ERO found that almost two thirds of the schools in the sample set targets that focused on underachievement. However, only about a half of the schools took actions that accelerated progress for more than 40 percent of their targeted students. 1

Some of the schools successfully accelerated the achievement of more than 70 percent of their target group. In these schools, targets made a real difference by focusing on both ‘raising the bar’ in overall achievement (excellence) and ‘lifting the level’ of underachievement to close the gap (equity). The target students were clearly identified, and board members, leaders, teachers, parents and whānau and students all knew what they had to do to make the desired improvement. In the best instances, schools provided targeted support for the students not achieving well and, at the same time, built teacher capability to avoid such underachievement in the future. Both students and teachers in these schools were energised by their visible success.

In schools that were not successful, a variety of issues hindered progress. In some cases targets were too general, outlining the percentage of students to reach the target without identifying individual students, their specific needs, or actions needed to accelerate their progress. In other schools, targets clearly identified the groups of students and outlined actions, but the actions were not clear or followed through. As a result few students in the target group in these schools accelerated their progress.

Overall secondary schools in the sample were less effective than primary schools in most areas of setting targets and responsive actions (Table 1).

Table 1: Number of primary and secondary schools effective in setting and responding to targets

2014 actions too general and not focused on acceleration

In 2014 up to 40% of targeted learners accelerated their progress

In 2014, 40-69% of targeted learners accelerated their progress

In 2014 over 70% of targeted learners accelerated their progress

Primary: 57

Secondary: 21

Primary: 110

Secondary: 4

Primary: 79

Secondary: 9

Primary: 64

Secondary: 7

Only half the secondary schools set targets that focused on improving outcomes for students at risk of not achieving. Even where the focus was on acceleration, secondary schools were often less effective in accelerating learning for the students in the target group than primary schools. They took fewer key actions for success, or did these less effectively, than the successful primary schools. Primary schools have more specific requirements to report each year on the numbers and proportions of students not achieving. As a result boards and leaders of primary schools were generally clearer about the groups of students that needed to accelerate than secondary schools were.

Conditions and practices in successful schools

ERO found four key differences between the planning and actions of successful and less successful schools. The successful schools demonstrated:

  • an explicit commitment to equity and excellence
  • the effective targeting of progression
  • leadership at multiple levels
  • capability building for school improvement.

Commitment to equity and excellence

Successful schools demonstrated educational commitment to equity and excellence. They framed their achievement challenges effectively; resourced the required actions; made educationally powerful connections with students, parents and whānau; and ensured Māori enjoyed educational success as Māori.

Accelerated progress - Achievement can be considered to be accelerated when a student makes more than one year’s progress over a year on a trajectory that indicates they will achieve national standards or valued qualifications.

Framing the achievement challenge in terms of target students

The key concepts of educational equity were clearly articulated in the successful schools: all students have the right to excellence and targeted actions for some are needed to achieve this. Teachers, leaders and trustees were committed to the students who needed extra support. They were also committed to the idea that there would be fewer students not achieving well next year.

Leaders led discussion about disparities 2 in achievement that helped teachers and trustees understand the urgent need to respond to the gaps. As a result they understood the moral imperative of taking action as a matter of equity. 3 At these schools it was clear where the issues of disparity and inequity were, for example:

  • among groups of learners at particular year levels
  • learning outcomes in a particular curriculum area
  • learning outcomes among those of particular gender or ethnicity.

Schools explored policies and practices in analytical discussions, to fully understand the reasons for disparity. They framed issues in ways that motivated leaders, teachers and trustees to do something differently or better than they had before. They took responsibility for changing the achievement picture to a more equitable one.

Senior managers oversee very thorough systems to monitor the progress and achievement of all students. Senior managers, team leaders, the class teacher and support teachers are all involved in the process of: identifying students needing support; deciding on the most appropriate support; and monitoring outcomes of the intervention. This is the regular process in the school.

