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Key competencies

Ko te mahi nui a ngā pūkenga matua ā-ipurangi ko te tautoko i ngā kaiwhakahaere me ngā pouako ki te whakataki, ki te whakawhanake hoki i tō rātou māramatanga ki te hira nui o aua pūkenga matua mō ngā ākonga.

Supporting school leaders and teachers as they introduce and deepen their understanding of key competencies for learners.

How the key competencies developed and evolved

PDF icon. How the key competencies were developed: The evidence base (PDF, 2 MB)

PDF icon. How the key competencies evolved over time: Insights from the research (PDF, 2 MB)

These papers were developed to make clear the evidence base and intent of the key competencies, and provide a view of current practice to help inform discussions at key education events in 2018.

Key competencies and effective pedagogy

The key competencies and effective pedagogy project undertaken by NZCER and University of Waikato helps schools audit their progress with integrating the five key competencies into all learning programmes. Example units and lessons are included.

About the key competencies

Key competencies are the capabilities people have, and need to develop, to live and learn today and in the future.

The New Zealand Curriculum identifies five key competencies:

  • Thinking
  • Relating to others
  • Using language, symbols, and texts
  • Managing self
  • Participating and contributing

This video of Mary Chamberlain, Ministry of Education, provides a brief description of the key competencies, explaining their importance for employment and personal well-being. (Duration 0.33)

Things we need to know about key competencies

Key competencies encompass knowledge, skills, attitudes, and values.

Key competencies work together and influence each other.

Key competencies require teachers to notice not just what students are learning, but how they are learning and their capacity to continue learning.

Key competencies are demonstrated in performance – they require action.

Key competencies are complex and changing – they will look different in different contexts, and will be developed through opportunities to use them in increasingly wide-ranging and complex contexts.

Key competencies require teachers and learners to think about dispositions (tendencies or inclinations) to consider if students are ready and willing, as well as able, to learn.

Key competencies strengthen students’ capacity to participate in the world right now, rather than just prepare them to participate in the world at some time in the future.

Key competencies are not just a new name for the essential skills – they include skills, but also emphasise how skills relate to knowledge, attitudes, and values, and how skills can be used in interactions with others in various contexts.

Key competencies are not just for young people – students, teachers, leaders, parents, community members are all both teachers and learners.

Key competencies relate to all other aspects of the curriculum

View a text version of this diagram >>

Key competencies are aligned to the principles of the New Zealand Curriculum.

The key competencies draw on a range of values including the values of the New Zealand Curriculum.

Key competencies support young people in becoming confident, connected, actively involved, lifelong learners as described in the New Zealand Curriculum vision.

Key competencies should be embedded in learning in each of the learning areas.

Key competencies are supported by effective pedagogy.

Why do key competencies matter?

The key competencies take account of the vast changes in society, work, knowledge, and technology that have occurred since education systems were established.

Key competencies matter because things have changed. Since our education systems were first established there has been enormous change in the nature of societies, change in the nature of work, change in how knowledge is viewed, and change in technologies, to name just a few. Those changes, and the certainty of ongoing change, have implications for the kind of education our young people require, and the focus of the teaching and learning they experience. The key competencies take account of those changes – they put today’s students at the centre, and bring a future-focused perspective to teaching and learning.

In this video, Secretary for Education Karen Sewell explains the importance of building an education system that helps students learn how to learn and to manage the demands of a profoundly different world. (Duration 2:11)

Key competencies matter because they support dispositions that will enable young people to learn well now, and to go on learning throughout their lives. Margaret Carr explains that dispositions mean learners are ready, willing, and able:

Ready, willing, able.

It is no longer sufficient for students to merely acquire knowledge and master skills. Students need opportunities to develop their capability as users of knowledge and skills in wide-ranging contexts now and in the future. This requires attention not only to their recall of knowledge, or ability to perform particular skills, young people need to be capable at thinking, using language, symbols and texts, managing self, relating to others, and participating and contributing.

