Findings

The Ministry of Education’s achievement data shows that most of the target students achieved NCEA Level 2 within the 2013 academic year. Across the 129 schools in the 2013 iteration of Achievement 2013-2017 60 percent of students achieved NCEA Level 2. Overall there were 2701 students in the target cohorts of all 129 schools. Sixty percent of these students were boys, 45percent were Māori and 17 percent were Pacific.

It is clear that Achievement 2013-2017 positively influenced the responses which schools made to their target cohorts. This report identifies the good practices that schools used (both their existing practices and those developed under Achievement 2013-2017). These practices are discussed below. The findings of this report are set out into four main sections:

  • The Ministry, schools and Achievement 2013-2017
  • The effective practice of schools
  • The key challenges for schools and the Ministry
  • The organisational challenges for Achievement 2013-2017

This data indicates that 1619 of the students targeted by schools successfully achieved NCEA Level 2. It was not possible for ERO to attribute particular examples of student success to specific features of Achievement 2013-2017. For example, ERO could not, delineate between existing school-based initiatives and those developed as part of Achievement 2013-201. ERO did not attempt to compare the performances of schools and the different ways they might have selected their cohorts.

The first of these sections sets out ERO findings in relation to how Achievement 2013‑2017 was experienced by schools. The second section discusses the range of effective practices put in place by schools. Many of these initiatives reflect what can be achieved by a dedicated team in a school, in a relatively short time that could also contribute to longer term gains for schools.

In the third section of the findings the challenges of Achievement 2013-2017 are explored. This includes examples of how individual schools have managed particular issues.

Following on from this section is a short discussion of some organisational issues linked to Achievement 2013-2017. This discussion is focused on enhancing the relationships between advisors and schools.

A. The Ministry, schools and Achievement 2013-2017

The usefulness of achievement 2013-2017

Of the 30 schools ERO visited, 20 schools identified that they had an increased focus on supporting the needs of identified students. ERO found that a few of these schools had also made significant changes to their practices. Most schools reported that they had developed useful strategies for supporting students to achieve success as part of the Achievement 2013-2017 initiative.

Ten schools that had provided students with a high level of support, felt that their practises were well-established within the school and not attributable to their participation in Achievement 2013-2017. Five of these schools had been identified in recent ERO Education Review reports as being highly responsive to students and were likely to be reviewed again in four to five years. Three of these schools said that they had made no changes to their practices as a result of their participation. The final two schools acknowledged that they had at least sharpened their focus on individual students requiring support. The initiative gave us a little jolt. The difference was the sense of urgency – do something right now.

The example below highlights the use one school made of the initiative to support an existing school goal.

Ministry support in an integrated urban school

At this school one of the deputy principals had been looking for ideas on how to raise senior school achievement. She attended two Ministry workshops, which she found very useful and highly motivating. Following a visit from the Ministry advisor, the school selected a group of 35 students at risk of missing NCEA Level 2 by no more than 20 credits.

Early in Term 4, the two deputy principals and two whānau [5] leaders each interviewed three or four students. The school then sent a letter to the parents or caregivers of 30 students who had achieved 65 percent of the required credits by this time. The deputy principal later met with most of these parents or caregivers. All students signed contracts in which they agreed to regularly attend a study group, the study hub, when other students had left on exam study leave, and to complete all their credit requirements. A deputy principal looked at the each student’s balance of internal and externally assessed credits. Different arrangements were made for a few students accordingly, such as being permitted to study at home or work with specialist teachers in the ‘study hub’, but the mentor monitored all students in the group.

Most of the study group students were required to be present at the ‘study hub’ for full school days, with morning tea provided. Some teachers provided subject-specific support, while others helped organise the daily work programme and study timetables. Others just supervised. The deputy principal checked-up on students, visited homes and brought them to examinations as required. Some students were also provided with a limited number of life-skills unit standards, completed early 2014 through an external provider.

