This section explores the overall findings, the key characteristics of each group of schools, outcomes for students and what made a difference to how well schools promoted and responded to student wellbeing.
ERO found that eleven of the 68 secondary schools sampled were well-placed to promote and respond to student wellbeing. These schools had systems that were cohesive and aligned with the school values. Although most students experienced high levels of wellbeing, there were still aspects that even these schools could improve on. Another 39 schools had elements of good practice that could be built on.
Eighteen secondary schools sampled had a range of major challenges that affected the way they promoted and responded to student wellbeing. Four of these schools were overwhelmed by their issues and unable to adequately promote student wellbeing.
Eleven of the 68 secondary schools were well-placed to promote and respond to student wellbeing. Well-placed schools were responsive to the individual learning needs of all students, indicated by high levels of achievement for most students and low levels of stand-downs, suspensions and exclusions. These schools had the least disparity between Māori and Pacific student achievement and that of other students in their school.
Well-placed schools differed from others in this evaluation by their:
In these schools “cohesion across policies, practices and initiatives contributed to an integrated and seamless approach to promoting student wellbeing”. 1 These schools were working hard to support students to be “confident, connected, actively involved, and lifelong learners”.2
Students in these schools would benefit more if wellbeing outcomes were more explicit. Schools could:
ERO found 39 schools where wellbeing practices and approaches were variable within the school. Most of these schools were in urban locations. Schools in this group tended to have at least as good rates of NCEA achievement as their decile average for NCEA Level 1 and Level 2, but lower rates of students achieving Level 3. Māori and Pacific students tended to achieve at lower rates than their peers at all NCEA levels. Māori and Pacific students were also much more likely to be stood-down, suspended or excluded than their peers in these schools.
Schools with variable promotion of and response to student wellbeing generally had supportive care systems but had not focused any review on improving student wellbeing. Leaders were not able to say what was or was not working, or for whom.
These schools needed to:
The 14 schools that faced challenges in promoting and responding to student wellbeing had lower achievement at all three NCEA Levels than the previous two groups of schools. Māori achievement was generally much lower than other groups of students in these schools. Most of these schools also had high numbers of stand-downs or suspensions, especially for Māori students.
The schools had diverse community backgrounds with varied wellbeing issues and priorities. Leaders in many of these schools recognised the need for a greater focus on wellbeing. Seven of the 14 schools had new principals who were working with teachers to improve identified areas of weakness, including:
Some schools were developing agreed school values and, with the support of new leaders, had renewed their focus on wellbeing. Some taught health well, especially for students in Years 7 to 10. Some schools had promising peer and academic mentoring processes. Many students in these schools enjoyed aspects of their time at school. These are all aspects that the schools can build on.
Students would benefit from:
Four schools were identified as overwhelmed and unable to adequately promote student wellbeing. All but one of these schools were rural. Some schools had high levels of poverty and social deprivation in the community and these surfaced as behavioural issues at school. They had mixed NCEA achievement profiles – with some achieving below other schools of a similar decile, while some were in line or above.
Some teachers had developed positive and supportive relationships with students but this was through their personal values and priorities rather than a consequence of a school culture that focused on positive relationships.
Students would benefit from high quality leadership to transform cultures in these schools.
Students said adults treated them as inherently capable, despite any barriers or challenges they faced. They were responsible for many of their own school experiences, and accountable for how their actions affected others and themselves. Students knew they were expected to develop and use leadership skills. Opportunities were provided in academic, sports and cultural activities. Students emphasised how good it felt being spoken to by the teachers as ‘young adults’.
Most teachers ERO spoke with at well-placed schools understood the different needs of students from Years 9 and 10 to those in the senior school. They recognised that students had busy lives, and often had adult responsibilities outside of school. They knew that one of their roles was to guide and support students through the choices they made and that this guidance needed to change as students got older. Students ERO spoke with said they appreciated the support provided by teachers in their different roles, for example, classroom teacher, form/roopu teacher, dean, guidance counsellor or sports coordinator. Students who had suffered traumatic experiences said they had felt well-supported and cared for.