(A large urban contributing primary school)

Leaders modelled the way for everyone else in the school and its community to talk about achievement priorities, expectations and challenges. Leaders framed discussions about reasons for disparity in positive ways. As one principal said:

We now talk about targeting to improve learning in writing rather than remedial, which has such a negative connotation.

A medium sized urban contributing primary school

Many schools had been supported by Ministry of Education personnel, or professional learning and development (PLD) providers, to have targets that specifically focused on those students who were at risk of underachieving. They were correctly advised against having targets that mixed these students with those who were already successful.

Below is an example of where a school had good assessment information but set a general target that included all students. The second column identifies what they could have done to specifically target students that needed to accelerate their progress.

What the school was already doing:

What the school might do next:

The school has the past data, it is well analysed, and trends and patterns are clearly documented. However, they have set overall percentage targets that do not identify specific groups requiring particular actions to raise their achievement. An action plan for a more specific target group could be easily developed by the English Faculty, where teachers are already using deliberate acts of teaching.

The school needs to develop targets that focus on priority learners, using the school’s achievement information at Years 7 and 8 and NCEA Level 2 to do this. A logical example of a suitable 2015 target that responds to their data would be to ‘accelerate the progress of the 22 Year 8 students (most of whom are boys) from the ‘below’ category, to ‘at’ or ‘above’ the National Standard by the end of the year’.

(Urban secondary school, Year 7 to 13)

Resourcing the required actions to lift achievement

Boards of successful schools made careful decisions about where best to allocate the resources they had. These boards had high levels of ownership of school targets and regularly reviewed progress and the success of the learning opportunities being provided. The reports from principals to their boards included updates of the actions undertaken by teachers. This information was accompanied by student achievement data to show progress throughout the year.

Trustees made informed decisions about resources for:

  • particular students, to increase their chances of success as a learner
  • particular teachers, to improve their instructional capability
  • overall school capacity building, by improving the school’s systems and processes.

Examples of targeting key resourcing to support their actions included:

  • creating new leadership and teacher roles to lead the school’s response to underachievement
  • expanding or refocusing teacher PLD and release time for meetings to assist with the target students and actions
  • providing classroom materials, including digital devices and programmes to enhance new teaching strategies.

The examples below demonstrate how the board’s stewardship role 4 can make a difference to student learning and reduce underachievement.

Some schools changed budget allocations to prioritise targeted learning areas.

The budget for literacy teaching and learning resources was doubled after a workshop with teachers, trustees and leaders where student achievement information was looked into and targets set.

Contributing Primary, Rural

Other schools employed extra staff to work with small groups of targeted students.

The school made the decision to provide small group targeted instruction from an experienced teacher of literacy with Reading Recovery training for two hours per week. It was also seen as valuable to decrease the number of students in the Year 2 classes for part of the day to enable more targeted teaching for the rest of the Year 2 cohort. A specialist teacher was employed by the board for four half days a week for this.

A medium-sized rural full primary school

Making educationally powerful connections

In successful schools trustees, leaders (at multiple levels) and teachers made educationally powerful connections with children, their parents and whānau. Teachers in these schools helped students participate and contribute more fully to their learning. Students who knew they were a target student felt both challenged and supported. Students were supported to understand the performance required for each curriculum level. They set personal goals and self-monitored progress.

The students know their levels and what they need to do next in order to progress in reading, writing and mathematics. The learning levels and next steps are visible in the classrooms. Individual achievement is celebrated in assemblies and with whānau.

A medium-sized urban intermediate school

Effective goal setting and feedback from the teacher had a key role in making connections with learners and parents.

Teachers used learning goals effectively with each student. Their online learning blog/journal became a source of evidence of their progress and ongoing success as a writer. Students and parents received targeted information that helped the writing process in a constructive manner. Use of writing blogs, teacher feedback/feed forward, peer and parent feedback and affirmation helped these students accelerate their progress in writing.