The ‘study hub’ will continue in 2014. The school had already identified groups of students in Year 12 that needed support to reach NCEA Level 2 in 2014. The deputy principal was exploring a widened range of mentoring opportunities The number of senior level deans had increased from two to four. The school has trained whānau teachers to better use the school Student Management System (SMS) and NZQA websites. All students were taught how to follow their own credit acquisition using their NZQA number, and were expected to do so.

An anonymous, regularly updated list of credits, acquired by all students was posted outside the deputy principal’s office. The school set goals with all students, and teachers revisited these at whānau time. Students with high levels of success during the year were recognised and acknowledged at assemblies. The dean said students were now talking about credits – asking teachers when their credits would be entered on the NZQA website and whether what they were studying had credits.

The school was also providing improved information to students and parents about NCEA, including issuing an assessment booklet to all seniors, producing a calendar with full assessment, reporting and tracking dates, and holding an NCEA information evening for students and parents.

The school had raised expectations for teachers. These expectations included:

  • a three week turn-around time from submission of work for assessment to entering the results in the SMS
  • more consistent reassessment requirements across subjects
  • a review of vocational pathways across the school
  • teachers were now required to enter all students in the appropriate externals at the start of the year rather than waiting until later in the year and only then entering them if they were likely to succeed.

The deputy principal acknowledges that they would not have implemented the above initiative without Ministry support.

How schools identified their target cohorts

Target students were generally identified by the school’s senior leadership team and/or their deans. Different schools used different criteria for selecting target students. The size of target groups varied from nine to 72 students. The size of the group did not necessarily reflect the size of the school.

Most schools worked within the broad Ministry criteria of focusing on students at risk of not achieving NCEA Level 2, but potentially within 20 credits of this target midway through Term three. However, within these broad criteria variability was encouraged to enable schools to select students and strategies that they considered appropriate to their own context and priorities.

A key aspect of the ARTs initiative is a focus on improving achievement of Māori and Pacific students. Therefore, it was pleasing to see schools had provided extra support for many Māori and Pacific students. Two schools selected groups that were exclusively Māori, while another selected no Māori students as underachievement was not an issue for their Māori students.

Other schools:

  • focused on students whose chances of achieving NCEA Level 2 were limited but had the potential to increase the number of credits gained towards this goal
  • selected students who had not completed NCEA Level 1 but were doing multi‑level courses that included NCEA Level 2 credits.
  • supported those who needed the NCEA literacy and numeracy requirements for NCEA Level 2.

Many schools’ staff stated that their prime focus was getting students through NCEA Level 1. While this focus is somewhat justified, given the high number of students who do not achieve NCEA Level 1[6] this has highlighted the need for all students to be on a clear and coherent pathway that leads to NCEA Level 2 and beyond.

B. The effective practice of schools

This section describes the range of effective practices found in schools. These processes tend to be based around:

  • improved pastoral care for students
  • more individual support linked to better tracking and monitoring of achievement information
  • additional learning opportunities, especially outside of normal classroom hours.

A supportive adult

In all but one school, students were carefully matched with a caring, supportive adult, often referred to as a ‘mentor’, [7] who had regular conversations with them regarding their learning. Some schools asked teachers to volunteer as mentors. A powerful strategy used by a few schools was for students to ask teachers to be their mentor and teachers approached were usually ‘honoured and stoked to be asked’. One deputy principal stated, ‘Some choices were surprising - students were realistic about who would be the best person to help them stay on track’. Principals and deputy principals were often mentors and, in a few cases, were the only mentors. A few schools already had mentoring in place for groups of priority learners.

Mentors maintained regular contact with their students. They used information from the school SMS to query students’ progress, to remind them of deadlines and celebrate their successes. This was done on a formal and informal basis with scheduled appointments, ‘chance’ encounters and use of communications technology. They acted as advocates for their students, and negotiated extra support from subject teachers and opportunities for resubmission of work. Most schools demonstrated a clear understanding that the longer-term goal of the mentor was to move students from dependency on the support provided by the mentor, to being self-managing learners.

