In 2012, in response to the Government’s target that 85 per cent of 18-year-olds will have achieved NCEA Level 2 or equivalent qualification in 2017, the Ministry identified 16 schools to participate in a pilot initiative. These schools were encouraged to develop a plan that closely tracked and supported students who were close to, but at risk of not achieving NCEA Level 2 without further support. Schools were asked to see what differences could be achieved in a relatively short space of time. The underlying question for this work concerned the extent to which a focus on the individual learner produces significant differences in their achievement. The Ministry was also interested in the extent to which this initiative led to longer-term, sustainable improvements in these schools’ teaching and learning.

In 2013, ERO evaluated this pilot initiative, visiting 13 of the 16 schools. ERO’s investigation[2] found that, overall, some students achieved success. While it was not possible to know for sure what would have happened without the additional efforts of schools, evidence suggests a positive influence on student achievement. The focus on this target cohort of Year 12 students had encouraged the secondary school leaders and teachers in the pilot study to examine and improve their approach to meeting the needs of the students targeted.

The Ministry used the findings of the 2013 ERO report to support an expansion of this initiative in 2013 with 129 partner schools. As part of this expansion, the Ministry appointed specialist advisers to liaise with these schools and provide them with support. Schools were able to choose to participate in this initiative and were encouraged to use their own, local solutions to lift achievement for these students. In essence, schools sought to ‘find a way’ to respond to the individual circumstances of each student in their target cohort. The Ministry requested that ERO evaluate the impact of the 2013 initiative, including the support that it provided to schools as part of this initiative, to inform its practice in 2014.

The focus on NCEA Level 2 is of particular significance as it is the desired minimum qualification for school leavers giving them opportunities in terms of further education, employment, health outcomes and a better quality of life.[3] NCEA Level 2 requires students to obtain 80 credits, plus a minimum of 10 credits in literacy and 10 credits in numeracy. Students’ courses may include a mix of internally and externally assessed credits. Schools need to take into account a range of different factors when considering appropriate strategies to support students including identifying:

  • how many internally assessed credits have not been completed
  • how many opportunities for obtaining the necessary credits still remain in the student’s courses
  • how many external credits is the student likely to obtain
  • what possible new opportunities can be provided for students to gain success
  • what additional support will the student need to gain the credits required.

This report describes the school responses, within this context, to the challenge presented to them by Achievement 2013-2017 to raise the achievement of students not likely to gain an NCEA Level 2 qualification. It considers the nature and extent of effective practices in the schools and discusses the impact of these practices on students, teachers and school systems.