A large urban full primary school

Some interventions especially targeted greater parental involvement.

An early-morning writing group was established in the middle school run by the school literacy leaders. This was before school with 100 percent buy-in from students. Parents were very supportive of this group. There was constructive use of exemplars of writing across the school. A boys-only class was in place and there were regular ‘boys-and-dads’ evenings to show dads how they could support their sons in literacy.

A medium-sized urban contributing primary school

Teachers and leaders recognised that parents, families and whānau have a primary and ongoing influence on the development, learning and wellbeing of their children.

The school proactively created more positive relationships with parents. They actively worked to ensure all parents of target children attended writing workshops and understood how to help their children at home. Teachers and senior leaders provided phone numbers or email contacts where they could be contacted by parents. Teachers provided them with ongoing support to encourage their children with writing.

A large, urban intermediate school

Teachers developed genuine partnerships with parents so students had extended learning opportunities. One primary school did this in mathematics.

The teacher found that parents were not good at maths through a home-school learning partnership that she established. She developed games that gave the student and their parents positive mathematical experiences. Parents shared these experiences with the teacher through a home-school contact book.

A large, urban contributing primary school

Another primary school did this to support accelerated progress with writing.

Experiential evenings were held for parents and whānau to share the teaching of writing and how their children were being supported to experience new learning through the revised writing process. Parents went home from the meetings with a range of strategies that they could use to support writing and the language of learning how to be a better writer. There was a flow on of students using their writing skills and strategies into other learning areas.

A medium-sized, urban contributing primary school

Ensuring Māori enjoyed educational success as Māori

Leaders, teachers and trustees in successful schools ensured that their actions led to success for Māori students. The actions these successful schools took align with the Māori education strategy, Ka Hikitia- Accelerating Success 2013- 2017, and the factors in the strategy identified as improving Māori students’ literacy, numeracy and language skills. 5 Māori students identity, culture and interests shaped the response to underachievement in a number of successful schools.

The following example illustrates both the Ka Hikitia actions and the successful targeting actions described in this report. This school is a small rural full primary school where Māori students make up 99 percent of the roll.

Targeting actions

School practices

Ka Hikitia actions

The school:

  • framed disparities for action
  • put scrutiny into inquiry
  • fostered collaboration and commitment

provided optimum challenge and maximum visibility

Teachers analysed each year’s reading, writing and mathematics data and evaluated the effectiveness of their teaching to determine which curriculum areas were in need of development. Reading and writing were prioritised as areas for improvement in 2014, especially boys’ achievement. For teachers the priority was the provision of contextual learning opportunities that the students were interested in. The principal and the board developed and resourced action plans to support the students at risk of underachieving in writing. Teachers held fortnightly meetings to discuss these learners and their progress. They also discussed next steps and targeted actions.

Throughout the year the board received regular reports about progress. Just over half of the 13 students at risk of underachieving accelerated their progress and were working at curriculum expectation by the end of the year. Writing continued to be a priority in 2015 to help other students achieve at expectation.


  • use their student achievement data to target resources for optimal effect

retain high expectations of students to succeed in education as Māori

Leaders, teachers, students, parents and whānau:

  • worked at multiple levels to plan and put in place interventions
  • used their skills and built overall capacity for sustaining improvement

Teachers had a relationship with whānau that was focused on students’ learning. Teachers and local iwi developed their Kuhukuhu initiative, applying authentic contextual matauranga Māori experiences with significant community role models. These experiences were designed to also be the contexts for reading and writing. An example of this involved three boys at risk of underachieving. The boys worked with their whānau and kaiako to use a hinaki to trap tuna, to smoke the tuna using manuka they had sourced and then manaki-hosted their pakeke-elders with kai. This experience provided students with a context that they enthusiastically wrote about. Professional development provided teachers with strategies to support small groups of at risk students develop skills of comprehension, vocabulary and fluency.

