Conclusion

Teachers, school leaders and school trustees all have a vital role in how well children learn to read and write in their first years at school.   

Teachers

The teacher’s knowledge and understanding of literacy learning, and the degree to which he or she masters the teaching and learning process, will greatly affect a child’s success. This is a considerable responsibility, but one that teachers throughout New Zealand take on each day, most with a passion and commitment for their role, and many with a high degree of skill.

In this evaluation ERO found that effective teachers of Years 1 and 2 students:

  • had an in-depth understanding of the theories and content knowledge they could use to teach all children to read and write successfully;
  • were confident in using assessment tools and, together with other information, made overall judgements about how well and how appropriately children were achieving and what was needed for them to progress;
  • were clear about what they expected children to achieve in reading and writing, and recognised and responded to the progress made in the critical first years at school;
  • had an extensive repertoire of instructional teaching strategies to tailor their teaching and learning programmes so children had the best opportunities to learn in ways that were engaging and motivating;
  • based structured, deliberate and incidental teaching on the assessed and diagnosed needs of individuals and groups of children;
  • were aware of and confident user of a range of teaching practices to support students who were not meeting reading and writing achievement expectations;  
  • shared information with children to help them set and understand learning goals, and planned ways to help them achieve these;  
  • worked with parents to discuss the child’s achievement, progress and next learning so parents were involved and encouraged to work with their child to increase success with reading and writing;
  • understood that the quality of their teaching and the inclusiveness of the learning environment made a difference to children’s success with reading and writing;
  • monitored the impact of their teaching and made necessary improvements;  
  • talked frequently with their colleagues about what was working and what they needed to change or improve; and  
  • worked with others to suggest the best possible solutions to help students who needed to make additional progress to reach the desired expectation.

School leaders 

School leaders facilitate improved achievement through effective monitoring and review. However in some schools, this crucially important role of monitoring children’s progress in Years 1 and 2 was left the entirely to the classroom teacher/s.

Effective leaders were highly interested in the teaching and learning in Years 1 and 2 classes. Successful leaders:

  • understood that it was their responsibility to inquire into achievement and progress at each level of the school.  They used assessment information to lead changes in teaching for all children, including those in Years 1 and 2;
  • developed a culture of school-wide inquiry, giving time for collegial discussion to critique whether intended improvements were brought about and assist teachers to build their professional understanding of progressions children need to succeed with reading and writing;  
  • were involved in establishing, communicating and monitoring clear reading and writing expectations of achievement and progress for Years 1 and 2 children;
  • knew where these early expectations fitted with those set for succeeding years; and
  • established their own data monitoring, analysis and reflection cycles and used these to decide on, or recommend, necessary changes to professional learning and development, learning resources and teaching programmes to improve achievement for Years 1 and 2 children.

Trustees

Trustees have an important role in promoting the success of their Years 1 and 2 students in reading and writing.  National Administration Guideline 1 outlines boards’ responsibilities and signals the priorities accorded to the teaching and assessment of literacy.  Trustees’ prime role, through their school leaders and teachers, is to make decisions about how their school resources (people and money) can be best used to promote teaching, learning and ultimately children’s success.  They need timely and accurate information to do this effectively.

In this evaluation ERO found that effective boards of trustees were highly interested in literacy teaching programmes, and how well children were progressing and achieving. Successful trustees:

  • were well informed by school leaders about teaching programmes and children’s progress and achievement in reading and writing;
  • discussed this information with school leaders so they could make informed decisions about how best to budget for and use the school’s resources to support and improve children’s learning and achievement;
  • expected to receive ongoing monitoring and review information from school leaders about the effectiveness of teaching programmes and interventions; and
  • supported teachers through approving time and expenses for professional learning and development programmes to enhance teaching.

Next steps 

ERO recommends that school leaders, teachers and trustees use the findings in this report to reflect on the quality of teaching, assessment and monitoring of reading and writing for children in their first two years at school. 

In particular, ERO recommends that: 

School leaders

  • develop their capability to use achievement data from Years 1 and 2 for monitoring and self review;  
  • give trustees regular information that clearly identifies the extent of underachievement in Years 1 and 2 and outlines strategies to increase children’s progress; and
  • actively promote and/or lead opportunities for teachers to discuss achievement data and develop their theory and content knowledge to improve teaching for children in Years 1 and 2. 

Boards of Trustees

  • ensure, where possible, that children in Years 1 and 2 classes are taught by teachers who are knowledgeable and confident in teaching early reading and writing; and
  • monitor the impact of interventions on raising student achievement, giving particular regard to the board’s significant investment in staffing and resources for Years 1 and 2 children.

Teachers

  • participate in ongoing opportunities to extend their understanding of the theory and content knowledge so they are confident in using effective teaching or reading and writing for Years 1 and 2 students; and
  • develop their capability in using reference points to monitor children’s progress towards expected achievement levels.

The Ministry of Education

  • develop writing assessment tools for Years 1 and 2; and
  • support beginning teachers so they can confidently use and analyse data from a range of reading and writing assessment tools, and are introduced to a repertoire of teaching approaches that cater for all Years  1 and 2 students’ literacy needs.