Even in these schools, students would benefit from wellbeing outcomes being made more explicit and having more opportunities to explore topical wellbeing issues at all year levels.
Wellbeing was promoted through the way the school values were reflected in the quality of interactions (among students, teachers, family and whānau, and the community) and through school curriculum opportunities: academic, co‑curricular and leadership.
Leaders in well-placed schools had systems to ensure that:
In these schools, values were consistently enacted and experienced. They helped students feel valued, included, supported and safe as shown in the example below.
School values are clearly identified in the school’s charter and are evident in posters around the school. They are well explained to students by leaders and teachers. Students’ behaviours that express the values are recognised and celebrated. Students confirmed they know the values and are expected to show them through their relationships with teachers and other students. They trust their peers and teachers.
(A small school in a minor urban area)
Values developed with in-depth consultation with the community reflected what was important to each school’s community. For example, integrated schools had values that reflected their religious faith and some boys’ schools focused on developing “Good Men”. Some schools used guidance from particular professional learning and development (PLD), for example Positive Behaviour for Learning3 (PB4L) or Te Kotahitanga,4 or particular theories such as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs 5 or Glasser’s theory of human behaviour,6 to identify values relevant to their context. The values contributed to students’ senses of belonging and connectedness to the school and the wider community.
Leaders in many schools gave teachers and students opportunities to discuss the values and develop a shared understanding. Posters and notices reminded people about what was valued. At one school the values were explored in a Year 9 social studies unit. Students were clear about the importance of the values to the quality of their school experiences. Leaders had high expectations that the focus on positive relationships in the values would guide interactions among teachers and students.
Leaders in well-placed schools made sure the school values were a key part of day‑to‑day practice. The values guided the culture of the school and strongly influenced the aspirations of teachers and students. School values aligned well with practices and were used to guide planning. They could be seen in everyday activities and learning, at school events and through the development of a safe and positive environment for everyone. The following example illustrates how one school demonstrated cohesion between stated values and what was enacted.
The school’s values state that multiculturalism and inclusiveness are ‘unique and special ways’ for students to learn from one another. The school’s values were talked about in assemblies and in classrooms. Senior students talked confidently with ERO about the acceptance that existed for students of different ethnicities, cultures and religions. For example, the school had student-run support groups for sexuality education and Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender (GLBT) students.
(A large urban secondary school)
Schools recognised and celebrated students who acted out the school values. Sometimes a school celebrated a particular student’s behaviour, but more often celebrated a large group’s behaviour at a particular event. This reinforced students’ understanding that these ways of behaving were the norm. Schools expected their student leaders to model the values. The example below shows how one school changed their student leaders’ expectations.
The role of the prefects has changed over recent years. Traditionally they were chosen based on their selection in elite sporting and cultural activities. Now prefects have to earn their position by role modelling and enacting the school values.
(A large urban secondary school)
This careful and deliberate embedding of values meant that schools had caring relationships with students, their parents and whānau and the wider community. The culture was often described as ‘family-like’.
In other schools, ERO found that teachers did not always have the same beliefs about what the values meant. Little time had been spent making sure everyone understood what the values meant for relationships between students and teachers or how to ensure that the stated values were seen in practice. These schools often had their values written in strategic documents but school planning was not focused on improving student wellbeing. Curriculum or care issues and systems often did not match the expressed values. Some students knew the values, but did not consistently experience them.
In a few schools teachers and leaders were unsure what the school values were and so did not know how to promote and embed them in day-to-day practice. Teachers did not work together, had discordant relationships with senior management and some felt overworked and unsupported. These issues affected the relationships between teachers and students, and the school and its community – with real risks to student wellbeing.
