Enrolment, attendance, and the school system

The National Curriculum

What is a curriculum?

Education and Training Act 2020, s 90

The National Curriculum is the term used to refer to both The New Zealand Curriculum and Te Marautanga o Aotearoa. The New Zealand Curriculum (NZC) guides teaching and learning at English-medium schools. Te Marautanga o Aotearoa guides teaching and learning in Māori-medium kura and wharekura.

konga and have guiding principles to help when making decisions about what is taught. Several subjects (learning areas) and objectives are described, as well as key competencies and values that are woven into learning areas.

Who decides what is taught in schools?

Schools have a lot of flexibility to decide how to shape their own curriculum to fit the needs of their community. They should design the curriculum in partnership with their local community.

In the classroom, teachers decide how to tailor the curriculum to their students.

Te Marautanga o Aotearoa states that the Board, whānau and teachers should work together to develop a curriculum for the kura. Schools following Te Aho Matua will use that as the foundation for developing a curriculum. Kura ā-iwi will follow its own unique charter.

What are the compulsory subjects that my school must teach?

The New Zealand Curriculum sets out seven learning areas that are compulsory for students from years one to 10:

  • English
  • the arts (dance, drama, music/sound arts, visual arts)
  • health and physical education
  • mathematics and statistics
  • science
  • social sciences, and
  • technology.

All schools with students in years seven to 10 should also work towards offering their students the opportunity to learn languages other than English.

Aotearoa New Zealand histories, Te Takanga o te wā, will be taught from 2023.

Te Marautanga o Aotearoa is the curriculum for Māori-medium schools. English medium schools can also use Te Marautanga o Aotearoa to design teaching and learning programmes.

The nine learning areas (subjects) of Te Marautanga o Aotearoa are:

  • Pāngarau (Mathematics)
  • Putaiao (Science)
  • Hangarau (Technology)
  • Tikanga-ā-iwi (Social Sciences)
  • Ngā Toi (The Arts)
  • Hauora (Health and wellbeing)
  • Te Reo Māori (Māori language and literature)
  • Te Reo Pākehā (English language)
  • Ngā Reo (learning languages).

Aotearoa New Zealand histories, Te Takanga o te wā, will be taught from 2023.

Your school or kura should provide regular opportunities for your whānau to have their say on how the curriculum is taught. Talk to your teacher about how you can be involved.

Does my school have to offer swimming?

Yes. Swimming is part of the New Zealand Curriculum and it is expected that all students will have had opportunities to learn basic aquatic skills by the end of year six.

The Ministry of Education doesn’t fully fund school pools, but they do provide funding which can be used either to run and maintain a school swimming pool or for travel and entry to a public swimming pool. Schools may also want to explore the possibility of using another local school’s pool.

Does my school have to teach New Zealand history?

All schools must teach Aotearoa New Zealand histories by the start of 2023, although they can start earlier. At the start of 2023, it will be compulsory in years one to 10.

Te Takanga o Te Wā and the Aotearoa New Zealand histories curriculum guides are still being developed. It will be up to your school to develop a plan for teaching history to reflect the local area based on the curriculum. They should also speak to you and your whānau about what you would like to be taught.

The Ministry of Education’s draft curriculum for history has three main ideas that your teacher should be supporting you to understand. These are that:

  • Māori history is the foundational and continuously relevant history of Aotearoa New Zealand.
  • Colonisation and its consequences have been central to our history for the past 200 years and continue to influence all aspects of New Zealand society.
  • The course of Aotearoa New Zealand’s history has been shaped by the exercise and effects of power. Schools must also teach you about te Tiriti o Waitangi.

If your school is not teaching the updated history curriculum when it becomes compulsory, you can challenge them. You can also challenge the school if you believe the content is inaccurate or racist because this would break the standards set by the Ministry of Education and te Tiriti o Waitangi.

For help challenging the school, see “Raising concerns and making complaints“, and for more information about the schools responsibility to uphold Te Tiriti, see “Te Tiriti o Waitangi in schools

I think a teacher taught something inappropriate. What can I do?

Education and Training Act 2020, s 10, 491

If a teacher taught material that you think was inappropriate, it’s best to start by talking to the teacher, or a different teacher you trust, about your concerns. If you still have issues, you can follow the school’s general complaints process.

In some cases, inappropriate comments (for example, a teacher discussing their own genitals) are more serious and could be “serious misconduct”. In the Education and Training Act, “serious misconduct” includes behaviour by a teacher that:

  • negatively impacts your wellbeing or learning
  • reflects badly on their ability to teach safely.

