Executive summary and next steps

Parents, families and whānau want their children to feel they belong at school and experience success. They want to be involved in their child's learning - to understand what is expected and to know how they can contribute. This involvement contributes to each child's learning and success and is vital for children at risk of not achieving.

ERO's evaluation

ERO evaluated how well schools worked with parents, families and whānau in their response to students at risk of underachievement. ERO looked for stories about successful working relationships where schools, with parents, had helped students move onto a successful pathway from a less successful one. This evaluation was undertaken in 256 schools reviewed in Terms 3 and 4, 2014.

The findings

Educationally powerful connections are relationships between schools, parents, whānau and communities that improve education outcomes for students. ERO found that such connections involved two-way collaborative working relationships that reflected the concept of mahi tahi - working together towards the specific goal of supporting a young person's success. The best examples were learning- centred collaborations between students, their teachers and their parents and whānau that focused on the students' learning and progress. A whānau-like context 1 was established in which parents, teachers and students all understood their rights and responsibilities, commitments and obligations - whanaungatanga - to help the students succeed.

Although all schools had some type of relationship with children's parents and whānau, many teachers worked more closely with parents of the students that needed support to catch up with their peers. In some schools, teachers shared resources or strategies that parents and the child could do together at home. In the best instances, teachers and leaders had a two-way learning relationship with parents and whānau where they shared solutions and listened to each other's perspectives. As a result, many students made accelerated progress.

The intent of the relationship is to extend learning opportunities

The 'tipping point' for leaders and teachers creating educationally powerful connections and relationships with parents and whānau was for teachers and leaders to understand that the purpose of these relationships was to extend learningacross home and school. Students then experienced multiple and aligned opportunities to learn and practise. Instead of one-off school- based learning, learning at home was actively promoted by giving students relevant learning opportunities and support. They made sure the same language and resources were used in meaningful home and school activities to reinforce key learning. This enabled students to accelerate their progress and achieve success.

Teachers and leaders who understood this intent of the relationship:

  • knew about, valued, and built from one learning experience to the next - they removed the separation between home and classroom learning experiences
  • developed a shared language about learning and achievement with students and their parents and whānau
  • valued students' wellbeing and were genuinely interested in them and their families.

School characteristics make a difference

Teachers and leaders at schools with successful working relationships with parents and whānau of students at risk of underachievement expected parents to be involved and knew that the school's role was to help parents with this involvement. There was a sense of manaakitanga - teachers and leaders recognised their responsibility to care for the wellbeing of parents and whānau when working together. They:

  • involved most parents in setting goals and agreeing on next learning steps with their child
  • regularly reviewed their working relationship with all parents
  • responded quickly and nimbly to information from tracking and monitoring student progress
  • persisted in finding ways to involve all parents of students they were focusing on, and ways for students to succeed
  • were systematically strengthening and maintaining working relationships with all students and their parents and whānau.

Being systematic in strengthening relationships

When school leaders designed initiatives that focused on particular named students at risk of underachieving, teachers systematically strengthened their working relationships with these students' parents and whānau. These leaders used inquiry frameworks (see Figure 1) to help teachers:

  • make time for frequent and regular conversations with parents and whānau to learn more about who each student is in the wider context of school and home, in order to develop holistic and authentic learning goals and contexts
  • extend learning by designing and putting in place multiple and aligned learning opportunities
  • evaluate the design of these learning opportunities and whether parents and whānau could use them at home
  • be persistent and keep using what worked; change and improve what did not work, and transfer what worked to support other students and their parents and whānau.

This is summarised in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Inquiry framework

figure 1

Improving collaboration as part of the school's approach to underachievement

The examples in this evaluation provide a snapshot of practice. They do not necessarily represent what is happening in a school for all parents and whānau with children at risk of underachieving, rather what was happening for a small group of children. However, the schools with examples of educationally powerful connections and relationships were strengthening their relationships with all parents by using what they learnt in their interactions with the parents and whānau of this smaller group of children.

Students would benefit if teachers and leaders explored better ways to involve parents and whānau in designing and implementing their response to potential student underachievement. ERO's School Evaluation Indicators (trial document) 2 and supporting resources position activating educationally powerful connections as central to school improvement efforts. ERO and the Ministry of Education have developed a resource, Effective School Evaluation: How to do and use internal evaluation for improvement, 3 good practice exemplars, and associated workshops. These tools and resources are intended for use alongside the curriculum to improve outcomes for all learners.

The inquiry framework above, along with the effective practice illustrated in the domains of ERO's School Evaluation Indicators could be used to design, implement and monitor responses to potential student underachievement. In some schools, working with parents and whānau needs to shift from the view of 'teachers know best' or 'parents don't have the time' to one of mahi tahi - deliberate two-way collaborative relationships focused on providing students with extended learning opportunities and increasing their education success.

Next steps

ERO recommends that when working with individual schools and communities of learners the Ministry of Education and professional learning and development (PLD) providers incorporate the notion of working with parents and whānau of students who are underachieving.

ERO recommends that school leaders:

  • focus on named students at risk
  • of underachieving and identify their learning needs and strengths
  • design initiatives with parents and whānau of these named students
  • evaluate the impact and alignment of the multiple learning opportunities introduced as part of the initiative
  • use the Ministry of Education resources available at http://nzcurriculum.tki.org.nz/ Principles/Community-engagement
  • use the Ministry of Education inclusive practices tool available at www.wellbeingatschool.org.nz/about- inclusive-practices-tools
  • use ERO's School Evaluation Indicators, especially Domain 3: Educationally powerful connections and relationships, to explore what it means to collaborate with parents and whānau in response to student underachievement www.ero.govt.nz/ Review-Process/Frameworks-and- Evaluation-Indicators-for-ERO-Reviews/ School-Evaluation-Indicators-2015-Trial