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This section draws together research, digital resources, and examples to support schools as they consider the coherence principle.

About the coherence principle

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 New Zealand Curriculum, p. 9

The coherence principle is one of eight principles in The New Zealand Curriculum that provide a foundation for schools' decision making. Connections, transitions, and pathways are important components of this principle.

What does coherence look like in schools?

In 2011 the Education Review Office gathered data from over 200 schools to evaluate the extent to which the principles of The New Zealand Curriculum were evident in the interpretation and implementation of schools’ curricula. The resulting 2012 ERO report describes how the coherence principle was enacted in schools. You can use these descriptors to help you develop a deeper understanding of coherence and to reflect on coherence in your own school context.

In primary schools where coherence was strongly evident:

  • students were provided with clear learning pathways and progressions that allowed for a smooth transition into and through the school, and on to intermediate or secondary school 
  • there was a consistency of practice across the school, including moderation of assessment practices, a common language of learning and shared planning 
  • classroom teachers ascertained students’ prior learning and experience and established links to this 
  • an effective curriculum tracking system was used to monitor the learning of individuals and groups 
  • cross-curricular links were made, often through an inquiry-based approach to teaching and learning – this was sometimes reinforced by using the key competencies to provide an integrated focus across curriculum areas.

In secondary schools where coherence was strongly evident:

  • individual student’s learning pathways were clearly documented and monitored by the careers department throughout the student’s time at secondary school
  • students were appropriately supported to meet learning goals included in their individual careers/education plans
  • a dean followed a year group through their time at secondary school to foster a coherent approach to knowing and meeting students’ needs
  • all teachers of a particular class met regularly to coordinate their approach for individual learners
  • homeroom teachers at years 9 and 10 provided an integrated approach to curriculum delivery
  • teachers worked together to plan and implement an across-the-curriculum literacy focus or cross-curricular learning units.

Related research and readings


Supporting Future-Oriented Learning and Teaching – A New Zealand Perspective
This research report draws together findings from new data and more than 10 years of research on current practice and futures-thinking in education. Chapter five explores a 21st century view of curriculum and advocates that today's learners need good skills in mediating, translating, and moving between different disciplines.

Building Conceptual Understandings in the Social Sciences – Approaches to Building Conceptual Understandings
This book provides ideas and examples of how teachers can build learners’ understanding of key social sciences concepts at levels 1–5 of the curriculum. It explains how concepts can provide a powerful tool for learning across curriculum areas as students construct networks of connected knowledge around powerful ideas.

NZC Update 9 – Effective learning pathways
The case studies in this Update illustrate some of the ways in which teachers plan collaboratively, make links within and across learning areas, and align expectations.


Literature Review: Transition from Early Childhood Education to School (PDF 2.68 MB)
This 2010 literature review focuses on what successful transitions to school look like, the factors that play a role in how well children transition from ECE to school, and the ways in which children can be supported to transition as successfully as possible.

Evaluation at a Glance: Transitions from Primary to Secondary School (published 10/12/2012)
This national report combines current research with findings from recent ERO reports about students' transitions between and through schools. The report discusses the important pastoral care and learning support processes needed for successful transitions.

Easing the Transition from Primary to Secondary Schooling: Helpful Information for Schools to Consider (published 30/10/2012)
This report is the last in a series of three. Each report presents findings from a Ministry of Education project "A Study of Students' Transition from Primary to Secondary Schooling".


Secondary Schools: Pathways for future education, training and employment (published 25/06/2013)
This report follows on from ERO’s 2012 report on careers education, Careers Information, Advice, Guidance and Education (CIAGE) in Secondary Schools. This second report investigates how well 74 secondary schools have prepared their students for future opportunities in education, training, and employment.

Towards equitable outcomes in secondary schools: Good practice (published 29/5/2014)
This report presents examples of good practice in student engagement and achievement. The examples describe how teaching staff respond to individual students’ strengths and needs, and how students are supported to set goals and establish suitable pathways towards meaningful qualifications.

"If students’ learning opportunities are integrated and cumulative, rather than fragmented and rushed, learners are more likely to be engaged and successful."

Robinson, V. (2011). Student Centred Leadership. San Francisco: Jossey Boss.

Next – Getting started with the coherence principle

Updated on: 20 May 2019