Integrating skills for life into local curriculum – Hauraki Plains College

"More than a school"

In 2008, Hauraki Plains College reviewed its local curriculum with the aim of increasing opportunities for students to develop the key competencies. In response, the College developed the River Programme, a holistic, all of school approach to preparing leavers for life beyond school.

School details

The River Programme provides students with practical tools to solve problems relevant to them. The programme is underpinned by the ‘Hauraki Way’.

The Hauraki Way is based on the following key values:

  • Doing our Best Work: Working hard, digging it in when the going gets tough, and not giving up.
  • Doing the Right Thing: The Hauraki Way challenges us to do the right thing even if it is the hard thing.
  • Flat Out and Loving It: Giving things a go, getting involved, participating and contributing.
  • Being Who We Are: Developing one’s own talents and aspirations while appreciating the unique talents and interests of others.
  • Leaving a Legacy: Seeking to make a difference.
  • Daring to Dream: Going after big goals and pursuing a purposeful career direction, aiming to go higher and further than what we think possible.
  • Honouring our Heritage: Appreciating our unique identity as Hauraki and as New Zealanders, understanding our place in the world
  • Each for All: Our school motto and watermark which permeates everything we do, being and standing together as a school community.
  • Excellence is our Tradition: Becoming our ‘best selves’, striving for, challenging and supporting excellence in all we are and do.

The River Programme’s central metaphor, the river flowing out to the widening sea, represents Hauraki Plains College’s core purpose: to prepare students for life and work in the 21st century as lifelong and life-wise learners and contributing citizens.

Implementing the River Programme has been a 10 year journey for the College that is ongoing. The programme has grown to become a defining feature of the school, providing a vehicle for bringing the College’s values and vision to life. In 2019, Hauraki Plains College carried out a review and refresh of their River Programme, aligning it to ERO’s student outcome indicators. As a result of this, the programme’s framework has been tightened up and made more intentional and the progressions between year levels made clearer. During this process, the Ministry of Education was invited into the school to learn more about the programme and what it takes to integrate a whole of school approach to the development of key skills, knowledge and capabilities sustainably into local curriculum. 

The River Programme

The River concept has three foundations: curriculum, structure, and one student at a time support. The Programme grew out of a desire to listen and show respect for students by engaging in meaningful learning conversations with them and is informed by research that indicates that a meaningful relationship with an adult who cares is a significant factor in a student successfully completing their secondary school education. Doing this authentically required that the school put in place a framework that enabled school staff to really get to know their students. 

The River Programme is also an opportunity to ‘unpack’ the key competencies in a way that is relevant to student’s age and stage. The programme aims to provide students with practical skills to solve the problems that they face, for example, making new friends or dealing with bullies. As students’ progress through the programme, there is an increasing focus on how these skills can be used beyond school. Drawing on research by Rosemary Hipkins, the competencies have been reworked into five broad capabilities, for example, ‘Managing Self’ became ‘Navigating Self’ and  ‘Relating to Others’ became ‘Perspective Taking’. The value of integrating the key competencies into the River Programme is that all staff think about the competencies, not just through a subject lens, but through a life capability lens. 

The Programme is delivered by River Guides drawn from the entire school staff, including teachers, support and administration staff. Each guide (there are approximately 50 active each year) is paired with a group of approximately 13 students. The guides work with these students from the time they enter the College until they leave, enabling strong and trusting relationships to form, not just between students and their guide, but between the students themselves. The focus on the key competencies in the River Programme, and the fact that all teachers are River Guides, means that the key competencies are naturally also more explicit in subject learning. The objectives of the River Programme include:

  • Personalising the learning journey for students.
  • Building relationships between students, and between each student and a significant adult.
  • Academic and pastoral monitoring, challenge and support.
  • Developing key competencies in students.

The structure of the River Programme

Each term has a focus on one of the school values, Rangatiratanga (our purpose), Manaakitanga (our people) or Kaitiakitanga (our place). The key competencies have been mapped against these values, so whereas in the classroom they are referred to as the key competencies, in the River Programme, the competencies are embedded into the three focus areas, Rangatiratanga, Manaakitanga and Kaitiakitanga. Each Term Planner is co-constructed by the River Guides at each year level. This process involves talking through what each of the topics would mean for their students and discussing approaches to delivering the sessions. The Principal, Ngaire Harris, then peer-reviews the Term Plans and provides feedback. All of school assemblies are used to start students thinking about the focus area. Segments from films might be used, or the head boy or girl could present a whakataukī aligned to the theme.

At each Extended River Time on a Wednesday, a different topic within the focus area is covered. Guides are able to present the information in a way that best suits their group and reflects their personal style of engaging with students. One of the River Guides we spoke to talked about the need to “speak to what’s in the moment” and be responsive to the individual needs of each group/cohort. Additional resources are available if required, but guides are free to use any resources as long as the key concepts of each topic are covered. Guides meet in their year groups each Tuesday to discuss and plan their approach to the week’s lesson. In the senior school, Guides work to their strengths by rotating around the Wednesday morning groups delivering particular sessions, for example, careers education or how to iron a shirt. Deans and River Guides meet each week to discuss and feedback on how the programme is going.


