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3 December 2020


NCEA Level 1 subject changes to give students a broader foundational education


Education Minister Chris Hipkins has announced significant changes to NCEA Level 1 that would provide students with a broader foundation and more pathways for their learning whilst reducing student and teacher workload.

“The changes will support learners to gain the key skills, knowledge and competencies needed for a strong foundation before more specialised learning starts from Level 2,” Minister Hipkins said.

He added that the finalisation of the Level 1 subjects marked the start of a series of changes that would be made gradually to NCEA over the next four years.

Feedback from thousands of stakeholders was factored into the Level 1 subject changes, which will be introduced from 2023.

Read Minister Hipkins’ Media Release here.

Key changes at Level 1 include:

  • The number of Level 1 subjects will be reduced to 32, from 42 currently.
  • There will be a general Science subject and two Science subjects that merge Chemistry with Biology and Physics with Earth & Space Science. This will provide for more coherent learning and reduce the number of standards from 41 to 16. Agricultural and Horticultural Science will also be part of this suite of subjects.
  • Latin will be removed at all NCEA levels due to low and steadily declining enrolments. Less than 200 students from around 10 schools study Latin per year, with only 25 students continuing through to Level 3.
  • Māori Performing Arts will be introduced as a new subject at Level 1.
  • Specialised subjects such as Art History, Classical Studies, Media Studies and Psychology will no longer be offered at Level 1.

With final decisions confirmed, the Ministry of Education will be developing the Level 1 subjects and supporting materials alongside experts from the sector, tertiary and industry.

All Level 1 subjects are expected to be developed by the end of 2021 so they can be piloted in schools in 2022 and offered to all students from 2023.

The Ministry continues to develop the subjects derived from Te Marautanga ō Aotearoa (TMOA), the Māori medium curriculum. These subjects include Pāngarau, Hauora, Pūtaiao, Te Reo Rangatira, Tikanga-ā-iwi, Hangarau and Ngā Toi. No changes were proposed to those subjects during public engagement on the provisional subject list and final confirmation of TMoA subjects is expected in early 2021.

Frequently Asked Questions:

1. What are the subjects in the final NCEA Level 1 subject list?

Learning Area




Te Reo Māori

Te Reo Māori

The Arts




Visual Arts

Māori Performing Arts



Chemistry and Biology*

Physics, Earth and Space Science*

Agricultural and Horticultural Science

Social Sciences

Religious Studies

Social Studies





Materials and Processing Technology*

Digital Technologies

Design and Visual Communication

Health and Physical Education

Physical Education

Health Education* (with Home Economics)

Learning Languages

Cook Island Māori

New Zealand Sign Language









Mathematics and Statistics

Mathematics and Statistics

* The title of these subjects are working titles, to be confirmed through further sector engagement.
** The Ministry will seek further sector input from the Commerce Subject Expert Group to determine the extent to which it is appropriate to include Accounting within Commerce.


The attached table shows how the new NCEA Level 1 subject list compares with the provisional list and the one that is currently being used by schools. 

2. A few subjects offered currently to NCEA Level 1 students were not included in the new Level 1 subject list. What’s the rationale behind that?

Subjects such as Art History, Classical Studies, Media Studies and Psychology were not included in the new Level 1 subject list because these are specialised subjects rather than broad and foundational, which is what the Government envisioned NCEA Level 1 to be.

However, these subjects can be offered from Level 2, which allows for more specialisation.

The Commerce Subject Expert Group will consider whether it is advisable to include Accounting within the consolidated Commerce subject. If not, Accounting will similarly only be offered from Level 2.

3. Why is Latin no longer being supported under NCEA?

The decision to remove Latin from the NCEA Level 1 subject list is due to a number of reasons:

  • The uptake of NCEA Latin is low. Less than 200 students from around 10 schools study Latin per year, with only 25 students continuing through to Level 3.
  • Due to the low and steadily declining enrolments in Latin, it will no longer be viable to offer Latin as an NCEA subject without additional and costly interventions.
  • Although Latin may be beneficial in some pathways, it is not a necessary prerequisite of any. Many of the specialist skills Latin covers can be delivered through other supported subjects.

