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Teaching decolonised New Zealand history in secondary schools  


Martyn Davison


In September 2019, the New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, announced that it will be compulsory to teach New Zealand history in all of the nation’s schools from 2022. To some extent the announcement was a surprise because the New Zealand Curriculum (NZC) is far from being prescriptive and allows teachers autonomy to decide what and how history is covered in the classroom. It was also however, a foreseeable outcome of long-standing and common place assumptions that young people know little or nothing of New Zealand’s history (Belich, 2001; Neilson, 2019) and that this can be remedied by making the study of New Zealand history compulsory in schools (Gerritsen, 2019; New Zealand Government, 2019). This article seeks to test these assumptions and in doing so examines the case for teaching New Zealand history, especially from the perspective of a decolonised and inclusive national narrative. It also acknowledges the emergence, within secondary schools, of culturally sensitive and place-based approaches to the teaching of New Zealand history. The article does this by first, describing three recent examples of teaching New Zealand history that adopt these approaches; the last of which, draws upon my classroom practice as a history teacher and teacher-researcher. It then suggests that Te Takanga o te Wāi (Ministry of Education, 2015)[i] provides a useful framework to further ground these practices in a theory that balances Indigenous and western approaches to teaching history. In the wake of Jacinda Ardern’s announcement that New Zealand history will shortly be compulsory in all schools, the article concludes by proposing that a lightly prescribed framework of New Zealand’s colonial history in the curriculum will provide history teachers with a more coherent professional landscape.


[i] Te Takanga o te Wā is a set of guidelines for teaching Māori history, published by the Ministry of Education. It is aimed at teachers in Year 1 to 8 classrooms (primary and middle schools) but is also relevant to secondary school settings.


Curriculum, Decolonisation, Indigenous histories, Māori histories, New Zealand history

How to Cite:

Davison, M. (2021). Teaching decolonised New Zealand history in secondary schools. Historical Encounters, 8(2), 90-106.


  • Published 6 May 2021

  • Double Blind Peer Reviewed

  • Author Retains Copyright

  • Distributed under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 License

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