This report found that approximately one-quarter of secondary schools in this sample (10 out of 40) were effectively using inquiry and improvement approaches. Staff at these schools displayed an urgency and focus to improve student achievement. They showed high quality analysis skills and, importantly, responded in ways that improved the outcomes for students – including the achievement of targeted groups of learners.

These schools emphasised the importance of teachers knowing their students well. Based on this knowledge, these schools had put in place more focused support structures, including better tracking and monitoring, academic counselling, mentoring and homework/learning support. Most schools had also improved their links with families/whānau – especially for those students at risk of underachievement.

In general, these schools had put more effort into pastoral and support processes than they had in identifying what curriculum innovations could be introduced to improve achievement. While some of these schools already had effective curriculum innovations in place, most only made moderate or minor curriculum changes in light of their achievement information. Most of these schools also had good levels of achievement, which may have discouraged wholesale changes to curriculum structures.

The remaining three-quarters of schools (30 out of 40) in this evaluation did not have clear evidence that their inquiry and improvement had consistently or substantially improved student achievement. A group of 14 schools demonstrated inquiries that, while showing some promise, had yet to noticeably lead to improved achievement. In general, these schools invested a considerable amount of time into identifying ‘who’ needed support. They had yet to consistently and successfully implement ‘what’ strategies were needed to raise achievement. These schools also needed to more systematically monitor ‘how well’ their strategies were working for their students.

In the final group of 16 schools, staff lacked the urgency required to change achievement patterns, as well as the agency or belief that they could make a difference. Only a minority of teachers were actively identifying and responding to individual student interests and needs. At some of these schools, significant school-wide issues involving student attendance and engagement were not addressed.

Even schools rated as being effective in raising student achievement had potential for further improvement. Many had strengthened their pastoral care and support systems, and had effectively focused on individual students. However, they had not significantly inquired into how they could improve their delivery of the curriculum. Just one of the 10 schools with effective inquiry and improvement processes redesigned its curriculum. Their new approach to learning also led to the most significant lift in student achievement.

ERO's report Secondary Schools:Pathways to Future Education, Training and Employment (July 2013) found in the sample of 74 secondary schools that most were not showing the levels of innovation required to ensure that all learners have suitable pathways to future education, training and employment. This latest sample of a further 40 schools identifies improvements in mentoring and pastoral care. However, the paucity of curriculum innovation found indicates little has changed that would ensure all learners are engaged and achieving the qualifications needed for future success.