Findings

As part of the selection process, ERO took the 2012 exclusion and expulsion rates of the nine schools identified for the sample, and compared these with the rates of nine other secondary schools, decile 5 or below, that had the highest rates of exclusion and expulsion. The nine schools with the highest rates had excluded or expelled over eight times the number of students as the nine schools ERO identified.

Many students who are excluded or expelled, continue their education with Te Aho o Te Kura Pounamu, The Correspondence School. This model of distance learning provides few opportunities for the face-to-face pastoral support which is so critical for every student to succeed and an absolute imperative for these most vulnerable students.

When looking at the sample schools, ERO found many common attributes. All schools identified, with their school community, a clear vision of what they wanted for the young people in their care. At the heart of each vision was building strong relationships with their students, enabling them to learn.

ERO found that all seven schools visited had significant strengths in the following four areas.

School culture

  • Relationships formed the foundation for success and focused on a culture of care and wellbeing for students.
  • Expectations for success were clearly stated and permeated the school community.
  • Responsibility for problems was shared by staff, students and families/whānau.
  • The responses to problems were solution-focused.

Students

  • Students talked with pride about being a member of the school learning community.
  • Students that ERO spoke with were confident young adults who appreciated the relationships they had with their teachers.
  • They had a clear sense of purpose and direction, taking responsibility for themselves and their actions.
  • Many demonstrated their commitment to the school community through their leadership in a variety of forums.
  • School leaders sought and valued student opinion.

Learning

  • Teachers were very well informed about and responsive to the needs and interests of each of their students.
  • Carefully targeted professional learning played a key part in the ongoing improvement in the schools. Principals used Ministry initiatives1 well, tailoring them to suit the school’s strategic direction.
  • The schools had strong links with their community that extended the educational opportunities for their students and involved whānau in their teenager’s learning.

Leadership

  • The principals were crucial to the school’s success and actively involved in implementing the school’s vision. They were knowledgeable, skillful and exhibited the dispositions necessary for powerful leadership.2
  • The senior leaders worked effectively as a team, all having clearly defined roles according to their strengths.
  • A relentless drive for ongoing improvement was informed by rich data and deep analysis of that data. Decision making was evidentially based and grounded in research. Principals had brokered strong and effective relationships in their school’s community.

Principals noted that it had taken time, anything from three to ten years, to develop the school cultures that enhance student success, and it takes considerable ongoing effort and commitment to maintain those cultures. The cultures were established through the following:

Governance

  • Trustees worked in close collaboration with the principal, were very well informed and allocated resources appropriately to provide an environment that supported the school’s approach to learning.
  • Self-review practices were strong throughout the school and contributed to sound decision-making.

Vision

  • The board had a clear vision for the school that focused on the holistic development of students as young adults able to succeed, participate in, and contribute to their community.
  • The vision was predicated on developing good relationships throughout the school community.
  • Every principal had used sabbatical leave to research an aspect relating to their school vision. The result of their research informed practice in the school.
  • The principal was a highly effective leader with a strong leadership team, trusted and with the capacity to play their part in achieving the vision.

Values and expectations

  • Values and expectations were clearly promoted and reinforced in every aspect of the school.
  • Transition into the school was seen as a critical point and induction programmes played a major part in students learning about what was expected of them in the school.3

Communication

  • Each school used their student management system (SMS) extensively, and rich qualitative and quantitative data was collected and responded to.
  • Communication throughout the school was effective and responses to families/whānau were rapid.

Staff

  • Trustees and school leaders were careful in appointing staff to new positions; paying particular attention that the philosophy of new employees aligned well with the school culture and expectations.
  • Staff were regularly reminded of the school culture so that it was always to the fore.

Principals discussed some ongoing challenges, some of which related to their ability to readily access high quality support when they needed it. This was especially the case for at‑risk students transferring to a school mid-year. ERO also heard that the provision of information from some agencies, and the quality and timeliness of support varied across regions.