What matters most in schooling

The major challenge for the New Zealand education system is achieving equity and excellence in outcomes for an increasingly diverse student population. Although a significant proportion of New Zealand students achieve at the highest levels in core areas such as reading, mathematics and science, our performance in international assessment studies shows persistent achievement disparities, in particular for Maori and Pacific students. Achieving excellence must go hand in hand with achieving equity of education outcomes.

Equity in education can be seen through two dimensions: fairness and inclusion. Equity as fairness implies that 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 that all students reach at least a basic minimum level of skills. Equitable education systems are fair and inclusive, and support their students in reaching their learning potential without either formally or informally erecting barriers or lowering expectations.1

ERO has redeveloped its indicators framework (Figure 1) to highlight six domains that are known to be key influences in improving outcomes for all learners. The aim has been to create a framework that can be used not only by ERO's evaluators, but also by schools to focus their internal evaluation and improvement activities.

Figure 1. School Evaluation Indicators framework

This diagram is ciruclar and from the centre outwards is Learners. Encompassing this is a top and bottom koru shpae, the top is Responsive curriculum, effective teaching and opportunity to learn. The bottom koru is Educationally powerful connections and relationships. Surrounding this is a circular layer split into four parts they are from top clockwise, Whanaungatanga, Manaakitanga, Ako and Mahi Tahi. The next circluar layer is divided into three from top clockwise they are Leadership, Professional capability and collective capacity and lastly Stewardship. The last layer is a circle encompassing all of this meeting at the top in two koru shapes this layer reads Evaluation, inquiry and knowledge building for improvement and innovation.

Learners are at the centre of the indicators framework, with the goal being successful, 'confident, connected, actively involved, lifelong learners' as envisioned by The New Zealand Curriculum and Te Marautanga o Aotearoa 2 This means that every young person should leave school:

  • confident in their identity, language and culture as a citizen of Aotearoa New Zealand
  • socially and emotionally competent, resilient and optimistic about the future 3
  • a successful lifelong learner
  • participating and contributing confidently in a range of contexts (cultural, local, national and global) to shape a sustainable world of the future.4

The six domains included in the framework have all been identified by education research studies and analyses of studies as significant influences on school effectiveness and improvement. Two of these domains, educationally powerful connections and relationships and responsive curriculum, effective teaching and opportunity to learn, have the greatest influence, but all are mutually interdependent.

Research evidence highlights how critical leadership is for achieving equity and excellence goals. It falls to leaders to establish the necessary conditions and relational trust, and it is leaders who ensure that teachers have opportunities to collaboratively inquire into, reflect on and evaluate their practice, thereby building professional capability and collective capacity.

Entrusted with a stewardship role, boards of trustees represent and serve the school community. They have a responsibility to scrutinise student achievement and evaluation information and to maintain a relentless focus on learning, wellbeing, achievement and progress. They must also evaluate their own performance and ensure that they are meeting their accountabilities.

The remaining domain, evaluation, inquiry and knowledge building, is the engine that drives improvement and innovation.

All education activities take place within a cultural context. For this reason the indicator framework singles out four concepts, manaakitanga, whanaungatanga, ako and mahi tahi, which have the power to transform the learning environment for students. Together, these concepts challenge teachers to abandon deficit theorising as a way of rationalising failure and to focus instead on how they can change their approach and practices to realise the potential in their students. [8] See School Evaluation Indicators - Effective Practice for Improvement and Learner Success for an explanation of these concepts. 5

A school's effectiveness closely correlates with the quality of its practices in all six domains and the extent to which those practices are integrated and coherent.