Leaders and teachers with parents and whānau:

  • integrate elements of students’ identity, language and culture into the curriculum, teaching and learning

provide early support for those students at risk of falling behind

Figure 2: Excellence and equity in successful schools

Successful schools differed from unsuccessful schools mainly because of their explicit commitment to making a difference for students at risk of underachieving.

The diagram Excellence and equity in successful schools is two boxes with arrows arching above and below the boxes. Box one is Excellence meant achiveing high standards for all. A key lever for achieving excellence was to improve the quality of all teachers. Box two is Equity meant reducing dispartiy for those at risk. A key lever for achieving equity was accelerating progress for selected learners.

These schools set out to achieve the twin goals of excellence and equity. This required school actions to sustain improvement for the majority while also closing the gaps for those at risk of underachieving.

Actions in successful schools

Actions in unsuccessful schools

In this evaluation successful schools all:

  • applied ‘excellence for all’ as their key operating premise

  • sustained the successful path of positive progress of most students

  • accelerated the progress of targeted students

  • acted effectively to focus on underachievement as a matter of equity.

In contrast, unsuccessful schools all:

  • applied ‘business as usual’ as their key operating premise

  • accepted differential rates of progress for different student groups as normal

  • accepted achievement patterns where some learners made slower progress than others

  • failed to act effectively on the inequity perpetuated by their earlier actions.

Key processes in targeting progress

Successful schools used four key processes in targeting progress effectively. They included:

  • being clear about what progress looks like
  • setting goals and targets to shape desired progress
  • applying staff capabilities to achieve desired progress
  • judging progress using quality evidence.

ERO found professional learning conversations were central to each process.

Being clear about what one year’s progress looks like

The teaching responses to underachievement in successful schools were underpinned by a shared understanding of what one year’s progress looks like. This clarified expectations. Teams had an important role in defining and measuring expected progress.

Teams develop their assessments together as a group and are part of the decision making about what counts as valid and reliable assessment and achievement information. Ongoing moderation amongst the team, and overseen by the team leader, leads to a real robustness in teacher understanding and decision making about student progress and achievement. Over the past two year, considerable time has been spent on the validity of assessment and achievement.

A medium-sized urban contributing primary school

Many successful schools developed matrices or exemplars of work to show what characterised each year’s expectations. These were shared with students and their parents. Sometimes wall displays shared these expectations.

Teachers’ worked together to make sure that their moderation of writing was consistent. They moderated with teachers from other schools who were in the same cluster of schools. Their Learning Walls identified what excellent writers did. Indicators were agreed by the teacher and the students in the class. The indicators could be used to set purposeful intentions/goals that individual students could select from and work towards. The indicators also provide themes for teachers and act as accountability prompts. The Learning Walls helped both parents and the teacher to frame discussions with the child on what he or she needed to learn next in order to work towards being able to do what all excellent writers do. Excellence is one of the school’s values.

A small rural full primary school

Successful schools developed specific plans for focusing teaching and assessment on what mattered most to make expected progress.

Student data underpins every decision made regarding student learning and achievement, curriculum design, teaching practice and resourcing. Senior leaders and teachers have put in place a school-wide writing plan to increase the focus on deliberate acts of teaching writing. They also developed a glossary of key terms for consistency in the language of learning used to describe progress in writing across the school. Syndicates have created ‘assessment walls’ to track and monitor target students. Moderation is done through the use of writing progressions combined with the use of e-asTTle and the PaCT (progress and consistency tool). The teachers have also participated in writing moderation with other schools. Teachers were becoming more consistent in their judgements over time.

A medium-sized rural contributing primary school

Translating high expectations into goals and student targets

Leaders at successful schools set high expectations for all learners. They also promoted collective actions among teachers to ensure the best possible chance that targets would be achieved.

