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Setting the direction

Setting the direction provides guidance on what should be driving curriculum change at your school. It is a useful section for schools wanting to establish needs and priorities for the curriculum design and review process.

What is the intent of the New Zealand Curriculum?

Know the curriculum.

The NZC states (p 37):

Curriculum design and review requires a clear understanding of the intentions of The New Zealand Curriculum.

The New Zealand Curriculum is a framework within which schools develop the detail for programmes and approaches to learning to address the particular needs, interests, and circumstances of the school’s students and community. Individual schools will shape and present their curriculum in ways that reflect their priorities, intentions, preferences, ideas, and understandings.

Some schools will emphasise integrated or inquiry approaches to teaching and learning, whereas others might choose to give individual areas their own distinct place and focus. Some will fuse values, key competencies, and learning areas together at every point, while others might give separate treatment to particular aspects.

What is important is that all elements of The New Zealand Curriculum are woven together to create a coherent whole to ensure the needs of all learners are met.

"I see the curriculum as really just the bones and what schools have to do is put the meat around them, the muscles, and then get the heart pumping."

Principal, primary

"The beauty of it is you can’t pinpoint an exact look in the classroom because it allows schools to have a lot more autonomy in how they put their curriculum together and a lot more freedom – inserting the needs of the individual students ... if you went into a classroom what you should see is a curriculum that is suited to the actual students in that class."

Assistant principal, secondary

Tools you can use

What are your understandings about the directions set by the New Zealand Curriculum?

This tool focuses on features of the curriculum that are given emphasis. The questions are designed for small-group discussion and as prompts for action.

Vision – Confident, connected, actively involved, lifelong learners

The New Zealand Curriculum begins with an aspirational statement describing the kind of attributes and dispositions we want to see in the young people graduating from our schools.

What is your school vision for students?

How have students and others in the school community contributed to this vision?


The New Zealand Curriculum asks schools to be deliberate about values and prescribes a common but not exclusive core. Schools are also asked to be proactive in encouraging and modelling values and in giving students opportunities to explore values for themselves.

What steps could you take to gain greater shared ownership and commitment to your school values?

What learning opportunities do your students have to explore and demonstrate the school values?


The principles in The New Zealand Curriculum are the foundations of curriculum decision making. They are particularly relevant when planning, prioritising, or reviewing curriculum.

How has your school developed a shared understanding of the principles and what this means for teaching and learning?

Key competencies

The five key competencies combine a range of skills, knowledge, attitudes, and values that focus on developing dispositions for learning and for life. They are both means and end: people use the key competencies to further their learning and, through their learning, further develop the key competencies,

How do you nurture and develop the key competencies at your school?

How are you and your students monitoring development in the key competencies?


The section on pedagogy recognises that how we teach is part of what we teach. It provides a synthesis of the kinds of approaches that have been shown to consistently have a positive impact on student learning. It also provides a model (teaching as inquiry) that can help teachers conceptualise and improve their practice.

How do you support effective pedagogy at your school?

How has your school developed a shared understanding of effective pedagogy and what this means for teaching and learning?

Components of a school curriculum.

Components of a school curriculum
Some schools have found this chart helpful when they are thinking about what makes up a school curriculum.

Word 2007 icon. Components of a school curriculum (Word 2007, 762 KB)

Curriculum tool.

Implications for practice
This tool can be used to guide the process of aligning school curriculum with The New Zealand Curriculum. Schools that are well along the path to understanding the NZC may find this resource useful for a pause-and-reflect staff meeting.

PDF icon. Implications for practice (PDF, 1 MB)

School stories

NZC as a driver for curriculum change at St Hilda's Collegiate
Judy Maw, assistant principal and network learning facilitator, discusses the importance of looking at the curriculum as a holistic document. In this video, she explores The New Zealand Curriculum as a driver for curriculum change.

Willowbank curriculum map
Jane Danielson and Julie Cowan explain how exploring the curriculum was a mapping exercise at Willowbank School. The map analogy worked for them, because on a map you can go to different places, get to different points, take detours, and take different ways of travelling.

Find out more

Reviewing your curriculum – Possible pathways
This section provides research, tools, resources, and stories to support exploration of the following elements of The New Zealand Curriculum:

Setting the direction cogs. Leading change. Know your community. Know the curriculum. Know your learners.

Important considerations for curriculum design and review

Next – Know your community 

Published on: 18 Apr 2014