School improvement for equity and excellence

While every school community's improvement is unique it can be described under these four headings:

  • Context for improvement
  • Improvement actions taken
  • Shifts in practice
  • Outcomes for learners.

Context for improvement

Every context is different. It may be that the appointment of a new principal provides the catalyst for change. It may be that a principal returning from sabbatical with fresh eyes and new thinking is strongly motivated to tackle previously unaddressed challenges. It may be that external evaluators, by posing 'stop and think' questions, motivate leaders to address low levels of progress and achievement or review aspects of their curriculum. It may be that the board of trustees initiates improvement efforts. But any teacher who is curious, open, and aware of what is happening for students in their school will find opportunities to initiate inquiry and evaluation.

Whatever the context, schools that engage in evaluation for improvement are motivated to make changes that will have a positive impact on the learning and wellbeing of all their students, and they are sustained by the belief that they - leaders and teachers - can do better.

Improvement actions taken

Improvement actions are actions that emerge out of evaluation processes.

When deciding how to respond to evaluation findings, an early consideration is whether the school has the internal capability to forge ahead with the necessary changes or whether it should seek to engage the support of external expertise, perhaps from another school or a provider of professional learning and development. Good decisions at this point rely heavily on leaders knowing what it takes to bring about significant educational change.

Capability building is often high on the list when it comes to improvement actions, to ensure that leaders and teachers have the skills and knowledge they need to make the desired changes. Another priority is often to improve how leaders and teachers work together because professional collaboration is such a crucial aspect of any school improvement endeavour that better outcomes for students will depend on it.

Shifts in practice

By monitoring the implementation of improvement actions and evaluating their impact, boards, leaders and teachers come to learn what works or does not work, for which learners, and why.

In the absence of systematic monitoring and evaluation, shifts in practice, and their impact, can go unnoticed. Even a small shift, in conjunction with other shifts, can increase forward momentum or contribute to the realisation of a big goal. The biggest shifts are those that penetrate to the core of teaching practice. Shifts in the conditions that support effective evaluation will contribute to shifts in teaching practice.

Monitoring allows for real-time adjustments to be made to improvement actions when they are seen to be not having the intended impact; it also allows for new knowledge to be harvested and used more widely for improvement purposes.

Examples of shifts in practice

Table 1 provides examples of the kinds of shifts in practice that boards of trustees, leaders and teachers have made with the express purpose of improving outcomes for their learners. They are from ERO's case studies of schools that have effective internal evaluation processes. The examples are grouped under the six organisational influences on student outcomes (domains) identified in School Evaluation Indicators - Effective Practice for Improvement and Learner Success.

You could use the examples in the table as a starting point for discussion about shifts that you are currently making or to inform your thinking about actions you need to consider for a particular evaluation context.

TABLE 1. Examples of shifts in practice that schools have made to improve outcomes for learners





Tabling reports on curriculum review and student wellbeing and achievement

Scrutinising and interrogating reports to understand their implications for decision making

Setting broad targets as a paper exercise

Involving teachers in setting appropriate targets for specific cohorts of students

Focusing on policies and planning

Focusing on how well the board is enacting its stewardship roles and responsibilities

Focusing narrowly on what is happening for students while at school

Situating students on a pathway of lifelong learning




Task and budget-focused leaders

Lead learners and leaders of learning

Senior leaders monitoring classroom practice

Senior leaders mentoring teachers - engaging in challenging conversations and providing structure to support teacher reflection

Leaders having little knowledge of recent educational research

Leaders keeping up to date with educational research and using it to help prioritise actions within the school

Expectations of teachers and students not clearly articulated or consistently implemented

Leaders setting clear expectations of teachers and students

Educationally powerful connections and relationships



Relying on public meetings for parents and whanau

Personalised communication to parents and whanau, seeking feedback on the school's performance and direction

Accepting that parents and whanau seldom come to school events and interviews

Making engagement with parents and whanau an ongoing priority

Offering limited opportunities for parents and whanau to find out about their children's learning

Providing opportunities for parents and whanau to communicate regularly about their children's learning

15% attendance by parents and whanau at interviews

85% attendance after introducing a whanau tutor system and giving parents and whanau a 20-minute interview with one teacher

Responsive curriculum, effective teaching and opportunity to learn



Teacher-directed learning

Deliberate acts of teaching in linguistically and cognitively rich classrooms

Students not being aware of their achievement levels or next steps

Students knowing where they are at in their learning and what their next steps are

