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 7: Summary and Conclusions

Findings from a number of different sources consulted were not always consistent, but this is not entirely surprising given the differences in timing, samples, and methodology employed. Based on the ERO findings, it seems that a good deal of progress has been made by schools over the past two years. By the end of 2009, some schools were already giving full effect to NZC, and almost all were well on the way to doing so. There was a growing realisation that February 2010 was not an 'end date', and an appreciation of the cyclical nature of curriculum review. Only a few schools were yet to begin their preparation, although the fact that there were any schools in this category at that stage is a matter for concern.

Most commonly, schools began their preparation by focusing on vision and values, moved on to the key competencies, then the principles and finally attempted to integrate all of these into the learning areas. There were relatively few direct references to school curriculum design, which perhaps reflects a degree of uncertainty about the precise meaning of the term. It would seem that the activities frequently mentioned (such as integrating the key competencies into the curriculum) are part of curriculum design, rather than preparatory stages in the process. This is why it is difficult to say whether schools have or have not designed their curriculum.

Consultation with students, parents and the community was common at the early stages (particularly when considering vision and values) but happened less when preparation moved on to detailed curriculum planning. There were suggestions that some initial discussions were at surface level only, that understanding of the key competencies and principles remained vague, and that there was particular confusion about the meaning of 'teaching as inquiry'. However, some schools were recognising the need to revisit early topics and explore them in greater depth, in the light of what they had learned subsequently.

There were indications from several sources that primary schools were further ahead than secondary schools in terms of implementing practices related to NZC. This could be because such practices fit more easily within a traditional primary school context, in comparison with the more complex nature of the secondary school curriculum.

In both the MECI and NZCER surveys, principals were consistently more positive than teachers in their assessment of the extent that NZC-related practices were in place. Why this should be so is not clear, but it could reflect, at least in part, the principal's whole-school perspective contrasting with the teacher's awareness of what happens in an individual classroom.

There were a number of specific areas, however, where the difference could be a matter of concern. For example, teachers were much less likely than principals to see changing pedagogy as very important (NZCER survey). Principals were more positive concerning the extent of parent involvement and student agency in practice (MECI). They were also more likely to regard community input into the curriculum (students, parents, Māori and the wider community) as important.

Schools had found a range of ways to make time for professional learning and discussion related to NZC implementation. Whole-school PD sessions were considered more helpful than sessions for school managers and curriculum leaders, who then cascaded the information to other teachers. Collaboration and networking between schools also proved useful.

In general, schools were satisfied with the quality of print and online resources provided by the Ministry, and with the support received from SSS. However, SSS reports suggested that further PD was needed to foster a deeper understanding of curriculum theory and practice. For principals surveyed by the teacher unions, the most important need was more release time for thinking, planning and action; MECI findings similarly indicated that lack of time was the most serious barrier to NZC implementation, as perceived by teachers.

Of the factors identified as supporting implementation, the most important by far was effective leadership. Principals need to be able to grow and sustain professional learning; they also need to have the capacity for change management. They can delegate aspects of the process (to other senior leaders with the requisite skills), but need to be seen as giving full and enthusiastic support to the implementation of curriculum change. The establishment of a new principal during this crucial phase could cause delays, but some new principals had been appointed with the explicit task of leading NZC implementation.

Apart from lack of time, or leadership, factors hindering the process of curriculum change were mainly related to staffing, or to the conflicting demands of other educational initiatives. There were concerns about the ability of new or inexperienced teachers to cope with the requirements of NZC, and reluctance to change on the part of teachers comfortable with familiar approaches. There were also fears that the introduction of National Standards might distract primary schools from curriculum-related work. However, the most recent ERO report was encouraging on both these topics, noting that apathy and resistance were less apparent in the latter half of 2009, and that most schools had coped with the introduction of National Standards and continued to make progress with implementing the NZC.

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