Nearly one-quarter of the schools in this study demonstrated a well-considered commitment to accelerating learning, by implementing some highly effective practices, particularly in classrooms. For teachers in these schools ‘business as usual’ was no longer good enough. They were reflective practitioners who were constantly looking for better ways to improve their students’ achievements. They understood that when a student was not progressing well their teaching approaches needed to change. A key factor in these schools was the synergy of teamwork from trustees, to the principal and the classroom teachers, working in partnership with students, and parents and whānau. The principal’s role in developing and sustaining this cohesive approach was pivotal.
Most schools have yet to develop such an effective approach. The concept of accelerating the learning of students was not fully understood by many teachers, school leaders and trustees. They were committed to improving students’ achievement but didn’t know how to do this successfully. Leaders lacked the confidence to think outside the square and were anchored in their existing approaches to under-achievers. Teacher aides or commercially developed programmes were seen as magic bullets rather than the teacher realising that the responsibility and expertise rested with them. These schools needed to explore, implement and review a greater range of teaching practices to accelerate students’ progress.
Self review and an evaluative, inquiry cycle approach to teaching and learning remain critical areas for development in many schools. These are both dependent on a confident and competent understanding and use of assessment by leaders and teachers. Most schools collate and recognise the numbers and names of students achieving below the National Standards. However, only the most effective schools collate and use the information that teachers collect about the specific strategies, with which individual students need more support.
A lack of aggregation of data about individual’s next learning steps means that in many schools students may participate in an intervention that does not teach the concepts and skills they need to accelerate their progress. Students will only increase their progress when their class or small group programmes specifically focus on the skills they need to learn next. It is not enough to group together students that are below a standard. Each of these students is likely to need tailored and deliberate teaching to master different skills or concepts.
The concept of responding to the strengths and needs of priority learners is yet to be fully understood by teachers and leaders, particularly in the case of Māori and Pacific students. One size does not fit all. The Ka Hikitia principles of promoting Māori success as Māori is yet to be embedded in teacher thinking. The same can also be said of success for Pacific students. Many teachers still do not fully understand the concept of cultural capital or the need for a culturally responsive curriculum that takes account of the identity, language and culture of their students.
Improving outcomes for Māori and Pacific students continues to be a challenge. ERO found many schools had collated their achievement data and some had charter targets for these students. However, few had well-considered strategies or fully involved their communities in working with them to reach their targets. Many schools have yet to realise the benefits of seeking and responding to whānau and community aspirations or sharing collated achievement or attendance data with their Māori and Pacific families. Communities that are well-informed can contribute to solutions rather than passively respond to, not understand or discard ideas about what a leader or teacher say is the best action for their child to make extra progress.
Many boards of trustees have yet to fully implement their governance role. School boards allocate considerable funds for additional personnel and programmes to provide extra support for students. They need easily understood and regularly monitored achievement information to assure them that resources are reaching and benefitting the students who need to make the most progress. They are dependent on their principals for such information to allocate and review the impacts of funding provided for PLD, resources and programmes for students achieving below the National Standards. Some trustees were not receiving frequent and high quality self-review information about achievement. They were not confident to proactively seek it out to use it in their governance and accountability roles to benefit students not achieving success.
The challenge for school leaders is to extend the unrelenting focus on priority learners’ achievement and learning, evident in a minority of schools. The number of teachers using the ‘teaching as inquiry’ cycle to reflect on and change their practice has to increase. Some teachers need new approaches and should be supported to trial and review such approaches that are known to accelerate the progress of students previously not achieving success.
A system-wide emphasis on the strategies teachers can use to accelerate progress is needed. All teachers have an ethical responsibility to help those students that need to catch up to their peers. This is essential if we are to raise the achievement of New Zealand students relative to their international counterparts. The disparity that has existed for decades and continues to exist between the achievement of different groups of students within our schools must be removed to ensure all our students can go on to realise their potential.