Effective leaders deliberately used a range of processes to review the relevance of the school values and to find out whether they were understood and used day-to-day. For example, teacher appraisal included reviewing values-in-practice in some schools. Students and teachers both contributed to the process in schools that undertook in‑depth reviews. In one school the students were also involved in the analysis stage.
A group of students was actively involved in the analysis and evaluation of data from the ’Wellbeing at School Survey’. Students joined teachers’ meetings to discuss the outcomes of the survey. Teachers found this approach enlightening and the students felt their views were listened to and valued.
(A large urban secondary school)
Students, teachers and the board were all told the findings from reviews in schools well-placed to promote and respond to wellbeing. These schools responded quickly when the stated values differed from the experiences of students and their families and whānau.
Most teachers and leaders thought it was important for students to experience a range of academic, sporting and cultural opportunities. These opportunities helped develop student leadership, social skills and individual strengths and interests so that each student could be a ‘confident, connected, actively involved and life-long learner’. 7 Students valued the opportunities offered.
There are a wide range of cultural opportunities and chances to try new things. It doesn’t matter how good you are, you can all be good at something. We learn things so we can do them at our best.
(Students at a medium sized, urban secondary school)
Leaders in well‑placed schools understood that this range of opportunities was the school curriculum. They had aligned systems to ensure curriculum opportunities:
Most schools did not connect the academic opportunities with the sporting and cultural opportunities and the care and guidance system. It was often left to each student to make sense of the connections and clashes.
Some schools were exploring ways they could deliberately support the development and use of key competencies across learning areas and through academic counselling. One way was by stating explicit key competencies in the planning and reporting for each learning area. This information was then captured in the school’s student management system along with other curriculum indicators. But not all of these schools had aligned key competencies across learning areas, so again it was left to students to make sense of the different messages.
The health and physical education teaching team provided much of the deliberate teaching and learning of wellbeing. Most schools allocated no more than two hours a week for health in Years 9 and 10. In the well-placed schools these programmes had effective teaching practices.
A junior school health programme was carefully planned to align with the principles of Hauora8 and the objectives of the health and physical education curriculum. Attention was given to social and emotional aspects of wellbeing such as identity, friendship, relationships, safety and bullying. Students talked about their wellbeing using the dimensions of Hauora.
(A medium-sized urban secondary school)
Time for health programmes in Years 11 to 13 varied considerably. While some schools had strong senior programmes and one school had made health a compulsory component through to Year 13, others had more limited provision or no health programme for senior students. Students may not have had many opportunities to engage with topical wellbeing issues and ideas described in levels 6 to 8 of The New Zealand Curriculum.
Although not deliberately planned, students sometimes explored aspects of wellbeing pertinent to their lives in learning areas other than health. This was when teachers chose relevant and topical contexts. These explorations included themes in young people’s novels in English; themes about young people in different cultures or times in the arts, social sciences and media studies; social and environmental issues in science and technology; or health statistics in mathematics.
Schools need to be assured that all students have opportunities to explore wellbeing issues. They should map the teaching of these themes across learning areas and year levels to determine whether particular groups of students, because of the subject choices they make, had as many opportunities to explore wellbeing as other students.
Some schools provided one-off opportunities for senior students to explore wellbeing. At these ‘health promotion fairs’, a range of providers ran workshops and gave pamphlets to students. Most schools had not reviewed the impact of these days, which at best could provide some awareness of wellbeing issues.
Some schools provided an off-site event for a particular year group that was more in‑depth than a fair. A few schools developed programmes over a number of years so each opportunity built on the previous year’s experience. This is shown in the example below.
Boys’ explore wellbeing at senior annual retreats. Retreats are framed around religious themes/principles which are developed to address broad humanistic concerns. For example the Year 11 themes were “socialisation, defining justice, how to show mercy, personal attributes and qualities, temperaments, bonding as a group, liturgy and affirmation”. Retreats at Years 12 and 13 provide extensive opportunities for personal reflection, resilience building, positive self image building, affirmation and life planning. Teachers reported that issues of sexuality and sexual orientation are openly shared and discussed and that boys are open and accepting of their peers. Boys confirmed the value of the retreats, the empathetic nature of teachers involved and the deep personal learning that takes place, citing in particular the positive impact of the ‘affirmation’ process (statements in envelopes).
