New Zealand Schools Go All In On Measuring Soft Skills

Frequent Sharing of Small Snippets of Learning to (Partially) Replace Standards

“We want to ensure that all students make progress in the breadth of learning that is important for lifelong wellbeing.” 

New Zealand Ministry of Education

To replace National Standards, among other things, New Zealand schools are being asked to share more frequently with parents. Specifically small snippets of learning that build a picture of learning progress – in literacy, numeracy and in soft skills — such as creativity and critical thinking — that really are the crucial career skills of this century.

For most schools, this represents communicating what they are already doing.

It is news to most kiwis that New Zealand schools are so well advanced in teaching soft skills.  New Zealand ranked #1 in a 2017 survey by the Economist of 35 developed nations about educating for the future, scoring 88.9* out of a possible 100.

What’s changed in 2018 though is that now, in the absence of reporting standards to report, there will be more pressure on schools to show evidence of learning progress in these soft skills, especially in primary schools.

This article looks at New Zealand’s educational reform and what can be gleaned from the early education sector, where the reporting to parents entirely focuses on soft skills.

Shift from standards to soft skills

A new system of progress assessment and reporting is being rolled out.

It seems that New Zealand is making considerable policy headway in future proofing its learners, so to speak. In fact, some have commentators have said “now with the [teaching] standards out of the way, [New Zealand’s teachers] have more room to focus on soft skills.”

Just to clarify and update you about the ditching of standards. Last December, the New Zealand government announced it would “remove” the standards from 2018, instead focusing on all children’s “progress and achievement” across the wider Years 1 to 10 curriculum and Te Marautanga o Aotearoa (the Maori curriculum).

“This change will better acknowledge the different ways and pace at which children learn, and support teachers to provide more learning opportunities based on what children already know and can do. The new focus will strengthen educational partnerships between parents, schools and kura,” says a government media release.

So, while schools still report to parents at least twice yearly on children’s progress and achievement, they won’t be using the National Standards and Ngā Whanaketanga Rumaki Māori to do so. Instead, a new system of progress assessment and reporting is being rolled out. Keep up to date on the changes from this NZ Government page.

TImetable For Change

The ministry says in its terms of reference “rather than developing a new approach … we are focusing on strengthening the use of the curricula to understand and support all students’ progress and achievement”.

A reference group is using the terms of reference to drive the review with a final survey report due back this month [October], but recommendations aren’t due to the Minister’s office until the end of 2018.

Learning for lifelong well-being

Back to The Economist’s report. It lists the future skills current students will need “to flourish in the world as adults”:

    • Interdisciplinary skills
    • Creative and analytical skills
    • Entrepreneurial skills
    • Leadership skills
    • Digital and technical skills
    • Global awareness and civic education

You’ll see those skills explored in a two-page PDF the Ministry of Education has produced to depict New Zealand Education in 2025: Lifelong Learners in a Connected World. That document’s mantra is to lead with pedagogy, accelerate with technology.

It lists key attributes of 21st century learning as: self directed, empathic and inclusive, innovative, collaborative, authentic problem solving and STEM foundation for all.

There is no doubt that these are the right skills to focus on. The question is how to measure them!

Soft skills are already shared in early learning

New Zealand’s world-renowned early education system may have some answers.

Its Te Whāriki framework has five strands: belonging, wellbeing, exploration, communication and contribution. Soft skills fit well in this curriculum, and in fact represent a large part of the curriculum.

There is very little summative testing in early childhood in New Zealand. And so early educators need to communicate progress entirely through sharing snippets of learning in a narrative format, called a learning story.  The stories, which have images, videos and/or text, are linked to curriculum goals and then shared with families.

The measuring of soft skills occurs through linking the stories to curriculum goals or plans. This is where parents see and understand the educator’s approach. That context leads to more meaningful parent feedback and real conversations between teachers and parents.  Educa software, designed to do this for early education, now offers a version of its software to schools.

Sharing soft skills at school

This approach could also be used to help schools communicate learning progress in soft skills for older children.

The technology already exists.  And there are resources available, soft skill learning sets that could used as the learning goals.  This simple approach makes it easy for teachers to share small snippets of learning linked to school goals or values in a way that engages parents and effectively communicates the learning.

In June of this year, the country’s [current] education minister, Chris Hipkins, sounds like he’s on the same page, saying: “I agree with a seamless lifelong learning education system.”

To learn more about how Educa can help schools share learning progress with parents click here.  Educa is working with a number of schools on this approach. If you’d like to see if our platform could help your skills communicate growth in soft skills, contact us here or email


* How NZ scored 88.9 out of 100

The report, Worldwide Educating for the Future Index: a benchmark for the skills of tomorrow, was issued late 2017. It said New Zealand got full marks for:

  • curriculum framework for future skills,
  • the effectiveness of its policy implementation system,
  • teacher education,
  • government education expenditure,
  • career counselling in schools,
  • collaboration between universities and industry, and
  • cultural diversity and tolerance.

The report gave two reasons for New Zealand’s success: educating for future skills as a “broadly agreed strategic imperative”; and having a systematic government-led approach to making its education fit for purpose. That spans “technology, teaching, curriculum and collaboration with industry”.

[1] Costa & Kallick as cited in Claxton, G., Costa, A., & Kallick, B. (2016). Hard thinking about soft skills. Educational Leadership, 73(6), pp60-64.

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