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A question of bias? Politics, assessment and the New Zealand history curriculum

Mark Sheehan (Faculty of Education, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand)

History of Education Review

ISSN: 0819-8691

Article publication date: 14 October 2011




Stakeholders groups in the educational community are not immune to wider socio‐political events when responding to educational concerns and the purpose of this paper is to use a case study approach to examine how questions over teaching, learning and assessment can become the focus of wider political debates. In particular, this article focuses on the New Zealand Education and Science Parliamentary Select Committee investigation into the 2004 history examination, that was set up in the wake of increasing dissonance over the place of the Treaty of Waitangi in New Zealand and the newly‐implemented senior secondary school standards‐based assessment system.


The contestation of the curriculum is a highly political process that works to reproduce social class patterns and keep particular elite groups in control of the official curriculum. This paper draws on a range of documentary sources to provide a socio‐historical perspective, as well as interviews with key participants in this process.


It is argued that while the educational community’s response to this investigation was varied, all shared aims that were largely educational in orientation. Political debates however are typically polarized and in this case politicians were able to use the contested nature of the school history curriculum to manipulate this educational issue (and the media) to their own political advantage.


This investigation saw history education in New Zealand come under unprecedented public and political scrutiny and as such it provides a rare glimpse into the nature of history curriculum matters in New Zealand in the first decade of the twenty‐first century.



Sheehan, M. (2011), "A question of bias? Politics, assessment and the New Zealand history curriculum", History of Education Review, Vol. 40 No. 2, pp. 176-188.



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Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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