A national conversation engaging all New Zealanders in a dialogue about the future of education.


Central government.


New Zealand.

The pioneer

Chris Hipkins is the Minister of Education leading an extensive programme of transformation across the New Zealand education sector.

He says that to achieve the change needed across the education system, the New Zealand Government has taken a very different approach.

It has championed collaboration across the system – with involvement from providers and educators, learners (both young and old), unions, employers and industry, Māori, Pacific people, disabled people and those with additional learning needs, families and local communities.

“We need your help. We don’t want to simply impose our ideas about what might be best…We want you to help us shape [the] future, so all our lives are improved. I encourage you to come up with ideas and have your say. Help us to design the best education in the world.”

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern
Speaking to the Education Summit

The Big Change

The New Zealand Government has set out an ambitious work programme for education change. An enduring long term vision for education in Aotearoa New Zealand is at its core.

This will feed in to all parts of the system to meet the needs of all learners, no matter who they are, or where they come from.

The work programme is made up of:

  • Big reviews of parts of the system, e.g. the National Certificate of Educational Achievement – New Zealand’s official secondary school qualification – a review of the so-called Tomorrow’s Schools system of of school governance and management, and the Reform of Vocational Education.
  • Medium term strategies to map out priorities and actions over the next three or more years, e.g. on the education workforce, early learning, Māori education, and Pacific education.
  • Some key initiatives for things to get underway now, e.g. the Learning Support Action Plan, and work on curriculum, progress and achievement in schools.

The Government wanted to take a collaborative approach to change, and launched a national Education Conversation, in Māori – Kōrero Mātauranga, in which all New Zealanders were invited to meaningfully engage in a dialogue about the future of education.

The ambition for changes

Vision and mission:

The Government’s  vision is for a high quality public education system that provides all New Zealanders with lifelong learning opportunities so that they can discover and develop their full potential, engage fully in society, and lead rewarding and fulfilling lives.

The Government is leading the change to a more inclusive system, one designed to work for each individual, to better meet the needs of the modern world.

A shift in direction

A 30-year, inclusive strategy: The current New Zealand Government took office in late 2017, led by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

A key priority was a 30 year strategy to reform the education system. The new Government wanted to achieve something transformational across three generations, tackling some uncomfortable truths about the education system. The reforms would be developed through collaboration, including with those not traditionally heard – children and young people, Māori, Pacific communities, refugees and migrants, and people with disabilities or with additional learning needs.

Making change happen

1: The start point

Sharing truly representative and diverse perspectives

In March 2018, the Prime Minister launched the Education Conversation | Kōrero Mātauranga to invite all those involved in and impacted by education to help develop a 30 year strategic approach to education in New Zealand through an online survey with four simple, open-ended questions.

The Education Summit, held as two large scale events in May 2018 with around 1,400 participants, aimed to refine, articulate and get shared ownership of a long term vision for education and enable each programme to progress more quickly and coherently.

The Minister of Education, Chris Hipkins, invited young people, parents, teachers, academics, employers, people from various political parties and the voices that are not always heard, such as Māori and Pacific communities, and people with disabilities.

“I doubt that there has ever before been such a diverse and representative group of educators, education experts, parents, children and young people, business people, scientists and community leaders gathered in one place ready to plan the future of education and learning in New Zealand.” – Education Minister Chris Hipkins, speaking to the Education Summit

Taking a whole of portfolio approach, the Summit authentically surfaced diverse perspectives to help create a better and more inclusive education system.

“Bringing you here together to help co-design a common vision for the future of education and learning in New Zealand is a once in a lifetime opportunity. These events are designed to…get you thinking together. Not about today’s problems. But about tomorrow’s possibilities.

We want ministries to spend more time listening, engaging, and involving people in change in future, for the future. We have started this new process here [at the Summits]. With you. All views are welcome. We want to encourage exciting and provocative conversations. It is about us all building a common education future.” – Education Minister Chris Hipkins, speaking to the Education Summit

2: Taking off

Accommodating all the values brought to the conversation

The Summit events started with participants exploring shared experiences and building a common language around values. More than 2,000 principles, values and ideas for change were captured, informing the basis of a new decision-making framework to help shape the future of New Zealand education.

Balance content and experience

The Education Conversation had two distinct but complementary objectives. The process had to produce a tangible, high quality outcome to inform the 30 year vision and reform programme. Simultaneously, it had to set a citizen centric, collaborative approach to reform by creating an experience for participants that was authentic, inclusive, enjoyable and importantly built co ownership. Having the opportunity to walk in the shoes of different stakeholders, particularly those beyond the ‘usual suspects’, helped to build empathy for the complexity and diversity of experiences within education.

3: Keeping going

Ongoing conversations

The Summit established a new way of working which has been replicated across regions and communities.

The education sector and different communities continue to participate and have their voices heard in relation to specific programmes, ranging from New Zealand’s early learning strategy to the reform of vocational education.

“We know that the closer we bring the diverse voices of citizens to those who are shaping decisions, the more accurate we will be in aligning some of the values and services that are needed.”