They also need to be capable of using those competencies in diverse contexts – at school, in the community, at home, with friends, with peers, in mathematics and statistics, in the arts, and other learning areas. They need to be both able, and inclined, to draw on knowledge, skills, attitudes, and values simultaneously as they interact with others in their learning and in all aspects of their lives.

Key competencies in the New Zealand Curriculum

Key competencies matter because they support the lifelong learning emphasis in the NZC:

A vision about students as 'lifelong learners'

Principles of 'learning to learn' 'coherence... further learning' and 'future focus' to underpin curriculum

The value 'innovation, inquiry, and curiosity'

Learning areas that emphasise participation beyond school

Key competencies and the National Standards

The National Standards signpost the knowledge and skills students need to fully engage with the curriculum at an appropriate level.

Teachers are supported with resources to help exemplify learning and monitor student achievement across a range of curriculum contexts.

Literacy, numeracy, and key competencies

Competency in literacy and numeracy in both English-medium and Māori-medium classrooms is critical to engage with increasingly complex texts and tasks.

Through being literate and numerate citizens, students are able to manage and influence the social, emotional, physical, and economic contexts that shape their lives, and the lives of others.

The New Zealand Curriculum key competencies are about developing the dispositions and sense of agency that not only empower the individual but help them better understand and negotiate the perspectives and values of others, contributing towards more productive and inclusive workplaces and societies.

"I like the way the NZC and the National Standards frame the key competencies. I think that placing the child as central to the concept is a critical position to take."

Literacy Adviser

In literacy and numeracy contexts, the key competencies provide a framework for exploring and developing knowledge, skills and attitudes. As well as 'using language, symbols and texts', these include aspects of critical literacy, mathematical thinking, perseverance in problem-solving, resilience in adversity, and collaborating with others to achieve common goals.

In most contexts the key competencies will be at play. A teacher may focus on developing one or more aspects of a key competency in a teaching and learning situation that provides ideal learning opportunities.

Emergent and developing understandings – concept diagrams

The diagrams place the eight learning areas first. This is to reinforce that there are rich opportunities for developing literacy and numeracy skills and understandings across the curriculum.

The key competencies are placed in the centre of the diagram. They are overlapping to reinforce that they should not be seen as a discrete list and are necessarily interrelated.

Under each competency there are important literacy and numeracy concepts that need to be developed. The language used describes learner capabilities that could apply to adults as well as children. Teachers may wish to rephrase them slightly to be accessible to the diverse students they work with.

"I think these key competency diagrams are really helpful for teachers. The concept diagrams support teachers to use the key competencies in their planning, teaching, learning, and reflecting processes. They are clear and user friendly to help teachers gain confidence and scaffold the integration of key competencies into our literacy and numeracy programmes."

Teacher, Year 5/6

Diagram 1: Emergent understandings

This diagram relates to the early school years and aligns with National Standards for year 1 (end of) to year 3.

PDF icon. Diagram 1 Emergent understandings (PDF, 426 KB)

Diagram 2: Developing understandings

This diagram builds on many of these concepts and aligns with the year 4–8 National Standards.

It is important to recognise that students will be developing knowledge, skills, and attitudes at different times, and have different strengths and needs. Therefore, both diagrams may be useful for any one student group.

PDF icon. Diagram 2 Developing understandings (PDF, 1 MB)

"What a great base for teachers to use in making the key competencies explicit to students. The difference in wording between the junior and senior version allows teachers to see how the key competencies are exemplified in increasingly complex ways but are accessible regardless of the year level."

Numeracy Adviser

Unit planning using the concepts

Download possible approaches to unit planning using the concepts.

Science table preview.

PDF icon. Unit planning table 1: Science and the key competencies (PDF, 73 KB)

Social studies table preview.

PDF icon. Unit planning table 2: Social studies/Arts and the key competencies (PDF, 72 KB)


NZC - National Standards
Resources to support schools as they begin using the National Standards.

Educational Leaders – National Standards: leadership links
Links to information and tools that support school leaders to lead the implementation of the National Standards.

Published on: 04 Apr 2014