Six ways into local curriculum design

Local curriculum design is the process of interpreting national curriculum entitlements to reflect what matters to your local communities.

Why six ways?

When school leaders discuss developing their local curriculum, these aspects are most likely to be raised. This list is not meant to be exhaustive; there are many ways into local curriculum design.

1. Consult widely and deeply


  • Who you will consult with: mana whenua, whānau, families, students, teachers and the wider community?

  • How you will consult. Some schools involve an external facilitator to conduct a series of meetings so that the group will speak freely.

  • How often you will consult. Is consultation a one-off meeting, or do you intend an ongoing collaboration to develop a local curriculum?

  • What you do with the information gained. When people agree to participate in consultation, they should also be informed about what will happen next to the information gathered, and who will be involved in processing and decision-making about further actions.

This link shows a video of how whānau and teachers worked together at Hiruharama School to develop a local curriculum:

WATCH:   Developing whānau priorities at Te Kura o Hiruharama

2. Build relationships with mana whenua

One way your school honours Te Tiriti o Waitangi is through involving mana whenua in your local curriculum design. Mana whenua means customary authority exercised by an iwi or hapū in an identified area. Each school will have one or more iwi who identify as mana whenua over the geographical area where they are located. You need to know who mana whenua are for your school.

Positive mana whenua relationships support schools with all aspects of their operation and delivery, as well as providing guidance specific to understanding and enacting tikanga and kawa. Depending on how they are organised, mana whenua will sometimes have a representative group or individual who can be contacted through their office, or contact may be made through local marae.

It’s not good practice to only contact mana whenua when your school wants something. Building reciprocal relationships takes time as each party clarifies the responsibility they will accept towards the welfare of the other.

3. Embed a graduate profile

Creating a graduate profile helps a school answer the question

What is the most important learning in this school that cannot be left to chance?

You could develop a graduate profile through:

  • recording what mana whenua, whānau, parents, teachers, students and the wider community believe in relation to a question such as the one above,

  • collaboratively studying the NZ Curriculum, including the key competencies, knowledge, understanding and skills across learning areas to come up with the big ideas for your school,

  • synthesising the big ideas into a clear graduate profile that mana whenua, whānau, teachers, students and the wider community can understand and use.

Creating a graduate profile is only the start, however. It needs to be a living entity that drives your school’s learning and teaching. For example, you could use your graduate profile, as Ormiston Junior College has, for assessment of student learning across learning areas.

READ:   Designing graduate profile badges at Ormiston Junior College

4. Start small … but start

Some school leaders find the idea of developing a local curriculum daunting but a school’s local curriculum can grow from a small initiative. At Menzies College, an enthusiastic head of department began a project where students monitored trout numbers in a local stream.

When the project was publicised, the local curriculum of Menzies College expanded as regional organisations and a rūnanga came on board with more ideas for projects, grants, expertise and materials.

Another principal learned through community consultation that whānau wanted students to understand the stories of their area. As a result, the school has built into the curriculum that every week students visit key sites where mana whenua teach them the local history.

READ:  Menzies College – Localised learning at Mimihau Stream

5. Bring the community, teachers and students with you

Ensure that mana whenua, whānau, teachers, students and the wider community are on board with the development of your local curriculum.

One school developed an innovative local curriculum and the school leaders knew it was important for whānau and parents to be clear about what the school was doing. The principal built communication with the community through instituting regular informal morning teas with anyone who wanted to discuss the school’s curriculum.

Some schools use metaphors (e.g. waka) or simple phrases (e.g. our 4 key values) for their local curriculum that are easy for the community and students to understand.

Teachers may need support in understanding and implementing the school’s local curriculum through targeted professional learning and development. Some schools focus on drawing out the big ideas of the New Zealand Curriculum, studying current educational research, addressing gaps in teacher knowledge, or developing scaffolds and templates for teachers to use in implementation.

Some schools are developing a student-led local curriculum, where the students are not only consulted about what they want in a local curriculum, but they are also part of the implementation.

6. Accept that your local curriculum is a work in progress

Developing a local curriculum is not a job you will be able to mark as complete because a school’s local curriculum continually evolves as the community changes. Your local curriculum may not quite hit the mark to start with. Be prepared to innovate, adapt and let a concept percolate for a while until it gains clarity.

Be open to new perspectives and learn from other schools’ experiences, but remember that your local curriculum reflects what is important to your community.

For more information get in touch with Irene

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