In a few schools, the mentoring was part of the role of the form teacher. In these schools, the school day was structured to provide mentors with increased time to interact with students, with a boost in time allowed for form meetings.

In two schools the targeted students were not aware they were being mentored. These mentors made contact with students as part of their normal daily interactions. School leaders sought to have mentors build on the relationship that they had already established with students. These practices reflect the role of all teachers in supporting their students to develop the learning behaviours to become lifelong learners.

Students identified the support of their mentor as being the single most important factor in their success. A common student comment was, ‘the teachers were on your case 24/7’.

In most schools the mentors had little preparation for their role. However, participation in PLD for restorative practices [8] and/or Positive Behaviour for Learning School-wide (PB4L) [9] was seen as providing some assistance in gaining the necessary skills. In only one school were mentors provided with clear guidelines and expectations for their role.

Targeted support for students in a large urban school

This school already had a mentoring programme for NCEA Level 2 students to support the school’s charter goal to meet the Government’s target of having 85 percent of students achieving NCEA Level 2 in 2017. As a result of the approach by the Ministry they selected a group of 20 students out of the 107 who were already part of their original mentoring programme.

The school employed a staff member as a Vocational Pathways Mentor (VPM) for 50 percent of her time as part of their ongoing mentoring programme. She made initial contact with students during Term 1. She also mentored the targeted 20 students.

The VPM closely monitored the students’ NCEA credit acquisition. She maintained an overtly ‘casual’ but systematic approach, catching students in the corridors, playground or cafeteria for informal chats about their progress. She had their cell phone numbers and texted them at home and school with reminders and queries. In some cases she rang them at home to discuss progress. She liaised regularly with classroom and careers teachers regarding these students and their needs. She brokered support required from teachers, assisting less confident students to make their voices heard. She shared information about who was working with target group students so that all their teachers had the ‘the big picture’ of each student.

Students acknowledged the positive impact of being targeted: ‘it gives me focus – she kept on pushing me’. All students in the 2013 target group were back at school in 2014. The VPM stated: ‘they are all kids we would have lost without the extra support and mentoring’.

A numeracy mentor monitored students’ numeracy acquisition, particularly at NCEA Level 1. She liaised with classroom teachers who in Term 2 identified students who might fail. She monitored their progress and attendance. In Term 3 she withdrew some students from classes and worked with them in groups. She identified numeracy credits available for students in their science and construction courses. About 50 percent of her time was spent on teaching and the other 50 percent on affirmation and confidence building with students.

Literacy coordinators at NCEA Level 1 identified students at risk of not meeting the literacy requirement and provided specialised support programmes. They identified and developed opportunities for gaining literacy credits from across the curriculum. Literacy and numeracy success rates at NCEA Level 1 had increased from 50 percent to 75 percent over the previous three years. A similar literacy mentoring programme was in place for NCEA Level 3 students in 2014.

Close monitoring of student progress

The role of the mentor was closely linked to the timely and effective monitoring of individual student’s progress and achievement. Teachers and senior leaders were at varying stages of their understanding about how to fully utilise the potential that an effective SMS provided.

Effective monitoring necessitates access to reliable and up-to-date information about students’ progress. It requires regular and timely entry of data by subject teachers in the school SMS. Lack of such regular feedback on student progress made monitoring difficult. This was often an outcome of some subject departments choosing to carry out the majority of their assessment at the end of the year, or, some subjects requiring portfolios needed a year long process to build these up before assessment.

Schools which used outside education providers to widen learning opportunities for students sometimes found that the providers’ timeframes for supplying information on credits obtained did not match their own. This again caused difficulty for monitoring of what students had achieved and what they had yet to do.

Schools were attempting to address these issues in various ways including:

  • encouraging staff to have a better spread of assessments throughout the year
  • clarifying expectations regarding resubmission and reassessment for all students
  • requiring departments to develop predictive grades
  • providing staff with clear expectations of the timeframe for data entry, with one school having a rigorous seven day expectation from the time of assessment
  • appointing a staff facilitator to ensure that results from outside providers came in on time.

