Monitoring and evaluating curriculum implementation:

Final evaluation report on the implementation of the New Zealand Curriculum 2008-2009

Publication Details

This report presents findings from a national evaluation of the implementation of The New Zealand Curriculum. The project sought to establish a national picture of implementation progress in English-medium schools in the first two years following the curriculum's launch in November 2007.

Author(s): Dr Claire Sinnema, The University of Auckland. Report prepared for the Ministry of Education.

Date Published: March 2011

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This report is available as a download (please refer to the 'Downloads' inset box).  To view the individual chapters please refer to the 'Sections' inset box.

Section 1: Recommendations

The findings from this evaluation indicate that some, albeit limited, progress has been made in schools across the county in implementing the NZC. There remain many aspects in which there has been limited implementation. There is significant scope to strengthen the extent to which students' experience teaching and learning in ways consistent with the aspirations set out in the curriculum.

The NZC "is a clear statement of what we deem important in education" (Ministry of Education, 2007, p. 4). The findings from this evaluation give rise to four key recommendations to support important educational aspirations being achieved. Across the system there is a need to:

  1. focus on deepening educators' understandings about curriculum elements and their relationship to each other
  2. strengthen the quality of support for curriculum implementation
  3. create conditions that enable and promote effective curriculum implementation
  4. promote sustained inquiry into curriculum implementation.

For each of the recommendations there are implications for various groups including teachers, school leaders, support providers and policy makers. Key implications are introduced here, but the suggestions are not exhaustive.

Recommendation 1:

Focus on deepening educators' understandings about curriculum elements and their relationship to each other

The New Zealand Curriculum emphasises aspirations for the curriculum serving ambitious and future focused goals for students and education generally. Goals for education include building an education system for the 21st century and securing New Zealand's place in the global knowledge society of the future. Goals for students include that they experience the most effective, powerful and engaging teaching possible and are prepared for complexity, change and diversity in information, technology, work and social conditions. The New Zealand Curriculum vision for students is for lifelong learners who are confident and creative, connected, and actively involved. Realising these goals, and this vision, requires educators to have deep understandings both about the discrete curriculum elements (such as values, learning areas, Teaching as Inquiry, and key competencies), and the implications of those elements when considered in combination.

Findings from this evaluation signal that teachers and principals have begun to grapple with the meaning of each of the curriculum elements, but in most cases have not had the opportunity to develop deep understandings. As is common in the implementation of curriculum policy initiatives, there has been a tendency in the first two years since the launch of The New Zealand Curriculum to emphasise surface aspects, and to focus more on familiar than unfamiliar ideas.

Focusing on deepening understandings about curriculum suggests, for teachers, the need to be open to identifying curriculum aspects that are most unfamiliar, and also contemplating greater depth in curriculum aspects initially considered familiar. It requires attention to curriculum elements not only as discrete parts, but also to the curriculum as whole in which learning areas, values, pedagogy, and key competencies (for example) interact. To address this recommendation, school leaders will need to focus their leadership on moving beyond curriculum familiarity or compliance, towards curriculum depth. A focus on depth requires quite different expectations, resourcing and professional learning to a focus on curriculum compliance.

Recommendation 2:

Strengthen the quality of support for curriculum implementation

High quality support is important for two key reasons. Firstly, in this evaluation a relationship was found between the quality of support educators reported and the extent to which they hold the curriculum in high regard and have the confidence necessary (though not sufficient) to ultimately shift their practice in ways that reflect its aspirations. Support providers have an important role to play in working with practitioners to recognise the value, relevance and importance of the curriculum overall, and of more specific aspects of the curriculum. Secondly, educators are unlikely to arrive at new and deeper understandings of curriculum (found in this evaluation to be a gap) on their own. High quality support has a critical role to play in engaging practitioners' theories of action (including cueing their existing understandings) in order to deepen their understandings of the curriculum.

There are implications here, both for those who resource and plan curriculum implementation support, and for those who provide it. School leaders, for example, need to ensure support for their teachers that is not just about the New Zealand Curriculum, but that is likely to be effective in helping teachers deepen their understandings and shift their practice. That, for most, will require opportunities for theory engagement—to rigorously inquire into existing beliefs about curriculum, teaching and learning, in light of what is set out in the new curriculum and to respond.

For those with a role in policy, a key implication is around the provision of support that goes beyond just informing educators about the curriculum, or communicating ideas. Rather it requires high quality support provision that engages them in examining the congruence between their own theories of practice, and the theories that underpin key curriculum elements. The need to strengthen capabilities for high quality support provision relates to support from both within and beyond schools.

Recommendation 3:

Create conditions that enable and promote effective curriculum implementation

Curriculum implementation does not occur in a bubble. Teaching and learning at the classroom level is nested within, and influenced by, the school, community and national educational context. The practices deemed important in the New Zealand Curriculum can be either enabled or constrained by the conditions in place in each of those contexts. Contextual factors were raised by many participants in this evaluation as barriers to their implementation efforts.

Just as the curriculum seeks to prepare students for lives that are profoundly different from the past, so too the curriculum requires a profound response. Implementation that goes beyond substituting language and altering paperwork, to profoundly changing and improving students' experience of teaching and learning, requires particular conditions. Teachers and leaders could consider, for example, how their schools' goals, resources, routines, and systems enable each of the curriculum elements. To what extent do these support each of the learning areas, the key competencies, effective pedagogy or values for example? Less tangible elements of the context, such as attitudes, values and expectations, also function as enabling or constraining conditions on curriculum implementation, and require consideration.

At the system level, attention to policy alignment is key in considering how conditions enable and promote implementation. As practitioners in school grapple with multiple policies and programme initiatives, the coherence between these is critical. There is a need to examine the extent to which requirements beyond the curriculum, for planning and reporting or performance management for example, align with the direction set out in the New Zealand Curriculum.

Recommendation 4:

Promote sustained inquiry into curriculum implementation

It is clear from the evaluation of curriculum progress between 2008 and 2009, that implementation of a curriculum as ambitious as The New Zealand Curriculum is not a one or two year endeavour. Implementation will require sustained inquiry over time at both school and system levels. The curriculum focus on continuing design and review, and the Teaching as Inquiry model support the notion of sustained inquiry in schools. This inquiry should also be paralleled with system level inquiry, in order for the priorities, needs and strengths in relation to implementation to be effectively responded to.

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