NCEA is the national qualification for secondary school students in New Zealand2. Since its introduction in 2002, NCEA has been used by many schools as a framework, not only for assessment, but to provide the content of teaching and learning at senior levels. Findings from ERO reports and research information from a variety of agencies indicate that in the senior school (Years 11 ) the majority of schools and wharekura focus largely on subject-specific skills and knowledge. Generally, schools’ senior curricula do not clearly demonstrate the relationship between the principles, values, and key competencies of NZC and programmes of teaching and learning that contribute to achievement of NCEA.

In the past decade, the Ministry, as the standard setting body, and NZQA have revised aspects of NCEA to include course and subject endorsement, and literacy and numeracy requirements. From 2009 to 2012, achievement standards were revised to better align with outcomes from NZC. The emphasis on alignment focused many teachers on reviewing the content of learning areas and subjects.

NZC outlines a vision for young people to be, among other things, confident, connected, actively involved, lifelong learners. NZC also outlines:

  • principles as the foundations of curriculum decision making
  • values to be encouraged, modelled and explored
  • key competencies as capabilities for living and lifelong learning
  • learning areas important for a broad education
  • effective pedagogy to promote student learning
  • the school curriculum, how to design and review it.

Secondary schools have implemented the national curriculum to a lesser extent than primary schools, particularly the key competencies identified in the NZC. This is a concern as these curriculum requirements gain increasing significance at senior levels of schooling preparing students to transition to the next stage of their learning or employment, beyond secondary school.

In 2017, the Ministry set up an inter-agency group to identify key issues for consideration, and the context and framing of those key issues to form part of the review of NCEA3. The considerations of this group are informed by research carried out by the New Zealand Council for Educational Research summarising the themes in recent NCEA literature. This research found that general support for NCEA has increased over the last decade but it also identified a number of issues of concern about NCEA to be addressed in the Ministry review. A key concern was that secondary schools have used NCEA assessment standards as the default curriculum, rather than as it is intended to be used: to identify student achievement. Schools have not consistently used NZC as the framework for curriculum planning at senior levels. This means students are not given opportunities to develop the values and key competencies of the NZC.

The Ministry and ERO agreed to jointly fund an evaluation of senior curriculum planning and implementation in a sample of 12 schools whose documentation indicated the intention to integrate NZC and NCEA. In this report ERO discusses the strategies these secondary schools used to implement NZC and NCEA assessment in their senior school curriculum, with specific emphasis on the key competencies of NZC.

The scope of the findings is limited to identifying how secondary schools provide a coherent senior curriculum and the steps taken to align NZC and NCEA. This report describes the practice in the schools visited by ERO. The findings about these schools contribute to the wider review of NCEA.

This report provides examples of how the vision, policy, structures and curriculum provision of these schools have aligned with the requirements of NZC4. It considers how these schools developed their curriculum and the extent to which they have balanced assessment requirements at the senior level with the requirement to implement NZC5.

While the focus of the report is on senior secondary schooling, the evaluation team also considered how schools managed student transition into senior schooling. ERO has provided a literature review of what ERO already knows about secondary schools’ curriculum. See Appendix 2.

[3]   The Ministry has worked closely with the NZQA, Tertiary Education Commission, Education Review Office, Education New Zealand and Education Council, with support from the New Zealand Council for Educational Research to shape these potential approaches.

[4]  The NZC, together with the Qualifications framework, gives schools the flexibility to design and deliver programmes that will engage all students and offer them appropriate learning pathways. The flexibility of the qualifications system also allows schools to keep assessment to levels that are manageable and reasonable for both students and teachers. Not all aspects of the curriculum need to be formally assessed, and excessive high-stakes assessment in Years 11-13 is to be avoided. New Zealand Curriculum.

[5]  The main curriculum guide for all the schools in this evaluation was NZC. Two schools referred to Te Marautanga o Aotearoa, the Maori-medium curriculum document, in their planning.