Mentors were able to readily access both pastoral and achievement information for their students. In some schools, overall monitoring of the group, and students in general, was the role of one person, an academic dean or deputy principal, who then redirected relevant information to the mentor. In two schools this was the role of the careers/transition teacher, maintaining a strong link with a clearly defined learning pathway for the student. Another school employed a well trained and highly skilled support staff person to assist the deputy principal with the monitoring of students’ credit acquisition through the SMS.

This monitoring process included ascertaining that the credits which students were working towards were appropriate to their learning pathways. In some schools, selected students’ classroom programmes, across their subjects, were checked for participation in activities that might contribute to them meeting the requirements for literacy and numeracy.

While monitoring credit acquisition was a key element for many schools, most schools also identified a link between poor attendance and lack of achievement. Consequently, constant monitoring of the attendance of at-risk students, with prompt intervention, was seen as vital for the success of this group.

In some schools information on the needs and progress of targeted students was shared with all staff by visible displays of information in the staffroom. This was used as a motivator for staff participation and support, and a means of celebrating both staff and student success. Students were encouraged and supported in some schools to directly access for themselves digitally, information on their progress and credit acquisition. This valued the role of students and supported them to develop the skills to become self-managing learners.

Integrating pastoral care to support students' learning

Many schools identified the need to integrate pastoral care and support for students’ learning, but had yet to do so. A few schools had widened staff responsibility for supporting students to achieve by extending the roles of those with pastoral care responsibilities to include academic monitoring and mentoring. In these schools the role of form/tutor teacher had moved beyond routines such as marking the roll and checking uniform. The form teacher was provided with more form time to carry out this ongoing mentoring role.

Similarly deans, particularly at Years 11 to 13, were encouraged to change their conversations with students from behaviour-based to learning-based. In these schools deans were an integral part of the Achievement 2013-2017 initiative, either as mentors or by providing support and oversight for the mentors.

Supporting students through the pastoral network in a large urban school

This school participated in Achievement 2013-2017 in 2013 using mentors for target students from outside of their roopu [10] system. Years 9 to 11 students met daily in roopu groups and were closely monitored and individually mentored. Years 12 and 13 roopu time was a 15 minute weekly meeting, focused on administrative tasks. Senior students were expected to take responsibility for their own learning behaviours and started school an hour later than other students.

The school’s self review, partly as a consequence of participation in Achievement 2013-2017, concluded that all Years 12 and 13 students also needed the continued support of a significant adult.

In 2014 the school increased roopu time for Years 12 and 13 in 2014 from one hour per week to an hour daily, with seniors now expected to start school at the same time as other students. Senior leaders see this as reducing the need for mentors by passing the responsibility back to roopu teachers. Senior leaders believe that a key factor is teachers‘earning the right to ask students the hard questions through a well established, positive relationship’. Roopu time allowed time for the development of such relationships. Roopu teachers were expected to monitor their students’ progress, carry out a mentoring role for their group, and maintain contact with families and whānau.

The dean had a crucial role in monitoring the work of roopu teachers and met with them, as a group, for an hour weekly. The careers advisers also met regularly with the roopu teachers to discuss students’ pathways. A management unit was allocated to a further staff member for oversight of the process, with a particular focus on supporting deans and roopu teachers through data collection.

Another school had totally revamped the concept of form groups.

An alternative to form teachers in a small rural school

At this school Fridays were taken out of the six-day timetable and made available for consolidation of learning and improved access to out-of-school courses, and block courses within the school. While there were timetabled subject classes on Fridays, no major assessments or significant group teaching took place on that day to ensure that students on block courses did not fall behind in other subject areas. Students not involved in block courses were able to benefit from subject-based, one-on-one teaching.

Daily form time and form classes, which were used for administration purposes such as roll checks, were removed. The roll check was now carried out daily by the period one teacher in a lengthened first period Form classes were replaced with teachers assigned to ‘focus learning groups’.