Iona Holsted, Secretary for Education

Reviewing past reforms

As part of the national Education Conversation, the Government is reviewing Tomorrow’s Schools – the name given to the reforms that dramatically changed the governance, management, funding and administration of New Zealand schools nearly 30 years ago. By reflecting backwards, an Independent Taskforce is surfacing how these new reforms have struggled to deliver on key priorities like equity and inclusivity.

Embedding co-design and experimentation into reforms

The Ministry continues to include diverse voices in the next phases of work.

“There’ll be yet another round of consultation that will really be focused on the detail of how do you implement these ideas and how can we make them happen.” – Chair of NCEA Review Ministerial Advisory Group, Jeremy Baker.

Involving stakeholders in the co-design and delivery of programmes of change is a way of nurturing the quality and integrity of the reform programme. It also builds trust between the Government, the profession and others involved in education.

“I doubt that there has ever before been such a diverse and representative group of educators, education experts, parents, children and young people, business people, scientists and community leaders gathered in one place ready to plan the future of education and learning in New Zealand.”

Education Minister Chris Hipkins
Speaking to the Education Summit

Taking change wider

Conditions for success:

Full transparency

Participants in the Education Conversation are demonstrating a willingness to trust the process which features co-design with diverse participants at every stage, even though some of them said they had been consulted about previous policy changes with little evidence of being heard.

An important part of this new approach is feeding back to participants and communities what was heard and how it will be used. Another is demonstrating to these groups the change impacts resulting from their participation.

To continue building confidence, and avoid perceptions of manipulation, absolute transparency about the process is paramount. A high powered group of diverse leaders, appointed by Cabinet as ‘Guardians of the Education Conversation’ is helping to maintain the integrity and visibility of citizens’ input to the 30 year vision and the education reform programme.

Stewardship from central Government

The Education Conversation and the commitment to co-design with citizens, particularly the voices not usually heard in shaping policy, has generated new expectations and ways of working from the Government and its ministries.

“For example, Cabinet has asked for more attention to engagement with disabled people from the start of the policy process, and to ensure policy papers provide a sharper focus on the barriers and opportunities to a more inclusive and accessible education system.” – Iona Holsted, Secretary for Education

The Guardians of the Education Conversation have been re-appointed for another year with a renewed mandate – to provide a mechanism that delivers increased confidence and assurance to the Minister and citizens that the voices and the new way of working are reflected in reforms as they happen.

Planning for sustainability

The ability to sustain this new way of working over the long term requires wide community support and cross-party buy-in. The reforms have been purposefully inclusive of all political persuasions, to mitigate against changes in Government.

The impact of change

“Essentially everything in the education landscape is up for redesign. I don’t want to exaggerate it, but the policy process that we’ve known and loved for the past 30 to 40 years has been inverted. What the Government is saying is it wants to hear the voice of people, those who are hardest to consult with, those whose voices are seldom heard.” – Iona Holsted, Secretary for Education

System Impact

43,470 people involved in education conversations so far.
Around 1,400 people spent two days discussing their vision of what the future of learning might look like in New Zealand and the values that should underpin education.
16,400 responses to the online public survey, which ran until 31 October 2018.

More than 2,000 principles, values and ideas for change were captured at the two Education Summit events in May of 2018. This information is helping develop a 30 year vision for education, and is informing the actions New Zealand is taking to meet the needs of all its learners.

The Education Conversation’s hashtag, #EdConvo18, trended #1 on Twitter for New Zealand during the Summit.

What do learners want?

“…As humans we accept that we are all different, however our current education system assumes that we all learn the same way.”

Student aged 13-18, Education Conversation online survey

“Stop placing all emphasis on academic success and take a more holistic approach to learning and education.”

Student aged 13-18

“It is the teacher that determines whether I pass or fail a subject and I know that it is the same with many others, it is because of the relationship they have with the students, whether they care or not, the way they engage with you, how clear they are in instructions and delivering information and whether they care about engaging students in the subject or just getting them to pass the standards.”

Student aged 13-18

“Spend more time listening to kids who want to better the education system and actually put actions towards their words.”

Student aged 13-18

If I was the boss of Education, I would make sure that all of the kids got the same amount of learning. Sometimes I have waited patiently for help, day after day, and still I have not been helped by the teacher. It makes me feel dumb and stupid, and then I don’t want to go to school.

Primary school student (aged 12 or less)

Expand learning options so that we can make learning accessible and relevant to all types of students in ways that the current education system does not.

Parent of a young child

I would like to see schools literally be part of the community, preschools and kindergartens on site, parent education onsite, parental and sibling learning together.  I would like to see businesses and community agencies be more involved in secondary school learning.

Parent of a tertiary student

There is an extreme university-glorifying culture at my high-achieving public school, and while I realise that university is an academic progression, other options should not be treated as being only for those who aren’t ‘good enough’ for uni.

Student aged 13-18

43,470 people have been involved in education conversations so far