New Zealand Stocktake: An international critique

Publication Details

This reports on an evaluation of how the professional development, offered on a national basis to schools over a two-year period commencing 2001, supported the initial implementation of 'Arts in the New Zealand Curriculum'. This included a survey of participants on their views of the issues they and their schools faced in implementing the curriculum and how they considered the professional development assisted them in addressing these issues.

Author(s): Joanna Le Métais, National Foundation for Educational Research UK. Report prepared for the Ministry of Education.

Date Published: February 2002

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Purpose and Structure of Commentary

The purpose of the commentary is:

'to provide constructive critique on the New Zealand Curriculum Framework, and the seven national curriculum Statements with regards to:

  • their educational integrity
  • their potential for supporting effective educational practice
  • the standing of the New Zealand curriculum in relation to international views of effective curriculum Statements.

The focus of the report is on the curriculum as specified (the intended and regulated curriculum ) rather than the curriculum as implemented.'

The curriculum as intended may be transformed as it passes through the phases of regulation (the planned curriculum), interpretation, reformulation and presentation by teachers (the taught curriculum), reception by students (the experienced curriculum) and the interpretation and internalisation by students (the learned, or internalised curriculum) (Harland, 1988). One may add the hidden curriculum, incorporating the school ethos and out-of-class activities, and the behaviour models of this within it, and the assessed curriculum (Begg, 1994). The influence of assessment, especially where it is high-stakes, can unintentionally limit the taught and learned curriculum.

Whilst these dimensions interact, this critique focuses on curriculum intentions, as expressed in the eight policy documents. The guiding principle of the commentary is that there is no `best' curriculum, but rather a `best fit' according to a country's political, cultural, social and economic context. For example, the bicultural heritage in New Zealand is reflected in the curriculum in an exceptional way. This unique position does not mean that New Zealand 's approach has less merit or worth for the country or its people.

Section 2 draws on Piper's (1997) curriculum models to explore the principal functions outlined in, or inferred from, the eight New Zealand Curriculum documents, and identifies the issues which arise, in terms of fulfilling the associated functions.

Section 3 analyses the internal coherence between the overall principles and intentions, as expressed in the New Zealand Curriculum Framework, and their enactment in the individual curriculum Statements.

The curriculum (in New Zealand or elsewhere), in itself, cannot secure effective practice, although it can support, stimulate, or conversely inhibit it. The implications of the curriculum formulation and pedagogy are explored in Sections 4 and 5.

Section 6 examines some elements of implementation which emerge from the preceding analysis and Section 7 proposes recommendations which, in the judgement of the commentator, will contribute to the coherence of the curriculum documents and facilitate the implementation of its intentions by teachers.


Given the individual differences within countries (even within families) and over time, this critique is based on the view that there is no one right answer and the `effectiveness' of a curriculum depends on the extent to which it meets the stated educational aims for defined groups of students, in ways that are consistent with the values and/or rationale, which are manageable within the available human and other resources, and which take into consideration potential unintended outcomes and opportunity cost. `Successful curricula' are those which allow flexibility and promote development whilst safeguarding minimum entitlement, and are evaluated in terms of their intended and unintended consequences and their (continuing) appropriateness in changing circumstances.


In January 2000, the Ministry of Education undertook a review of published critiques and commentary on the New Zealand curriculum. New Zealand and overseas sources were sought, with a date range of ten years. The interim report states that, of the 125 sources identified,

[the] majority of critiques come from a small number of parties. These are:

The Education Forum which is the most prolific, and has written or contracted critiques of each of the individual curriculum Statements and on some more general matters. The Forum is unique in having access to a fully funded, full time analyst with resources to commission selected academics from both New Zealand and overseas to develop its reports and to have them published, circulated and publicised.

University education departments, although less has been unearthed in this search than has probably been published under the heading of curriculum per se. There is published research on learning and teaching in New Zealand which may offer valuable insights in relation to curriculum, and a broader search will be needed to uncover these works.

The Education Review Office, which regularly publishes reports on aspects of the curriculum and of school life from information gained during school reviews within a certain period. These often touch, directly or indirectly, on the curriculum documents themselves. (New Zealand Ministry of Education, 2000, page 2.)

Searches of the English language literature have revealed little in the way of commentary on the New Zealand curriculum originating from outside New Zealand and Australia .

The consultation exercise conducted by the Ministry of Education on drafts of the curriculum framework and the curriculum documents attracted responses mainly from teacher associations, teacher educators and other community groups. In terms of quantity, the most significant response came from the Education Forum, which was critical of the proposed curriculum and, indeed, of the Government's role in education in general. It has not been possible for the Ministry to determine the extent to which the views expressed are representative of those held by stakeholders as a whole.

It is understood that the limited number of responses from practising teachers may be due to a range of factors, including:

  • the involvement of teachers in the writing of curriculum Statements, thereby incorporating practitioner views at an early stage
  • a deterioration in the relationship between the secondary sector and government and central agencies from 1990 onwards, and
  • a commonly expressed perception that teachers' comments would not have any significant impact on the proposed policy.

However, the New Zealand Educational Institute raised to concerns of teachers, collectively, in its response to the draft New Zealand Curriculum discussion document of 1991. When these concerns are compared with the final versions of the documents, there is evidence that these views have been taken into consideration by the Minister and the Ministry in drafting the final version.

Other critiques expressed reservations about, or criticism of, the proposals. The experience of the consultation exercise suggests that those who are satisfied with the proposals may feel no need to endorse what `will happen anyway', whilst, conversely, for some of those who are dissatisfied, this perceived inevitability discourages them from spending time and effort on a futile exercise. As with the responses to the consultation exercise, it is not possible to assess the extent to which these views are representative, in the absence of more systematic surveying/sampling. It is understood that this research has been instigated in late 2001.

It is not the role of the present commentary to endorse or refute individual critiques, but rather to use the issues and concerns raised, by theme, as a contribution to the evaluation of the curriculum's purpose, its integrity and its feasibility.