Principals support teachers to design curriculum

Issue: Volume 98, Number 6

Posted: 8 April 2019
Reference #: 1H9swW

Schools that are innovative in designing a local curriculum often have principals who are active in supporting teachers’ work in the classroom, an ERO report has found.

Children told ERO they were motivated because teachers always made their learning come to life.

Principals are most effective when they provide clarity to teachers’ thinking as they design rich learning opportunities, a recent ERO report states.

ERO focuses on good practice examples for curriculum design in the report, to showcase how the innovative approaches of some schools help children engage in learning. The report, Keeping children engaged and achieving through rich curriculum inquiries, was released late last year.

ERO Chief Review Officer Nicholas Pole says, “ERO has highlighted five schools that exemplify how being innovative with curriculum design – taking into account the culture, interests and potential of a school’s students – can equip young people to enjoy future success.

“Including aspects into the curriculum that are particularly significant to school communities helps ensure that learning has meaning for students, and is supported by their families and the wider community.”

In each of the case studies, principals and school leaders were found to play key roles in planning, coordinating and reviewing the school’s curriculum on an ongoing basis.

ERO focused on curriculum design as findings from the past decade show school leaders and teachers need to be supported to embrace the “permissive nature and intent” of The New Zealand Curriculum – and implement a curriculum tailored to their students’ needs. The principal function of The New Zealand Curriculum is to set the direction for student learning and to provide guidance for schools as they design and review their own (local) curriculum.

The report shares some of the strategies and approaches used by five schools of the 40 primary schools from a sample with rolls of more than 200 – chosen because of increased numbers of students achieving at or above curriculum expectations in reading and writing or mathematics (or both), as they moved through Year 4 to Year 5. The report is the latest in a series by ERO on ‘Teaching strategies that work’.


Alfriston School, Manurewa, Auckland

Integrating science learning with the planning and preparation for the school production was one way in which Alfriston School changed how its curriculum was designed.

Changes were deliberately introduced to make sure the integrated curriculum covered all the science learning area strands of The New Zealand Curriculum – including a whole-term topic combining science learning with the annual school production, which in 2016 was The Lion King Junior.

Teachers wanted to transfer the success the students experienced while learning during the production to other curriculum areas.

Topic planning changed from teachers working in isolation to working collaboratively, and observing others’ teaching practice. Not only were teachers then able to appreciate how their colleagues implemented science investigations, but they were also able to work alongside and experience the capabilities of children in other year levels.

Teachers brainstormed links between the production and possible science investigations and divided all the ideas from the production into the strands from the science curriculum.

Students from different year groups were grouped together in classes, with each focusing on one of the following strands:

  • Physical world.
  • Material world.
  • Living world.
  • Planet Earth and beyond.

Older students said working with the younger children improved their own learning, while teachers found their roles morphing from teachers of content to teachers of learning.

A parent open day near the end of term also gave students the opportunity to share what they had learnt.


Somerfield Te Kura Wairepo, Christchurch

Somerfield Te Kura Wairepo students get outdoors to appreciate history, including visits to the site of the first Kaiapoi Pā.

The principals and board trustees are proactive at Somerfield Te Kura Wairepo about improving the way the school develops students’ understanding of their local history to promote deep learning.

Two major changes in the way the curriculum is designed have been introduced to give children ongoing opportunities to learn about their local history and express their identities.

Leaders, including trustees and teachers, began working with a cluster of schools to learn from each other and share the way they taught te reo, me ōna tikanga and kaupapa Māori.

Teachers took time to find out their own histories and learned to express them in hui, mihi and pepeha. This helped them prepare units of work and activities in contexts Māori students could relate to. Children told ERO they were aware their teachers were learning alongside them.

The school introduced place-based topics – intended to balance local history with learning about science, social studies and technology. Students visit sites annually in their year groups – ranging from the Ōpāwaho River, to the volcanic activity that formed Lyttelton Harbour, and the establishment of Tuahiwi Marae, the movements of Ngāi Tahu and the Tūāhuriri hapū, and the construction and rich history of the Maahunui meeting house.

ERO learned that the school’s local area curriculum was fully shared and discussed at whānau hui held at least twice a year. Whānau also helped to increase the provision of te reo Māori by offering an extension programme that was well attended.

The second change in the approach to its curriculum design was that the school’s cluster worked together in professional learning and development projects, including Michael Fullan’s New Pedagogies for Deep Learning. The Kahukura cluster worked with CORE and other jurisdictions on this project. The partnership aimed to foster these new pedagogies in each school and leverage the power of digital technologies.

To promote a more responsive curriculum, school leaders also moved away from having a three year plan in curriculum areas – allowing them to better respond to the changing interests, strengths and needs of the students.


Sylvia Park School, Mount Wellington, Auckland

Sylvia Park School students experienced the events of WW1 during the centenary year.

At Sylvia Park School, engaging inquiry topics have helped to achieve the vision of both the school and The New Zealand Curriculum – that students understand and contribute to a changing society. Parents told ERO they believed children were achieving because of these relevant, contextual inquiries – in which the whole school engages each term.

The topics were often planned to incorporate major events happening in the local community, New Zealand, or worldwide – such as the Parliamentary General Elections, referendums, natural disasters, or the Olympics.

Teachers also planned other class topics to make sure children had opportunities to explore the arts, science, environmental and social issues. 

The Centenary of World War 1 was one broad-ranging inquiry, planned and monitored by teams of teachers and learners. School leaders asked teachers to push the boundaries by giving children opportunities they might not normally have considered. Teachers also sought to increase the children’s knowledge of events from the histories of their own families. As many of the students are either Māori or Pasifika, a focus was included on the contribution of the Māori Battalion and events in the Pacific Islands.

Students contributed their ideas about what they would like to learn, and were encouraged to consider the inquiry statement: Learning from our past to lead the future – E puta ki taiaatea!

The ideas were sorted into groups of questions that children later worked in inquiry groups to research further.

These included:

  • Why did Māori men think they should fight for the King of England?
  • How long is a trench?
  • Why didn’t girls get conscripted?
  • How many Turkish people died?
  • Where did influenza come from?

Activities were planned to allow children to learn about events and then link these to their own lives. Some of the learning activities for Years 5 and 6 included:

  • looking at the language used in posters to control people’s behaviour
  • developing a timeline of a child’s life, before investigating a timeline of the war
  • discussing and agreeing to their own class treaty.

Children told ERO they were motivated because teachers always made their learning come to life. The staffroom and one classroom were turned into Camp Gallipoli, with trenches to show what cramped living conditions soldiers had endured. Students stayed overnight before going to the dawn service, and made diary entries, ate hardtack and Anzac biscuits, and played games popular with children during the war.

Not only did the students investigate and immerse themselves in the events of World War 1 during the inquiry, but they also explored their own roles in dealing with conflict.


The Leading Local Curriculum Guide series(external link) is now available for schools to use. It is a practical resource full of activities and real-life examples to support curriculum leaders.

The guides are part of a package of local curriculum support including workshops and tools.

For more information, go to Leading Local Curriculum Guide(external link) series or email

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 9:24 am, 8 April 2019

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