The New Zealand Curriculum (NZC) defines coherence as occurring when:

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 further learning.

The NZC makes a clear connection between pedagogy, curriculum and effective assessment:

The primary purpose of assessment is to improve students’ learning and teachers’ teaching as both students and teacher respond to the information it provides.

This report studies effective practice in schools’ senior curriculum. The report contributes to the review being undertaken by the Ministry of Education (the Ministry) of the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA). The Ministry-led review focuses on the implementation of NCEA as the national assessment system for the senior years of secondary schooling.

ERO invited 12 schools to contribute to this report following consultation with the Ministry and regional ERO offices. This consultation identified schools that reference The New Zealand Curriculum. The schools referred to the NZC in curriculum outlines on their websites and in school prospectus information. The schools were selected because they had made clear connections between the curriculum and the key competencies of NZC in their school documentation.

ERO looked at the ways these schools provided a coherent curriculum, rather than one dominated by assessment requirements1. We found a minority of these schools showed it was possible to plan and implement senior learning pathways based on the principles, vision, values and competencies, outlined in the NZC. These schools were able to show student progress towards broader outcomes that amount to deeper learning. Other schools in the sample were well on the way to full coherence, with some aspects of a coherent curriculum still to be developed. In most of the schools, ERO found elements of curriculum planning and delivery that are useful as examples for other schools to consider.

The schools with a coherent senior curriculum had established practices that contributed to coherence through:

  • the principal’s leadership of professional practice
  • the principal’s capacity to address community perceptions about the value of NCEA together with NZC
  • leaders’ support of curriculum and assessment development that aligned with the school’s vision and direction
  • career guidance that contributed to school-wide decisions about providing student pathways
  • the willingness of leaders and teachers to review teaching practice and school systems, in order to help students progress towards deeper learning
  • students who were respected participants in their own learning and could recognise their own development of the competencies outlined in NZC.

Generally, the schools we visited had reviewed learning and teaching, and school systems, to better align the curriculum to the requirements of NZC. Some schools had not yet fully established this coherence in their curriculum, and assessment continued to drive senior curriculum planning. Most of these schools, however, recognised the barriers they needed to address, to provide a fully coherent senior curriculum.

Such barriers included reluctance by some teachers to give up the content of their subject specialty to integrate learning areas and assessment. Another barrier was the view of some students that they needed or wanted to achieve a higher number of NCEA credits than are required for achievement at each level. Some teachers were not knowledgeable or confident enough about assessment to be able to respond to individual students’ strengths interests and needs in the context of their learning.

Schools gave specific examples of the frustrations they experienced in implementing assessment and responding to moderation by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA), and to issues they believed to be the responsibility of the Ministry. ERO found some schools had worked through the barriers effectively, some were addressing the barriers and a few had yet to do so.

[1] See Appendix 1 for comparative table.