ERO's conclusions are shaped around the four themes that distinguished successful from less successful and unsuccessful schools in targeting achievement.

The explicit committment to equity and excellence

The most significant difference between schools that succeeded and less successful schools was the explicit commitment to both equity and excellence in successful schools. The findings show that successful schools took a range of key actions to accelerate progress for selected students, to close the achievement gap between them and other learners as a matter of equity.

Targeting did not mean ignoring the needs of the majority of students. At the same time as prioritising target learners, successful schools maintained a focus on the quality of the learning experience offered to other learners, so that those already achieving success sustained their path of positive learning. Successful schools continued their commitment to excellence by taking deliberate actions to improve the quality of teaching across the school, and by strengthening learning opportunities for all students.

The effective targeting of progression

Successful schools set effective goals and also took effective actions to accelerate learning. Their targeting demonstrated two key qualities. Goals and targets set anoptimum level of challenge for teachers and students, by being low enough to seem achievable but high enough to make a real difference. Goals and targets also created maximum visibility and alignment between the targets and objectives set, and the plans and initiatives of trustees, school leaders, teachers, students, parents and whānau. This ensured that daily actions were taken in classrooms and across the school community that supported successful learning outcomes.

Successful schools took a series of interrelated actions to create positive change for targeted learners. Staff teams worked to reach agreement about what one year’s progress looked like in key areas of learning. They then set goals and targets to accelerate the rate of learning for students who were at risk of failing to achieve a year’s progress. They designed interventions by using either internal or external expertise. They monitored the progress of target students, and modified actions where this might be required. Together the effective goals and interrelated actions in successful schools created a commitment for improvement that people across the community bought into and felt they owned personally.

The spread of leadership

The central theme of this evaluation is leadership at the centre. ERO found that the influence of leadership applied at multiple levels in successful schools. Trustees, school and middle leaders defined a shared achievement challenge in terms of acceleration for target students. Trustees and school leaders strategically resourced the key actions required to make a difference. In larger schools, middle leaders led teams of teachers who put the plans into action. Leaders at all levels monitored and evaluated progress, and made adjustments to increase students’ chances of success.

Leaders in successful schools connected plans and actions through effectiveprofessional learning conversations. Leaders played a critical role in leading these conversations. Groups of teachers needed to plan interventions with individual students’ needs in mind, so that professional knowledge and expertise about what might work for acceleration of their learning could be sourced. Sometimes this expertise was sourced from elsewhere within the school, and shared through professional learning communities of teachers who worked with targeted students. In other cases this expertise was sourced from outside the school and was adapted by middle leaders responsible for in-school implementation.

Capability building for school improvement

Leaders supported efforts in their school to make ongoing improvement by deliberately building school capability. At the same time leaders were developing teaching capabilities and improving learning opportunities. To achieve this, leaders in successful schools demonstrated four key capabilities:

  • strategic capability, so that school plans and resources were directed to priority areas with the biggest influence on achieving equity and excellence
  • evaluative capability, so that the right evidence was gathered and used throughout the teaching and learning cycle, as well as in the planning and internal evaluation cycle, to make a real difference
  • instructional capability, so that teachers developed and applied the knowledge and skills for instruction that meet the needs of particular students, where these needs may not have been previously met
  • adaptive capability, so that leaders and teachers could retrieve, organise and use relevant knowledge and expertise from either internal or external sources, whenever new problems or issues arose in teaching or learning.