Opotiki College, Bay of Plenty

Background

Opotiki College is a decile 1, co-educational, secondary school based in the provincial town of Opotiki. It has a roll of nearly 450 students, 83 percent of whom are Māori.

The language of learning

School leaders recognised that focusing primarily on each individual student can make a difference to their outcomes. They quote the findings of the ERO report Increasing Educational Achievement in Secondary Schools (August 2013) and the notion that every child deserves a champion: an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection and insists they become the best they can possibly be.1

As a result of their focus, school leaders targeted the following:

  • individualised learning and support for each student
  • careful tracking and monitoring of each student’s achievement
  • positive relationships developed with each student and their families
  • robust review and improvement of teaching and support initiatives.

Leaders made subtle but significant changes across the school. For example: a student’s poor attendance was no longer a problem in itself but seen as a barrier to learning. The ‘champion’ adult in that student’s life would explore the problems leading to the absences and often, when these were fully understood, a solution could be found and the student re-engaged with their learning.

Learning (across all curriculum areas) is now the primary focus. Changes to the structures and to the language used around the school reflect this emphasis.

  • Heads of Departments are now Leaders of Learning (LOL), form teachers are Learning Advisors and form classes are Learning Advisories.
  • Class times are now 100 minutes long,2 providing three classes a day. This allows more time for teachers to focus on learning strategies in the context of the subject being studied.
  • Learning Advisories meet twice a week for 100 minutes and twice for ten minutes. Learning Advisors work from a Kete Āwhina handbook. This is a handbook containing comprehensive material to define expectations and guide practices.

The Learning Advisor is the academic and pastoral mentor for each of their students and remains with them as their guide through their time at Opotiki College. The Learning Advisory has 16-20 students from different year levels and acts as a support network for these students. The Learning Advisor is responsible for a variety of aspects involving relationship building and care for their students, including:

  • tracking the learning of each student across all subjects
  • working with students, either individually or in groups, to maximise their learning
  • academic counselling to determine, with students and whānau, the most appropriate learning pathway and qualifications for each student (attendance at these parent teacher meetings has risen from 20 to 80 percent since the counselling started)
  • setting goals with students, determining the steps needed to achieve them, and then monitoring progress towards the goals
  • leading learning about the school values: what it means to be respectful, responsible and resilient
  • counselling students and having restorative conversations or conferences as necessary.

Students spoken to particularly appreciate the learning support provided to them as senior students.

Additional support is provided for students identified at particular risk of not achieving. The support may vary, including providing morning tea to a group of boys. This is an incentive for them to attend school, improves their ability to focus on learning and enables key staff to mentor the boys during each day.

Accurate collection of data, its analysis, and strong self review are essential to the success of the processes within the school. The principal and senior leaders are well aware that improvements are a work in progress and intend making refinements in 2014 to further enhance practices throughout the school.

As in the other schools, the student management system and its everyday, efficient use plays a central role in monitoring the success of students and of initiatives; and in supporting good communication throughout the school.