Refreshing the New Zealand Curriculum

Why it's worth your time to engage

Who remembers Kōrero Mātauranga – the Education Conversation back in 2018 and 2019? The Ministry of Education had teams of staff working their way around the country meeting with key groups of stakeholders to talk about the state of the education system and what they wanted to see moving forward. Teachers, whānau, rangatahi, iwi, tertiary partners and leaders were all asked to share their ideas with online surveys or in-person hui and the results were all collated.

It’s easy to forget about this public engagement when the focus of teachers in 2020 rapidly shifted to lockdown learning and Zoom lessons! But the Kōrero Mātauranga project never stopped. The specific changes teachers are grappling with now are actually a direct result of what was asked for in 2018.


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With so many changes happening in so many places in the system at the same time; it’s easy to understand why many teachers are feeling a bit overwhelmed by the idea of tackling a curriculum refresh.  Covid fatigue from the last couple of years and recent changes to the timeline simply add to this feeling.

So why should you invest your time and effort into yet another change? Surely “this too shall pass”?

  1. These changes (if implemented authentically) should lead to more equitable outcomes for all students in your class.
  2. They signal a shift from our system being outcomes based to progressions based – which means teachers get to focus on adding value rather than producing results.

Equitable outcomes for all

Anyone who has worked in the education sector in the last 20 years or so knows that there has been an ongoing focus on ‘closing the gap’ or ‘improving outcomes for priority learners’. It’s likely that most teachers have engaged in some kind of professional development aimed at improving educational outcomes for Māori, Pasifika and students with learning needs.  So why are these learners STILL over-represented in the “long tail of underachievers”?

When I reflect back on my time in school, it feels like previous efforts to support teachers to develop culturally responsive pedagogy (e.g The Effective Teaching Profile from M.Berryman and R.Bishop) often felt ‘tagged on’ to a normal workload or like a box-ticking exercise. This is actually still a great resource and worth going back to if you haven’t for a while!  In contrast, the refresh is being built from the ground up with equity as the starting point - it is not simply an addition.  Broad teams of writers, in collaboration with whānau, iwi and industry are determining what learning is essential for all kiwi kids.

For those that have engaged with the MoEs webinars about the curriculum refresh; the drafts so far point towards these expectations being well and truly embedded into the progression statements articulated for each key learning area. Our current curriculum’s ‘front half’ and ‘back half’ approach to learning makes it too easy to skip through the front bit to get to the achievement outcomes. This new approach has carefully crafted progressions statements with the ‘front half’ parts carefully and explicitly woven into them. 

“The refreshed NZC will be organised around the same eight learning areas and key competencies from the 2007 Curriculum. Mātauranga Māori will sit at the heart of the learning areas - with key competencies, literacy, and numeracy explicitly woven into each learning area.” 

Taking the time to be familiar with the approach now will mean that this way of thinking feels familiar when the final draft is gazetted (the current timeline is here). Engaging with the webinars, teacher-only-day resources and other events from the Ministry will give you time to think through your teaching and learning programs while the stakes are low. No efforts made to better understand the approach now will be wasted. 

Progressions rather than outcomes

I don’t know how many people apply to teachers' college because they really want to spend their time marking and assessing student work. Yet for many, it seems to end up being such a big part of the job. Regular reporting and assessment is essential but we have to be careful that we are valuing the learning taking place and not just the results of assessment tasks. Any NCEA teachers will be able to tell you about their students who won’t participate unless it’s worth credits!  Weighing the pig doesn’t make it fatter is a phrase familiar to the education sector but we also know that we do need to weigh the pig sometimes. The important part is what we do with that information. Teachers and leaders have time now to consider how a learner's progression through the curriculum,  rather than just achievement results might be reported to whānau (without having to up-end whole reporting systems!)

Teachers are already looking for the ‘value added’ and shifting to a new model that values progress over just outcomes is a shift in the right direction to address some of these issues. Achievement objectives are target-driven, but progression outcomes indicate how learning is cumulative and builds on what has gone before. Progress Outcomes (PO’s) can help teachers measure a learner's individual journey as they build on prior learning.

“[Progress Outcomes are] Designed to be cumulative - progressions replaces curriculum levels and achievement objectives with five phases of learning. Each phase of learning contains progress outcomes that describe what ākonga should Understand, Know, and Do at each phase of learning.”

Right now the refreshed Social Sciences curriculum is here to enable us to explore and get a good understanding of what “cumulative learning” looks like.  This could well be one of the biggest mind shifts for teachers who have spent most of their careers being driven by achievement objectives. Spending time in the understand, know, do (UDK) framework now is probably the best way to start shifting your thinking. By releasing the subject areas in parts, the Ministry has given teachers the chance to get familiar with this progressions model before all curriculum areas are released.

So what can you do now?

These changes are not going to be easy and it certainly isn’t going to happen overnight. The slow introduction of each learning area is a gift of time for teachers to explore their learning programmes and consider how they might be refreshed moving and brought in line with what we know about quality and effective curriculum design and classroom pedagogy. We all have time to engage with our teams within and beyond our settings;  whānau, community and mana whenua to explore these ideas and to take the time to define what highly effective practice looks like for our context and our learners.  This is both a challenge and an opportunity we need to grasp with both hands in order to make sure we get the maximum possible value for our akonga.

Our team of over 80 professional learning facilitators are available to help you navigate this sometimes complex space.  Do get in touch if you would like more information or we can support you in any way.

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