Social policy is always a compromise between the ideal and the practical. Adding grading to NCEA is really just raising the bar for what is considered competent however it has symbolic value that can't be ignored. Standard based assessment has never been well accepted in schools, despite being accepted elsewhere, and various implementation errors have further compromised its position. Whether this latest compromise will be sufficient to avoid major reform is unclear but National's criticisms aren't a substitute for an alternative policy (remembering it was under Lockwood Smith that standard based assessment really got going).
I have a clear memory of School Certificate. An examination designed for a time where unskilled work was plentiful and sustainable, it is neither now. However, suggesting that a university education is the only pathway is ludicrous. Leaving school with no qualifications almost guarantees unemployment and an increasing number of jobs, in the Australian labour market at least, require a vocational qualification not a degree. Therefore, whatever system applies it must give students options that improve tertiary enrolments and completions as well as improving school-to-work transitions.
That said, most of NZ's future workforce is already employed and an increasing number of them are more than happy with standards-based assessment...
5 days ago