Our approach to school evaluations

ERO aims to support the improvement of our system, schools and early learning services through its programme of institutional reviews and our national research and evaluation programme.

The intention is to ensure that ERO positively adds value to the schools that it reviews and the changes that we have made aim to provide greater clarity in ERO’s judgements and clarity in the advice that we provide to schools in respect of the things that they should consider in going forward. The intention of our changes is to provide a strength based assessment of where a school is at and where they need to next focus their attention.


The major challenge for our education system is achieving equity and excellence of education outcomes for all Aotearoa New Zealand’s children and young people. 

ERO’s overarching purpose is to support change that contributes to raising educational achievement for equity and excellence within, and across schools.

In our school evaluations, we report on the quality of education and learning outcomes for all children and young people. We also report on the quality of school systems for sustaining and continuing to improve achievement.

Equity in education can be seen through two dimensions: fairness and inclusion.

Equity as fairness implies personal or socio-economic circumstances such as gender, ethnic origin or family background, are not obstacles to success in education.

Equity as inclusion means ensuring all students reach at least a basic minimum level.

Equitable education systems are fair and inclusive, and support all students in reaching their learning potential without either formally or informally erecting barriers or lowering expectations.

Schleicher, A. (2014). Equity, excellence and inclusiveness in education: policy lessons from around the world. Paris: Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

How we work with you

During our external evaluation we will discuss with you how well your school is performing for its learners and community, what you want to achieve as you go forward, and how you support the learning and achievement of specific groups of learners according to their needs.

There are two complementary dimensions to our evaluation focus:

  • learner outcomes
  • the conditions that contribute to learner success.

Focusing on learner outcomes

Our evaluations focus on valued learner outcomes. We will ask you the following questions:

How well is the school achieving equitable and excellent outcomes for all its students?

How well is the school accelerating learning for those Māori and other students who need this?

What school processes and practices are effective in enabling achievement of equity and excellence, and acceleration of learning?

What further developments are needed in school processes and practices for achievement of equity and excellence, and acceleration of learning?

What are we looking for?

We review the school’s data and other information on:

  • learner wellbeing
  • learner progress across the curriculum
  • the dimensions of effective practice that contribute to learners achieving the outcomes expressed in The New Zealand Curriculum.

We seek to understand how the school uses formative and summative assessment information, along with other information produced by internal evaluations, to inform teaching and learning.

In good schools, this information covers a range of areas across the school’s curriculum.

Key judgements we are looking for are:

  • how effective the school is in terms of the outcomes it is achieving
  • how well the school is ensuring equity in learner outcomes
  • how well learners are accelerated within a year and across years, according to their needs
  • whether the school’s achievement, overall and for groups, is improving over time
  • whether the conditions within the school are likely to sustain ongoing improvement.

ERO’s Definition of Acceleration

For students in Years 1 to 8 and from Year 9 onwards, learning is accelerated when a student makes more than one year’s progress over a year:

  • according to their individual learning needs
  • in relation to progression through the levels of The New Zealand Curriculum or Te Marautanga o Aotearoa
  • at a rate that is sufficient for their sustained and equitable learning success over time
  • as part of a coherent and meaningful pathway to further education, training and employment.

Accelerating outcomes for Māori learners

The Government’s Māori education strategy, Ka Hikitia, (2013-2017) is a call to action for all parts of the education system. It expresses how the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi apply to education, and our commitment as a system to successful outcomes for Māori learners.

Our external evaluations of schools, national evaluations and the research that underpins the School Evaluation Indicators show that when schools accelerate student achievement for Māori, they accelerate achievement for all learners.

Core to our focus on learner outcomes are the school’s efforts to ensure equitable outcomes for Māori learners and the organisational conditions that the school has adopted to contribute to these outcomes.

Wellbeing and Inclusion

Learner wellbeing is at the centre of our external evaluations. We request school’s documentation on learner and/or staff engagement and wellbeing before we go on site. We check to see that schools have good processes for ensuring the emotional and physical wellbeing of their students.

During the course of an evaluation we ask school leaders if they use (or are aware of) the surveys administered by the New Zealand Council for Educational Research which are now available free of charge to schools. The NZCER suite of surveys invites schools to monitor inclusion as well as wellbeing.

There are many different qualitative and quantitative ways these matters can be approached. Our focus is on how schools monitor wellbeing and inclusive practices and what teachers, school leaders and trustees do with the information collected to enhance provision for their students.

Student participation in providing feedback on wellbeing and inclusion builds relational trust and greatly adds to the weight of evidence gathered in school self-review.

