Learning programmes

Learning programmes within a Vocational Pathways approach

This section aims to clarify the nature of a learning programme within a Vocational Pathways approach. Learning programmes are defined as a set of interconnected courses based on broadly defined outcomes that progress a student towards a particular qualification. A course is generally one component within a programme, described by specifically defined outcomes. It includes content and teaching and learning activities and assessment set within a time frame. For example, in a school setting a student may follow a programme that consists of an “academy” course, supported by two additional or optional courses. Alternatively it may be an integrated programme developed across curricula and delivered by several teachers or tutors.

Tertiary providers may also work with schools to provide programmes that the schools cannot offer by themselves. Alternatively, a learner may be enrolled part-time at school and part-time at a tertiary organisation, or in industry training. 

The following questions will help you to review the extent to which your learning programmes align with a Vocational Pathways approach.

  • How do you currently review and develop programmes?
  • How do you ensure your programmes are learner-centred?
  • Who has the role of developing these programmes?
  • What curricula are the learning programmes based on?
  • How is the student involved in programme creation?
  • To what extent do the learning programmes show a direction through study to employment?

Student-centred approach

Figure 2 Collaborative approach to programme design

Programmes are designed to be responsive. Those that respond to the particular needs and interests of students will provide the basis for increased engagement in learning, leading to higher achievement. It may seem difficult when an organisation is independently considering providing resources and conditions for innovative programmes as aligned to Vocational Pathways. However, by working alongside other partners who share the same aim for their students, the learning options for students broaden.

Collaborative approach to programme design


Principles of The New Zealand Curriculum  and Vocational Pathways principles »

The principles of The New Zealand Curriculum (Ministry of Education, 2007) set out what is important and desirable in a programme of learning. The table below highlights four of the principles and illustrates how these align with the principles of the Vocational Pathways approach.

Principles underpinning programme design

NZ Curriculum Principles

Vocational Pathways Principles

High expectations 
The learning programme supports and empowers all students to learn and achieve personal excellence, regardless of their individual circumstances.

The learning programme ensures that all students feel valued and that their learning needs are addressed. 

The learning programme offers all students a broad education that makes links within and across learning areas, provides for coherent transitions, and opens up pathways to further learning. 

Future focus 
The learning programme prepares students for the future. 

Principle 1: Programmes of learning and courses are student-centred


Principle 2: Programmes of learning and courses comprise coherent knowledge and skills


Principle 3: Programmes of learning are within a coherent learning pathway leading to New Zealand qualifications and employment


Principles to help guide providers when developing or reviewing contextualised learning programmes for Vocational Pathways.

PRINCIPLE 1: Programmes of learning and courses are student-centred

How do educators:

  • explicitly plan for, deliver, and assess in response to the prior knowledge and skills and previous experiences students bring to the course?
  • use this knowledge to inform teaching decisions about what students need to learn or do next?
  • design the learning environment to be inclusive for all students, including those with moderate education needs?
  • explicitly plan approaches to teaching and learning delivery that respect all students’ current needs, potential, interests, desires, cultural views including world views, and ethnic/gender perspectives?
  • explicitly plan approaches to teaching and learning and assessment delivery that respect the identity, language, and culture of all students, ensuring delivery and assessment is conducted through respectful and caring relationships?
  • explicitly plan approaches to teaching and learning and assessment delivery that include a targeted focus on improving achievement outcomes for Māori and Pasifika students, students with special education needs, and students from low socio-economic backgrounds?
  • explicitly investigate the literacy and language needs, and/or numeracy knowledge and skill needs of all students, prior to, or at the commencement of every course, and explicitly provide relevant support, actively managing this through all course delivery and assessment?
  • proactively ensure pastoral social support is planned for and available as required?

PRINCIPLE 2: Programmes of learning and courses comprise coherent knowledge and skills

How do educators:

  • use the Vocational Pathway sector descriptors to guide the development of programmes and courses that are educationally coherent and robust and also situated within a broad vocational employment context?
  • plan programmes that provide a coherent body of systematically organised discipline knowledge and skills, practices, and competencies, which progress within courses and throughout the programme?
    Note: Discipline knowledge is drawn from relevant sciences, English, technologies, mathematics, design, social sciences, arts, languages and so on.
  • plan courses that provide a coherent body of specialist knowledge and skills, practices, and competencies from an employment sector that is embedded in a relevant and engaging context?
  • deliver and assess the coherent body of specialist knowledge and skills, practices, and competencies from this employment sector’s particular field of practice?
  • deliver and assess the coherent body of systematically organised discipline knowledge and skills, practices, and competencies at regular intervals in courses throughout the programme?
  • plan partnerships that effectively deliver different types of knowledge in the sites most appropriate for learning different types of knowledge and skills, practices, and competencies?
  • plan for and support the development of students’ generic competencies, by explicitly embedding opportunities to practise and reflect on these abilities and skills throughout all courses?

