In 2012 the Ministry of Education (the Ministry) launched a pilot initiative in 16 schools to raise student achievement at Level 2 of the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA).[1] These schools were asked to investigate what could be achieved by identifying and supporting a target cohort of Year 12 students who were unlikely to gain NCEA Level 2 without additional help.

Evidence from the Ministry showed that 61 percent of the students in the pilot initiative had achieved NCEA Level 2 by the end of 2012. Another 31 percent remained at school in 2013. Eight percent did not gain NCEA Level 2 and did not return to school. Although it was not possible to accurately know how many of these students may have achieved NCEA Level 2 without additional support, ERO concluded that the initiative had a positive effect for many students.

In 2013 the Ministry expanded this initiative, now called Achievement 2013-2017, and involved 129 schools. These schools were identified by the Ministry because their NCEA achievement levels indicated the potential for improvement, especially for Māori and Pacific students. As part of this expansion the Ministry appointed a specialist team of advisors to liaise with these schools and provide them with support. These advisors worked with schools in Terms 3 and 4 of 2013. In future years these advisors will be working with schools from the beginning of the school year.

At the end of 2013 the Ministry requested that ERO evaluate the work of the expanded initiative. Subsequently, this report outlines how Achievement 2013-2017 has operated in 30 of the secondary schools. They represent a mix of schools from across the country.

Gains in student achievement

In 2013, 2701 students were in the target cohorts of the 129 schools that took part in Achievement 2013-2017. Schools were able to decide whether they wished to work with the Ministry on this initiative and were encouraged to find their own, local solutions to lift achievement for their students. Although many of the students were identified as being unlikely to achieve NCEA Level 2 without additional support, leaders in some schools chose to focus on supporting a wider group of students. Sixty percent of the students were boys, twenty five percent were Māori and just under ten percent were Pacific.

NCEA data gathered by the Ministry indicates that 60 percent (1619) of these students achieved NCEA Level 2 within the 2013 academic year. Schools also reported that their target cohorts had improved attendance and were more engaged as a result of their support.

Based on the overall gains made in student achievement, and ERO’s findings from the 30 schools, ERO has concluded that Achievement 2013-2017 has continued to add value to the work of schools. It is also likely that many of the 1619 students who achieved NCEA Level 2 in 2013 would not have done so without the input of Achievement 2013-2017.

Short term gains and long term improvement

The success of Achievement 2013-2017 during 2013 has, in the most part, been focused on and achieving ‘short term’ achievement gains for students. ERO found that many schools valued their contact with the Ministry advisors and the practical assistance they provided, particularly schools that had not previously implemented strategies promoted by this initiative. Schools which felt that they already used many of these effective strategies did not perceive as much need for the Ministry’s support.

A few schools made significant changes to their practices. Others used the initiative to introduce practices that complemented activities already working in their schools. Leaders and teachers took effective steps to support the students not likely to achieve NCEA Level 2. These included:

  • carefully matching each student with a caring, supportive adult who had regular conversations with them regarding their learning
  • timely monitoring of student progress and achievement
  • maximising learning opportunities for students with extra targeted teaching provided both during and outside regular school hours.

These practices also encouraged students to take more responsibility for their own learning through helping them gain a better understanding of what they needed to do to achieve success. A few schools actively fostered families’ and whānau support with initiatives. When parents were kept informed students acknowledged the impact. Some students recognised the positive aspects of having families/whanau involved.

The Achievement 2013-2017 initiative has the potential to result in longer-term goals for students. Although almost all schools intended to continue with the effective practices introduced during 2013, they had not formally reviewed the impact of new practices. When discussing their approaches with ERO, school leaders informally identified the need to focus on:

  • strengthening the sustainability of their approach by providing targeted support for a larger group of students from a wider range of staff.
  • developing partnerships with parents and whānau to ensure better teamwork and coordination between home and school
  • reviewing how effectively the school’s curriculum meets students’ needs, interests and aspirations
  • raising staff and student expectations for achievement.

The introduction of a more formal self-review process connected to the desired long‑term outcomes for Achievement 2013-2017 should support schools to consider the gains they have made with the target cohort. Findings from such self review should help schools to explore how they could apply their new practices to improve curriculum initiatives, pastoral care processes and careers education for all students.

In most of the schools only a limited number of teachers were involved in providing individual support and targeted teaching for the selected students. Often senior leaders took the key role in this support. The next step is to develop a comprehensive model that builds on the good practice highlighted in this report, and extend such practice within and across schools to involve all teachers.