Organisational conditions contributing to learner outcomes

To answer our evaluative questions, we look at the organisational conditions that contribute to, or inhibit, equitable and excellent student achievement. This includes the school’s systems, processes and practices; and its capacity for continuing and sustaining improvement. Through our evaluation we are assessing the extent practices are embedded within the school, and the line of sight from documented intention, through teaching and learning, to individual learners’ outcomes.

These organisational conditions are defined in our School Evaluation Indicators and the domains in this framework include:

  • Stewardship
  • Leadership for equity and excellence
  • Educationally powerful connections and relationships
  • Responsive curriculum, effective teaching and opportunity to learn
  • Professional capability and collective capacity
  • Evaluation, inquiry and knowledge building for improvement and innovation

Our external evaluation process

We consider and discuss your school’s information about learner outcomes, wellbeing and engagement, and the findings from your internal evaluation. This contributes to the design of an external evaluation that is responsive to your school’s context.

We look at your information on the progress across the curriculum, and the dimensions of effective practice that contribute to children and young people achieving the outcomes of The New Zealand Curriculum. We want to understand how your planning, implementation and internal evaluation help you improve teaching practice.

ERO is interested in how teachers, leaders and trustees respond to learners’ physical, social, emotional, cultural, academic and spiritual needs; and what outcomes result from this.

Learners’ wellbeing is strongly linked to learning and is indicated by their satisfaction with life at school, their engagement with learning and their social-emotional behaviour.

We are particularly interested in discussing with you how your school:

  • knows the needs, strengths and interests of all learners but particularly those learners whose learning and achievement need acceleration
  • responds to those needs through improving teaching and support
  • knows the impact of your actions to address these needs
  • knows what has been successful so others can be successful.

Preparing for our external evaluation

To get the most out of your external evaluation, it is important that leaders, staff and boards of trustees have discussions before our visit. These discussions should cover your strategic plans, internal evaluation processes and outcomes, and any issues specific to your context.

During the evaluation, our team will work with you to ensure considered discussions about matters that are important to your learners and context. Your staff, supported by leaders and trustees, need to be clear about your direction and plans for the future.

We will also focus on what has been achieved since the last time we evaluated your school and the culture of improvement you are building.

Questions to reflect on prior to your evaluation

You are asked to consider our reflection questions below in preparation for your evaluation.

Reflecting on these questions will provide you with an overview of your internal evaluation findings to discuss with us.  You do not need to provide any written response to these questions ahead of the onsite evaluation.

We will use your school’s learner outcome information and internal evaluation to work with you to design the external evaluation for your school context. This will happen on the first day of your evaluation.

Outcomes for learners

  • What are the outcomes that are valued for all learners in this school community, as learners in Aotearoa New Zealand, and as global citizens?
  • How well are all our learners achieving in relation to those outcomes?
  • To what extent is every student in our school a successful “confident, connected, actively involved, lifelong learner”?
  • How well are we identifying and accelerating the achievement of those learners at risk of not achieving equitable outcomes?
  • How do we know?  What sources of evidence tell us about our performance and effectiveness?

School conditions supporting ongoing improvement in learner outcomes

Since our last ERO evaluation:

  • What areas of development have we focused on to improve learner outcomes?
  • How have we enabled the school community to participate in/contribute to the development focus?
  • What actions have we taken?  How effective have those actions been in promoting the improvements needed?
  • What have been the successes and challenges?  Which domains of school activity have been most significant in supporting our improvement journey (stewardship; leadership; responsive curriculum; effective teaching and opportunity to learn; educationally powerful connections and relationships; professional capability and collective capacity; evaluation, inquiry and knowledge building for improvement)
  • What has been the impact?

Next steps:

  • What are our continuing and/or next big areas for development and improvement?

[The questions above are taken from page 42 of ERO’s booklet Effective School Evaluation]

Documentation to send to ERO before your evaluation

We will need some information from you before the evaluation starts onsite. You will need to supply

  • The most recent School Charter including your strategic and annual plans
  • The latest Annual Report
  • The school’s current plan for staff professional learning and development
  • The two most recent reports to the board about students’ progress and achievement
  • Any high level analysis, in relation to:   

- outcomes for learners with special needs and those who are gifted and talented

- outcomes related to identity, language and culture

- valued outcomes as defined by your school’s curriculum

- evidence of whole school improvement over successive years

- learners and/or staff engagement and wellbeing (including results from any surveys that the school may have undertaken)

  • your staff list showing responsibilities, teacher registration details, status, and expiry date of practising certificates.  On behalf of the Education Council, ERO will audit the endorsements for certification the professional leader has made in the 12 months prior to our visit.  More information on the Education Council Audit.

The principal and Board Chair will also be required to complete and send the following assurance statements at the same time as you send through the information requested above.

