National Report Summary - Increasing educational achievement in secondary schools

This report presents the findings of ERO’s recent evaluation of the practices some schools used to support improved achievement for a specific group of Year 12 students.

In Term 3, 2012 Ministry of Education regional staff worked with 16 schools to increase the achievement of some of their students. The schools identified and provided additional support for 311 Year 12 students. These young people were unlikely to achieve National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) Level 2 by the end of 2012. Subsequently, 189 of the 311 students achieved NCEA level 2 in 2012.

ERO’s report focuses on 13 schools and their useful practices to support achievement. These practices are similar to examples of responsive schooling highlighted by ERO in previous national reports and include:

  • individualised learning and support given to students
  • careful tracking and monitoring of student achievement
  • positive relationships developed with students and their families
  • robust review and improvement of teaching and support initiatives.

This report shows how a significant focus on the individual student can make a difference, even in a short period of time.

As well as good practice examples and self-review questions, the report identifies some of the challenges. In particular, the tendency for some schools to focus on gaining NCEA credits at the possible expense of responding to students’ pathways to future education, training and employment.

Example – an urban secondary school’s approach to improved achievement

Students in the target cohort were supported through mentoring by a ‘familiar’ adult. Mentors were carefully selected, with most of the matching done by the principal and a deputy principal. Each mentor was responsible for between one and three students.

Individual plans were drawn up with the students and individual profiles were set up in the student management system, including information on credit accumulation. These profiles were accessible to all staff, and were regularly updated and monitored by the principal and other senior leaders.

The students met fortnightly with their mentor who helped them monitor their progress. The mentors were responsible for checking that the courses were appropriate, offered sufficient credits and had the right balance to support their student’s career aspirations. Discussions were held with parents to build a partnership to support students. Mentors and the Year 12 dean visited the homes of students who had attendance concerns.

Whole-staff expectations were developed and displayed in the staff room. All staff were required to respond to target students’ requests and to record internal NCEA data promptly. A credit scoreboard (without names) was displayed for all staff, showing the number of students, who had achieved a targeted level of credits. Some staff responded to the schools urgency for the target group by providing support classes in the end of Term 3 break. All students in the target group attended these additional classes.

Self-review question for schools

Responding to individuals

  • Which students at our school require additional support? Who are these students and what support do they need? Do we currently provide that support?
  • What processes exist at our school to identify and support individual learners who need support? How well do the academic, pastoral and careers aspects of our school work together for each of these students?
  • To what extent do we have systems in place to respond quickly and effectively to students whose attendance, behaviour and/or learning are not on track?
  • How effective is our school in actively monitoring the success of students at risk of underachievement? Do our students have access to a staff member who works as a mentor, provides direct support and is able to broker opportunities to gain NCEA credits?

Building relationships

  • To what extent do the parents of our students understand the pathways and goals of their child? What systems do we use to tell parents about their child’s progress and involve them in processes to support student success?
  • To what extent can our teachers easily identify how many NCEA credits have been achieved by a student across each of their subjects and overall?

Tracking and monitoring of students

  • To what extent do our teaching staff follow the school’s systems to enter attendance and achievement data in a timely manner?
  • What processes do we have in place to identify and support students if they fall behind on NCEA assessments?
  • How well is our school focused on improving its responsiveness to students across academic, pastoral and careers domains?

School self-review processes

  • To what extent has our school used the Career Benchmarks (Careers NZ) to review the effectiveness of careers provision across the curriculum?
  • How well do our Māori and Pacific students achieve? What is needed to significantly improve the curriculum for individual Māori and Pacific students at our school now? What school-wide strategies might be needed to improve our responsiveness for groups such as Māori students and Pacific students?
  • How well prepared are our school leavers? What information does our school have about the destinations of its leavers? How well prepared were they for their pathways from school? What can our school do to better prepare future school leavers?