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 8: Theme F: Engaging the community (including student voice)

Community engagement is one of the eight principles of NZC:

The curriculum has meaning for students, connects with their wider lives, and engages the support of their families, whānau and communities. (Ministry of Education, 2007, p. 9)

The MOE Curriculum Online website links to an Australian site that outlines a five-way model of community engagement: inform; consult; involve; collaborate; and empower. The evidence in this project is that most schools are operating predominantly at the inform level, with some schools operating at the consult level and two schools appear to be operating at involve and collaborate levels.

An overview of community engagement activities

Many of the principals interviewed noted that they are trying to strengthen connections between the school and the community. One principal was popularising the term "it takes a community to raise a child". Most principals considered strengthening community connections was a major goal for the school, both flowing from the curriculum itself, and because this is a time of curriculum re-orientation.

Schools had different purposes for engaging with their community. One of the most common purposes was to involve the community in developing a shared vision and values for the school. This was a strong initial emphasis in many of the first round of case studies. Many schools appear to be focusing now on communicating changes in directions signalled in NZC. In particular, there is a focus on helping the school community to understand and value different forms of learning, knowledge and pedagogy. In Round Two, one school was placing a strong emphasis on trust and relationship building; the development of mechanisms for consulting iwi and whānau about school directions; and processes that support staff to be more connected with students' whānau.

Schools are also drawing community into the school to contribute to student learning through student-led reporting. However, parent and community input into the big picture of the school curriculum is not a strong focus/practice. Involving students in curriculum decisions, rather than the community, seems to be a feature of many of the case studies.

Engagement strategies for informing and consulting with parents

Schools used a variety of strategies to consult with their communities. In some cases the BOT acted as a consultation group on the assumption that they could accurately represent community thinking and needs. Some principals indicated that they asked BOT members to report school changes and ideas in the community. Boards also provided advice and guidance on communication and consultation processes.

One of the most common methods of involving parents is parent meetings. In most cases these are primarily information-sharing evenings aimed at bringing parents up to speed with the reasons for curriculum change, the nature of the "new" curriculum and what the school is doing as the staff work to implement it. In some instances such meetings also provide an opportunity for the community to provide feedback on the directions being taken or to endorse what the school is doing. In a small number of cases parent meetings are closer to the ideals of more meaningful consultation:

Example One: In one primary school a parent meeting was run as a follow-up from a parent survey and provided a forum for a discussion of the findings and issues arising and for gaining parent views of what should happen next.

Example Two: A variation used by one area school is to run meetings with high-profile speakers for parents and the community, such as Mark Treadwell.

Example Three: Parent consultation in one primary school was part of a whole-school cultural event associated with a shared meal.

Example Four : One senior secondary school has established a parents' café, based on the collaborative dialogue model of "World Café" (Brown & Isaacs, 2005).

Example Five: One school has plans for a parent learning focus group, using processes similar to those for a student or staff leading learning group.

Surveys are a popular technique for consulting with the community. Some schools use surveys on a regular basis for gathering community ideas on a wide range of topics. In others schools surveys are used only occasionally for a specific purpose. Survey topics included: community priorities for student learning; reactions to ideas about values in a new proposed vision statement; ratings of the learning areas in terms of relative importance; commenting on what was being done well and what could be improved; and the importance of various forms of parental involvement in the school.

The school newsletter is another common way of cultivating a relationship between the school and the community. A number of principals indicated they are currently making more frequent use of newsletters to describe proposals and changes in greater depth. Open days, community displays, community-based inquiries and actions, school and class blogs and the school website are also relatively common platforms for community engagement and involvement. One principal mentioned using the local newspaper as a channel for providing information and ideas about curriculum change to the community.

Some principals mentioned playground consultation with parents, and one mentioned meeting parents through an after-school study programme.

Extending the idea of community engagement

Two principals mentioned that town-wide or district-wide forums were important in their community engagement. In one case, the forum was hosted by the town's council and in the other there was a district-wide meeting of BOTs. In each case the principals considered the forums were useful in collecting community-wide ideas and increasing co-operation between schools in curriculum matters.

Involving parents in conversations about learning and achievement

In some instances, student-led conferences as a means for reporting to parents are showing potential as an effective low-key and low-resource way of encouraging parents to visit the school. A number of schools reported they are involving students and parents in three-way or four-way conferences (the teacher, the student, and one or two parents or caregivers). Some schools emphasised such conferences were increasingly student-led. A number of teachers were emailing parents to let them know what their children had achieved during the day. In one school, students develop a learning portfolio, which is available to parents at any time and sent home once a term. In another school, students have "boomerang books". Students write evaluations of their learning in these books once a week and then take these books home.

Using a combination of processes

Schools tend to use the strategies outlined above in combination. The following extended example, illustrates the multifaceted approach one primary school is adopting to engage and connect with its community.

