The Pasifika Education Plan’s ‘compass for success’ places high priority on students’ presence at school. Presence includes not only attendance and retention, but also the incidence of disciplinary actions such as stand-downs, suspensions, exclusions and expulsions.
ERO found that day-to-day school attendance was not a significant problem for Pacific students in just over 30 percent of schools. Retention levels in secondary schools were also improving. This finding is similar to those in ERO’s 2009 pilot evaluation where over a third of schools had few concerns about Pacific presence. Twenty eight percent of schools had improved presence resulting from a range of initiatives.
One school monitored the new entrants carefully and was flexible about the time children remained in the reception class. This flexibility meant Pacific children did not move into the mainstream classes until they were judged to be ready. They were closely monitored and supported to establish the habit of regular attendance in this class. Evidence showed that Pacific children with no ECE experience made major gains as a result of their time in the reception class.
In another school staff developed a partnership with Group Special Education (GSE) specialists, to work with the parents of Pacific students for whom other forms of contact had been ineffective.
Five mainly low-decile urban schools provided breakfast in a room where students could gather before school. The rationale for this was that students were more likely to come to school and once there, were more likely to be ready to learn if they were well feed.
At some secondary schools, mentoring of Pacific students supported their engagement in school, thereby reinforcing the importance of regular attendance and reducing the likelihood of behaviour incidents that could result in stand-down, suspension or exclusion.
Some schools do not monitor or have strategies in place to improve Pacific students’ attendance patterns over time. ERO found that almost 40 percent of schools either had insufficient evidence to make a judgement about Pacific students’ presence or had made no improvements since their last ERO review
For some schools, transience4 had a negative impact on Pacific students’ presence. In a few schools leaders attempted to find ways to deal with the effects of transience by focusing on catering for the learning needs of students affected by disrupted schooling.
Overall, schools showed a trend towards more stand-downs and fewer suspensions and exclusions. This suggested that schools recognised the value of earlier intervention to change behaviour. Many showed a reduction in the number of Pacific students involved in disciplinary action, while others reported low numbers or none at all.
Stand-downs and suspensions for Pacific students generally occurred more frequently in secondary than in primary schools. In some schools, Pacific students were not over-represented in suspension and exclusion data. In others a disproportionately high rate of disciplinary action meant absence from school for these students.
Issues related to suspensions, exclusions and expulsion indicated that engaging Pacific students was the fundamental challenge in some schools. Hence, initiatives to keep students in school were usually associated with measures to increase their engagement in learning and in the life of the school.
A mid-sized, decile 3 secondary school with 35percent of the roll Pacific students implemented a wide range of initiatives that significantly reduced the number of stand‑downs and suspensions. Pacific staff acted as positive leadership role models for students. A Pacific Pride initiative in the school enabled senior students to undertake leadership and mentoring roles to support other Pacific students. The engagement of Pacific students and their families with school was also encouraged through a teacher support and community liaison initiative.
Most other initiatives undertaken to improve Pacific students’ presence at school were generally aimed at improving all three aspects of Pacific education: achievement, engagement and presence as these are seen as interrelated. These initiatives are further discussed later in this report.
- developing links with parents, families and communities;
- setting targets and monitoring progress towards them;
- integrating Pacific contexts into school programmes;
- fostering Pacific cultural activities and participation;
- setting up homework centres, playgroups and a reception class;
- appointing a liaison person or coordinator for Pacific students; and
- providing for language-learning and use of Pacific languages.
Two secondary schools initiatives had a high impact on Pacific students’ presence. One had developed indicators to guide the evaluation and analysis of data. The results of this self review were positive, showing increased attendance, dramatic improvement in engagement of the Pacific community; high participation in the homework centre and increased membership of culture groups. Analysed data supported these conclusions.
The other school had data to show improvement in Pacific student attendance and reduction in stand-downs and suspensions. Although these schools could not make a direct causal connection between particular initiatives and the impact each had, the overall effect on progress in Pacific student achievement was positive.
Few schools had formally evaluated specific initiatives. Most believed that through a combination of measures, Pacific students’ presence was maintained at a good level and that issues with individual students and families were dealt with effectively.
‘Engagement’ is a broad term covering a range of factors that combine to produce conditions where students are motivated to learn and achieve. Indicators of student engagement relate to factors associated with high quality teaching and assessment, students’ involvement in their learning, morale, perceptions about school, participation in decision-making, attitudes and behaviour.
To engage diverse groups such as Pacific students, teachers also need to have sufficient background knowledge, skills and awareness to form positive relationships and make meaningful connections between curriculum content and learners’ life experiences.
ERO found that Pacific student engagement had remained at a high level or substantially improved in 35 percent of schools or had improved in 31 percent of the schools. In 21 percent of schools engagement had not improved and in the remaining 13 percent of schools there was not enough information kept by the school to make a judgement.