The River Programme is integrated into the timetable for all students

  • All of school assembly on Monday morning. This sets the scene for the week’s topic.
  • Wednesday morning there is an extended River time in their groups (30 mins). This is when the formal programme content is covered.
  • Friday morning extended River time is less formal and more flexible. 

River sessions cover topics appropriate for each year level, for example:

Year 9 

Setting Sail


Where to go for help


Making friends

Year 10

Paddling the Waka


Basic first aid

Safe on the internet

Career exploration

Year 11

Navigating High Tides


Driving licence

The law and you

Managing emotions

Year 12

Setting one’s course

Leadership studies

The world of work

Money ready

Year 13

Distant horizons


Mock job interview 

Voting responsibilities

River guides rotate on a 5 year cycle, staying with the same group from year 9 through to year 13. Year deans and deputy principals also move up with each year group. Hauraki Plains has a two semester structure, meaning that students can take up to 10 different subjects each year.

A whole of school approach

The River Programme is complemented by a comprehensive careers programme to help students decide on their next steps once they finish school. The careers team interview all year 11–13 students and support them to access courses aligned to their areas of interest. For example, the careers staff may personalise programmes for students, arranging or them to attend specialist courses offsite, such as coding courses, nursing tasters and marae catering. The careers department coordinate all activities that are directly careers related, including providing River Guides with careers resources, leading careers sessions during River Time and upskilling the wider school staff on careers education.

The College runs onsite trades programmes for automotive engineering, building and construction, agriculture, hospitality and early childhood education. The school also has a very successful Gateway programme supported by strong relationships with local employers.

Hauraki Plains College recently established a new role – Student Support Coordinator. The Student Support Co-ordinator came out of an identified need to build on the River Guide, Deans and Guidance roles to enable more systematic and holistic identification and support for students. The Student Support Coordinator is responsible for managing relationships with all outside agencies, staff across the school, and parents and whānau.

Getting whānau involved

River Guides are the main point of contact for parents and whānau, resulting in strong relationships forming over the 5 year school journey. Students are encouraged to share their River Log with family and whānau and discuss their progress. Parents and whānau are also invited to attend three meetings each year with their child’s River Guide to view student work and discuss their learning and personal growth goals. River Conferencing Evaluation forms are available for students, parents and Whānau to complete, encouraging them to provide feedback on the meeting and the College’s process of providing information and support more generally. Additionally, the school provides more traditional parent-teacher interviews in terms two and four, further integrating the wider parent and whānau community in the work the students are doing.

Redefining success at school

Reassessing how students and the school community define ‘success’ is a key feature of the College’s culture. While academic success is highly valued, the development of the River Programme and it’s prominence in the local curriculum, signals the Value Hauraki Plains College puts on fostering both excellence and ethics in their students. One of the ways the school does this is by celebrating student success in a wide range of areas, including sporting, the arts, vocations and community service.

Continuous review and improvement

The Principal regularly reviews and refreshes the resources used. This is time consuming, but a crucial part of the programme’s success. Recently, the new Student Support Coordinator did a session on mindfulness with the River Guides. The Principal used this session to gauge the attitudes of the River Guides towards mindfulness and to find the most appropriate resources and approach to incorporating mindfulness into the programme.

One evaluation tool used is the Wellbeing at School survey. The 2018 Wellbeing at School survey highlighted culture as a key aspect of student wellbeing. This prompted the college to look at manaakitanga through a different lens. The College has chosen to focus on five areas from the survey and has created school challenges around these. The wellbeing survey results have provided a baseline for future evaluation of the programme.

Hauraki Plains College also collects feedback from recent school leavers’ who have had a chance to reflect on how well prepared they were for life after school. During term four, the Gateway Coordinator makes contact with students who left the year before. This is an opportunity to find out what the students are doing now, how they have found the transition out of school and if they have any reflections on their time at the College and the River Programme. The River Programme is then adjusted to reflect student feedback, for example including more information on financial literacy in the programme after receiving such a request.

Moving forward

Looking to the future, the College is exploring ways to get more parent/whānau and student voice for the next review cycle of the programme. They are also linking in with their Community of Learning primary schools to better understand what should be included in a toolkit of life and learning skills to support students as they transition to college.


1. Bolstad, R., & Gilbert, J. (2008). Disciplining and drafting or 21st century learning? : Rethinking the New Zealand senior secondary curriculum for the future. Wellington: NZCER Press.

2. Hipkins, R. (2017). Weaving a coherent curriculum: How the idea of 'capabilities' can help. Wellington: NZCER Press.