Teaching writing

Teaching writers

A focus on behaviour management - 'putting out fires'

A focus on effective teaching strategies and providing opportunities for all students to learn

Deficit thinking and blaming students for poor outcomes

Teachers recognising the need to improve their teaching

Professional capability and collective capacity



Reliance on external support to build capability

Building self-sustaining internal capability

Staff meetings focused on administrative and organisational matters

Well-structured professional learning conversations

Appraisal processes in which teachers 'cherry pick' their goals

Teacher goals linked to improvement actions and student learning

Evaluation, inquiry and knowledge building and innovation



Data analysis happening at the leadership level for reporting to the board

Teachers actively engaged in analysing their data and using it in their planning and teaching

Informal approaches to evaluation

Systematic and manageable evaluation aligned to school priorities

Evaluation happening as isolated activities

A coherent and connected approach to school evaluation

'We reckon'

'We know' - and have the evidence of improvement.

To think about and discuss

  • Which of these shifts in practice resonate with us?
  • What impact might these shifts have for students?
  • What actions might these schools have taken to make these shifts in practice?
  • What can we learn from these examples?

Outcomes for learners

Effective internal evaluation processes enable trustees, leaders, teachers, parents, families, whanau and the wider school community to better understand:

  • how individual learners and groups of learners are performing in relation to valued outcomes
  • how improvement actions taken have impacted on learner outcomes and what difference is being made
  • what needs to be changed and what further action needs to be taken
  • the patterns and trends in outcomes over time
  • what kinds of practices are likely to make the most difference for diverse learners and in what contexts
  • the extent to which the improvements achieved are good enough in terms of the school's vision, values, strategic direction, goals and priorities for equity and excellence.

School improvement journeys: two examples

The following examples outline how two of the case study schools engaged in internal evaluation with an improvement agenda. In the first example, a school set out on a two-year journey to raise achievement in a particular area of the curriculum. In the second example, a school embarked on a much longer improvement journey that had a number of different but related foci.

An improvement journey with a curriculum focus

This first example is of an 'emergent' evaluation (see page 13) triggered when their analysis of data at the mid-year checkpoint in 2012 revealed poor achievement in writing. Key points are described in the diagram on pages 30-31. Note the context for this evaluation, the links between the evaluation processes and reasoning, and the actions taken and shifts in practice made. By comparing the data for 2012 and 2014, the school was able to measure the progress of different cohorts of learners.

To think about and discuss

  • What were some of the organisational conditions that enabled this evaluation?
  • What evaluation capabilities did the leaders and teachers have going into this evaluation?
  • What capabilities might they have developed by engaging in this evaluation?
  • What relationship can you see between the improvement actions and the shifts in practice?
  • What might have been some of the 'reasoning' that contributed to this evaluation process?An-improvement-journey.JPG

Download the above image as a PDF.

A longer-term improvement journey

This example is of a longer-term improvement journey (2006-14). This school began with an investigation into the achievement of Maori students, followed by an investigation into the achievement of boys, and then a third investigation into student engagement and wellbeing. Although the three evaluations each had a different focus they were obviously connected. As the board of trustees, leaders and teachers inquired into their practice, their individual capabilities and collective capacity to engage in internal evaluation developed over time.

The diagrams on the next three pages show how, for each of the three inquiries, the school went through the five evaluation processes described previously.

To think about and discuss

  • What were some of the organisational conditions that enabled these evaluations?
  • What evaluation capabilities did the school have going into these evaluations?
  • What capabilities might they have developed by engaging in this evaluation?
  • What was the motivation for improvement in these examples?
  • How are the three evaluations connected? What do they have in common?
  • What is different in each?


Raising the achievement of Māori students

Overview of evaluation and reasoning processes


NCEA results (levels 1 and 2) masked the disparity between Maori and Pakeha students.

 None of the initiatives implemented by the school had changed outcomes for Maori students.


 All the available data was closely re-examined.

 Using the Effective Teacher Profile as a guide, all year 9 and 10 teachers were observed in the classroom; observations were followed by feedback sessions.

 Collaborative sense making

 Co-construction meetings were held once a term with all teachers of year 9 and 10 students.

 Prioritising to take action

 A commitment was made to sustaining the principles of Te Kotahitanga.