(A medium-sized urban, secondary school)
All schools valued students becoming well-rounded people. Most schools provided a large number of co-curricular activities for students to participate in. They recognised and celebrated diverse forms of success. Students spoke about the relationships they formed with teachers through these activities. As a result high levels of mutual respect were evident between students, and between teachers and students.
We have more common ground with them. We know them outside the classroom, we appreciate their efforts.
(Student at a medium sized, urban, secondary school)
In the well‑placed schools many initiatives or ‘clubs’ had been set up by students and were supported by teachers. This gave students the chance to lead initiatives.
Some students in other schools told ERO that they felt their interests were not supported by the school. Leaders may find that exploring school values through a wider range of co-curricular activities, particularly activities that can be student-led, will promote wellbeing for more students.
Well-placed schools provided students with a range of leadership opportunities that contributed to their sense of wellbeing. These included:
Most schools provided leadership courses for particular groups of students such as school prefects, Pacific students, Māori students and sport coaches. Often these were one-off events and for senior students. A few schools had designed ongoing programmes during a year. Many schools had used an external organisation to help with these programmes. As schools become familiar with and plan for key competencies, they will become more of aware of how the competencies support students to develop leadership skills. Schools need to consider whether all students have opportunities to develop and practise leadership skills otherwise there is the risk that it is always the same students who have the experiences.
In schools facing major challenges in promoting wellbeing, not all students felt valued or that teachers thought they were capable of making choices for themselves. This meant many did not respect teachers. At one school students identified issues in teachers’ self awareness and how they related to their students:
They do not get to know us as people.
Students at a large urban secondary school
In some classrooms in the challenged schools students got on well with their teachers and achieved well. However, the extent to which students could guide their own learning was limited. The schools lacked the high levels of trust needed for teachers to work closely with students to help them negotiate their learning and use their strengths to solve complex problems affecting them and/or their peers.
Most schools provided a range of pathways within and from school. The quality of these pathways depended on the relationships teachers had with students and how well they monitored the students’ wellbeing. In well-placed schools these pathways met students’ needs and aspirations.
Pathways within schools provided students with accelerated or supplementary learning opportunities to ensure they experienced success. For example, one school noticed that students who took three years to complete NCEA level 2 needed extra support and developed a particular course for them. Another school created a class for a group of Year 10 boys who were not engaged or motivated with school.
Schools also designed pathways out of school for students that connected them to further study, employment or personal growth. One school had developed a support and tracking programme for a group of school leavers to make sure they successfully moved to employment or further study.
Many schools had an academic counselling process that focused on goal setting, tracking and monitoring NCEA credits and developing pathways for leaving school. When this process was in line with the school’s values, it encouraged students to take responsibility for their own goals and pathways and promoted awareness of how they could manage themselves, their learning and their relationships with teachers and other students. Teachers and students indicated that this had helped to build relationships and enhance learning. Schools could extend this process to include tracking and monitoring of other goals associated with wellbeing. In the schools that did this, leaders and teachers understood that wellbeing included achievement priorities.
Not all schools were aware that all students should have a significant adult to go to, or knew whether all students at their school had someone. Students would benefit from school leaders finding out about students’ relationships with teachers.
Schools reviewed their curriculum opportunities as part of their self-review processes. The quality of self review varied. Opportunities for students to make decisions about their learning and school processes also varied, sometimes even within a school. In some schools, students reported that their suggestions had been acted on, but in other schools survey responses had not been analysed or used. Student opinions were gathered only through surveys in some schools. This meant that schools often had limited information on how well the curriculum was responding to their students.