When a teacher has behaved in a way that could be serious misconduct, the principal must tell the Teaching Council who will assess the situation. The Teaching Council can impose consequences. For more information, see “Can I take my complaint any further?” in the section “Teachers and staff

Exemption rules

Can I be excused from a class for religious or cultural reasons?

Education and Training Act 2020, s 50

Yes. If you’re under 16 then your parent or guardian can write to the principal at least 24 hours before the class and ask for you to be released. If you’re over 16 you can ask the principal without parent or guardian permission.

Then principal can excuse you if:

  • they’re satisfied you, or your parents or guardians, have sincerely held religious or cultural views, and
  • you’ll be properly supervised while you’re out of class, either at school or outside school.

This right doesn’t apply to integrated schools. See “Integrated (formerly private) schools

Can my parent or guardian stop me from going to a class?

Education and Training Act 2020, s 50(6)

It depends. Your parents or guardians can ask the principal to excuse you for religious or cultural reasons. But the principal needs to find out your views before they decide to excuse you.

You can tell the principal that you don’t want to be excused and share your views about attending or not attending the class. The principal needs to take this into account.

Sex education

Can schools teach about sex?

Education and Training Act 2020, ss 51, 91

Yes. Sex education is a key part of health and physical education curriculum and must be taught at all state and integrated schools (at both primary and secondary levels).

Schools must consult with the school community (parents, guardians and whanau of students) every two years about the health curriculum, including:

  • what will be taught in these classes
  • how they want the health curriculum to be taught according to their beliefs.
  • Your parents or guardians can ask the school in writing to release you from specific parts of the health curriculum that are related to sex education. The principal must arrange this and make sure you are supervised during this time.

If you’re released for certain parts of the health curriculum, the principal can’t exclude in the future you without another written request from a parent or guardian.

Religion at school

What is the difference between religious observance, instruction and education?

  • Religious observance involves things like reciting prayers and singing the hymns of a particular faith.
  • Religious instruction involves teaching about a faith (like Christianity). It is not neutral; it assumes belief in that faith.
  • Religious education (religious studies) is teaching about religion as part of a broader context. It should be neutral, and not favour any particular religious belief.

Any school is free to teach religious education – facts about religions and the role of religion in society. The curriculum must be inclusive and reflect our cultural identity – no particular belief should be supported.

Does the school need permission to teach religious instruction?

Education and Training Act 2020, s 58

At state schools, yes. State school students can only take part in religious instruction if a parent or guardian has given written consent.

State primary schools and secular education

Education and Training Act 2020, s 97

State primary schools must be secular during the hours a school is “open for instruction”. Secular means religion is not practiced at the school.

However, they can provide religious instruction and observance if:

  • the school is closed for instruction, and
  • it’s voluntary.

It’s only voluntary if students can opt out freely. Students shouldn’t be pressured into participating, and they must be supervised if they don’t attend.

When is a school closed for instruction?

A school is “open for instruction” when an educational activity is taking place for students, like normal class activities. Schools are considered closed at lunchtime.

Schools can close for instruction for up to one hour per week for a maximum of 20 hours per year to allow religious instruction or observance.

A board can close the whole school or just a part, like a single classroom.

State secondary schools and religious education

Education and Training Act 2020, sch 5, cl 2; New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990

Teaching at state secondary schools doesn’t have to be secular. School boards have broad discretion to control and manage their school, including religious instruction.

However, if a school chooses to teach religious instruction, it must comply with New Zealand’s Bill of Rights. It cannot be discriminatory, and students must be able to opt out.

Integrated or private schools and religious education

Education and Training Act 2020, sch 6, cl 29; New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990

Integrated and private schools don’t have to provide a secular education. Many integrated schools have a special character based on religious belief. They can have religious instruction and observance without closing the school.

In private schools, religious teaching depends on the contractual agreements you have with the school.

Integrated schools must still be considerate of different religious or philosophical views.

Integrated schools can’t make you take part in religious observance or religious instruction if you and your parents or guardians don’t want you to participate, and you practice a different religion.

Can schools have prayers or karakia at assembly?

Yes, schools can have karakia at assembly so long as the school is closed for instruction, doesn’t go for more than an hour at a time, and students can opt out.

Although teaching in state primary schools must not include religion, religious observance can go ahead when the school is closed for instruction. Depending on the circumstances, a school might be considered closed during an assembly.

What should I do if I have a problem with religion being taught at school?

If the issue is in the classroom, your parents or guardians should first speak to the teacher. If it can’t be resolved, you can then raise your concerns with the principal. If necessary, the next step is to write to the school board, which makes the school rules. Finally, if a complaint can’t be resolved within the school, you can complain to the Human Rights Commission.

For more information, see “Raising concerns and making complaints

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