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The New Zealand Curriculum

The New Zealand Curriculum is a nationally mandated framework for years 1 to 13. The Curriculum signals learning students should experience and why those experiences are considered important.

Who is the Curriculum for?

The New Zealand Curriculum is a nationally mandated framework for years 1 to 13.  It is for all students and all English medium state schools. The Curriculum signals learning students should experience and why those experiences are considered important. The first half of the Curriculum contains future -focused education outcomes and begins with the vision of “young people who are competent and creative, connected and actively involved” (Ministry of Education, 2007, p. 10). Directions for learning are determined by principles; values and key competencies. 


There are eight principles that embody beliefs about what is important in the school curriculum. They are:

  • High Expectations 
  • Treaty of Waitangi
  • Cultural diversity 
  • Inclusion 
  • Learning to learn 
  • Community engagement 
  • Coherence
  • Future Focus 

As a teacher having high expectations means I am more likely to fail. Am I supported so I can take these risks?  

The principle of inclusion

The principle of inclusion is of particular relevance in this work

What might an inclusive curriculum look like in my school?

The table below is from the work of Skidmore, and contrasts a discourse of deviance and a discourse of inclusion (2002, p. 120). A ‘discourse’ can be described as a way of thinking and communicating ideas.

This table provides a way of thinking about the relationship between inclusive practice and the Curriculum (2007).

Two Forms of Pedagogical Discourse


Discourse of Deviance

Discourse of Inclusion

Educability of students

There is a hierarchy of cognitive ability on which students can be placed.

Every student has an open-ended potential for learning.

Explanation of educational failure

The source of difficulties lies in deficits of ability which are attributes of the student.

The source of difficulties in learning lies in insufficiently responsive presentation of the curriculum.

School response

Support for learning should seek to remediate the weakness of individual students.

Support for learning should seek to reform curriculum and develop pedagogy across the school.

Theory of teaching expertise

Expertise in teaching centres in the position of specialist subject knowledge.

Expertise in teaching centres in engendering the active participation of all students in the learning process.

Curriculum model

An alternative curriculum should be provided for the less able.

A common curriculum should be provided for all students.

How do I support active participation of all students in my classroom curriculum? 



There are seven values.  These are “deeply held beliefs about what is important” and are visible through the way “people think and act” (Ministry of Education, 2007, p. 10). Values include information about how each learning area can contribute to a broad and general education.

What Values were important to Kayla and Ben? How might these students have been shown more respect? 


A key value supporting all teaching and learning is that students respect themselves, others, and human rights.

The values are: 

  • Excellence 
  • Innovation 
  • Diversity 
  • Equality
  • Community and Participation (Links to James' Film and Peter's Film to showcase this) 
  • Ecological sustainability 
  • Integrity 

How does the value of community feel for every student in my class/school? Do I ask students how this could be enhanced? 

Key Competencies 

The key competencies draw on “knowledge attitudes and values and ways that lead to action” (Ministry of Education, 2007, p. 12). They are not separate but are embedded and are key to learning in the learning areas of the Curriculum. Key competencies are not a curriculum or a learning area. Key competencies are described as capabilities for living and lifelong learning. They are:

  • Thinking 
  • Using language symbols and text 
  • Manageing self 
  • Relating to others 
  • Participating and contributing

How might I use the key competencies to support student belonging in the learning areas?                                                

The first half of the curriculum also includes an overview of the eight learning areas and how they contribute to a “broad, general education”  (Ministry of Education, 2007, p. 16). 

How could the strengths of these young people have been used at school to enhance their learning and their belonging? 

The second half of the Curriculum includes a framework for the eight learning areas which are presented in levels of learning outcomes. Level One is the first level where each child belongs when they start school, and level Eight contains the most complex learning outcomes expected to be achieved at the end of secondary schooling. The learning areas guide pedagogy and assessment. 


Curriculum, Teaching and Learning

In every classroom, teachers work within a curriculum which provides the outline, the structure and the content of teaching. At a national level, New Zealand has two Curriculum documents, one for English medium schools and one for Maori medium schools  (Ministry of Education, 2007, 2008). The content of this is decided by those in the Ministry of Education who determine what is to be taught in school and what is valuable to learn.

At a school level, the New Zealand Curriculum is interpreted and locally developed to meet schoolwide goals. Content and construction of school curriculum is influenced by school and community values and beliefs around teaching, learning, diversity and political structures

All students begin their schooling with “an open-ended potential for learning”, and skilled teaching pedagogy supports the belonging and learning of all students  (Skidmore, 2002, p. 120).