Boards of trustees in well-placed schools had a culture of self review. They put a lot of effort into consulting particular groups of parents, family and whānau in ways they preferred, such as in small groups or at a marae. These boards supported the focus on student wellbeing by:
In general, consultation about curriculum with parents, families and whānau and communities was quite limited. Schools consulted their communities about the content of sexuality education programmes but not about other aspects of the health curriculum or wider curriculum. This affected its overall quality.
Many schools did not have positive relationships with some groups in the community, which was a barrier to successful partnerships. Many students would benefit from schools improving their relationships with Māori whānau and Pacific families.
Schools noticed student wellbeing issues associated with:
Secondary schools' promotion of and response to student wellbeing
Schools had ways to follow up on these issues. Sometimes this required a preventative action for all students, to try and avoid anyone reaching the high-risk stage. In other cases specific interventions were needed for students with high-risk issues.
Leaders in well-placed schools had systems:
Most schools were looking into and addressing student wellbeing issues, on a student-by-student basis. In well-placed schools, good quality care systems ensured that wellbeing issues were minimised, so that students’ ability to learn was not compromised. These schools tracked students’ engagement and progress, allowing them to identify wellbeing issues as they emerged and before they became more serious.
Most schools used regular meeting times with form/roopu teachers and dean/whānau leaders to discuss concerns about individual students. At one school leaders talked about the advantage
Departments compiled lists of students at risk: those not likely to achieve or not achieving due to non-attendance or non-completion, those who are not engaged as the course does not match their strengths or needs, or those with any other issue that puts them at risk. A faculty leader would contact the families of students on the list and deans use the list to identify any common concerns across departments. Faculty leaders underwent PLD on supporting students at risk. Teachers said the key to supporting students has been connecting and analysing information academic and care information. Students have noticed the increased monitoring and interest from their teachers and one commented: “It has helped me rise and help me achieve better in my struggling subjects.
(A large urban secondary school)
Only a few schools were monitoring and responding to wellbeing concerns across a year group, such as patterns of non-attendance to classes or co-curricular practices, sick bay use or changes in friendship groups – even though many schools were capturing some of this information in their student management systems.
The well-placed schools had more than one way of gathering students’ perspectives. Some had started to include students’ opinions through surveys on issues like bullying.11 Leaders had also collected students’ opinions and ideas more directly by setting up specific focus groups and talking with school councils. Some schools were now seeking the perspectives of students because they had seen the benefits for enhancing the school culture and systems and in providing authentic contexts for students to develop their leadership and social skills.
In the well-placed schools, responses to antisocial behaviour, student truancy or lateness were consistent and restorative. School leaders saw this as a way for students to learn how to manage themselves and solve problems. Schools informed parents of any concerns about the students and invited them to help develop solutions. Although these schools did not claim to be ‘bully-free’, bullying was not seen by teachers or students as a significant issue. Teachers and students shared a sense of pride about focusing on positive relationships and not tolerating bullying at school or via the internet.
It is a positive culture but we can have difficult conversations as well.
(Principal at a medium sized, urban secondary school
A key difference between schools that faced challenges in promoting and responding to student wellbeing and the well-placed schools was the reliance on outdated behavioural or disciplinary approaches rather than restorative practices. Many teachers viewed students as the problem and focused on ‘fixing’ their behaviour and blaming families without considering how they could instead develop a suitable learning culture. The less well supported students were often Māori students, those with difficult behaviours or students with special needs.
In some schools the stand-down and suspension rates of Māori students were higher than those of other students. Families and whānau were not involved with the schools and, in some cases, did not like what was happening at the school and did not want to be involved.
In two schools ERO found that section 27 of the Education Act12 was overused as an alternative to suspension. In a few schools there were higher than expected stand downs, suspensions and exclusions.
The high level of teacher dysfunction at a few schools made it extremely difficult to create a coordinated set of responses. The leadership in these schools had varying capacity to change the negative aspects of school’s culture or to drive improvement. The principals expressed a feeling of powerlessness in the face of the substantial changes needed.