These focus learning groups were allocated to one of their class teachers. Consequently most teachers had one of the classes they taught as a focus learning group. The groups met for goal setting and monitoring linked to students’ learning pathways, teaching learning skills, and academic mentoring sessions. A student focus learning group journal, which had resources from Careers New Zealand, an NCEA credit tracker and a goal-setting tool, was used to support focus learning group sessions. Staff were supported by weekly PLD that concentrated on, and monitored, what was happening in their focus learning group.

These changes were intended to shift the form teachers’ role from administrators, to facilitators of learning across the students’ subjects.

Maximising learning opportunities

Many secondary schools ran after-school homework centres and lunchtime or after‑school subject tutorials as a regular feature. However, schools noticed that often the at-risk students were not the students who went there.

Some schools realised that many of the target group students did not know how to study or lacked the skills for individual study. In other cases schools were aware that these students did not have many external examinations and needed to use this ‘study’ time differently.

Some schools were not involved in the initiative until the start of Term 4, 2013. For these schools the challenge was to maximise the teaching time remaining for students to acquire credits. Identifying students at risk of not succeeding much earlier in the year and putting in place appropriate support would reduce the need for such additional, last minute intervention.

Consequently, many schools chose to take full advantage of the time available when schools traditionally released their students for ‘study leave’. A few schools did away with this completely for all students and continued with targeted teaching until the completion of external examinations.

Some schools ran optional tutorials for all students during this time. Others maintained the senior timetable during ‘study leave’ so students could automatically access help. A few ran tutorial/study days, which the entire target group was expected to attend. This element of compulsion provided an excuse for not ‘goofing off’. ‘If we didn’t we’d be out with the boys. I have to go to study hub.’ In other schools attendance was optional but targeted students were encouraged to attend. A few schools provided food and drinks for students attending these study programmes. One school provided breakfast on examination days to get students to school and ensure they were appropriately fed before their examinations.

Other additional learning opportunities provided for underachieving students included:

  • a study school during the holidays between Terms 3 and 4. Students opted in and teachers volunteered their support. Senior leaders were rostered to participate. Lunch was provided for all participating
  • a Term 4, residential, study retreat for Pacific girls to provide focused learning and study skills. This was seen as especially important as, “many girls have huge demands at home”.
  • a weekly Saturday morning school
  • Christmas holiday catch-up colleges where students worked towards completing credits from the previous year
  • further credit catch-up opportunities for students in February 2014, sometimes using an external provider.

Canterbury Summer School

This was a Ministry funded initiative, located at Hagley Community College that targeted students from schools across the region. Twenty-eight students from across Christchurch and surrounding areas attended. Students usually needed about eight credits from their original courses to complete NCEA Level 2. Sixteen teachers from a wide range of curriculum areas were available to provide teaching targeted to meet individual student needs. The credits acquired by students were attributed to their home schools.

Twenty-four of the students enrolled achieved the credits they required to gain NCEA Level 2. The enrolment response from local schools was not as large as might have been expected.

C. The challenges for schools and the Ministry

The following section discusses the challenges faced by schools and the Ministry in the implementation of Achievement 2013-2017. A few schools were able to effectively respond to some of these challenges.

Involving parents and whānau

The 2009 Best Evidence Synthesis (BES) states: ‘There is great potential for leaders to counter patterns of under-achievement by building school-family connections that are explicitly related to the core business of teaching and learning. By means of such connections, students’ achievement can be dramatically raised.’[11]

Few schools had developed such an ongoing relationship with parents and whānau to support their teenagers’ in the intervention. Contact was generally restricted to notification of a student’s inclusion in the initiative and, in some cases, some further communication about work not submitted or irregular attendance. This was justified by some school leaders by the proposition that teenagers preferred not to have their parents too closely involved in their school life. However, research indicates that parents:

  • are able to share with the teacher the students’ interests, strengths and challenges that can be used to provide an engaging curriculum for the child
  • should receive clear information about programme choices, qualifications requirements, career pathways and their teenagers’ progress towards achieving their goals
  • be involved in choosing their teenagers’ subjects and developing their career pathways
  • receive regular and timely information about their teenagers’ progress towards achieving NCEA credits, including any concerns about work completion
  • be provided with resources and opportunities to help them make subject choices for their teenagers’ learning pathways.

