Report on the New Zealand National Curriculum, 2002: Australian Council of Educational Research

Publication Details

As part of the New Zealand Curriculum Stocktake, the New Zealand Ministry of Education commissioned the Australian Council of Educational Research to prepare a commentary on the New Zealand National Curriculum. Sue Ferguson conducted the project as a commissioned consultant to ACER.

Author(s): Clive McGee, Alister Jones, Russell Bishop, Bronwen Cowie, Mary Hill, Thelma Miller, Ann Harlow, Debbie Oliver, Sarah Tiakiwai and Karen MacKenzie. Report prepared for the Ministry of Education.

Date Published: 2003

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Executive Summary


As part of the New Zealand Curriculum Stocktake, the New Zealand Ministry of Education commissioned the Australian Council of Educational Research to prepare a commentary on the New Zealand National Curriculum. Sue Ferguson conducted the project as a commissioned consultant to ACER.

The commentary was to provide the Ministry with comments on the New Zealand Curriculum Framework and the set of seven national curriculum statements. The commentary provides constructive comment on the Framework and learning area statements in regard to

  • Their educational integrity
  • The standing of New Zealand curriculum in relation to international views of effective national or state curriculum statements.

For the purpose of this review educational integrity is taken to mean

  • the curriculum is coherent and comprehensive with clear progression in the development of knowledge and skills across the stages of schooling (coherence, comprehensiveness, progression);
  • the curriculum is inclusive and caters for the needs of all students (inclusiveness);
  • the pedagogy is appropriate to the concepts and skills and to the age of the students (pedagogy);
  • assessment supports learning and is consistent with the pedagogy (assessment); and
  • schools have the flexibility to implement programs that adhere to the overall guidelines, but take account of the needs of their particular school community (school flexibility).

The international comparisons are made in relation to the National Goals for Schooling in the Twenty-First Century from Australia, three Australian states: Victoria, Queensland and South Australia; and the National Curriculum for England.

The New Zealand Curriculum Framework

The document is the overarching document for the New Zealand curriculum. The Principals of New Zealand schools who were consulted for this project expressed the view that the document, or a revised one, updated for this century, should be mandated as an overall framework for the curriculum.

The document describes the principles, essential skills, attitudes and values and the assessment policy for the New Zealand curriculum, along with the essential learning areas.

The New Zealand Framework is a useful document. It provides schools, including parents and community members, with an overview of the New Zealand Curriculum. It is understood that this document is not yet mandated. The principals consulted in the process of writing this report were unanimous in their belief that the mandating of this document, or a similar statement updated for the Twenty-first century, would be of great assistance in formulating the general direction of education in their schools.

The structure of the curriculum described in the seven learning areas is almost identical to the structure adopted in Australia; the exception being no separate learning area for foreign languages. The requirement for all students, throughout the compulsory years, to undertake a study of a language other than English is receiving some criticism in Australia, particularly in primary schools. This criticism is based on the crowded nature of the curriculum, particularly with the emphasis on literacy and numeracy as the fundamental basis of all learning along with the difficulty of finding trained teachers to undertake this area of the curriculum. In the National Curriculum for England, foreign language study is only compulsory in Key stages 3 and 4 (the secondary years).

The essential skills present an interesting challenge in how these relate to the achievement objectives described in the learning areas and how students' progress towards competence in the skills can be monitored. An approach that has been adopted in South Australia, which may be worth considering, is one where the essential skills are linked to specific learning outcomes (achievement objectives). This provides schools and teachers with advice about opportunities to concentrate on particular skills.

Language and languages

This part of the commentary is restricted to the document English in the New Zealand Curriculum.

The structure of the document is clear. New Zealand is the only curriculum framework examined to have a separate strand for visual language. The Australian statements examined include reference to viewing but no reference to presenting. The achievement objectives are clear and allow teachers to develop programs to suit the needs of individual students. The provision of teaching and learning examples and assessment ideas with links made to other strands is a great bonus for schools and teachers.

In terms of educational integrity, the document meets all criteria. The cognitive demands of all strands at a similar level to the international comparisons and in some cases, such as the reference to the use of technology are more attuned to the needs of the Twenty-first century.

While the document quite properly refers to the need to be inclusive of all students there are very few references to Māori, Pacific Islander and non-British Pakeha. Nor is there specific advice about dealing with gifted and talented students or students are the lower end of the achievement range. Inclusions of this nature would greatly enhance the document.

This document is excellent. It provides clear, challenging advice about the development of learning in English and delineates the progression across the stages of schooling. There are two major areas recommended for change. One is the area of assessment where it is recommended that indicators of achievement be developed to assist teachers to make judgements of performance at levels. The second is the integration of the Visual language strand with the other two strands.


Mathematics in the New Zealand Curriculum is a sound document. The skills, concepts are arranged in appropriate chunks through a sensible structure of strands and sub-strands.

The achievement aims and achievement objectives are clear and not too numerous for teachers to cope with in planning, implementing and assessing programs of mathematics teaching and learning.