 Monitoring and evaluating impact

 Ongoing gathering, analysis and use of data at all levels of the school.

Improvement actions

"If we were going to keep doing for our Maori students what we had always done, we were going to get what we'd always got - and it was way not good enough."

Ongoing classroom observations, feedback sessions, co-construction meetings and regular professional development for teachers.

Modelling discursive teaching strategies: "If you are using discursive teaching strategies and co-constructing or power sharing the kids are going to enjoy learning, learn, and have fun."

"We are going to keep working to achieve the target of raising our Maori student achievement to mirror the achievement of our non- Maori students. We are going to keep going until there is no gap."

Shifts in practice



Having the 'will' to make a difference for Maori students

Finding the 'way' to make a difference for Maori students

Traditional approaches to teaching

Discursive, relational approaches to teaching and learning

Accepting that whānau are seldom seen at school events and interviews

Whānau engagement is an ongoing focus for improvement


Raising the achievement of boys

Overview of evaluation


 At the 2005 prize giving, the new board chair, noticing that the procession of students coming up for awards consisted mostly of girls, wrote 'boys' on a piece of paper and passed it to the principal.


Randomly selected boys from across the school's seven year levels were involved in focus groups to find out what worked well for them in terms of supporting their learning and achievement, and what didn't.

Collaborative sense making

Data from the focus groups was analysed and narratives written. These narratives, together with data relating to boys' achievement and boys' discipline, were analysed and shared with staff. A key theme in the narratives was 'boys just want to have fun, too!'

Prioritising to take action

It was decided to make boys' achievement a school-wide focus.

"What is good for Māori is good for all, especially boys."

Monitoring and evaluating impact

Ongoing scrutiny of data through a 'what is happening for boys?' lens was put in place. Coupled with the ongoing implementation of Te Kotahitanga, this initiative has contributed to significant shifts in boys' achievement.

Improvement actions

A professional learning group was established. The teachers in this group committed to using a teaching-as-inquiry approach with four or five boys in their classroom, trying different strategies and reflecting on what worked and what didn't. They met regularly to share their reflections with others in the group.

An external facilitator worked with the staff on 'schema', which was about understanding the different ways in which girls and boys engaged and behaved. This 'opened the door for staff to admire boys' behaviour'.

Shifts in practice



Traditional pedagogical practices

A pedagogy focused on positive relationships and discursive teaching practices ('rainbow effect – Te Kotāhitanga)


Developing a values approach to student wellbeing

In 2011 the school's approach to behaviour management consisted of a set of expected behaviours (rules), consequences for breaching the rules, and disciplinary steps.

Evaluation and reasoning processes


Leaders found the data on stand downs, suspensions and referrals to the deans' centre to be unacceptable.


Positive Behaviour for Learning (PB4L) facilitators gathered data to find out how well the school's behaviour management approach was known by staff and students.

Collaborative sense making

Analysis of data showed that staff could name only three or four of the expected behaviours and that these behaviours were not well known by the students.

Prioritising to take action

The ongoing priority is to create a climate where student behaviour is appropriate for the context, and focused on learning.

Monitoring and evaluating impact

Regular gathering and analysis of data about stand downs, suspensions and referrals to the student centre enables the school to monitor and evaluate the impact of actions taken.

Improvement actions

The school embarked on an 18-month process of consultation to identify an agreed set of school values. The views of staff, students, the Parent- Teacher Association (PTA), board of trustees and wider community were sought. This was a slow and deliberate process, 'sowing seeds' - it wasn't a revolution. Leaders recognised the importance of ownership. The outcome of this process was WAKA.

Improvement actions included changing the name of the deans' centre to 'student centre'; using a 'stop the bus' mechanism, every teacher taught the same WAKA lessons on how to recognise good behaviour; and the school's reward system was redeveloped with the introduction of WAKA cards to acknowledge WAKA behaviour.


"Every developmental step was collaborative and reflective - a slow but effective progress owned collectively by leaders, staff and students."

Shifts in practice



A discipline system based on poorly understood rules and consequences

A values-based approach ‘lived’ in every area of school life

2011 – Student wellbeing, stand down and exclusion data unsatisfactory

Processes and improvement actions

Involvement in PB4L

Data gathered about how well rules and consequences were understood by staff and students

Deliberative development of values

2014 – The numbers of stand downs and suspensions have fallen progressively over the last 4 years






Stand downs