In these schools, leaders used the required planning and reporting processes as strategic alignment tools to apply key goals, set targets, focus internal evaluation, plan interventions and reduce disparity. Strategic alignment meant linkages were strong between key school plans and processes, including:

  • the wider school goals and objectives
  • the planning and reporting process including the annual setting of targets
  • objectives for teacher appraisal and ‘teaching as inquiry’
  • class targets for individual student progress

Table 2 shows the alignment in two successful schools between school goals, an annual achievement target, and class targets included as part of an appraisal plan and/or a ‘teaching as inquiry’ plan.

Table 2: Examples of strategic alignment in successful schools

School goal

In School A: All students will accessThe New Zealand Curriculum as evidenced by (accelerated) progress and achievement in relation to National Standards (NS).NS are used effectively to support improvement in children’s outcomes.

In School B: All students will leave with a minimum NCEA Level 2 or equivalent.

One 2014 target

Target group of 28 current Year 2 students who achieved ‘below’ for their after Year 2 NS in reading. Within this target group there are four subgroups who need different rates of progress. This target was selected because this group was the largest ‘below’ group in the school in 2013 end of year data. Eight of the 28 learners are Māori and there are equal numbers of boys and girls.

Target group of 105 Year 11 students that have been identified as ‘at risk’ of not getting all NCEA Level 1 literacy and/or numeracy credits required.

Classroom use of targets at beginning of the year

These 28 students will be reading at gold which is the expected level after three years at school. In particular, 10 students need support to shift from ‘well below’ to ‘at’ in NS.

Target for each form teacher: 10 of the target students from each form will have their 10 credits of both numeracy and literacy by the end of Term 3. Opportunities for gaining these credits will be identified with each student and their subject teachers by week 3, Term 1.

Because of this close alignment, teachers, leaders and trustees at successful schools:

  • knew the students they needed to help accelerate progress
  • knew how these students were progressing
  • knew why particular educational responses had made a difference that mattered.

This created a clear ‘line of sight’ 6 from the school’s goals to outcomes for students. There was clear alignment between school goals, achievement targets and improvement plans, the actions of groups of teachers, an individual teacher’s professional development objectives, her/his class programme and priorities, and specific interventions to accelerate learning for students at risk of underachieving.

Leaders helped groups of teachers work together to plan key actions by promoting teacher collaboration. For example, they expected more collaborative discussions about practices that had evidence of success (example below).

In many ways, the greatest value to come from the 2014 target-setting process was the way the school responded collaboratively to the analysis of achievement in 2013. As a result of interrogating that data, leaders and teachers were able to identify more clearly the students who were still below the standard. They put students into three different groups reflective of the degree of their learning needs. Teachers researched best teaching and learning practice and engaged in PLD to build their capability where necessary.

A medium-sized, urban full primary school

Approaches for accelerating progress by applying expertise

Teachers in successful schools had a ‘case management’ approach 7 to the learning and teaching of students at risk of underachieving. This meant that:

  • each student’s progress, strengths and needs were regularly discussed
  • the effectiveness of teachers’ responses were regularly explored
  • responsive follow-up actions were designed and evaluated.

Teacher meetings often focused on accelerating progress. In one school, teacher meetings led by a senior teacher focused on the rate of progress of individual targeted learners.

The Assistant Principal maintains a school target register of all students at each year level who are not achieving at National Standard. Students who have been part of targeted interventions remain on the register and are monitored closely for some time after they are judged to be ‘on track’. Teachers talked about their actions that supported all the students on the register.

A medium-sized, rural full primary school

Some successful teaching responses included:

  • in-class strategies that supported students’ learning collaboratively
  • resources and approaches that matched individual student’s strengths and needs and gave extended learning opportunities
  • supplementary teaching to support classroom learning
  • using teachers with specific expertise e.g. teachers trained in Reading Recovery, Resource Teachers for Learning and Behaviour (RTLB), Resource Teachers for Literacy, and Mathematics Support Teachers (MSTs).

Having specific expertise often made the crucial difference. One school found the following.

