There’s nothing more satisfying for young people than rising to a challenge.
So says Thea Kilian, principal of ACG Tauranga, a high-achieving independent school in Pyes Pa that offers the Cambridge curriculum – the globally recognised, exam-based school curriculum – as an alternative to NCEA.
While there’s a common perception that Cambridge only suits the brightest learners, Thea says that’s not the case.
“Cambridge is absolutely for everyone. There is always an adjustment period for students who come from NCEA, depending on when they join us. However, becoming a great learner is a process, and with commitment and effort our students always flourish within the structured environment Cambridge provides.”
It’s an opportunity for students to reach their academic potential, she says.
“There’s nothing healthier than feeling both challenged and successful. When the bar is set too low, many students fall into cruise mode. This can be very dangerous as they look to find that connection elsewhere.”
Unlike NCEA, which includes numerous smaller assessments, Cambridge is exam-based, with content developing progressively.
“It’s scaffolded, year on year, like building blocks,” Ms Kilian says. “Students need to call on and apply all the content and skills they’ve learned throughout the curriculum. This requires a longer-term, much more in-depth understanding of the subject, which facilitates high level problem-solving and innovation.”
Brothers Harry, Year 9, and Hugo, Year 8 joined ACG Tauranga this year.
They say they’re finding it harder, but they like it better. Harry’s favourite subjects are PE, Science and Maths. He’s covering “way more learning.” “I didn’t even know how fun Science could be,” he adds.
For Hugo, the learning is more meaningful. “It feels useful, for living in the world, rather than just in books. English and Science are way different here. English is more about expanding on topics and talking about fake news and analysing what we think. In Science, we get to experiment with how things are generated and how they work,” he explained.
Dannan, a student in Year 11, takes the same subjects as he did in NCEA, but says they’re more advanced.
“I like being challenged. I really like getting an actual percentage rather than Achieve, Merit or Excellence. I feel focused on learning, rather than collecting credits through assessments that I often never revisit again.”
From Thea’s perspective, the benefits of bringing a student into a system that’s challenging but achievable are manifold – self-worth, confidence, resilience, adaptability, among others.
And she feels a strong responsibility to get it right for those students that take the leap.
“They have to work hard, but it’s our job to scaffold their journey for success. I’m always conscious that whatever I promise I need to be able to deliver.”