Two barriers ERO identified in the 2015 report Educationally powerful connections with parents and whānau were a lack of assessment for learning and limited school-wide response to engaging with parents.
Leaders and teachers at SYLVIA PARK SCHOOL took a deliberate approach to remove these and other barriers, and aimed to develop genuine reciprocal relationships with parents that ultimately benefited children, teachers and families.
They quickly carried out comprehensive assessments with children new to the school, to share with parents early as part of establishing their learning partnerships. As a result, parents were able to support children's learning at home.
This narrative shares the different strategies the school used to fully engage parents in their child's learning, and to ensure respectful relationships and collaboration between parents and teachers.
The school's leaders had a strong belief that parents should have a right to access important information about their children's learning, achievement and progress.
The community needs to be participating in our learning. What can 550 people do together to improve learning in our community?
We want to create high decile demand for information for, and involvement from, parents in a low decile school.
When a new family came to the school, leaders and teachers shared everything. For example, teachers displayed the junior reading levels as a colour wheel, and fully explained the numeracy stages so "parents didn't have to operate in a fog”. Leaders showed every space in the school to demonstrate that everything was shared and nothing was hidden.
Teachers shared all assessments and the children's responses with their parents. Teachers and parents:
> discussed what an assessment revealed
> jointly decided the child's next steps as specific learning goals
> determined how the parents could support the child's learning at home and how the teacher would support the learning at school.
Teachers also gave parents appropriate resources to support the learning goals at home.
Teachers undertook assessments immediately and regularly to quickly build learning-centred relationships with families and whanau new to the school. Whether children arrived at the beginning or during the year, the expectation was they would start learning straight away. They were assessed during their first week of school, again at six and 12 months, and after two years.
Teachers shared assessment data with parents and children, and used it to determine appropriate learning activities for home and school. The school employed an additional teacher to release the teachers to do all the Year 1 assessments. Parents who spoke to ERO saw how much learning happened in their child's first year at school and could see the benefits of the learning partnership.
The school made a video (available on YouTube) that gives more detail about how leaders and teachers work in partnership with parents.
Considerable improvements in achievement were evident from the time teachers started working closely with parents in 2010. The graph below shows the improvements in the Concepts about Print school entry assessment (SEA) compared to when the children turned six (@6), when parent partnerships were improved. The graph shows that each year, not only the number of six-year-old children at risk and of concern reduced considerably, but the number of five-year-old children achieving at or above when they started school also increased. Working with parents may also have helped younger siblings because of parents' increased knowledge of early literacy learning.
Children regularly shared their portfolios containing evidence of their learning in reading, writing, mathematics and inquiry topics. To increase their understanding of their own learning, the expectation was that as children moved through the school, they would increasingly be involved in assessing their own work. In Year 1, the work samples were accompanied by teacher comments. In Year 2, the teacher would write in consultation with the child why they had chosen to share this piece of work, and how it related to the success criteria. From Year 3 onwards, students were responsible for explaining why they had chosen to share each different piece of evidence.
"I have chosen this piece of evidence because it shows I can use doubling and halving to help me work out multiplication problems easily."
Year 5 boy, mathematics sample.
"I have chosen this piece of evidence because it shows I have used paragraphs, commas and exclamation marks when writing a recount."
Year 3 boy, writing sample.
In portfolios for children from Year 6 and above, we saw that children were confidently writing next steps for each work sample. This process, used with the portfolios, helped children understand what they had achieved. It also simplified assessment and tracking for teachers, and highlighted the child's progress to parents.
Teachers and children shared reports to parents at both the midyear and end-of-year reporting conferences. During these three-way meetings, children, parents and teachers discussed:
> how the child was achieving in relation to the expected standards
> what the child could already do
> the child's next steps
> how to help at home.
ERO met with a small group of Pacific parents who said they appreciated the sharing of information and resources, and attributed the increasing number of children reaching the expected standards as they got older to this sharing. They liked knowing about their child's learning and getting very specific information about their child's goals. One parent had enrolled her children at the school specifically so she could be more involved in their learning. The previous school gave her reports and talked about what her children couldn't do, but wouldn't show the actual assessments her children had completed or provide key information about how to help with learning at home.
"Our children know what they have to do at school. They have set their goals and they say what they are going to do to get there."
"When the teacher showed me my boy's reading assessments we could see that it was comprehension of the story that was holding him back. I had to try to keep up with his reading. My son told me what he had to do to keep up."
"We are able to follow the curriculum and then we can set the bar high. We are given the resources. With the right resources our children can learn."
"Everyone talks about learning here. Children talk about what they have to do."
"My kids are proud of me for supporting their learning. It is important for me to be there for them, lifting them up."
Parents had many opportunities to be involved in children's inquiry learning.
They could attend weekly assemblies where the children shared their learning. They could also read about the ongoing learning in class blogs and find other information on their school's website. The school also invited parents to participate in any vote or decisions about which of the children's designs should be constructed or featured as outcomes from termly inquiry topics. Often, the outcomes also included things that would benefit the community.
The Sylvia Park School Hub gave parents many links to help with reading at home, along with good sites for more information about the topics children were interested in. You can find these links and other information about Mutukaroa: Home-School Partnerships on the school's website.
The students' learning came alive through the school's work with the community. The outcome of every teaching topic was shared with the community at the End of Term Reveal, where everyone came together to celebrate the learning outcomes. The number of parents attending this End of Term Reveal was so large that the event had to be held in the local movie theatre. Children were empowered because they knew their learning would come to life through the inquiry outcome approach.
Parents we spoke to were proud to see their children's learning prominently displayed in the school environment. They brought visiting friends and whanau into the school during the weekend so they could share their children's achievements with them.