This school held an information session based around approaches to inquiry pedagogy, ICT tools, assessment and the fit of these with school values, vision and culture. This session also covered how parents could assist their child's learning at home. At "meet the teacher" sessions at the start of 2009, each syndicate team presented an overview to parents about the school's philosophy of learning and main focus areas. The school newsletter regularly includes information about the school practices. Regular reviews and surveys are sent home asking for parent input. The school is trialling different ways to showcase students' learning. In 2008 an open day was held in the local mall. During this day, students explained their work. The school is further developing three-way conferencing with parents in an effort to "bring home and school into partnership" and experimenting with using ICT to connect more regularly with parents. There is a principal, staff and school blog, as well as individual class blogs, to which students and parents can contribute. Teachers noted these blogs have multiple benefits. They are assisting teachers to make stronger connections to students' home life and the wider world, and give parents more information about students' learning and the strategies they are using.

Student engagement and consultation

Students are being actively consulted prior to, or during, staff consideration of the curriculum and its implementation. A number of schools reported they have formed school councils or revitalised an existing school council. One school mentioned they had democratised their school council by getting students to campaign instead of being volunteers or appointees. Increasingly, councils appear to be listened to seriously as valid sources of input to school planning, including curriculum change.

Some schools have established a school student version of a leading learning group to provide a barometer of student opinion. Such groups appear to be operating in a manner akin to the way schools are using a staff working group, or the BOT as a community sounding board, to come up with ideas and initiatives. Consequently, this type of process appears to provide relatively strong student input into school planning. Often this type of consultation has been related to vision and values. In a variation of this approach, some schools have appointed student reporters, a student media group or student researchers to identify and document student opinion, issues and needs and report these to the staff, the wider school community and/or the community.

Student surveys have been used by a number of schools to access student ideas and opinions on goal setting, changes proposed (e.g., timetable changes), what they want to learn about (themes or topics they wish to study). For example, one primary school surveyed students at the end of the year about what they had enjoyed during the year and the topics they would like to pursue the next year.

In addition to the more formal school-wide instances detailed above those interviewed provided examples of increased staff efforts to listen to, act on and/or pass on student ideas at classroom level. Examples mentioned were consulting students through brainstorming (as opposed to surveys), writing a class charter and consulting students about what topics and inquiries they wished to pursue. Teachers in several primary and intermediate schools described how they negotiated the focus of class inquiries with the class. In some cases teachers mentioned allowing choice from a range of teacher-provided options or their negotiating contexts and emphases with students within an overarching framework such as school or curriculum requirements. Teachers often reported they were "letting students do more of the work"; for example, by using inquiry approaches to provide more space for student choice and development of independent research skills.

Challenges, tensions and solutions

Community engagement is demanding

A focus on parent involvement is not new and most schools realise that sophisticated community consultation is demanding and time consuming. As noted above, schools may have to try to use a variety of approaches and even then they may fail to engage all their community.

One challenge they face is that some members of their community may not want to be consulted. They may not appreciate the value and potential benefit of consultation. Schools may need to work through a number of strategies before finding those that work with their community. Nevertheless, some schools do appear to be able to develop genuine "involvement" and "working together" consultation.

Some schools appear to have a negative view of the willingness of parents and community to be involved in consultation. Nevertheless, a number of schools have seen large increases in community involvement when they have consulted early and meaningfully. On the other hand, a number of schools appear to be doing a lot of work internally before consulting their community and/or seeking support. This may be counter productive in gaining community involvement.

How to involve students in a meaningful and not tokenistic way

Some schools were beginning to question the extent to which they were allowing students to make substantive decisions about or choices within the curriculum. These schools noted this was challenging but they were committed to engaging with students in this way.

Finding a balance between engagement and consultation

Some schools may be focusing on strategies for community engagement at the expense of achieving a higher level of consultation. Schools may well need help in getting the balance right and clarifying the difference between engagement and consultation.

What does this look like when it is working well?

The process is working well when schools are exploring a range of ways to connect with parents, including face-to-face meetings and new technologies. They are making use of levers to connect with parents and encourage them to visit the school. Linking these to learning can be a powerful incentive-as in student-led conferences for reporting to parents.

A few schools have asked the community to "co-construct" a new curriculum in partnership with the school. In these cases, schools have surveyed community ideas and held community meetings before they have acted and used these ideas as part of their in-school work on the curriculum. In one case, the school has also involved staff, students and the community in a deliberate shift away from traditional practices toward inclusive and democratic approaches that build partnerships.

When students are actively involved in the consultation process, they can also help engage their families-for example, by telling parents about the school vision, or being the go-between by interviewing their families (with appropriate support) and reporting back the results.


  1. Link to: City of Charles Sturt

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