In The New Zealand Curriculum, teaching as inquiry is described as a cyclical process in which teachers identify the learning needs of groups of target students, and respond to them through planned programmes[3]. The programmes are subsequently evaluated in terms of their impact on student outcomes. This may lead to programme changes if the teaching has not had the desired impact. It may also lead to the identification of new target groups of students.

Inquiry practices usually occur in the classroom by individual teachers, or amongst groups of teachers working towards a common goal. In each of these contexts the focus is the progress and achievement of all learners. Inquiry is particularly beneficial for accelerating the progress of priority learners who are not achieving well. Māori and Pacific students, students with learning needs and students from low socio-economic backgrounds make up a large proportion of these learners. Teaching as inquiry, put into practice well by teachers, and supported effectively by school leaders, has the potential to make a significant difference for these students.

The evaluation framework

The Ministry of Education asked ERO to conduct an evaluation of curriculum development in schools with a particular focus on:

  • the extent to which schools’ systems and self-review processes guide, inform and support teachers to inquire into their practice.
  • the extent to which teachers inquire into the impact of their teaching on students.


The evaluation occurred alongside the scheduled education reviews of schools throughout New Zealand.

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, observing and participating 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 categories

Secondary schools

Years 7-15 Secondary schools


Years 9-15 Secondary schools

Composite schools

Years 1-15 Composite schools

Primary schools

Years 1-8 Full primary schools


Years 1-6 Contributing schools


Years 7-8 Intermediate schools

Eighty-two primary schools, 26 secondary schools and five composite schools were selected for this evaluation from the schedule of schools due for an ERO education review in Term 3, 2011. In total, data were gathered from 120 primary and 80 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. The number of classrooms evaluated in each school was dependent on the school size as shown below.

Table 2: Classrooms by school roll

Roll number

Number of classes



300 – 700


700 – 1500




Refer to Appendix 2 for further information about the demographics of the sample and the numbers of observations at each year level and in each subject area (in secondary and composite schools). Appendix 3 includes information about how the data were analysed.

Previous findings as reported in ERO’s 2011 report

In the 2011 report, Directions for Learning: The New Zealand Curriculum Principles and Teaching as Inquiry, ERO found that in 72 percent of the schools processes had been put in place by school leaders that were either highly, or somewhat informative and supportive in promoting teaching as inquiry. In the most effective schools, leaders had created routines and systems that prompted reflection about student achievement and teaching practice. Typically these systems included reflective journals, end-of-term evaluations, peer observations and discussions as part of the performance management system. Importantly, inquiry was fostered through a culture of shared aspirations to improve learning and teaching, and a desire to work as a team.In the 28 percent of schools that had minimal or no processes in place, the absence of established school-level systems and active leadership support meant that teachers did not have a clear understanding of teaching as inquiry, or how it could be applied in their classrooms.ERO had recommendations for school leaders, teachers and the Ministry of Education to make teaching as inquiry a useful and integral part of everyday teaching practice in New Zealand classrooms.ERO recommended that school leaders and teachers:

  • build deeper understanding of the process of inquiry, and the contexts in which teaching as inquiry can be used to improve learning and teaching
  • create opportunities for sustainable professional learning about effective teaching practice through incorporating teaching as inquiry into their performance management system.