This report indicates how successful secondary schools in this sample have been in designing a coherent senior curriculum. It also identifies difficulties faced by schools as they attempted to provide coherence. Evidence from this evaluation shows it is possible for schools to provide a coherent, flexible and inclusive senior curriculum for their students that supports them to progress towards broader outcomes that amount to deeper learning. In these schools, leaders and teachers understood the benefits to individual students and to wider society of deliberately addressing the principles, values and competencies of the NZC, along with purposeful assessment. They built relationships with parents, whānau and community that focused on learning. School leaders and teachers reviewed and revised their practice in response to student needs and interests. They focused on the key competencies in the curriculum, in the belief they shared responsibility for the development of the whole student. These schools showed significant progress could be and has been made in response to concerns about NCEA-led curriculum, credit gathering, and the relevance of pathways. Previous ERO reports identify these concerns.

Not all the schools we studied were successful in implementing NZC in the senior curriculum. The most successful approaches were evident when the vision was clear and leaders managed frequent and responsive communication amongst teachers, students and parents to support student learning and progress in a broad sense. Some schools had clearly integrated key competencies in the junior school but were less successful in achieving this outcome at the senior level. In other schools, assessment prevailed as the driver of the senior curriculum, and credit acquisition had become the marker of success.

The findings indicate most schools reviewed and improved school systems to better focus on supporting students to choose relevant and challenging pathways and to understand standards for assessment. Career and academic guidance assisted students to reflect on the trajectory of their own learning. In some schools, the system changes did not extend to teachers reviewing and improving their practice. Most of the schools studied need to place a greater emphasis on student agency, linking systems and teaching practice to the principles of NZC.

Schools expressed the sense of doing it alone when it came to achieving coherence in the senior curriculum. They expressed a desire for better public understanding about the NZC and NCEA, nationally, and for sound professional guidance for leaders and teachers who plan and implement the school’s senior curriculum and subsequent assessment.

Most schools were struggling to find reliable ways to define, note and report on the competencies students developed as they moved through senior school. They were confronting the challenge of describing and recognising success in a way that genuinely shows both the progress and achievement of students. A broader definition and indicators of success are needed to help build a picture of the young person as a learner and as a social being to inform the community about successful outcomes of secondary schooling.

Schools wanted some decisions to be made at a national level, rather than left to individual schools. This included decisions about the value of three levels of NCEA and guidance about numbers of credits.

They were convinced about the need to improve support for teachers writing assessment tasks for an integrated curriculum and for individual subjects; for consistent moderation practice across regions; for PLD to give teachers confidence about both curriculum planning and assessment practice; and support to deliver a coherent curriculum, implement the NZC and use assessment appropriately.

The NZC outlines aspirations for young people in Aotearoa New Zealand. It is evident that some schools can achieve a balance through a coherent curriculum as they address these aspirations. The findings and recommendations in this report provide a basis for future consideration of how the balance of NZC and NCEA assessment in secondary schools can be achieved.