4. What criteria were used in finalising the list of Level 1 subjects?

To determine the subjects for NCEA Level 1, the Ministry of Education considered whether a subject:

  • provides broad, foundational learning;
  • has foundational learning derived from the National Curriculum at Level 6;
  • prepares students for more advanced study on related subjects;
  • interacts with other subjects to create coherent courses in NCEA settings and supports a breadth of learning for individual students;
  • has sufficient student numbers and has teachers to deliver it and can create, mark and moderate assessments;
  • supports the Crown’s commitments under the Treaty of Waitangi; and
  • upholds NCEA’s credibility as a qualification.

5. Why is it necessary to have a new NCEA Level 1 subject list?

One of the key NCEA Review changes approved by Cabinet in February 2020 was for NCEA Level 1 to be positioned as a broad, foundational qualification with increasing specialisation at Levels 2 and 3. The Ministry was therefore required to review the current Level 1 subjects to enact this vision.

As part of the Review of Achievement Standards (RAS), all existing achievement standards will be replaced with newly designed standards for each NCEA subject. In preparation for the RAS, we considered the current list of NCEA Level 1 subjects and determined which subjects will be supported through the review.

We value the public input and insights from the education sector as the balance of achieving the policy objectives relies on the sector’s capability. We consider that we have a much clearer view of this due to this process, and are grateful for all the time people put in to giving their feedback. The Ministry has completed feedback reports and they will be included in upcoming proactive information releases.

6. How has the subject list changed overall in terms of the achievement standards the subjects represent to NCEA Level 1?

Overall, the number of Level 1 achievement standards has reduced significantly from 237 currently to 128 in the final subject list. This is a reduction of 109 achievement standards or 46 per cent. Compared to the final subject list, the provisional subject list would have increased the net reduction (reduction of 8 achievement standards).

Considering external assessment, Level 1 has remained at roughly the same amount from 71 achievement standards currently to 64 achievement standards in the final subject list.

Considering internal assessment, Level 1 has reduced more significantly from 166 achievement standards currently to 64 achievement standards in the final subject list. This is a reduction of 102 achievement standards or 61 per cent.

7. When will subjects for NCEA Levels 2 and 3 be confirmed?

The provisional subject lists for Levels 2 and 3 can be expected in early 2021.

8. Will subjects that were removed from the NCEA Level 1 subject list be offered at Levels 2 and 3?

Latin will be removed from Levels 2 and 3 as well.

Some consolidated subjects are foundational in nature (not new subjects) and at Levels 2 and 3, they become more specialised. For example, there will not be Commerce at Levels 2 and 3, as the specialised subjects are expected to remain.

A comprehensive assessment of the subjects available at Level 2 will occur as part of the provisional subject list at NCEA Level 2 process. It is important to note that the Government priority is for more specialisation at Levels 2 and 3 (it was only at Level 1 that the priority was broad and foundational).

Similar to the Level 1 provisional list, the Ministry of Education intends to release its draft recommendation so that we can consider public feedback before final decisions are made.

9. When will the new NCEA Level 1 subject list be available?

The new Level 1 subjects will be trialled in schools in school year 2022 and implemented from 2023.

Some draft new NCEA Level 1 subjects have been released for public engagement in 2020. Feedback has been positive.

In 2021, a small trial is planned for those subjects. This includes English, Science, Religious Studies and Visual Arts. The subjects will benefit from two trials because they will be re-trialled in 2022 once all new Level 1 subjects are similarly ready.

10. What happens now that the subject list for NCEA Level 1 has been finalised?

The Ministry will continue developing achievement standards and supporting materials for NCEA Level 1 subjects. NZQA is partnering with the Ministry in this work and is responsible for developing the required changes to assessment. This work is expected to be completed in late 2021.

Since September, the Ministry has also been progressing design and development work for achievement standards for eight NCEA Level 1 subjects not affected by changes to the provisional Level 1 subject list. These subjects are Mathematics and Statistics, Geography, Agricultural and Horticultural Science, Music, Dance, Drama and two groups of the Languages.

A fast-tracked development process has also been undertaken for Māori Performing Arts at Levels 1-3.



This page was last updated on 3 December 2020