Cornwall Park District School - 03/12/2015

1 Background

Introduction

A Special Review is a review of particular areas of performance and is undertaken to specific terms of reference.

Special reviews may report on particular issues raised from external sources.

Terms of Reference

This special review is based on an evaluation of the performance of the Cornwall Park District School Board of Trustees and management in relation to the terms of reference for this review. The terms of reference are to evaluate:

  • the extent to which the board provides a safe physical and emotional environment
  • how well the board handles complaints
  • the quality of provision for learners with special needs
  • any other issues that may arise during the review.

2 Context

The Chief Review Officer authorised this special review at the request of the Director of Education, Auckland Region, Ministry of Education because of serious and longstanding complaints from two families about how well their children with special learning needs have been served by the school.

Cornwall Park District School is large urban primary school with classes from Year 1 to Year 6. There were 667 students on the roll at the time of the last ERO review in April 2014.

In the course of this special review ERO talked to the board of trustees, the principal and members of the senior leadership team, a number of parents past and present, and the staff of the school including teacher aides. We reviewed school documents relating to health and safety, complaints and board processes. In addition we spoke to external professional staff who work with special needs students across schools.

Some families have ongoing concerns about the education of their special needs children. The perception of poor handling of a particular incident of serious self harm in the school has been hard to deal with for families and for the school. This event and subsequent media attention left a legacy of distrust and anxiety for a number of parents.

3 Findings

The quality of provision for learners with special needs

For most families in the area this is a good school where their children benefit from specialist teachers and a wide ranging curriculum. Expectations that children will achieve are high. Children on the whole enjoy a rich and varied experience. Parents we interviewed were quick to point out that, for their other children, Cornwall Park District School is a very good school. Children with high and very high need special needs who carry ORS funding are well looked after.

The problem at the school lies in the lack of shared understandings about what constitutes special needs provision for learners with mild to moderate special needs. For their parents, these learning needs are urgent and compelling, and the parents have little tolerance for professional behaviour that can appear to them to be dismissive of their situation. The challenge for school staff is to handle parents’ anxiety with skill and empathy, as they seek to build educationally powerful connections and relationships with learners and their families.

The need to provide a more flexible response to individual learners was identified in the 2014 ERO report. It is important to ensure that school communication supports and strengthens reciprocal learning-centred relationships, and that parents of children with additional needs feel that they are respected and valued partners in learning.

Parents interviewed perceive considerable variability in regard to how inclusive classrooms feel for students and families. Their desire to avoid particular teachers or teaching situations is challenging to manage and creates additional stress for school leaders and teachers and for families.

Parents of children with special learning needs identified some inconsistencies and unclear messages about provision for their child. Some poor teaching practices have not helped. Some teachers’ resistance to reading and acting on reports from external experts has been unnecessarily distressing for parents and is detrimental to their child’s wellbeing.

Staff in external agencies we spoke to regard the current SENCO as being effective and responsive in helping them to work with students in the school. It would be useful to consider how she can build capability in others and develop more systematic inquiry into the value of interventions. The current plan to upskill middle leaders to take a more proactive role in working with special needs learners and their families is also worthwhile. This could help to avoid some of the current misunderstandings about provision of services.

Teacher aides play a key role in provision of support for special needs learners. Many of them are perceived to be acting as teachers in running reading and maths programmes for set periods of time. They would benefit from support and guidance to make these programmes more applicable to the needs of individual learners. Clarifying and communicating roles and responsibilities would also be useful for all parties.

The 2014 ERO review commended the school’s range of provision for special needs learners, but concluded that the school should systematically explore the outcomes of these specialist interventions so that practices that are most effective in accelerating learning can be identified and promulgated. This recommendation should be given high priority.

The provision of a safe environment

In 2012 the board commissioned an external audit of their health and safety policies and procedures and acted promptly on its recommendations. Good systems are documented in regard to physical safety, and there has been ongoing professional development for staff.

Emotional safety is not as well documented in policies, although behavioural expectations are clear in classrooms. However, behavioural boundaries for adults are not always well understood. Family members and community volunteers who provide support in classrooms would benefit from training and clearer guidelines about acceptable behaviour. Teachers must be clear that unless adults have been police vetted by the board they should not be left alone with children or classes.

Handling complaints

The principal and board are aware of the need to handle complaints courteously and carefully. In most instances they are successful in this. School files show that most matters are resolved quickly and well and that relationships remain intact and focused on the learner.

Where complaints have been longstanding and complex the board has sought advice but has been unable to reach resolution of these matters.

It is unusual to have complaints become so entrenched. While the board cannot undo what has happened previously, it should continue to take advice and seek support in building better pathways forward.

The role of the board of trustees

The board acknowledge that they have been distracted from their key governance role by these longstanding and complex complaints. Parents expressed other concerns about how well the board fulfils its role. They centre on:

  • board expenditure that is not seen to reflect curriculum priorities
  • board processes that appear to lack transparency.

The board should seek training for trustees in their roles and responsibilities as elected members representing the community. Building relational trust and effective participation and collaboration at every level of the school community should be a key priority.

Ministry of Education staff have worked extensively with school leaders and the board to address parents' concerns. The recent Inclusive Practices self review was designed in part to ascertain more clearly the size of the problem. It has involved an external expert surveying the school community and working intensively with a range of focus groups to determine the extent to which the school community experiences the school as an inclusive learning community. This has been a significant piece of work and demonstrates the willingness of the board and school leaders to take appropriate action to move forward.

In ERO’s 2014 report we recommended that trustees ensure a variety of different voices, including teacher, parent and students, contribute to school development, strategic planning, and the review and evaluation of progress against improvement goals. The facilitator of the Inclusive Practices self review makes very similar recommendations in his report. The board should now address these recommendations with urgency.

Conclusion

A combination of circumstances has led to some parents becoming very dissatisfied with provision for their special needs learners in this school. The board and principal are keen to address their concerns. They acknowledge that they will benefit from external support to make long-term, sustainable change.

The board of trustees is to prepare an action plan to address the issues raised in this special review report.

ERO's next scheduled review of this school is a full education review of the school at the end of 2016.

Graham Randell

Deputy Chief Review Officer Northern

3 December 2015

School Statistics

Location

Greenlane, Auckland

Ministry of Education profile number

1256

School type

Contributing (Years 1 to 6)

School roll

667

Gender composition

Boys 53% Girls 47%

Ethnic composition

Māori

Pākehā

Chinese

Indian

other Asian

other

4%

54%

18%

8%

8%

8%

Review team on site

September 2015

Date of this report

3 December 2015

Most recent ERO report(s)

Education Review

Education Review

Education Review

April 2014

February 2011

January 2008