In November 2007, a revised New Zealand curriculum was launched for use in schools. The requirement for schools to implement this curriculumcame into effect from 1 February, 2010. The New Zealand Curriculum is a statement of official policy related to teaching and learning in English-medium schools.[3] It includes: vision, principles, values, key competencies, and expectations for eight learning areas.[4]The New Zealand Curriculum also describes effective teaching actions that promote student learning. Teaching as inquiry is one of these.

In 2010, the Ministry of Education asked ERO to conduct an evaluation of curriculum development in schools with a particular focus on:

  • investigating the extent to which the principles of The New Zealand Curriculum are evident in schools’ curriculum
  • how the principles are enacted in the classroom
  • the extent to which school systems and self-review processes guide, inform and support ‘teaching as inquiry’
  • the extent to which teachers inquire into the impact of their teaching on student learning.

The evaluation occurred alongside the scheduled education reviews of schools throughout New Zealand.[5] A second evaluation is to be conducted in 2011 in which ERO will report on progress made.

Principles in The New Zealand Curriculum

The New Zealand Curriculum enables all schools to design their own learning programmes based on what they consider to be appropriate to meet the needs of their communities and students. Every school’s curriculum, therefore, should be a unique and responsive blueprint of what they and their communities consider is important, and desirable for students to learn.

The eight principles of The New Zealand Curriculum are the foundations and touchstones of curriculum review, design and practice in schools.[6] The principles apply equally to all schools and to every aspect of the curriculum. The eight principles are as follows:

High expectations: The curriculum supports and empowers all students to learn and achieve personal excellence, regardless of their circumstances.

Treaty of Waitangi: The curriculum acknowledges the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi and the bicultural foundations of Aotearoa New Zealand. All students have the opportunity to acquire knowledge of te reo me ōna tikanga.

Cultural Diversity: The curriculum reflects New Zealand’s cultural diversity and values the histories and traditions of all its people.

Inclusion: The curriculum is non-sexist, non-racist, and non-discriminatory; it ensures that students’ identities, languages, abilities, and talents are recognised and affirmed and that their learning needs are addressed.

Learning to learn: The curriculum encourages all students to reflect on their own learning processes and to learn how to learn.

Community engagement: The curriculum has meaning for students, connects with their wider lives, and engages the support of their families, whānau and communities.

Coherence: The curriculum offers all students a broad education that makes links within and across learning areas, provides for coherent transitions, and opens up pathways to future learning.

Future focus: The curriculum encourages students to look to the future by exploring such significant future-focused issues as sustainability, citizenship, enterprise and globalisation.

Teaching as Inquiry

Teaching as inquiry is a process through which educators investigate the impact of their decisions and practice on students. In The New Zealand Curriculum, this course of action is described as a cyclical process in which questions are posed, evidence is gathered, and decisions are made. Three key questions guide this process:

  1. What is important (and therefore worth spending time on), given where my students are? This focusing inquiry establishes a baseline and direction. The teacher uses all available information to determine what their students have already learned and what they need to learn next.
  2. What evidence-based strategies are most likely to help my students learn this? In this teaching inquiry, the teacher uses evidence from research and from their own past practice and that of colleagues to plan teaching and learning opportunities aimed at achieving the outcomes prioritised in the focusing inquiry.
  3. What happened as a result of the teaching, and what are the implications for future teaching? In this learning inquiry, the teacher investigates the success of the teaching in terms of the prioritised outcomes, using a range of assessment approaches. They do this both while learning activities are in progress and also as longer-term sequences or units of work come to an end. They then analyse and interpret the information to consider what they should do next.[7]

Teaching as inquiry has also been positioned as a professional learning approach[8] that can be applied to build teachers’ knowledge of teaching processes that have a positive impact on outcomes for students. Through an iterative cyclical process that aligns closely with that described in The New Zealand Curriculum, teachers “collectively and individually identify important issues, become the drivers for acquiring the knowledge they need to solve them, monitor the impact of their actions, and adjust their practice accordingly”.[9]

Evaluation framework

This evaluation sought to answer four evaluation questions:

  1. To what extent are the principles of The New Zealand Curriculum evident in the interpretation and implementation of schools’ curricula?
  2. To what extent are the principles of The New Zealand Curriculum enacted in classroom curricula?
  3. To what extent do schools’ systems and self-review processes guide, inform and support teachers to inquire into their practice?
  4. To what extent do teachers inquire into the impact of their teaching on students?

Judgements were made using a four point scale. Further details about the evaluation framework are provided in Appendix 1.


Sixty seven primary schools and 42 secondary schools were selected for this evaluation from the schedule of schools due for an ERO education review in Terms 3 and 4, 2010. In total, data were gathered from 106 primary and 94 secondary classrooms. In sampling, consideration was given to achieving proportional numbers across Year levels and, in secondary schools, to covering a wide range of school subjects. For further information about the demographics of the sample, refer to Appendix 2.

ERO used a team of reviewers with particular curriculum expertise for this evaluation. Reviewers collected information in ways that were appropriate to the context of the school. These included document analysis, observations of lessons, observations of and participation in teacher meetings, and interviews with teachers and leaders.

In reporting the findings ERO refers to the broad categories of secondary schools and primary schools. The following school types are included in each category.

Table 1: School level categories

Secondary schools

Years 7-15 Secondary schools


Years 1-15 Composite schools


Years 9-15 Secondary schools


Years 1-15 Special schools

Primary schools

Years 1-8 Full primary schools


Years 1-6 Contributing schools


Years 7-8 Intermediate schools