In November 2007, a revised curriculum was launched for use in New Zealand schools. The New Zealand Curriculum is a statement of official policy related to teaching and learning in English-medium schools in New Zealand.[1] The requirement for schools to implement The New Zealand Curriculum came into effect on 1 February 2010. In early 2010, the Ministry of Education asked the Education Review Office (ERO) to conduct an initial evaluation, and a follow up evaluation one year later, to investigate how schools were using the eight principles and the teaching as inquiry process as outlined in The New Zealand Curriculum.

The principles of The New Zealand Curriculum

The eight principles represent what is important and desirable in a school curriculum. These principles are: high expectations, Treaty of Waitangi, cultural diversity, inclusion, learning to learn, community engagement, coherence and future focus. The principles are positioned in The New Zealand Curriculum as the founding framework that guides curriculum decision-making. They are also a potential touchstone by which schools can review their curriculum plans, priorities and outcomes.

ERO found that there were two key aspects to schools’ initial work in understanding the principles. Firstly, in the process of familiarising themselves with The New Zealand Curriculum, teacherslearned about the principles along with the vision, values and key competencies. Conceptual links were made between each of these elements and the school’s existing curriculum framework and content.Guided by school leaders,some schools took the opportunity to explore what the principles might look like when they were applied in classroom programmes.

Schools gradually reviewed and adjusted their existing curriculum framework in light of what they had learned. They generally assimilated The New Zealand Curriculum with what they, and their school communities, valued and thought was important. Leaders, some of whom had taken advantage of externally delivered professional development about The New Zealand Curriculum, had a head start on staff in terms of understanding the revised curriculum. By the time teachers were ready to engage in curriculum review and development, these leaders were well placed to drive the processes described above.

In 82 percent of schools evaluated by ERO, the principles were evident in the school’s curriculum. Some schools had consulted communities in the process of reviewing and developing their revised curriculum. This consultation focused on developing the vision and values that sat at the core of the local school curriculum.

In the few schools that were somewhat more advanced in terms of their curriculum development process, school leaders had begun to think about how they would review their newly-developed curriculum by looking at how they were using the principles.

In 18 percent of schools, there was minimal or no evidence that the principles were part of the process of reviewing and developing their curriculum. In these schools, leadership influence was less apparent and systems supporting effective implementation of The New Zealand Curriculum were less well developed.

The three principles most in evidence were high expectations, community engagement and inclusion. Teachers indicated that they expected all students to “succeed and to behave well” in order for teaching and learning to happen. High expectations for learning underpinned the approach teachers took when they encouraged students to set and review goals. Inclusive practice focused on implementing a range of programmes for students with specific learning needs, and encouraging students’ participation in a range of academic, sporting and cultural activities. Parent engagement included helping with school events, participating in reporting processes and providing input into the direction of the locally-developed school curriculum.

The least evident principles were Treaty of Waitangi, cultural diversity, coherence and future focus. Teachers took a range of actions to encourage bicultural understanding, but schools still need to strategically address, through the curriculum, the Treaty of Waitangi principle. Schools’ practice in addressing cultural diversity could also be improved, particularly with respect to making provision for students to express their cultural perspectives and views. There is still a need for some schools to achieve a seamless, progressive and coherent curriculum for students and to develop a more comprehensive understanding of the intent and nature of the future focus principle.

Teaching as inquiry

Teaching as inquiry is a process that involves educators investigating 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.

In 72 percent of the schools in ERO’s evaluation, processes had been put in place by school leaders that were either highly, or somewhat informative and supportive in promoting teaching as inquiry. Leaders had created routines and protocols that facilitated discussion about student achievement and teaching practice. Systems were developed by them so that inquiry also became part of teachers’ classroom practice. In schools where teaching as inquiry was well supported, a culture was created that was characterised by shared aspirations to improve learning and teaching, and a desire to work as a team. Useful next steps for teachers include improving teachers’ evaluation practice and making use of relevant research in developing plans for students’ learning.

Teachers used reflective journals and end-of-term evaluations to inquire into the impact of their class programmes on students’ learning. These inquiry activities tended to be part of the school’s performance management system and were therefore promoted and monitored by school leaders. There were indications that some teachers had adopted an inquiry disposition – they habitually viewed teaching and learning through an inquiry lens.

Teachers understand the value of gathering evidence about their own capability through the performance management system. Peer observations and feedback processes supported teachers to build more effective teaching practice. ERO’s findings suggest that evaluation practice could be improved by better use of evidence about the impact of teaching practice on outcomes for students. Where this process was robust, the cycle of inquiry was completed by leaders talking with teachers about the link between teaching observations and outcomes for students. As a result of these discussions, new teaching goals were established.

Twenty four percent of schools had minimal processes in place, and in four percent of schools the positive practices described above were not in evidence. None of the important leadership functions noted in the more successful schools was happening, and as a result teachers did not have a clear understanding of teaching as inquiry, or how it could be applied in their classrooms.

There were clear links between school level support systems and classroom practice in terms of teaching as inquiry and the curriculum principles. Where school level curriculum development and review processes were well developed and teaching as inquiry was happening well, leaders were correspondingly active in promoting understanding about The New Zealand Curriculum and teachers’ professional learning. This included creating the processes and culture in which learning and effective teaching practice could happen.