The National Party’s new education policy, including the broad strokes of a primary-level education curriculum rewrite, drew a lot of reaction and commentary in the immediate aftermath of the announcement.
With the dust settling I can offer some considered insights from the perspective of a major global education provider.
Read the Term 1 edition of School News HERE.
Curriculum reviews or rewrites are in concept nothing to be wary of; we frequently review our
programmes to make sure they meet the needs of our schools, teachers and learners and
reflect current educational research. Cambridge’s own new curriculum review precedes the
introduction of an updated syllabus for IGCSE Mathematics in 2024.
However, rewrites must be well-informed, and in developing our own curriculum we set out
evidence-based principles relating to the quality and impact of education in the early years of
The principles, taken together, indicate that investment in education and attention to
outcomes needs to be evenly weighted across the schooling years, so students have the
capability and skills to fully engage with curricula at every stage. The principles underpin
some key considerations for any future rewrite:
What international best practice looks like.
Globally, best practice in education starts with getting the foundations right – creating the
conditions to develop numeracy and literacy skills from an early age to master the
fundamentals, then build on them and be able to revisit what they have learned. If the
foundations are strong, the rest should follow, and it is easier to identify and address gaps as
a learner grows and progresses through school. Changing the curriculum at secondary
school level, without aligning these higher qualifications with the curricula at the lower
stages, will be disjointed; gaps in learning may appear or existing gaps go unaddressed.
Spiral learning – a teaching method based on the premise that a student learns more about
a subject each time the topic is reviewed or revisited – is important.
The importance of pastoral care for students – and teachers.
The Northland co-ed school Huanui College has won 22 academic awards since 2016. The school considers pastoral care to be as essential as academic achievement. The Whānau Leader at the school, Carolyn Evans, says the teaching and admin staff are an extension of the families of students. “It’s not just about grades – it’s about how they’re feeling, taking care of them and making sure they are safe,
and that they’re making good choices. We have a counselling service, we have a whānau
mentoring programme that’s pretty special. Everyone has a mentor at Huanui College,
Equally, there is strong evidence that supporting teachers’ professional development
improves outcomes for students. Teachers seeking to master a particular subject, or
transform their approach to teaching with courses on specific skills or concepts like active
learning, metacognition, and the inclusive classroom, should be empowered make these
professional advancements for the betterment of themselves and their students.
The role of whānau.
Our experience is that no matter the learner’s background or location, or whether they’re
learning in person or online, parents and caregivers like data and feedback about what their
children are learning and how they are coping at school. However, there’s danger in placing
too much emphasis on records and reports that compare students with other students.
Students and families may focus on their position and grade rather than where they can
improve; for instance, the highest-placed student may think they are doing very well when in
fact they may have great ability and could do much better. It is important to have a robust
system to track and measure students’ knowledge, skills, and attitudes, to set realistic and
motivational targets, and to focus on progress.
Testing and teaching need not compete with one another.
There is a view that testing can get in the way of teaching or absorb too much of teachers’
time. In fact, there are methods of digital assessment designed for use alongside ongoing
observational assessment in the classroom – one such tool covers early literacy, early
numeracy, and personal, social, and emotional development. There are checkpoint tests for
primary and lower secondary levels which assess student attainment in English, Mathematics and Science; these produce feedback reports at a school and individual learner
And educational resources must be comprehensive – everything from print to digital books,
guides and services for teachers and students – so teachers can focus on teaching.
There is precedent for public sector alignment with established private sector
educational performance. In some countries (Singapore, Mauritius, Brunei, the Maldives, and the Seychelles, among others), Cambridge partners with the national examination body to set the curriculum and provide assessments for students in public sector schools.
Such models can be adapted for the New Zealand context so that the rewriting of curriculum
– a specialist skill in itself – and the assessment process can bring together government
oversight, public sector provision, and private sector expertise to create a high-achieving
education system for students, teachers, and schools.
This op-ed has been lightly edited for commercial content.