This report indicates that half the schools investigated were making a difference for students underachieving. In particular, underachieving Māori and Pacific students, and English language learners were targeted for support and experienced success.

Teachers and leaders in these schools were energised by the experience of success. Teachers clearly knew how to make a difference and expected to do so. They knew how to connect with students. If something did not work they then trialled something else. Students knew what and how they learnt, and they knew their teachers were supporting them to succeed. They too were energised by the experience of success.

Many of the effective schools had focused their efforts on students at all year levels, and across mathematics, reading and writing. The others had trialled a successful innovation in one area and were now spreading the trial by increasing the number of students and teachers involved.

School leadership

School leadership was vital for improving student outcomes. Leaders in the strategic and successful schools knew how to design and implement an improvement plan that enabled more students to achieve better results with less inequity across the school population. These coherent plans were ‘living documents’ and were adapted in response to outcomes. They included:

  • a clearly articulated reason for the urgency and need to improve outcomes for particular group of students
  • active and relentless use of student progress and achievement information to monitor individual student’s progress, evaluate impact of decisions and adapt responses
  • progress and achievement reported to parents, boards of trustees, and the Ministry
  • short-term remedial responses to student achievement that often included using highly effective teachers providing supplementary learning to complement classroom learning
  • actively involving students, and their parents and whānau, in designing and implementing learning plans and reviewing progress
  • longer-term strategic responses to prevent students underachieving by building teacher and leader capability in:

- using learning progressions and developing a curriculum that is engaging and worthwhile

- using assessment and evaluation information to know what works, when and why for different students

- working as teams, which include students, their parents and whānau, and other professionals, to support all students to achieve at expectation.

Figure 3 shows the effective schools’ innovative responses to the inquiry questions posed in the Methodology section. These responses improved more students’ outcomes. (Click on the image to enlarge)

tthis image is the framework for evaluation and questions the centre is a circle which  starts with description of the students below or well below national standards for their year group, next is identification of learning strengths and needs and setting priorities in reation to school goals, then responding with innovations that accelerate learning, next is responding to the impact of innovations that accelerated and improved student outcomes and lastly refocus.  The questions that arise of these are what can be built onto focus accerleation? what needs to be done differently? how can the capability be built to do this? What triggered the need to do something different? what triggered knowing what to do differently? how did the school know what worked when why and for who? How is the school ensuring it has learnt from this focus on accereation so there are improved outcomes for more students?

What were the less effective schools doing?

An ongoing concern is many schools’ slow walk to improvement. Too many schools are not serving students who are underachieving and have no sense of urgency to change their practices. The findings highlights that half of the schools’ focus on acceleration was fragile and only a few students were likely to be benefitting, as their responses to underachievement were:

  • too general
  • too often the same and ineffective
  • too reliant on a single intervention
  • too hopeful as not evaluated.

ERO found that the less effective schools were often only focused on a remedial response for students who were one or two years behind year group expectations. There appeared little understanding of the value of preventative actions. For example, school leaders appeared to be unaware of the critical transitions; to school, from one school year to the next, and from school. These schools did not resource transitions adequately to prevent students’ ‘slippage’ of achievement.

Most of these schools had analysed achievement data but used it only to monitor student progress rather than evaluate the impact of teaching. This ERO review, along with others,[20] found that effective schools robustly evaluated the effectiveness of resourcing and teaching decisions. They responded strategically. The challenge for leaders of less effective schools is to develop an improvement culture that is deliberate and relentless in finding effective ways to respond to underachievement.

The leader and teacher actions at these schools were often far removed from best practice[21] about what works, when and why to:

  • improve student outcomes
  • build teacher and leader capability
  • improve school systems.

They needed improvement in:

  • teacher knowledge of the curriculum, progression and acceleration
  • leadership knowledge in organisational change that improves student outcomes and teacher capability by focusing on both short-term remedial gains and long‑term preventative actions.

Leaders need to work with boards to understand the rationales for targeting resources for students who need support to accelerate progress and the impact of the resource decisions.

What support do the different groups of schools need?

All schools benefit from working with appropriate outside expertise. For many schools investigated, this work triggered the focus on an innovative response to underachievement. Most schools had the internal capability to work successfully with experienced professional learning and development (PLD) providers to improve their capability to respond to underachievement. Because of their different needs, schools should be discerning and explicit in their goals and expectations of providers. For example, the schools with strategic and successful actions need support to sustain what works and keep innovating where improvements are needed. Other schools need support to understand acceleration.

The schools with little sense of urgency did not appear to have the internal capability to work strategically with outside PLD providers to bring about the culture change needed. The leaders and teachers need a different type of support. Many schools have had numerous changes in principals and teachers, with a long transition time for the new principal or teacher to know the students and how to support them to accelerate progress. The schools need help to shorten this transition time and so minimise any disadvantage to students.