English in Aotearoa Editorial – What new curriculum?
By Claire Amos
In August 2009 The Education Gazette spoke to New Zealand Curriculum project manager Chris Arcus, to find out what schools needed to know about the NZC at this stage. When asked where schools need to be by February 2010 his answer was this, “All schools need to do a couple of things – they need to design and implement a school curriculum and they need to teach using an evidence based inquiry cycle that informs what they do and monitors the impact of those decisions.”
It is nearly a year on since that statement was made and many of us have been “implementing” the NZC for some time now. Whilst we might feel we have been very busy implementing, how well and how authentically we are doing so is hard to measure.
In the junior school, implementation may have involved a review and maybe even a redesign of Junior English programmes. It may have included consideration and even integration of values and/or key competencies, for others it might simply have taken the form of adopting unit planner templates that incorporate the language of the NZC. Then along came the aligned Achievement Standards -
galloping on horse back over the educational horizon to rescue our senior school. Out with the old standards, in with new, and hey presto, the NZC will be magically implemented...or will it? Are our students even aware of any change, or are they asking – what new curriculum?
Okay, so this is an unfair and rash summary of our many and varied approaches to implementing the NZC. It does, however, raise some very genuine issues around approaches to implementation and in particular the differing approaches we tend to adopt when looking to integrate the NZC into the junior school versus the senior school. With national qualifications generally out of the picture in Year 9 and Year 10 it would seem we are more likely to take a “principled” approach to NZC implementation. It is almost as if the lack of formal national assessment frees us to focus on the “front end” of the NZC. Without NCEA in the picture we can allow principles, values and key competencies to come into focus and in some cases even form a structure or framework for our programme design. The implementation of the NZC in the junior school, it would seem, is more likely to be explicit, with the values and key competencies being highlighted in the classroom, being referred to by the students and in some cases even being assessed and reported on.
However when we hit Year 11 and NCEA comes trotting into view, an interesting thing happens. The “front end” of the NZC seems to diminish or in some cases even disappear from the picture altogether. Instead NCEA now provides the framework and structure for our programme design. Achievement Standards (or a combination there of) replace values and key competencies. Whilst this is a rather harsh generalisation, when it comes to senior programme design it is hard to argue the fact that assessment comes to the forefront and the principles of the NZC (values and competencies) seem to be thrust to the background or erased altogether. You may argue that the “front end” of the NZC is still implicit in your planning. But is it? Really?
Attitudes and approaches to NZC implementation could be seen as falling into four areas, or what I refer to as the quartiles of curriculum implementation. Consider any one course that you teach. Would you describe your approach to implementation as explicit or implicit? Have you focused on the “front end” or the “back end” of the NZC document? Have you considered all aspects of the NZC in both your junior and senior programmes?
So what is the right approach? Is there even a “right” approach? I guess only time will tell.
But of course, things have changed. Or have they?
So seven years on from implementation, where are we?
Firstly, the document itself has stood the test of time. The NZC document remains a world leader in future-focused, creative, innovative and delightfully permissive curriculum design. It balances the what Jane Gilbert labelled as the Traditionalist (Knowledge) with the Progressivist (student centred), i.e. the stuff at the back (learning areas and achievement objectives) is offset by the brilliant stuff at the front (key competencies, principles, pedagogy etc). In many ways we have made excellent progress.
However my key concern after listening to a number of awesome educators who have coherently implemented the curriculum is, I believe, we have a situation. A major situation.
More precisely, IMO, we are have a gaping freakin' chasm.
On one hand we have many educators and schools who have indeed implemented the curriculum coherently. These leaders are what I would describe as truely ethical school leaders. School leaders driven by a moral purpose who have determined that they would address the whole curriculum, even when they may feel that the government really only demands them to deliver National Standards and/or NCEA Level Two results. Leaders such as my own, Maurie Abraham, leading a reimagining of the secondary experience at HPSS, Barbara Cavanagh exemplifying the power of Impact Projects at ASHS, Sheryll Ofner who helped Selwyn College become 'SELWISE', Sarah Martin of Stonefields School and Russell Burt leading into the future at Pt England School. This list goes on, each and every leader I have worked with other the last two days had "it" in spades. A desire to genuinely put the needs of the learner ahead of the seemingly overwhelming demand for data, data, data and results.
On the other hand, we have the rest. The schools and leaders who have stayed with 'traditionalist' approaches and have either addressed the 'progressivist' stuff through lip service...or not at all. These are the schools who are either so weighed down by the demands of meeting achievement targets, they can't see past them (these people need our support), or more infuriating we have the oft described "top schools" who meet the achievement targets with ease and seem to coast along resting on the laurels of a high decile rating, bulging school roll and top of leaderboard/Metro magazine placing. And the worst thing is, there seems be little challenging their *hands clasped behind head, feet up on the desk* position. Goddam people. That is bloody disappointing.
So what can we do?
Many ideas were discussed and shared over the last two days. Note - not everyone may view the situation quite as I do. People agreed on one thing though - our curriculum is kickass. Let's just ensure we make the most of it.
Many suggested the need to amplify and share the success stories.
School leaders were continuously seen as the solution...and the problem. Ethical, proactive leaders are doing it. Others are not. How do we address this?
There was discussion about the need to address Principal appointment processes - self-managing schools make their own appointments. This means Boards of Trustees (who we must remember are simply a group of interested parents) are entrusted to appoint their leaders. Do they understand what a future focused leader looks like? Or do they look to the past, to the leader that they looked up to in a different time, thereby perpetuating an industrial model of leadership? Do we need to ensure there is a mechanism that ensures an educational expert is involved?
Another issue raised was the lack of Principal support and development. Do we need an apprenticeship model or something ongoing that looks beyond the First-time Principals Programme? What happens after that?
What about Principal appraisal? Does there need to be something that is nationally managed to ensure a consistent standard and make it possible for intervention and support to be more effectively introduced? Forget the National Aspiring Principals Programme, maybe we need the National Appraisal of Principals Project instead?
Do we need more specific standards for Principals? Standards that clearly demonstrate the 'principles in practice' required to implement a coherent future-focused, localised curriculum in every school.
And what about a Curriculum Leaders Institute that recognise Master Educators, think the educational equivalent of a Master Builders guild. Giving a recognised status to those leading the way.
One thing that everyone agreed on, was the need to (re)start a national conversation. The NZC, not National Standards, NCEA or decile ratings, the purpose of the curriculum needs to be at the heart of a robust national conversation. Are we there yet? If not, why not? And what are going to do to rectify the situation? Here's hoping, if nothing else, this excellent NZC think tank is the beginning of that...and much much more.
Thank you to the MoE for an excellent couple of days.