning needs who needed help returning to classroom learning after the lockdown.
"One in five school leaders expressed strong concern about the effect of lockdown on learner progress and achievement, particularly for learners whose engagement had been more limited," the report said.
"Around a third of schools with secondary-aged learners reported that senior students were anxious around NCEA achievement requirements," it said.
The report said the main challenges for early childhood services included teacher stress and increased sick-days, reduced attendance and lack of development among children with special needs.
It said many schools had focused on children's wellbeing rather than learning during the return to class after the lockdown and they might need help to prioritise learning.
The report said the government might need to ensure children in low-decile schools had access to devices and internet connections before another lockdown.
It said if there was another lockdown, the government might need to "take further action to reduce anxiety in NCEA students (including further changes to NCEA) and teachers".