Establishing purpose and collective focus: setting achievement challenges

Achievement challenges are shared goals identified and developed by a Kāhui Ako based on the needs of its learners. Achievement challenges are usually accompanied by an action plan for improvement. Identifying the ‘right’ challenges is crucial to enabling the system transformation desired through Kāhui Ako. These Kāhui Ako were in the early stages of setting and monitoring progress towards achievement targets.

This process was not straight forward for Kāhui Ako for several reasons. Where schools already shared information and were confident of the quality of achievement information, setting targets was relatively straight forward. However, in some cases, teachers and schools were reluctant to share information with others. As the leaders built trusting professional relationships amongst participants and kept a clear focus on the purpose of collecting and using data, this reluctance lessened.


The process of establishing a collective focus in the Northcote Kāhui Ako took time. Twelve months and 12 drafts after this process began, the achievement challenges were endorsed. Although the Kāhui Ako members found it frustrating, it enabled them to learn more about each other’s context, motivations, and  challenges.

Finding the focus

Through systematic analysis of 2015 achievement data, school leaders looked at trends and patterns to address achievement challenges of boys, Māori learners, and Pacific learners in reading, writing, mathematics (Years 1 to 8), and NCEA Level 2. The process of identifying these challenges, however, led to a shared realisation that improvement of teaching and learning practices lay at the heart of achievement. Consequently, the Kāhui Ako determined this improvement as their focus from which success for learners in their community would emerge.


Working collaboratively, Ōtūmoetai Kāhui Ako leaders and trustees were eager to identify areas where they could make a real difference for learners, and focus some of their best teachers and leaders on these areas. An initial set of achievement challenges emerged from discussions amongst the principals. These challenges were thoroughly investigated and interrogated using different data sources including:

  • each primary school’s national standards and Ngā Whanaketanga Rumaki Māori data for 2013‑2015
  • each secondary school’s NCEA data
  • each school’s in‑depth data on student achievement
  • Ministry data on current special education caseloads
  • the Education Review Office summative report for the Ōtūmoetai Kāhui Ako
  • a special Ministry report on pathway data from early learning services on participation to NCEA achievement. 

Combining multiple sources of empirical data with professional knowledge about the challenges faced by learners in and across their schools allowed principals in this Kāhui Ako to identify an agreed set of common challenges. They then began developing relationships across the learner pathway, by bringing together different voices when establishing collective purpose, focus, and achievement challenges for their Kāhui Ako.

The value of clarifying purpose

The achievement challenges provided an anchor for galvanising the Kāhui Ako, and the process of setting the challenges also played a role. Strategies to clarify the purpose and focus of the Kāhui Ako provided the foundation for further investigation and collaborative sense‑making helped members of a steering committee to develop priorities for action. Members of the Kāhui Ako had to consider carefully what was needed to bring about the shifts that would make the most difference. This resulted in a small number of targeted activities: collaboration around strengthening pathways (for example, a shared focus on oral language); promoting cross‑cultural collaboration (for example, a shared commitment to working purposefully with the wharekura); and opportunities for innovation (for example, implementing a learning support trial). The focus on oral language as an achievement challenge, ensuring a voice for ELS in the steering committee, allocating Kāhui Ako resources to focus on the challenge, and inviting ELS to be a part of PLD are clear signals of commitment to develop and connect along the educational pathways within the Kāhui Ako.

An issue to address

The Kāhui Ako lead characterised the Ministry’s Kāhui Ako implementation framework as ‘narrow’. This perception caused tension with the aspiration of their Kāhui Ako to take a broader view of the achievement challenges they wanted to set. This Kāhui Ako was asked to resubmit its achievement challenges to fit with ‘Ministry’s requirements’. Clearer guidance about how raising achievement levels in literacy and mathematics can act as a precursor to students achieving in the broader curriculum may have helped overcome frustrations.


Reaching collective agreement

Delays in having achievement challenges endorsed were a source of great frustration for Waimate Kāhui Ako, and as a result it lost momentum and energy. By the time endorsement was gained, there were changes in leadership with four new principals appointed (all first-time principals). Socialising them into the discussions and focus took time. In spite of these challenges, the collective vision of the Kāhui Ako is understood by all and shared proactively with members of the wider community.

Starting with each school in the community

The process for identifying a collective focus began with each school investigating student achievement in their particular school context. This was described by all as a challenging but worthwhile exercise. Using the data gathered by each school, achievement challenges were identified for mathematics, writing, reading and an NCEA leaving qualification. Within each challenge, the Kāhui Ako decided to target students who were achieving below curriculum expectation, as improving their outcomes would help them access the curriculum more effectively. While everyone endorsed this focus, they also made an explicit commitment to track progress against the identified challenges. This process was considered far more meaningful, and ensured the Kāhui Ako efforts remained student and outcome‑focused.

Establishing a clear process for data analysis

There was a growing recognition of the need to establish effective structures and processes for ongoing analysis of achievement and progress data. High expectations around the quality of data analysis led the Kāhui Ako lead to work with an expert partner and statisticians from NZCER to explore ways of analysing the data gathered through the literacy learning progressions and national standards. They developed a common spreadsheet for recording schools’ overall teacher judgements (OTJs) relating to the national standards. Schools included norm referenced data through their student management systems (SMS). For some, this was the first time they had used their SMS for data recording and collation.  Teachers and principals reported more openness about sharing the data at different levels within the Kāhui Ako and presenting the analysis to the stewardship group annually. 

Refining the system

As a next step, the Kāhui Ako was exploring the development of a tool to measure and record finer grade shifts in student achievement. It is also looking at using the Progress and Consistency Tool (PaCT) across the Kāhui Ako.