ERO's Evaluation

How did we undertake this evaluation?

In Term 4, 2016 we visited 40 full primary or contributing primary schools across New Zealand. These were selected from a database of 129 schools, with rolls over 200. These schools were chosen because increased numbers of students were achieving at or above National Standards in reading and writing or mathematics (or both) as they moved through Year 4 to Year 5. These schools' achievement levels were also higher than the average for their decile.

Before each visit, we sent the school a set of discussion points and questions for leaders to consider. In many schools, the whole staff looked at the discussion points together and identified areas that warrant further investigation. We asked leaders what they saw as the reasons for their positive achievement trajectory, then looked for evidence of the approaches and strategies used and the outcomes, by:

  • talking with children, parents, teachers, leaders and, where possible, trustees
  • observing in classrooms
  • looking at documentation, student work, class displays and the school environment.

What we found in the schools designing and implementing a rich curriculum

Leaders and teachers in the five schools featured in this report had carefully designed a coherent curriculum to make sure their students could learn, achieve and progress in the breadth and depth of The New Zealand Curriculum. The schools had systems in place to make sure children engaged in learning activities that integrated their local priorities and all the learning areas, values, principles and key competencies from The New Zealand Curriculum.

Each of them had termly inquiries where they focused on a selected topic that would help children build their knowledge and capabilities across the learning areas. Their inquiries combined group tasks, practical activities and digital tasks for deep learning. Highly engaging learning activities provided students with authentic learning opportunities that responded to their interests and built on their prior knowledge.

School leaders played a key role in the effective development, planning, coordination and evaluation of the school's curriculum, as well as ongoing curriculum review and development. In most of these schools, planning for term inquiries started with the principal and the senior leadership team. The curriculum was flexible and no longer relied on static long term plans that are less likely to cater for the strengths, needs and interests of the current students.

The schools used different approaches and strategies to:

  • determine and respond to local priorities
  • set initial inquiry questions
  • check how well the new inquiry allowed students to engage with different learning areas
  • model best practice for designing a rich integrated inquiry
  • integrate literacy and mathematics teaching and learning into their inquiries, matched to the students' strengths and needs
  • identify professional development needs to increase teachers' content, subject and pedagogical knowledge to maximise student engagement.
  • establish approaches and times for teachers to work collaboratively (planning and teaching)
  • work with teachers to prepare detailed guidelines, cycles and progressions to highlight expectations for students and teachers
  • respond to students' culture and heritage
  • utilise parent and community input into the implementation of the curriculum
  • introduce processes for both teachers and students to reflect on outcomes and engagement during the inquiries
  • work with external providers or other schools to further develop their curriculum and teaching.

Leaders' full involvement in the curriculum planning, monitoring the implementation and reflecting on practices helped make sure students had effective, sufficient and equitable opportunities to learn.

In most of the schools, teachers were increasing opportunities for student involvement in planning the direction of the inquiry took. Inquiry topics were deliberately broad to allow students to follow their interests and passions.

Teachers involved children in different ways:

  • using student reflections from previous inquiries to determine the context for the next inquiry
  • seeking students' ideas when planning the new inquiry
  • providing students with some initial learning activities to determine and build on their prior knowledge before establishing the aspect the children wanted to focus on
  • using home learning opportunities to find out more about and respond to students' diverse cultures
  • using student surveys to determine levels of student engagement.

Students were positioned at the centre of teaching and learning and were able to participate and learn in caring, collaborative, inclusive learning communities.

In three of the schools, effective and culturally responsive pedagogy supported and promoted student learning. Leaders and teachers gave considerable priority to responding to children's culture and heritage. Leaders, teachers and trustees at one of the schools worked with a cluster of schools to better understand the local history and share their successful approaches to helping all students and teachers to learn te reo, me ona tikanga and kaupapa Māori together, through local contexts. The other two schools used successful strategies to know and respond to students' cultures and build on their prior knowledge. They also sought community and other resources to explore contexts from the students' cultures. Whānau and community knowledge, language and culture, as well as student identities, were represented in curriculum materials and the enacted curriculum.