What were the barriers to meeting James's potential? How could his belonging and learning been enhanced? 

Teachers as professionals require and value professional development opportunities to improve their learning and their classroom practice. Ongoing collegial collaboration and inquiry related to ways of working together, ideology, language, and creativity within curricular pedagogy, reinforce an environment that supports high expectations for all teachers and all students.




In teaching and learning the curriculum can be described as the ‘what’ and ‘pedagogy’ as the how. Pedagogy involves teaching style, strategies, relationships that teachers form with students, and how these are interpreted within the teaching and learning process. Curricular pedagogy includes teachers and students learning together – from and with each other. Conversations that support caring relationships enables ideas to be contested, shared and explored in a respectful way.

View a film of your choice. As a teacher, do I involve students in decision making that affects their learning?


Critical pedagogy involves inquiry into teaching and learning in order to resist ways of working that may be disrespectful, harmful or uncaring; and to highlight inclusive ways of being and of relating.

Schools may choose to highlight particular aspects of pedagogy as best fits their community. For example a school focusing particularly on shared learning, may choose to group students for learning across levels of the school to facilitate interdependent learning. Another school may focus particularly on meaning making across and within learning areas by scaffolding multiple learning opportunities through active inquiry-based cross-curricular teaching.

Effective pedagogy

Effective pedagogy can be understood as approaches that support “the highest standards of teaching” (Ministry of Education, 2017). Within the New Zealand Curriculum, seven approaches which consistently have a positive impact on students’s learning are identified. Effective pedagogy is described as what teachers do to support students to learn. Teaching as inquiry as an example of effective pedagogy.

Teachers Resource 

What did teachers do that enhanced students' learning and experiences of school

Evidence suggests "students learn best when teachers: 

  • Create a supportive learning environment 
  • Encourage reflective thought and action
  • Enhance the relevance of new learning 
  • Facilitate shared learning 
  • Make connections to prior learning and experience 
  • Provide sufficient opportunities to learn 
  • Inquire into the teaching-learning relationship. 

"The only teachers who think they are successful are those who have low expectations of the students... The best teachers fail all the time because they have such high aspirations for what the students can achieve" (William, 2011, p.29)

These are further unpacked to explore the factors that support effective pedagogy.
In a supportive learning environment, learning is inseparable from its social and cultural context. Students learn best when they feel accepted, when they enjoy positive relationships with their peers and their teachers, and when they are able to be active, visible members of the learning community (Ministry of Education, 2007, p. 34). Teachers recognise their responsibility for creating a classroom culture built on positive relationships with students and families, which also reflects the many cultural backgrounds and diverse experiences of the students. Central to quality teaching is knowing the learners and building relationships that support learning.


Students learn most effectively when they develop the ability to be reflective learners, to assimilate new learning, relate it to what they already know, adapt it for their own purposes, and translate thought into action (Ministry of Education, 2007, p. 34). Teachers who actively listen demonstrate respect for diversity, notice complexities and seek teaching and learning opportunities that include all students. Deep and active listening requires teachers to be confident to wait for students’ responses, and not fill a silence or provide all the information. In this way a teacher is sharing power in the classroom, and teaching is strengthened through genuine collaboration.

New learning is enhanced when it builds on what students know; when students understand what they are learning, why they are learning it, and how they will be able to use their new learning (Ministry of Education, 2007, p. 34). Effective teachers stimulate curiosity in students and provide opportunities to explore new ideas within known contexts. Being creative and taking risks supports learning.

Who are the learners? 

In a learning community teachers learn alongside students and knowledge is continually co-constructed in an environment where students’ experiences and ideas are valued. Learning as a shared activity does not mean each child experiences the lesson in the same way. A shared pedagogical approach moves away from thinking about teaching that works for most students with something extra or different for those who experience difficulties and moves towards rich learning opportunities that are more inclusive of all students.

For some disabled students considerable adaptation and differentiation is required to enable curricular access and meaningful participation. While many teaching approaches work for all students, some students require very specific supports such as visuals, sign language or a supporting adult to engage in learning. A team approach that prioritises family or iwi knowledge alongside the professionals and the child is culturally responsive, and respectful of all team members.

Do I actively value family/whanau knowledge of their child as I come to know each child and how they learn best? 