When parents were kept informed students acknowledged the impact. ‘It was like a bomb in the house.’ However, some students recognised the positive aspects of having families/whānau involved.

Some schools noted some parent resistance to their teenagers being part of a special initiative, but said that this generally dissipated once the intended support was explained more fully. Schools and students stated that many parents did not have a good understanding of NCEA. Some schools had attempted NCEA information evenings, including meetings specifically for Māori and Pacific parents, with only limited attendance.

A few schools actively fostered a relationship with parents and whānau with texting often used to maintain ongoing contact with some families. One school rang all target group parents weekly to discuss their teenagers’ progress. They also set up initial, 15 minute, face-to-face meetings with mentors, students and parents. Another school sent home students’ goal setting sheets to enable parents to assist with monitoring their teenager’s progress. A further school sent home credit up-date sheets every three weeks.

Providing a relevant curriculum

ERO found that Achievement 2013-2017 had yet to influence longer-term curriculum review and development. To some extent this is linked to the fact that advisors did not start until the second half of 2013. The changes that schools did make tended to be led by subject departments and consisted of small, incremental, credit-based modifications.

ERO found that subject heads of departments (HODs) and faculties (HOFs) played a limited role in this initiative. Their contribution generally did not extend beyond overseeing reassessment opportunities, making a few additional credits available and providing some tutorial opportunities. Schools need an integrated, team-based approach to supporting students’ learning that includes the classroom teacher, supported by their head of department and leaders with particular pastoral responsibilities, all working together to facilitate a learning programme shaped to meet the needs of the individual student.

In some schools the students were required to fit within the curriculum that the school provided rather than a curriculum being constructed around the needs of each student. When the curriculum offered requires students to study subjects that have limited relevance to their interests, skills and aspirations, they are less likely to be fully engaged in their learning with a consequent likelihood of not succeeding. Some leaders were exploring community-based learning opportunities for their students, but still had some way to go to meet the needs of all their students. The example below describes how one rural secondary school developed options within its timetable that were linked to student interests and strengths.

Meeting students’ needs in a large rural secondary school

School leaders in this school understood that students, and their parents and whānau had aspirations that were wider than just the traditional range of subjects provided by secondary schools. The school has had an increasingly strong focus on providing students with a wide variety of vocational pathways, including courses such as land-based studies, maritime studies, construction, processing technologies, early childhood studies, hospitality and automotive. They have used STAR[12] funding to provide further polytechnic-type courses within the school. The school has built strong links with the local and wider business and education communities.

This school had a responsive approach to the curriculum and during the course of the year relevant supplementary credits were provided for individuals as required e.g. deer and farm dog credits for a boy who interested in working in farming. Departments were also required to have an appropriate extra achievement standard, related to their curriculum area, available for students at the end of the year if needed.

Following attendance at a Ministry workshop, the careers advisor/transition teacher decided to supplement existing initiatives by identifying and targeting a group of 22 NCEA Level 2 students. She presented the names to staff at morning briefing and asked teachers who had some sort of connection to any of them to “adopt a learner over the next four weeks”. She reported back to the whole staff each week on the academic progress of these students.

The support received by these individual students blended with initiatives already in place including:

  • monitoring of students’ progress carried out by careers and transition teachers, deans and house teachers as part of their roles in a well-established pastoral support network. Students were given regular breakdowns of their progress and what was still to be done
  • study periods had been changed to ‘learning to learn’ periods where study skills were taught
  • an informal boys’ initiative where teachers mentored groups of boys. These informal groups developed a strong ‘team’ culture and rallied around and supported peers at risk of missing deadlines.