Many students experienced a very assessment driven curriculum, which caused them much stress and anxiety. Only a few schools recognised this and were responding to the detrimental effect on student wellbeing, especially in Years 11 to 15. A leader in one school responded to students who said they were stressed by exploring the number of NCEA assessments in each learning area across the year. They found that most students had two assessments every three days. After a discussion, leaders responded to this assessment overload by setting an expectation that subjects offered no more than 21 NCEA credits per course – even so, this could still lead to an unnecessary workload for students participating in six courses (126 credits when only 80 are needed). Leaders in another school were exploring the idea of more cross‑crediting between learning areas. In another school a number of traumatic incidents for individual students due to assessment anxiety led to a review of school culture and how teachers could reflect desired aspects of wellbeing.
The ‘a-ha moment’ was when the school realised that the emphasis placed on academic achievement was detrimental to their students’ wellbeing. The school noticed that a number of students, particularly in Year 12, were suffering from high levels of stress. Eating disorders had reached crisis point among a number of girls, and students were not getting enough sleep as they were studying through the night. The school recognised that while students were highly motivated and held extremely high expectations for success, this was negatively affecting their wellbeing.
Leaders gathered a range of information from students, their parents and other sources, and used this to re-think their approach to wellbeing. They implemented systems to monitor students and used ERO’s Draft Wellbeing Indicators as a guide for future changes to the school. They realised that while academic achievement and success was important to teachers and students, the school culture needed to model what ‘balanced’ meant as this was crucial to wellbeing.
To help students cope, the school realised that their curriculum needed to allow more time for balance and promoting wellbeing. The review led to a deliberate culture shift. The school now sends different messages through both informal and formal processes. For example, the countdown to NCEA assessments is no longer discussed at assemblies and instead is discussed when needed as part of an individual student’s academic counselling.
(A large urban, secondary school)
Other schools had little understanding that their systems contributed to students’ stress and anxiety. Instead they blamed the stress on outside sources – on student, parental and community achievement expectations, and on New Zealand Qualifications Authority timings for assessments. This meant that school leaders did not recognise that they had the ability to reduce the stress on their students. In many of these schools teachers also talked about being stressed.
Students in all schools would benefit from leaders and teachers reviewing their academic curriculum and ensuring it is not assessment driven but instead reflects the principles and values of The New Zealand Curriculum and the senior secondary teaching and learning guides.13
In most schools students had access to counsellors and health professionals. Most schools had a range of successful partnerships in place with external health and social providers. But most schools did not have systems to identify and respond to the trends or issues that counsellors and health professionals faced, so did not know how to take preventative action. Not many schools had systems to provide ‘wrap-around support’ for students at risk. For these students, extending support from one-off meetings with the counsellor or health professional to across their curriculum experiences may be beneficial.
In some schools the guidance counsellors and nurses were overworked, as wellbeing responsibilities were delegated to a minority of adults and minimum time was allocated to the roles. For example, some Māori teachers carried a disproportionate burden where they were responsible for the care of all Māori students. In these schools the health and support services were less visible to students or more difficult to access.
In an earlier investigation into the provision of guidance and counselling,14 ERO found the guidance and counselling provision was serving students well in 30 of the 49 schools/wharekura evaluated, with 14 of these doing very well. In the remaining 19 schools/wharekura, guidance and counselling did not serve students well and, in four, ERO was concerned about the lack of guidance and counselling support for students.
A strong ethos of care existed in those schools/wharekura that were serving students well. The features of these schools/wharekura included:
Leaders in well-placed schools had strategies in place to monitor the effectiveness of interventions. Boards and leadership teams scrutinised reports about the uptake and effectiveness of different approaches to wellbeing issues. While serious care issues could still arise, the systems in place meant teachers and leaders could respond to them efficiently and effectively.