In schools where curriculum principles were most evident and teaching as inquiry was well supported at the school level, leaders played an active role in supporting teachers’ work in the classroom. Where leaders were effective they brought clarity to teachers’ thinking and practice. Specifically, they initiated discussion about aspects of The New Zealand Curriculum, and the part that the principles played in a revised school curriculum. They also developed systems that promoted coherence and uniformity, such as planning formats and guidelines for undertaking inquiry. Above all, leaders promoted a culture characterised by high expectations for student achievement, shared aspirations to improve teaching, and a desire to work collaboratively.

Leaders in all schools need to help teachers improve their knowledge of the processes involved in all four phases of the teaching as inquiry cycle. A key focus should be on developing understanding of the learning inquiry phase. Leaders have a particularly important role in challenging teachers to think beyond the routine use of known teaching strategies and practice as solutions to all the learning and teaching issues they identify. Leaders should also convey to teachers the benefits to students from adapting the planned school curriculum in response to information about students’ learning.

Where curriculum principles were less evident, or not evident, and teaching as inquiry was not well supported at a school level, these leadership influences were absent. Curriculum development was much less robust and coherent and teaching as inquiry was poorly understood. The critically inquiring culture fostered in the higher functioning schools was not apparent in these schools.

In classrooms where the curriculum principles were fully enacted and levels of inquiry were high, teachers created opportunities for students to develop self responsibility. Students reflected on their learning and decided on appropriate next steps or goals. Underpinning this were the high expectations teachers had of students as capable and competent learners. In some classrooms, teachers made use of student feedback, along with other relevant data, to adjust the programme for students.

Teachers had acquired a good foundation on which to base their practice. They knew about the components of the curriculum and were able to carry out teaching as inquiry in their classrooms. They had been well supported by leaders in doing these things. Some work is still needed before most teachers develop robust evaluation practice as described in the learning inquiry phase of the teaching as inquiry cycle. They would also benefit from further exploration of the curriculum principles, particularly community engagement, Treaty of Waitangi, and future focus, so these principles are able to be enacted in the class curriculum.