Ensuring that credits are linked to a relevant party

The Ministry Vocational Pathways initiative and ERO’s 2013 ERO report, Increasing Educational Achievement in Secondary Schools have identified that a risk of an increased focus on students achieving NCEA qualifications is that credit acquisition becomes a goal in itself without due consideration being given to whether the credits gained are relevant to a student’s future. In this current evaluation ERO investigated whether students were supported to follow courses that were relevant to their individual aspirations.

Most of the credits gained by students in the target groups in these schools reflected the students’ desired pathways and most schools consciously avoided ‘catch up’ credits. ‘We didn’t give credits for bending down to do up your shoe laces.’ Schools talked about the importance of, ‘learning versus credits’.

A minority of schools provided students with the opportunity to gain some credits that were additional to their original course. These credits introduced students to a useful wider set of skills, such as curriculum vitae writing and health and safety. Two schools extended this practice too far and appeared to be more focused on students gaining NCEA credits than furthering their individual pathways. At one school, a class was brought together for an end-of-year programme with the aim of acquiring the same 17 credits, irrespective of their individual course pathways. Another school offered 15 health and safety catch-up credits in February 2013 to a group of students who were yet to achieve NCEA Level 2. This practice is not endorsed by the Ministry or ERO who are and will continue to actively encourage all schools to offer appropriate standards that are aligned to students’ pathways.

Leadership for staff participation

The 2009 Best Evidence Synthesis (BES) outlines the benefits for students when leaders promote collective responsibility and accountability for student achievement and wellbeing. ‘Collective responsibility is not just the sum of individual teachers’ responsibility for their own students but also responsibility for all students in the schools’ [13] .

Although a few schools developed this collective responsibility, in many schools participation in the initiative included only the principal, deputy principal and deans. Other staff participation in these schools was limited to providing tutorial help or reassessment opportunities. This was partly a consequence of the late start to the initiative which made involvement of larger numbers of staff unrealistic. In a few schools neither the wider staff nor the board trustees were aware of the initiative.

In schools where a greater attempt was made to involve staff there was sometimes some initial resistance because of concern about increased workload or the view that students who had not worked during the year did not now deserve extra attention ‘we’re already doing enough; it will encourage kids not to work during the year’. Acceptance of the value of the approach increased when staff saw the positive impact in changed student behaviour or when academic information about students was shared with them.

Unless the good practice outlined in this report is extended across the broader staff, for many of the schools involved the initiative may become unsustainable because of the workload imposed on just a few. The variable participation by staff in many schools also limits the impact on school-wide change towards a ‘teaching as inquiry’ approach as the norm for all staff. “All teachers have to recognise they can make a difference for students, especially where teachers develop their knowledge of the individual learner.” [14]

Bringing staff onboard in a large urban secondary school

At this school all staff were informed of the initiative at a staff meeting.

Target students received individual invitations to attend a lunch with the principal and deputy principal. All the senior leadership team attended, plus the Years 12 and 13 whānau deans. Also included were other teachers who were considered important to the invited students and three Ministry staff. At the lunch the principal delivered a motivational speech, linked to a recent school rugby win, with analogies of ‘families on the sideline and the whole school helping to push you over the line.’He communicated a clear belief in the possibility of success. Some students had not realised how close they were to gaining a qualification. After the meeting one student said, ‘I didn’t know the school cared so much’.

The impact on teachers who attended was equally significant. ‘Initially I was thinking why a meeting? But the message was clear to both students and the staff that every student is indispensible at this college’.

A meeting of the subject teachers of the targeted students was held to look at current achievement, and realistic individual achievement potential. It was clear that targeted students were succeeding in gaining some credits and the gap to be closed was manageable. The principal said this meeting reinforced the message that ‘every assessment matters and what happens in every class is ultimately what makes the difference.’

