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The information below is an excerpt from a briefing paper by the Ministry of Education on the education reforms known as ‘Tomorrow’s Schools’ and the significant changes in the education system from 1988 until today. 

Read full version of Tomorrow’s Schools Review: Background paper [PDF, 356KB]

Read the background briefing note prepared for the Minister of Education for a review of Tomorrow’s Schools [PDF, 6.7MB]

Significant education reforms | Ngā whakatikatika ā-mātauranga nui

School boards | Ngā Poari Kaitiaki

The ‘Tomorrow’s Schools’ reforms introduced parental elected school boards to bring parents’ input to school governance and give them a way to influence their children’s education. Boards are responsible for a range of duties including staff employment and principal appointment, use of staffing and funding, school property management, and oversight of the education of all students.

Lack of equity and diversity on boards are key challenges and there are barriers that limit participation. These include the time commitment required, the cultural responsiveness of board processes, and the level of knowledge needed.

Accountability | Kawenga Takohanga

The reforms set out accountability mechanisms including regular Education Review Office (ERO) reviews focusing on finance, management and curriculum. Schools are also required to produce a charter and to account to their communities on the achievement of charter objectives. Annual audited reports, Board elections, and ERO reviews were designed to support accountability for the achievement of these objectives.

Government Agencies | Ngā Tari Kāwanatanga

A number of new entities were created at the national level, some of these have since been disestablished and their functions returned to the Ministry for Education: the Special Education Service and the Parent Advocacy Council (which was intended to be a forum for parents to raise and address issues).

  • The Education Review Office (ERO) evaluates and reports on the education and care of children and young people in early childhood services and schools.
  • The New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) administers NCEA and is responsible for the quality assurance of non-university tertiary training providers.
  • The Teachers’ Registration Board (now known as the Education Council); the professional organisation for teachers responsible for the Code of Professional Responsibility and Standards for the Teaching Profession.
  • The Ministry of Education has a range of responsibilities, from providing advice to Government and administrating Votes Education and Tertiary Education, through to supporting educators and directly providing learning support services.

Inclusion of diverse learners | Te whakauru mai i ngā ākonga kanorau

Equity was one of the principles behind ‘Tomorrow’s Schools’, however it assumed this would occur through the changes introduced and through increased parental involvement.

Parents could request that their children receive instruction in te reo Māori and there was also the option of home-schooling or establishing their own school. Kura kaupapa, Māori medium schools, were recognised in the Education Act in 1989. Most Māori learners are within English medium schools, but Māori medium education increases the ability of the system to deliver for Māori learners, their families, whānau and iwi.

Learning support and disability services are provided by early learning services, schools, the Ministry, and a range of other organisations to strengthen teaching and learning for all learners. This includes the provision of targeted and specialist support. The Ministry is responsible for funding eligibility and policy settings for learning supports.

There is increased demand for learning and disability support, compounded by growth in the school age population, earlier identification of needs, and increased participation in early childhood education. Feedback from parents, whānau and young people, and the education sector, indicated that the approach to providing learning support was too complicated, with hurdles to getting the right support.

Schooling | Ngā mahi kura

The reforms touched lightly on student wellbeing. There is now increased understanding of this as key to learning, with closer liaison with social agencies to support this. With rising unemployment and a changing labour market there has been a strong impetus to develop other pathways from school to employment. The introduction of NCEA has placed a broader focus on the achievement of all students. In addition, more pathways for students into tertiary study have been introduced. There is also greater emphasis on lifelong learning and improving transitions to employment and further study.

Devolution introduced by the reforms intensified competition between schools as parents and schools took advantages of the choice the system provided. Enrolment schemes moved from covering a number of schools to schemes for individual schools. In 2000, legislation returned to the original concept of a home zone and a ballot for out-of-zone students.

The decile system was introduced, with higher levels of funding and resources distributed to schools with higher proportions of lower socio-economic status students. Decile ratings have been used as a proxy for quality, despite being an inaccurate way to judge this. Enrolment numbers of decile 1-2 schools have declined, impacting funding.

Teaching and leadership | Te whakaako me te kaihautūtanga

The reforms did not raise issues of teacher quality. Schools have authority to hire their own teachers, and design and deliver their own curriculum. Schools and kura with students with learning challenges do not necessarily have the quality of teachers and leadership they need. In addition, the role of the principal now included a range of administrative responsibilities. This has led to a higher workload for some principals.

Quality teaching has the biggest in-school impact on student outcomes, and addressing the variability in teaching practice is a focus. Current approaches include designing learning programmes that meet the needs of all students; culturally responsive teaching (supported by professional development programmes); and the use of data and information to plan next learning steps for students, classes and schools.

Despite our shifts toward more inclusiveness, low expectations have persisted as a result of conscious and unconscious bias, particularly for Māori and Pacific learners.

There were changes to centrally funded Professional Learning and Development and the introduction of a Student Achievement Function within Ministry of Education regional offices to provide some schools and kura with direct support.

Communities of Learning | Kāhui Ako is a recent major initiative to encourage teachers and leaders to work collaboratively to raise achievement by sharing expertise in teaching and learning and supporting each other.

Curriculum | Marautanga

The New Zealand Curriculum is the official framework for all English-medium state (including state-integrated) schools and covers Year 1–13. It has a holistic view of the abilities and skills we want children and young people to develop.

Te Marautanga o Aotearoa is used to design teaching and learning programmes in Māori medium kura, wharekura and other settings, where at least 51% of the curriculum is taught in te reo Māori. It aims to develop successful learners with the skills and knowledge to contribute to the Māori society and the wider world. It was developed and written in te reo Māori and is not a translation of The New Zealand Curriculum.