PRINCIPLE 3: Programmes of learning are within a coherent learning pathway, leading to New Zealand qualifications and employment

How do educators:

  • situate course learning within broad life/world contexts, using the Vocational Pathway sector descriptions where possible?
  • plan clear and authentic connections within and between programmes, within and between courses, and towards next destinations?
  • situate their programmes within a learning pathway that is transparent to the student, has clear and achievable next steps to study or employment, and includes genuine progression links to next qualification steps?
  • present their programmes and qualifications to students, their family, and whānau, within current and authentic market opportunities for future employment, study, or training?
  • demonstrate that their programmes lead every student enrolled towards worthwhile qualifications from NCEA level 2 to NZQF level 4, 5 or 6 with options for further progress?
  • demonstrate that the qualifications they offer are recognised across New Zealand?

NOTE: These principles have been developed and tested for consistency against the following documents and strategies: Tertiary Education Strategy 2010–2015, The New Zealand Curriculum,  2007, Best Evidence Synthesis for Teacher Professional Learning and Development and Best Evidence Synthesis for School Leadership and Student OutcomesKa Hikitia – Accelerating Success 2013–2017Pasifika Education Plan 2013–2017Success for All Strategy vision and work programme for inclusive education, Better Public Service Targets L2 and L4, Ministry of Education Statement of Intent 2011/12–2016/17, New Zealand Qualifications Framework, and emerging Youth Guarantee and foundation education policy.

Benefits for learners »

Benefits for learners engaged in a programme of learning related to a Vocational Pathway, or across Vocational Pathways.

1. Gain a foundational experience, knowledge, and skills in a Vocational Pathway

  • Learners are equipped with a foundational knowledge, understanding, and realistic expectation of the employment sector requirements.
  • A graduate can achieve NCEA level 2 (60 credits from Level 2 and 20 from any other level) including:
    • 60 level 2 credits from the recommended assessment standards for a particular Vocational Pathways sector, of which at least 20 level 2 credits are from sector-related standards for the same sector (Level 2 Assessment Standards).
    • May also be eligible for a Vocational Pathways Award in one or more pathways.
    • May also be eligible for NCEA level 2 course endorsement, where students have performed exceptionally well (14 credits at excellence or merit) in individual courses.
    • May also be eligible for NCEA level 2 certificate endorsement, when 50 credits are gained at excellence or merit level.

2. Be prepared for higher learning

  • A Vocational Profile is accessible on the NZQA website.
  • A graduate from a level 2 Vocational Pathways programme will have their foundation for higher learning knowledge, skills, and valued competencies acknowledged.
  • A graduate will achieve NCEA level 2 through study at level 7 of The New Zealand Curriculum and in relevant industry knowledge and skills at New Zealand Qualifications Framework level 2 or higher.
  • A graduate from level 2 will be able to meaningfully progress to further study or industry training at levels 3, 4 or 5.
    • Level 3 is the first step on the tertiary ladder.
  • Opens up pathways towards diploma and degree-level study.

3. Understand and be aware of the pathways from education towards employment

  • See what future courses and qualifications are available after completing the current programme of learning.
  • Understand how the programme of learning can lead towards future employment.
  • Understand how key competencies are being developed in this programme and how they are valued by future employers. 
  • Understand how and why knowledge, skills, and practices for New Zealand Curriculum learning areas are important in this programme and how they contribute to the world of work. 
  • Understand how learning a particular pathway can open up discussion of issues that are important to the wider community and industry.

Example learning programmes

These excerpts of learning programmes illustrate how providers have gone about meeting the needs of their students within each Vocational Pathway. The intention of these examples is to stimulate discussion about what a programme may look like in your area for all students. Other examples could incorporate programmes that are designed for students to follow a specific pathway in preparation for degree-level study and careers.