Self review for 2013 initiatives

All but two schools reported to ERO that they intended to continue with many of the initiatives they already had in place or had implemented as part of their participation in Achievement 2013-2017. The two schools who saw no benefits in participating reported they already had systems in place to support students at risk of not achieving.

Although formal self review was limited, most schools were thinking about what they could do to improve their support for students, including modifying their 2013 initiatives. In addition to areas identified earlier in this report, schools identified the need to:

  • provide suitable PLD on effective mentoring and use of the SMS
  • improve teachers’ understanding of the information that data provides and what this means in providing support for individual students
  • improve academic counselling and monitoring from Year 9 onwards
  • raise staff and student expectations for achievement
  • develop a greater sense of accountability among staff for student achievement.

Most schools had little formal review of the effectiveness of the initiative. Two schools had incorporated the initiative in their ongoing, extensive review of student support systems and had implemented consequent changes. Another sent home an evaluation form for parents to complete.

Some schools had formally analysed their 2013 NCEA data and were able to show a significant impact for their target group, while others had seen little impact. A few schools had yet to analyse their 2013 NCEA data in relation to this initiative. [15] To retain practices likely to improve outcomes for future students, Ministry advisers should support schools to look into their achievement results to identify what worked and what should be retained or extended more widely across the school. Such review should also include a focus on student pathways and destination after leaving school.

D. Organisational challenges for achievement 2013-2017

An earlier start for achievement 2013-2017

In most areas, the initial Ministry contact with schools was during the second half of Term 3, 2013 or in a few cases, early Term 4. Schools identified this late notice as a barrier to implementing a useful response. An earlier start in Term 1, should allow time for differentiation of the initiative to merge with the school’s own vision, culture and current initiatives.

It is significant that the greatest impact of the initiative was evident in schools that had the greatest need for support to assist students to gain success in NCEA. Earlier and more rigorous scoping of how well schools were supporting students would enable more effective targeting of Ministry support to schools where students were likely to benefit the most.

An early start to the identification and monitoring of students should facilitate the involvement of a greater number of staff, providing opportunities for the development of good practice across the school. It would provide opportunities to build student engagement earlier in the year, with a consequent greater prospect of success. Greater student success in obtaining the credits that were part of their planned course should reduce the need to offer ‘top up’ credits later in the year.

Clarity of expectations for the initiative and advisers

Schools that had not previously implemented the strategies promoted by this initiative were generally positive about the support they had received from the Ministry. They valued their contact with the Achievement Retention and Transition (ARTs) advisers and the practical assistance they provided. They acknowledged that ‘Being selected and monitored by the Ministry is a mirror of the impact on students of mentoring’.

They were being monitored and held accountable for their impact on student achievement in a way that reflected the mentoring process for students.

In one region in particular, schools found Ministry support very ‘hands-on’, including the adviser providing PLD for staff on mentoring and facilitating networking between schools. Schools especially valued the NCEA workshops facilitated by the Ministry and said they would like the Ministry to provide further ongoing opportunities for schools to share practice.

However, the nature and quality of support received by participating schools varied. This variation appeared, in particular, between regions. Three schools expressed concern about the credibility of the adviser, querying whether they had an understanding of the secondary sector and NCEA. Lack of continuity of the same adviser working with a school on an ongoing basis was also identified by some schools as an issue. The Ministry was aware of this issue and has taken actions to improve this.

Some schools had regular ongoing visits, others just a phone call, and in one school the adviser did not attend scheduled meetings. Two schools said that requests for further support, although promised, did not occur. Schools received mixed messages regarding whether resourcing was to be provided for the initiative. Expectations for the advisor’s role require clarification, as do the parameters surrounding the initiative and these need to be shared with the advisers and schools.

Reporting student progress and achievement

An especially frustrating issue for some school staff was the spreadsheet used for reporting student data to the Ministry. Schools often found a mismatch with the Ministry spreadsheet format for recording data and their own Student Management Systems, creating what they saw as unnecessary extra work. Overall, it was unclear to schools whether the data spreadsheet was intended to support good practice or as a compliance requirement.