Board Assurance Statement and Self-Audit Checklists(BAS) and the Hostel Assurance Statement and Self-Audit Checklist if your school has a hostel. This BAS requires information from you about your compliance with legal obligations, including those for child and student safety. The full board should be made aware of the BAS as it covers the major legislative obligations within the board’s responsibility.

International Student School Assurance Statement if your school is a signatory to the Education (Pastoral Care of International Students) Code of Practice 2016.

Your participation in the evaluation process

Our evaluation team leader will contact you before our on-site evaluation and go over the process, the focus of the evaluation, and answer any of your questions.

Our on-site process typically takes between 1 - 4 days, and will involve between 2 and 4 reviewers.

ERO reviewers are specifically designated in accordance with Part 28, section 326 of the Education Act (1989). This designation provides the reviewer with powers of entry and inspection as specified under the Education Act (section 327).

During our time in your school we will meet regularly with the principal and senior team to establish and discuss our lines of inquiry, build our evidence base and understanding, and to test themes and findings that are emerging. We do this to develop a shared understanding of the quality and effectiveness of education provision in your school and to work with you to identify the next steps in your improvement journey.

The school will be asked to arrange a number of meetings, and/or observations involving staff, students, potentially parents and the Board to assist in the evaluation. This is a vital element of us coming to know your school, community and to form and test assumptions and judgements.  

During the evaluation our team will regularly discuss the emerging evaluation findings with the principal and in many cases the senior leadership team. They will involve principals and senior management in the interpretation of the evidence gathered to develop a shared understanding of the quality and effectiveness of education provision in your school.

At the end of the on-site phase of the external evaluation, we will discuss our overall judgements with the Board and principal. We will provide indications of the likely points that will be covered in our report and we will discuss areas for further improvement and action.  

Finalising your school’s report

It is intended that our reported findings assist the school in developing its focus and priorities going forward. You will receive a draft (or unconfirmed) report around four weeks after our last on-site discussion about the emerging evaluation findings. At this stage, we invite you to note any errors of fact, significant omissions or comment on any other matters related to the findings if needed, and return the board’s response to us. At this stage of our review if any substantially new material comes to our attention we may choose to reissue a further unconfirmed report to the school, and seek further comment from the Board.

We will follow up your comments with a phone or email and then finalise (or confirm) the report.

You will have two weeks to circulate the final report within your school community before the report is published on ERO’s website.

Your next external evaluation

The report will signal the likely process and timing for our next external evaluation of your school. These are typically over a period of one-to-two years, within three years or within four-to-five years.

Our decisions are based on ERO’s judgement about the schools’ capability to sustain and extend improvements in teaching and learning. We take into account the overall outcomes the school is achieving for all its learners, the school’s ongoing improvement agenda and its organisational conditions.

ERO will signal the need for additional support for a school where we consider this is needed.

For some schools, a three year next review timing will include a request to develop and provide more targeted planning to accelerate student achievement. There may also be an invitation to participate in a workshop on internal evaluation.

ERO has an extended evaluation process over a period of one to two years for some schools. This allows for more frequent engagement with us over the extended period, and the likely participation of other agencies and professional development providers to address key priorities for improvement.

All schools are expected to show how they have acted on ERO’s findings through their key strategy and performance accountability documentation at the time of their next external evaluation.

If your school is scheduled for external evaluation within the coming year, we will be in contact once the dates are scheduled.

Decision making for ERO's next external evaluation process and timing - schools

Feedback on your evaluation

ERO’s purpose is for:

Our evaluation insights to be a catalyst for change so that every child achieves success as a lifelong learner.

We are committed to providing high quality education evaluation that leaves you with useful insights to inform your decisions and actions for change and improvement.

Our aim is to ensure our external evaluations add value for the learners in your school and for what your school board, leaders and teachers do to support their learning.

When you receive the final report you can provide feedback on your experience of the external evaluation. We invite each school to submit two questionnaires, one representing the views of the board of trustees, through the chairperson; and one representing the views of staff, through the principal.

Talk to us about any concerns

If you are dissatisfied with your experience, please let us know. If there are matters you wish to bring to our attention during the on-site evaluation, please contact an ERO manager in the relevant office. Otherwise, you can express a concern or make a complaint.

Important reading to support your evaluation

School evaluation indicators: effective practice for improvement and learner success

Effective school evaluation: how to do and use internal evaluation for improvement

Raising student achievement through targeted actions

Accelerating the progress of priority learners in primary schools

Raising achievement in primary schools

Raising achievement in secondary schools

Internal evaluation: good practice

Educationally powerful connections with parents and whānau