Curriculum implementation exploratory studies: Final Report

Publication Details

This final report provides an overview of the findings from the Curriculum Implementation Exploratory Studies (CIES) project.

Author(s): Bronwen Cowie, Rosemary Hipkins, Sally Boyd, Ally Bull, Paul Keown, Clive McGee, with Beverley Cooper, Jenny Ferrier-Kerr, Anne Hume, Anne McKim, Judy Moreland, Michele Morrison, Rachel Bolstad, Lorraine Spiller, Merilyn Taylor, and Russell Yates, New Zealand Council for Educational Research, The University of Waikato. Report prepared for the Ministry of Education.

Date Published: October 2009

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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.  For links to related publications/ information that may be of interest please refer to the 'Where to Find Out More' inset box.

Section 1: Introduction

Throughout the history of schooling in New Zealand the national curriculum has been revised at fairly regular intervals. Consequently, schools are periodically faced with having to accommodate to new curriculum. In between major changes other specifically-focused changes may arise; for example, the increased recent emphasis upon numeracy and literacy.

A new national curriculum represents a large undertaking for those responsible for schools and classroom teaching. The 2007 New Zealand Curriculum (Ministry of Education, 2007) is an example. It developed out of an earlier period of "rolling revision" from the 1950s to 1980s, where curriculum was revised subject-by-subject with a haphazard timeline. Change was largely led by Ministry of Education (MOE) curriculum personnel with close links to teacher unions and teachers. During the 1990s the form of revision changed. An overarching curriculum framework (Ministry of Education, 1993) outlined a design of achievement objectives organised into eight levels from Year 1 of schooling to Year 13. Content was designated through seven learning areas and a statement for each was written and promulgated through the 1990s.

By 2000 feedback from schools led the MOE to carry out a "stocktake", resulting in approval by the Minister of Education to undertake a phase of systematic revision from 2003. A draft New Zealand Curriculum was disseminated to schools and the community in 2006 and a final document ratified by the Government for publication in late 2007 and full implementation by 2010. Some components of the 1990s curriculum statements were retained with little change. They included the design of objectives and content for eight levels over 13 years of schooling. However some major changes also emerged from all this activity. They included:

  • a shift from "essential skills" to "key competencies" that integrate knowledge, skills, attitudes and values
  • expanded statements on values in the curriculum
  • inclusion of four future-focused themes: sustainability; citizenship; enterprise; and globalisation 
  • guidelines on school-based curriculum design
  • a clearer vision statement
  • advice on pedagogy and on assessment
  • a reduction in the achievement objectives in all learning areas and the inclusion of these in one streamlined document rather than separate documents
  • increased emphasis on the teaching of languages other than English.

Notwithstanding the involvement of as many people as possible in the Curriculum Project, the MOE anticipated that the scope of these changes would be challenging for many teachers and schools. It was anticipated that considerable support would be needed as each school worked towards understanding how all the changes might come together in their school setting. Accordingly, the MOE explored ways of supporting schools with implementation of the new curriculum, including "teacher-only" days for concentrated time on change, and on-line resources to support the change process. Inevitably, some school leaders were ahead of others in adopting the curriculum innovations and adapting them to meet their school's specific needs. With the imperative for all schools to be engaged in the implementation process by 2010, the MOE determined that it would be helpful if the successful experiences of schools that got underway with the process sooner rather than later be documented, analysed for common themes and used to help determine the most productive ways to support other schools. That was the aim of the research project reported here.

The structure of this report

This final report provides an overview of the findings from the Curriculum Implementation Exploratory Studies (CIES) project. As described in the next section, the study was conducted in two rounds, with 15 schools participating in Round One and 20 schools in Round Two. The Round One cross-case analysis, informed the focus for Round Two, with seven themes being identified from the case studies of the 20 schools involved in Round Two. In developing and reporting the themes we were cognisant of the need to represent the dynamic complexity of the change processes the schools were engaged in. The overarching implication of the cases is that there is no single starting point, nor pathway for curriculum implementation. The process is evolutionary and adaptive, contingent on the people involved, their history together and the cultural, material and structural context. Nevertheless, a number of themes were common across the schools in their general form. In this report, in order to extend on our Round One analysis, we not only tease out the key components of each of the seven common themes but also include examples and identify enablers, constraints and tensions.

The second section of this report summarises the research process including the interview protocols and the process used to distil the themes.

Sections 3–9 constitute the main project findings. These sections set out the seven themes that emerged from the analysis of the Round Two data. Evidence and ideas from Round One are included as appropriate. The themes discussed here are seen as key to understanding the implementation context as it evolves, and as helpful to the MOE for determining possible support for ongoing implementation. Although each theme is presented separately, in fact they overlap and interact with one another. For example, the approaches school leaders used to guide directions at their school, and to develop a professional learning culture, set the scene for the professional conversation and experimentation which occurred as teachers sought to understand and bring to life their vision for student learning and achievement. Likewise, the professional learning school leaders had engaged in provided a philosophical and practical foundation, which influenced the way they interpreted the curriculum and approached their work with teachers.

The final section provides a systems-complexity oriented synthesis of the themes and sets out the key messages for policy makers and school leaders. Next steps are proposed. 


  1. A summary of the Round One cross case analysis is available on the Te Kete Ipurangi (TKI) website.

Where to find out more

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