The suggested learning experiences could be improved greatly to be more consistent with the stated pedagogy. Contexts should be provided and advice about classroom organisation, the use of technology and concrete materials.

The suggested assessment activities could also be improved by the provision of activities that address achievement objectives across strands, indicators of student achievement and student work samples to more explicitly show what achievement is at a particular level.


Science in the New Zealand Curriculum is a well-constructed and accessible document. However there are some recommendations for revision

  • Investigate the overlap between Science and Technology and make revisions to both documents accordingly
  • Consider collapsing the two process strands into one
  • Expand the assessment advice to schools to demonstrate how judgements can be made of student performance across levels and how diagnostic assessment can be realised into programs to redress misconceptions of concepts

Overall the document is to be commended, the level of achievement and the concepts to be covered at the various levels is commensurate with the international frameworks examined, the pedagogy is consistent with research into how children best learn science and, unlike the international comparison, is embedded in the achievement objectives.


The document is clear and concise with useful suggestions for ways that schools can implement the policy for technology education. There is some overlap between this framework and the Science learning area and to some degree the Social Studies and Arts statements. These overlaps could be useful to teachers but it would be useful for teachers, particularly in schools where generalist teachers teach technology, that these overlaps are explicated and suggestions provided for ways to capitalise on the overlaps.

Assessment needs some additional support. There is gap in the provision of advice to teachers: how to judge the performance of students against levels, or strands and to distinguish between achievement at say, level 4 as compared to levels 3 and 5.

The only other criticism is the absence of any advice about the progression of skills of using and selecting appropriate tools, equipment and techniques.

Social Studies

Social Studies in the New Zealand Curriculum was published in 1997. It was the first in the second group of curriculum statements published after some delay while the emphasis on curriculum development turned to the New Zealand Qualifications Framework. Therefore the writers have had the benefit of feedback from the implementation of the earlier statements.

The basic structure of the document remains the same. There are however, fewer achievement objectives than in the previous documents, perhaps indicating a response to schools comments on implementation issues.

There is a strong emphasis on New Zealand peoples, cultures and groups in the document and prominence given to the Treaty of Waitangi and New Zealand's bi-cultural and multi-cultural heritage. The recognition of the original settlers of New Zealand is in stark contrast to the Australian frameworks. While all Australian frameworks recognise the contributions of Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islander peoples and seek to inform both Indigenous Australians and those from settler backgrounds the emphasis is much more on redressing imbalance rather than the true partnership that pervades the New Zealand document.

The approach adopted in New Zealand to describe conceptual understanding rather than specific content topics is also that taken in the Australian statements examined. The National Curriculum for England however is quite specific about the topics to be addressed at particular key stages. While the provision of advice about specific content could be constraining on schools, there is some merit in providing some advice to teachers about appropriate topic areas or foci for the social studies curriculum.

The structure of the achievement objectives with the single stem of `Students will demonstrate knowledge and understandings of' give no indication of the cognitive complexity expected at different stages of the curriculum.

The document sets out an excellent set of aims and objectives. The essential learnings and the perspectives are excellent along with the settings.

The tight structure of the achievement objectives and the indicators is disappointing. There is no indication of the cognitive processes that are to be undertaken in the learning. It would be possible for teachers to adopt a didactic approach to teaching and learning activities and to technically address all the achievement objective and indicators.

The structure of the achievement objectives does not provide schools and teachers with sufficient advice to implement programs that fulfil the aims of the learning area.

Health and Physical Education

The learning area is somewhat similar to Technology and Social studies in that it is an amalgamation of a number of disciplines. This raises issues of the qualifications of teachers to lead teaching and learning activities that cover all achievement objectives. There is a diagram on page 6 of the document that implies that there are three subjects that share a common philosophy and achievement objectives. An approach that gets over the breadth of knowledge and skills required for teachers but one that requires a coordinated approach across a faculty.

The achievement aims and objectives are comprehensive. There is coherence across the strands at a level and clear progression between the levels. The examples assist in clarifying the meaning of the objectives and give clear guidance to the type of teaching and learning activities to be conducted in classrooms.

This document is comprehensive and coherent. The method of laying out the achievement objectives at a single level assists in the implementation of programs that cover a number of strands.

The achievement objectives are clear and concise and well illustrated by the supporting examples. There is clear progression across the levels with increasing complexity in conceptual understanding, cognitive processing and skill development.

The pedagogy and assessment processes could be improved by the inclusion of some sample programs that show how particular achievement objectives, key areas of learning and underlying concepts can be woven together into teaching, learning and assessment programs.

The description of ways to include values and attitudes in learning programs is excellent and could be useful for other learning areas.

The Arts

The learning area is well defined and clearly and concisely explained. The level of achievement is consistent with that expected in the three international comparison frameworks. While there are additional arts disciplines described in the Victorian and South Australian documents the learning outcomes or achievement objectives described in Visual Communication and Media could be well accommodated within the existing structure.

The criteria for educational integrity are well met; perhaps with the exception of assessment where some additional advice could be provided to assist teachers in making judgements about the knowledge, understanding and skills of students at particular levels.

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