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Theme one

The sense that schools are making of NZC

Aligning national and local curriculum goals

NZC and preparation for participation in life beyond school

Aligning vision and values to practice

This report begins with a broad overview of the manner in which the curriculum has been received and understood by the individuals we interviewed in the case study schools. Official curricula undergo a cascade of interpretations as they are translated from the intended to the implemented to the achieved curriculum. As key players in this cascade, school leaders and teachers interpret new curricula through the lens of their current practices and beliefs. Perceptions of the extent of the alignment between these practices and beliefs and the new curriculum influence the ways teachers and schools make sense of a curriculum and their experience of the implementation process. Ultimately, it is the extent of the alignment between student achievement and the intentions of those who wrote the curriculum that is crucial, but at this early stage of the implementation process, and in line with the requirements of the study, we focus on school leader and teacher perceptions of purposes for having a national curriculum and their perceptions of the extent that The New Zealand Curriculum (NZC) aligns with their current school vision, goals and practices.

Aligning national and local curriculum goals

There was widespread agreement that national curriculum provides a means of ensuring consistency across the nation while giving flexibility for schools to meet the needs and interests of their students and communities. School leaders and teachers viewed the NZC as a broad common scaffold that gives more choice for schools and affords greater ownership of the curriculum to local communities. This increased flexibility for schools means that teachers can align and personalise learning to the school community as well as to the individual.

Teachers perceived that they had increased flexibility in their classrooms with a reduction in the number of achievement objectives. In general they considered there was sufficient balance between such flexibility and the guidance needed to achieve alignment and consistency across all schools. This meant that students would not be too disadvantaged if they moved school, notwithstanding local curriculum variation, and neither would teachers. A cohesive framework was also seen as meaning that NZC could be compared with curricula of other countries. Although teachers welcomed the flexibility the curriculum offered, some noted they would need to develop a process to ensure that, as students moved either within or between schools, they would be presented with a coherent programme that built skills over time and did not repeat core content.

The relatively open approach taken to co-constructing the curriculum meant that, prior to the release of the actual curriculum documents, a number of the school leaders in this study were already using their networks to bring the thinking and ideas underpinning the new curriculum back to their schools. This open process was helpful for school leaders and teachers as it resulted in many having considered and explored these ideas over a long time period. When the actual draft curriculum and the new revised curriculum were released in 2006 and 2007, school leaders and teachers first looked to compare these documents with “what was there before”. At some schools, school leaders encouraged staff to work together on developing a submission about the draft curriculum, a process that was helpful in initially engaging staff with the changes in the new curriculum. Attention then turned to what schools were currently doing and to their own school’s vision and philosophical values and beliefs. Common to all case study schools was the impression that teachers were comfortable with the new curriculum. Many commented on how relieved and even delighted they were to find that the new curriculum statement aligned with their school vision, policy, and practices. For the schools involved in literacy and numeracy projects, both leaders and teachers were also pleased that literacy and numeracy would continue to receive substantial emphasis, since many saw them as priorities in their school community.

Notwithstanding this positive reception, some teachers were concerned that beginning teachers may not have enough existing curriculum knowledge to link NZC to the more detailed content of the curriculum documents that preceded it. Another concern was that the continuing use of a structure of eight levels in every learning area might reinforce the expectation that students should be doing particular things at particular ages, without taking into account their cultural backgrounds or life experiences. Where this concern was raised, such an interpretation was seen as a counter-message to the potential for flexible curriculum planning.

NZC and preparation for participation in life beyond school

Though much of NZC is seen as reinforcing the previous curriculum, especially the achievement objectives, its underlying philosophy is seen as being more explicit about vision, values, and the necessity to meet the learning needs of students. Teachers were of the view that NZC would guide the “big picture” for New Zealand because it is more holistic, with greater emphasis on developing capable, competent people and ultimately, contributing citizens. It seemed to teachers that it would enable students to be problem solvers and decision makers and to take ownership of their learning. Teachers felt generally that prominence in the document is given to preparing learners for the 21st century and that they should be confident, connected lifelong learners. They believed that development of well-rounded young people with values and a range of transferable skills will be important for a knowledge economy where most adults will have a range of careers in their lifetime. Their comments indicated they broadly supported the overall educational focus and high-level intent of the document. Although there was general agreement as to the overall direction of the curriculum, there was considerable variation within and between schools as to whether teachers and school leaders considered they were already well down the track designing approaches that fitted this intent or whether substantial transformation of school approaches to curriculum and pedagogy would be necessary.

Aligning vision and values to practice

Regardless of how discussions of NZC unfolded in the case study schools, a great deal of professional development was entailed in the conversations that took place. The key role played by school leaders in these processes of professional learning and interpretation is discussed in theme two. Initially such professional learning was typically cross-curricular in nature, with an emphasis on building a professional learning community amongst the staff. The nature of this professional learning is the subject of themes three and four of the report. The manner in which alignment between NZC and the current school vision, values, and practices was understood and acted on is discussed in themes five and six.

The further development of integrated and inquiry learning approaches has been a key way in which many schools and teachers see they are able to enact the revised curriculum. The impetus for this development, discussed in theme six, aligns the idea of teachers as a learning community with the notion of the teacher and the class together as another, nested, learning community within the school. The importance of making and taking the considerable time needed for implementation is the theme of theme seven. Finally, we report on involvement of parents, whānau and the wider community in theme eight.

Published on: 30 Mar 2009


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