When teachers engage collaboratively as a staff in professional development, they feel less threatened by new developments and imposed requirements as open sharing can instil team confidence and awareness of all as learners. Effective collaboration requires teachers to critically examine their own beliefs and assumptions by looking beyond and into themselves to consider the impact of their way of working.

Teachers recognise that students learn in different ways and therefore provide multiple contexts, experiences and opportunities to practise and embed new learning. Having high expectations of all means that students who require additional support or differentiation have what they need to participate in learning and to be successful.

Most students require teacher scaffolding to bridge the gap between existing and new learning. This is no different for disabled students, who may require more opportunities or different forms of scaffolding. When teachers know students well, they recognise capabilities demonstrated in some contexts and not in others and plan to build on strengths to support meaningful participation. A child who is not yet actively participating in a learning activity may be internalising and learning aspects of the task even when they are not performing them, or they may benefit from a differentiated task to support their learning.

Teachers who have high expectations of all students provide multiple opportunities to learn. High expectations demand teachers set challenging but attainable goals for all students, and that there is an unrelenting focus on learning and achieving within the New Zealand Curriculum.

“Since any teaching strategy works differently in different contexts for different students, effective pedagogy requires that teachers inquire into the impact of their teaching on their students” (Ministry of Education, 2007, p. 35). Teaching as inquiry is a cyclical process which usually begins with teachers identifying learning outcomes for students; planning and teaching in ways that support the achievement of outcomes; investigating the success of teaching and learning using a range of assessment outcomes and reflecting on practice to determine ongoing learning. Genuine inquiry involves taking risks, making mistakes and trying again. Within the cycle, learning outcomes can be differentiated to provide authentic teaching and learning opportunities for all students.

Role of reflexivity

The New Zealand Curriculum (Ministry of Education, 2007) makes numerous references to the terms reflection and reflexivity. Reflective thought and action are key components of effective pedagogy (p.34), key competencies (p.12) and principles which form the foundation of curriculum decision-making (p.9). While the terms reflection, reflexivity and reflective thought are not defined in the Curriculum, reflection can be understood as a conscious process that either affirms or confronts existing practice and may be a catalyst for ongoing improvements in teaching and learning. The terms reflexivity and reflexive praxis are used interchangeably. Reflexivity involves critically looking back with the purpose of informing the future. Reflexive praxis can occur in the private thinking of an individual, or can occur in dialogue with others. Dialogue can support and challenge teachers and students to identify, clarify, and critique their beliefs, values and actions as they work alongside others in collegial and classroom situations..

There is a difference between reflection in practice and reflection on practice. Reflection in practice is a way of working that responds to ongoing tensions, challenges and discoveries that emerge during teaching and learning, and encourages flexibility within the classroom curriculum. Reflection on practice happens after the event and is based on a sequential but not rigidly adhered to way of thinking. This involves personal inquiry around questions: What did I do? (Describing the teaching). What did this mean? (Critiquing to inform). How did I come to be like this? (Challenging practice and ways of being). How might I do things differently? (Reconstructing practice to think about improvements and next learning steps follow). Reflection does not occur in a vacuum but within a context of past learning, and current and future expectations.


The reflexive teacher

“Lifelong learners who are critical and creative thinkers” (Ministry of Education, 2007, p. 7), and “who reflect on their own learning processes and learn how to learn” (ibid, p.8) are the vision of the New Zealand Curriculum. Teachers create opportunities and teach processes that enable students to reflect on their learning in light of lesson objectives. Reflexive teachers who act on their thinking welcome opportunities to make teaching and learning increasingly meaningful. Assessment processes can be reflexive when teachers and students work together to understand learning and to set future learning goals and pathways. 

Does the Curriculum include all students? 



Giangreco, M. (1998). Ants in his pants: Absurdities and realities of special education. Minnetonka, MN: Peytral Publications.

Giangreco, M., & Ruelle, K. (1999). Flying by the seat of your pants: More absurdities and realities of special education. Minnetonka, MN: Peytral.

Ministry of Education. (2007). The New Zealand Curriculum.  Wellington: Learning Media.

Ministry of Education. (2008). Te Marautanga o Aotearoa.  Wellington: Learning Media.

Ministry of Education. (2017). Assessment on Line. Retrieved from

Skidmore, D. (2002). A theoretical model of pedagogical discourse. Disability, Culture and Education, 1(2), 119-131.