A Critical Review of Learning Environment Policy Discourse in Aotearoa New Zealand


The Ministry of Education is funding a significant building programme for primary and secondary classrooms across Aotearoa, New Zealand. In New Zealand there is an expectation that new or refurbished classrooms will be innovative, modern or flexible learning environments. This paper reports findings from a critical policy analysis of the discourse within Ministry of Education documents focusing on the design of learning environments published 2010–2019. Using a ‘what’s the problem’ approach (Bacchi in Women, policy and politics: the construction of policy problems, Sage, London, 1999), we examine the representation of the ‘problems’ which the policy documents relating to modern learning environments intend to address. We use an eight-stage process of analysis of these documents in order to identify policy priorities, ideologies, assumptions and potential outcomes in order to see how these are used to justify authority and action. This analysis revealed two larger ‘problems’ and a number of subthemes underpinning these documents. We suggest that the construction of these problems has conflated many aspects of both space and teaching and learning and relied on unquestioned assumptions about ‘modern’ learning and collaborative teaching. We conclude by considering the implications of this policy direction for New Zealand’s education system.

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Correspondence to Louise Starkey.

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See Table 2.

Table 2 Selected documents relating to documents about learning environments and school property (2010–2019)

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Starkey, L., Wood, B.E. A Critical Review of Learning Environment Policy Discourse in Aotearoa New Zealand. NZ J Educ Stud (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40841-020-00189-7

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  • Learning environments
  • Innovative
  • Education policy
  • Problem representation
  • Classroom design