McAuley High School, Auckland

Background

McAuley High School is a decile 1, Catholic, integrated secondary school for girls, located in Otahuhu, South Auckland. Eighty-eight percent of the roll of 688 students are Pacific students. In keeping with the ethos of the Sisters of Mercy, McAuley High School aims to provide an education that enables young people to rise above the barriers of poverty and to achieve to their potential regardless of their background.

The tone in the school is respectful and purposeful. The girls achieve high levels of success academically. Their achievement rate of 85.2% for NCEA Level 2 in 2012 was well above the figure for decile 1 schools (58.8%), above the national figure for girls (78.2%), and exceeded the Best Public Service (BPS) target of 85 percent of all 18‑year‑olds achieving NCEA Level 2.

Community links and resourcefulness

Community

McAuley High School has extremely effective systems in place to build links with the community and gain a deep understanding of the backgrounds and circumstances of its students. Senior leaders act on the information gained to ensure that all students arrive at the school in full uniform, fully equipped and ready to learn. When students start school they already have a sense of belonging and wear their uniform with pride.

Strong links with the community are established in many ways.

  • Meetings: The principal or senior leaders and Year 9 student ambassadors visit the local Catholic churches and each of the 26 feeder schools. The school chaplain visits the homes of many girls coming to the school. Invitations to meetings are posted to all families and followed up with phone calls, resulting in 90 percent attendance at meetings in Years 9, 11, 12 and 13.1 Responses to parental contact are quick with the preference being that they result in face-to-face meetings.
  • Staffing: The board appointed Samoan and Māori liaison personnel. The head of the Samoan department leads a Malaga trip to Samoa every two years. This includes teachers, girls and their mothers, and helps to develop a keen understanding of the girls’ culture.

Where possible, the principal employs staff to reflect the ethnicities and the identified needs of the community. The school has Pacific language speakers on staff who are often the first point of contact for families.

  • Role models: Past pupils are invited back to the school as aspirational role models. Senior students talk at parents’ meetings to explain what works for them and what their parents do to support their learning.

The school maintains a positive relationship with the police, having an officer as a regular presence on campus. Initially this role was to help curb violence in all South Auckland schools. The current, visible presence, now helps to provide students with an excellent role model who can help and support them, and also bridges the gap between the community and the police.

Resourcefulness

The board and senior management have led change over the past 10 years. Previously, the school had stand-downs and suspensions due to physical violence. Overall student achievement was poor. The school needed to focus on making the school a secure place to be so that work could then be done on raising achievement. The success of this is evident in the academic results that exceed the BPS target and very low number of stand-downs and suspensions.

Good use was made of funding from the Ministry, tagged to address gang issues. This and the subsequent work with the community to transition the girls and their families into the school culture have contributed to the safe environment for students.

The trustees and proprietor’s representatives supported professional learning that resulted in teachers moving away from deficit thinking to holding high expectations for each student’s success and knowing that they can make a difference to student outcomes. The carefully targeted resourcing and vision of the board has enabled senior leaders to attend key conferences overseas. On their return they worked together to apply their learning to effect change tailored to their school.

The principal spends a significant amount of time accessing additional resources and funding to support students’ wellbeing and learning. She has raised considerable sums of money to pay for uniforms, trips, equipment, and lunches so that girls from the most disadvantaged backgrounds can participate in their education on an equal footing with their peers. She actively promotes students for growth opportunities such as the Prime Minister’s Youth Programme and Future Leaders’ programme, and sources substantial scholarships for school leavers going on to further study. One of the office staff, working closely with management, discretely administers welfare payments to those students who need support.