The rapid shift toward a global, knowledge based economy brings into prominence the critical role education has in New Zealand’s future. As a nation we have a strong education foundation but substantial challenges remain. It is timely that as a system we are explicit about these and work to develop consensus and action to address what in many cases have been longstanding and intractable issues.
The following highlights six challenges which ERO continues to surface through the course of its review and national evaluation programme.
Challenge 1: Equity in outcomes for all learners
From ERO’s perspective, our biggest issue as a system is the persistent disparities in learner outcomes. As a system we are failing to deliver equity in outcomes for a sizeable group of children and young people. These disparities derive through both within school inequality and from a small group of providers in our system who fail to serve their communities well. At risk learners are often identified early in their school careers but we seem unable to disrupt the low achievement trajectories for these learners, with many falling further and further behind each year that they are in school. There are equally a range of students with complex needs that are poorly supported within a highly devolved network of provision. All three areas provide a key focus for ERO’s review and evaluation programme.
Challenge 2: Māori achieving success as Māori
Too often as educators we perceive the issue of Māori learner outcomes solely as an issue of equity. Given New Zealand’s changing population structure and the urgent need to address substantial generational inequity, addressing Māori outcomes in our system is critical to our future as a prosperous nation. Ensuring Māori learners succeed as Māori in our system requires that we go beyond merely ensuring equity in outcomes for Māori learners and as a system, respond to our obligations as Treaty partners, supporting Māori social, cultural and economic aspirations. A particular challenge within this is our role in supporting the revitalisation of Te Reo Māori and responding to the demands of delivering high quality Māori language learning across all settings. Of further importance is the contribution ERO can make to the New Zealand education system through a comprehensive work programme that explores and reports on Māori medium education.
Challenge 3: Arresting the decline in performance across key curriculum domains
The falloff in performance in key areas of the curriculum highlighted through OECD studies, the IEA’s PIRLs study, national insights from the National Education Monitoring Project (NEMP) and National Monitoring Study of Student Achievement (NMSSA), along with our own studies, are equally concerning. Each of these studies highlight the urgent need to arrest these trajectories and call for a national response and focus on these core elements of learning in our system. A particular area for attention appears in the senior primary school years with many a falloff in the pace of learning between years 4 and 8 across a number of curriculum areas. ERO has recently showcased in our Teaching Strategies that Work series some of the strategies that successful schools are adopting to overcome this pattern. As these case studies identify, through strong leadership and an explicit focus on turning around identified areas of weakness, schools can arrest these pattern of decline. Our item Keeping children engaged and achieving in reading highlights 4 particular strategies that apply to reading and mathematics equally:
i) effective use of assessment
ii) an emphasis on growing teacher capability through PLD
iii) use of mixed ability grouping
iv) ensuring resources aligned with learning priorities.
Challenge 4: Responding to the demands for 21st Century skills
The rapid rate of technological change and the future world of work requires that as education providers we need to reconsider and adapt our curriculum to reflect the needs of a changing world. This world will place an emphasis on 21st Century skills and competencies and require that those leaving our schools are innovative, able to work in multi-disciplinary teams and through global networks. They will equally require students to embed the skills and practices for continued knowledge acquisition and capacity to adapt to the inevitable shocks and transformations that occur in our economy. Our recent look into NCEA (What Drives Learning in the Senior Secondary School?) suggests that we may be travelling in the wrong direction in response to these demands with an excessive focus on assessment at the cost of the delivery of the New Zealand Curriculum, the atomisation of learning through the unit standards approach, an undue focus on individual endeavour at the cost of learner-centred, multi-curricula and team/project-based teaching and learning.
Challenge 5: A high status profession
The quality of teaching has the single biggest within school effect on learner outcomes. Strengthening the teaching profession to respond to the rapidly changing expectations painted above remains critical. New technology, research and understanding of the learning process means that teaching is increasingly knowledge-based and reflective. Collaborative learning, team teaching and individualised learning is becoming the norm for many. ERO’s recent work on initial teacher education and concerns with the preparedness of new teachers in our system has been covered in a previous edition of Insights. In that report we highlight a key characteristic of high performing systems as those that attract high calibre candidates into teacher education programmes and place an emphasis on quality induction, mentoring and coaching, and the ongoing development and adaption of practice through a teacher’s career. We equally need to ensure that our teaching profession reflects the growing diversity of New Zealand’s population and is able to work with learners from the many and varied cultural, linguistic and ethnic backgrounds that constitute our communities, along with learners who present with challenging learning needs. Many of the schools ERO works with that are struggling, are challenged in their attempts to attract high quality teachers to work in their schools. Supporting these schools in this endeavour and continuing to invest in the development of the profession are clear priorities for our system as we move forward.
Challenge 6: A system committed to continuous improvement
A commitment to continuous improvement is what ERO sees as our 6th challenge. Every school and early learning service needs to be a great place to learn. Ensuring that we reflect on our impact on learner outcomes and continue to evolve, innovate and adjust what we are doing as educators is crucial to our effectiveness as teachers, as providers and as a system. For this reason ERO places a significant weight on the extent to which providers are reflective about the impact that they are having and the effectiveness of the programmes and strategies they are adopting. A system committed to continuous improvement is also one which is underpinned by a strong research and evidence base, has consensus about what it is attempting to achieve and strives to share innovation through promoting system leadership and through deliberate networks and support infrastructure. In such a system the emphasis on self management shifts to one of self improvement.
These challenges do not sit in isolation and have considerable overlaps. The current conversations in education have the potential to deliver meaningful solutions to these challenges. This will only occur if as a sector we build consensus around the path forward and remain focused on those actions that will make the biggest difference.
I hope you enjoy this issue of ERO Insights, which includes:
Chief Review Officer
Please email us your feedback, thoughts and ideas for the next isue of ERO Insights.