Only 2 per cent of high schools are ready for an extensive overhaul of the national curriculum in five months, a Government monitoring project has found.

The new curriculum, designed to give schools more flexibility to shape their own curriculum to suit students, was planned three years ago after one of the most comprehensive consultation processes by the Ministry of Education.

Schools are expected to start using it in February.

But principals last night warned that teachers were overwhelmed by the added workload and needed more time.

An Education Review Office report yesterday showed only 2 per cent of secondary schools and 7 per cent of primary schools were "well prepared" for the changeover.

That is no change from the last ERO report, in January.

Of 31 high schools surveyed for the latest report, only one was ready.

The report said inadequate leadership, poor understanding of the new curriculum, and a view that preparations were unnecessary or difficult were among reasons some schools were not ready.

Despite the low figure, the report - which canvassed 31 secondary and 265 primary schools during term two - said most schools were progressing well.

Sixty per cent of primary and almost half of secondary schools were described as "well under way".

But Principals' Federation president Ernie Buutveld - spokesman for 2300 principals throughout New Zealand - said teachers were feeling "overwhelmed" as they struggled to come to terms with the new curriculum and the Government's national standards.

Mr Buutveld said his biggest fear was that people would start judging the curriculum on being simply reading, writing and maths "our students need much, much more than that".

He hoped the ERO report would highlight the fact that teachers needed more time to implement standards and the curriculum effectively.

Secondary Principals' Association head Peter Gall it was natural to have variations between schools when they were coming to terms with "such a big piece of work" and there would be variations within schools.

"Even in prepared schools I'm pretty sure there would be teachers there who would require a bit more time to think about things."

Mr Gall said the new curriculum required a big shift in thinking as it was not as focused on what was taught, but on how or why it was taught.

The report showed positive signs.

There was a slight increase in readiness from term one 61 per cent of secondary schools were "well under way" up from 42 per cent in the previous term's survey.

Among primary schools 49 per cent were well under way, up from 36 per cent in the first term.

Some schools would need external support before the new academic year, it said.

An official speaking for Education Minister Anne Tolley said she had noted that schools were making good progress, and she was confident that this would continue.

* Ready for the new curriculum?

PRIMARY SCHOOLS (OUT OF 265)

Not yet preparing - 2 per cent

Some preparation - 42 per cent

Well under way - 49 per cent

Well prepared/ready - 7 per cent

SECONDARY SCHOOLS (OUT OF 31)

Not yet preparing - 2 per cent

Some preparation - 35 per cent

Well under way - 61 per cent

Well prepared/ready - 2 per cent