The involvement of the RTLB was significant in supporting teachers – and therefore students. The specialist’s expertise and positive approach encouraged teachers to try her suggestions, share experiences and seek further support when needed.

A medium-sized rural contributing primary school

In successful schools, teachers often worked more as partners with their students than they had in the past. They shared expectations and success criteria, so that students could take greater charge of their own learning.

Students know that they are target students. They know the goals set for them to meet in their lessons. Children recognise and highlight their growing abilities.

A small rural, full primary school

Teachers used authentic learning contexts and ensured that there were early successes that could be celebrated. This built student confidence and motivated students to learn.

Students started to generate their own learning tools and goal setting. For example some students were driven by the goal of becoming Phenomenal Writers. They created their own success criteria. Teachers broke writing into ‘manageable chunks’. Teachers found this to be highly effective. Student self belief was the biggest contributor. Students commented that the feedback and feed-forward written in their books from teachers was very important for them. This was more detailed than what teachers had been doing in the past. Students’ success was shared and published in school newsletters, Facebook and in classrooms.

A medium sized rural contributing primary school

Collaborating to judge progress and plan or review actions

In the most successful schools there was a high level of group collaboration.

These schools used their collaborations to build commitment to the work of reducing disparity. Teachers, leaders and trustees were committed to helping all students succeed, and helping each other provide the best possible educational experiences for their students.

The board of trustees receive regular reports from the principal about the target groups. Comparisons are made between the school and national or regional outcomes. The principal, in collaboration with the board, develops appropriate action plans that support the target students. These plans help enhance achievement, as the evaluation and analysis of each plan provides ongoing direction for teachers and middle leaders.

A rural small full primary school

Effective professional learning conversations were central to these collaborations. 8 Through shared conversations, teachers and leaders decided what they might do to accelerate learning, or discussed how well things seemed to be going.

Collective ownership of student progress and achievement was very evident in this school. Teaching syndicates in particular played a key role in collaborative sharing and strategising to accelerate students’ progress and plan how best to support students with special needs. There was ongoing focus on working together to shift the achievement of those ‘at’ National Standards level to the ‘above’ level.

A large urban contributing primary school

Teaching groups were also committed to monitoring and improving their own practices.

Teaching teams provided close regular monitoring of all target students in terms of progress and achievement. They created action plans for target students showing specific support strategies, especially direct acts of teaching and next steps for learning for students. These were regularly reviewed by the team and reported to the principal.

A large urban contributing primary school

Teams applied data literacy. 9 Data was carefully analysed by teaching groups.

Professional learning groups (PLGs) are used to interrogate the data and share strategies to improve professional practice for these target students. The strategies of these PLGs are very well documented, monitored and analysed through syndicate leaders, the senior leaders and then to the principal.

A medium sized urban full primary school

In the most successful schools there were both highly effective target setting and highly effective action for accelerating progress. In these schools strategic alignment around the targets led to a wide range of effective collaborative actions across the school community (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Effective targeting for progression

Targeting in successful schools combined two key school improvement processes: goal setting that works and team processes for accelerating progress:

1. Goal setting that works:

Goal setting that works is an thick arrow going from left to right it has 2 points 1 is Optimum challenge applied through setting stretch goals and targets that were low enough to seem achievable but high enough to make a difference. 2 is Maximum visibility created by strategic alignment of goals and targets with plans and initiatives of trustees, leaders, teachers, students, parents and whanau and lastly the statement Foundation for success

2. Team processes for accelerating progress

Team processes for accelerating progress diagram is a thick arrow going from left to right and has 5 boxes they are 1 agreeing what progess looks like. 2 Setting goals and targets. 3 Deciding on the actions collaboratively. 4 Applying actions and expertise. 5 Judging progress using evidence.

School leadership at multiple levels

The importance of school leadership 10 in effective targeting is the central theme of the findings in this report. School leaders influenced outcomes in successful schools mainly through their leadership of pedagogy and their impact on school culture and values. 11 In successful schools leaders designed, resourced and implemented targeted actions with a focus on improving both student outcomes and school capacity for equity. They did this through a series of cyclical school processes, and inter-related learning conversations between key parties. 

