Implementation of the New Zealand Curriculum: Synthesis of research and evaluation

Publication Details

The revised New Zealand Curriculum was launched in November 2007, with schools required to give full effect to the curriculum by February 2010. Progress towards this has been monitored using evidence reported by the Education Review Office and research teams commissioned by the Ministry of Education. This report synthesises this evidence.

Author(s): Dr Sandie Schagen. 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.  For links to related publications/ information that may be of interest please refer to the 'Where to Find Out More' inset box.

Section 3: Professional development

Evidence from sources such as those mentioned above indicates varying levels of understanding of curriculum intent. There is a clear need for professional development and support, if NZC is to be implemented effectively.

A three-year implementation programme was designed to support schools in understanding the curriculum intent and enacting it in a way that best suits the diverse learning needs of their students and the expectations of their communities. In 2007 all schools were allocated a teacher-only day to explore the intent of the NZC; in 2008 two additional teacher-only days were allocated to secondary schools for this purpose, and one to primary schools (these days could be held over into 2009 if desired). Resources (online and paper-based) were made available, and a programme of targeted support was provided by the Ministry.

SSS advisers are playing a key role in providing this support to schools in learning areas and curriculum design. In addition, the Ministry arranged in 2008 for the establishment of networked learning communities (NLCs), which aim to provide initial support for school leaders in coming to understand the school-level changes needed as a result of NZC, and to offer support for schools as they go about implementing these changes. Each learning community is led by an NLC 'sector leader' and supported by an advisor from the regional SSS. In 2009 there were about 150 NLCs nationally and the number has increased to 195 in 2010.

Organisation of PD

The Curriculum Implementation Exploratory Studies (CIES) project involved fieldwork in schools chosen because they belonged to Principals' Professional Learning Group (PPLG) clusters (convened specifically to explore the implementation of NZC), or were reputed to be 'early adopter' schools. Two visits were undertaken to these schools, the first in March-April 2008, and the second in December 2008 or early 2009.

The research team found that, over time, school leaders had been changing the way professional learning (PL) sessions were organised. They had changed staff meetings to focus on professional discussion rather than administration; set aside regular time for PL after school; introduced late starts for students once a week, to allow more time for PL; refocused existing teams, or created new ones. All of these spaces were used for discussion about NZC, in addition to the teacher-only days provided.

The sessions focused on the broad picture and helped teachers to see the need for change. Activities built on prior learning and explored how the curriculum linked with existing school practices; encouraged staff to review existing school documents; and unpacked the newer areas of the curriculum, such as the key competencies and values. Secondary teachers appreciated the opportunity for learning conversations in cross-curricular groupings, which tended to focus more on pedagogy than subjects.

The MECI surveys showed that internal support (from colleagues, based on discussion of relevant documents) was more common than external support (from advisers, facilitators, consultants and colleagues from other schools). Some focus group participants expressed frustration about the limited availability of such expertise, and SSS confirmed that some schools were reluctant to run their own teacher-only days without external support. External support could prove very effective when it was available (see for example Hipkins et al., 2009, p.9).

A variety of approaches to professional learning had been used by SSS, including a series of discussion sessions (with or without a facilitator), workshops, conferences, sector leader days and establishing clusters in areas where there were large number of small schools which often had first-time principals. Some schools had established action learning projects, and a primary principal from one of the CIES schools observed that, unlike PD workshops where teachers hear good ideas and may or may not follow them up, teaching as inquiry is more likely to lead to actual changes in practice.

Quantity and quality

In general, MECI respondents rated the quantity of support provided on the miserly rather then generous end of the continuum. On a 0-5 scale, the quality of support received a mean rating of 2.63 in 2008. Both quantity and quality were rated higher in 2009, but the changes were not large. MECI found a clear and significant relationship between schools' rating of support in terms of quality, and their reported level of regard, confidence, practice and change. ERO, in their August 2009 report, found that most schools were making good use of available resources, while the PD and advisory services provided by the Ministry of Education 'have been recognised by many schools as factors that have contributed significantly to their success' (ERO, 2009b, p.13).

Respondents to the NZEI and PPTA 2008 surveys were asked to say which forms of support they had accessed, and to rate their quality. Ministry of Education paper and online resources had been accessed by a large majority of schools in both sectors. A majority of secondary schools had also been involved in workshops for senior managers run by SSS, and in cluster meetings led by sector leaders.

