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Key competencies and learning areas at Hauraki Plains College

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Staff at Hauraki Plains College have included the key competencies in their planning. In addition, they have looked at ways to make connections across learning areas, while preserving the integrity of each discipline.

Professional learning conversations

These questions and suggested actions encourage you to reflect on your own school context.

Key competencies

The New Zealand Curriculum (p12) states:

"More complex than skills, the competencies draw also on knowledge, attitudes, and values in ways that lead to action. They are not separate or stand-alone. They are the key to learning in every learning area."

  • Are there shared understandings in your school about what effective practice for key competencies looks like? How are these expressed?
  • What might you observe students experiencing or doing in a key-competencies rich programme?
  • In what ways do you feedback to students and parents about student competencies?

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Key competency planners
The inclusion of key competencies on planning templates is a common strategy used by teachersThis discussion tool highlights some of the benefits and risks of key competency planning templates, and suggests some possibilities for consideration.


Once as a staff we had looked more generically at the key competencies we started to look at how they would look in our own learning areas. Each department looked at the information in the document and asked how it would apply in their learning area. It took several months to come to grips with that. We developed a planning template so the key competencies are to the fore in the unit planning in terms of how it would look in a particular learning area.

The next step from was to look at how the key competencies mapped across all curriculum areas and that is when we started dabbling with curriculum mapping. Initially we looked at knowledge, skills, and vocabulary and what the common factors were and we have since added the key competencies. The next step is to make that accessible for staff so they can see links and have learning conversations with other staff looking at how they can forge some strong links across curriculum areas.

What we found from the curriculum mapping across learning area is it means learning areas can connect up and see where they can be more effective in terms of their teaching. It is a type of integration but also preserves the integrity of each learning area. This is really important in a secondary context. 

We have found that by starting with the big idea from our charter and each team saying how does that big idea fit with the achievement objectives of the new curriculum, gave a really good starting point. With Jamie McTighe’s concept of “Understanding by design” the key competencies fell naturally out of the achievement objectives. I have heard a lot of comments from our teachers that they are finding it makes sense. The key competencies are not a tack on but fall naturally from the achievement objectives of the curriculum document. And from there the assessment also falls out of that. We have found that it is beginning to have a coherence. At the start it was awkward because it was a different way of planning. But now it is a way of integrating the key competencies into our unit planning without feeling that it has just been tacked on at the end. 

The next step from there was reporting to parents and assessment. We structured the reporting template around the key competencies. We are reporting to parents under the key competencies. This has made a huge different to student learning. It has been a way of communicating with our community about what these key competencies are. Of course the next step is to ask students to reflect on where they are at in terms of the key competencies so they are beginning to think about the importance of them in their learning journeys. 

By reporting under the key competencies it has forced us as teachers to ask what they mean and break them down. What do they look like? It helps our parents, teachers and students understand what they are about.  

The key competencies are powerful ways of understanding our own development as people. I can see there is more and more talk about ourselves as adults developing in the key competencies and how important that is too.

Updated on: 17 Jun 2009