In terms of quality, secondary school respondents appeared to be generally less positive than their primary colleagues (Table 4).

Table 4: Satisfaction with support provided by Ministry (as at June 2008)
  1. NZEI/PPTA surveys. PPTA percentages have been recalculated (eliminating non-response) to make them comparable with NZEI.
Schools Satisfied or Very Satisfied Secondary
PD opportunities for teachers to do initial thinking 21 29
PD opportunities for managers to do initial thinking 23 38
Planning/implementation time for teachers 25 24
Planning/implementation time for managers 25 30
Time for accessing community input 43 48
Access to paper resources 62 72
Quality of paper resources 56 72
Access to online resources 67 79
Quality of online resources 66 75
Access to sector leaders 48 41
Quality of sector leaders 59 58
Access to School Support Services advice 59 46
Quality of School Support Services advice 59 51

In both sectors, a majority were satisfied or very satisfied with the quality of online and paper resources, and a smaller majority were satisfied with the quality of SSS advice (secondary principals gave the more positive response on access to and quality of SSS advice). However, a substantial majority were not satisfied with the time allowed for planning and implementation (teachers and middle/senior managers) and with the PD opportunities for teachers and managers to do some initial thinking.

Collaborative PD

ERO reported in January 2009 that school-wide development initiatives (involving trustees, staff, students and parents) were generally more effective than PD for school managers and curriculum leaders, who then shared the information gained with the school and community. They also observed that 'Some schools were part of cluster training, and found the opportunities for collaboration helpful' (ERO, 2009a, p.15). Seven months later, they affirmed that established relationships (through existing clusters) were being used as a helpful context for NZC preparation: 'Networking with other schools is another valuable means of gaining confidence and momentum through collegial discussions and sharing of ideas and resources' (ERO, 2009b, p.14).

At the end of 2009, SSS referred to increased collaboration between schools, and to networking as a means of sharing ideas and good practice to further develop NZC implementation. In their judgement, collaborative learning had led to a deepened understanding of NZC intent. ERO (2010) found examples of cross-sector collaboration to ensure continuity for students moving between schools. The CIES researchers also referred to developing relationships between primary, intermediate and secondary schools in some areas, and noted that provision of a coherent learning programme is one of the eight principles of NZC. They also observed that 'Coherence and alignment are enhanced when clusters of schools within the same locality work together to discuss the intent of the curriculum and its implications for practice.' (Cowie et al, 2010, p.14).

Content of PD

PD sessions related to NZC covered a range of topics. In one region, SSS offered workshops focusing on effective pedagogy, curriculum integration, learning areas, and managing change. They noted that a lot of the initial work on values, principles and the key competencies was surface-level only, and schools were recognising the need to revisit these topics in greater depth. In another region, the topics addressed included the key competencies, the principles of NZC, school self-review and developing a school-based curriculum.

It is not only teachers who need to understand the intent and implications of NZC. In one SSS region, 14 workshops were held for Board of Trustee (BoT) members. The workshops examined NZC's underpinning theories and governance implications. All participants showed high levels of interest and engagement.

Support needed

We noted above that teachers surveyed were often critical of the quantity of support they had received. The corollary is that more support was needed. Principals surveyed in June 2008 by the NZEI or the PPTA were asked what they would like to see happening to support the implementation of the new curriculum. There were requests for clearer information, including models for curriculum design, development and implementation. But the overwhelming priority was time: "Time to think, time to plan, time to implement, time to review and think again"; "Time to reflect, review, evaluate without the pressure of everyday responsibilities." (PPTA, nd, p.5.) In their view, funded teacher release time was needed, perhaps in the form of further teacher-only days.

In December 2009, SSS regions identified a number of areas of continuing need, including:

  • understanding the intent of the NZC principles
  • interpreting and implementing the NZC in the classroom
  • deeper understanding of the key competencies
  • deeper understanding of curriculum theory and practice
  • how to engage and consult with the community
  • how to establish and maintain self-review processes.


  1. One school made action research compulsory for all teachers. See Hipkins et al., 2009, p.13.
  2. Paper resources by 83 percent of primary schools and 88 percent of secondary schools; online resources by 73 percent of each.

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