In successful schools, the actions planned by school leaders were spread across the teaching staff to use their in-school expertise to accelerate learning. Leaders of successful schools also applied inquiry effectively to improve the quality of teaching.

Spreading leadership to use in-school teacher expertise

Successful schools demonstrated a ‘layering of school leadership’ 12 for effective implementation of key actions. Four key levels of leadership in action were:

  • the stewardship level, trustees embedding a deep commitment to equity and excellence into the school’s actions and culture (see Figure 2)
  • the pedagogical leadership level, leaders influencing the quality of the curriculum, teaching and learning across the school
  • the middle leadership level, leaders influencing curriculum design across classes; teaching as inquiry in professional learning communities 13; and promoting responsiveness to learner needs in every classroom
  • the individual teacher level, teachers influencing broader teacher capability and growth in confidence and connectedness of learners 14

School leaders in successful schools distributed leadership 15 to teachers with pedagogical expertise in particular learning areas or aspects of learning that aligned with the schools’ achievement challenge. This supported teaching teams and helped them plan and implement specific interventions to meet the needs of targeted students.

Pedagogical leadership roles seen in the interventions that made most difference for learners in successful schools included literacy and mathematics leaders, and special education needs coordinators.

The mathematics leader monitored the progress of all target students throughout the intervention. The senior leaders within the school, including the MST, met regularly to discuss the progress and wellbeing of each student and to discuss strategies that might further support teachers’ teaching and students’ learning.

A medium-sized urban contributing primary school

Middle leaders who had the expertise that matched a specific local achievement challenge played a critical role in some successful schools by linking targets with the actions of teaching teams.

This school is building its bicultural strategy by growing the understanding, ownership and personal commitment of teachers to raising the achievement of Māori students throughout the college. The school appointed a full-time Māori tutor to work with teachers to implement the Effective Teacher Profile (Bishop and Berryman16). The college set a goal of 98% of teachers integrating a ‘window into practice’ into their inquiry approach.

An urban, Year 9 to 13 secondary school

In secondary schools middle leaders sometimes had a prominent role in effecting school change. These leaders were either the head of department (HOD) or the head of faculty. In most cases they did this by setting class targets and lifting expectations for learner success. Often these targets informed the school’s annual plan.

The overall target for 2015 was set by the HOD English in association with her staff. The principal then took it to the board as part of the annual plan. The target is linked to the school goal of “each student will leave the college with the appropriate qualifications to enable them to have choices.” There are then more specific targets related to NCEA and National Standards. Responding to target students is an expectation from the HOD English and will be reported to principal and board through analysis of variance in annual reporting.

Secondary Year 7 to 13 school, main urban area

In other secondary schools, middle leaders worked to influence targeted learning outcomes as soon as possible after new students at risk of underachieving arrived. In some cases the actions of middle leaders were focused on teaching practice.

Effectively led co-construction meetings in departments are a significant feature for the promotion of teacher expertise in classrooms. Teachers critically reflect on their practice, identify specific teaching strategies and differentiate learning practices for students who are having difficulty achieving. Teachers recognise the value of sharing knowledge about students.

Secondary Year 9 to 13 school, main urban area

In other cases middle leaders had a focus on particular groups of learners.

The school had three facilitators for Te Kotahitanga (TK) and had meetings between the class teachers and the TK facilitators looking at every Māori student in their classes, to track student progress. This enabled teachers to set their own goals to better support the progression and achievement of Māori students, which was then linked with each teacher’s ‘teaching as inquiry’.

Secondary Year 7 to 13 school, secondary urban area

Individual teachers played their part in fostering school success by sharing ideas with other teachers, and involving both students and their parents in key actions.

This school developed a reading behaviour and deliberate acts of teaching resource to inform individual teacher planning. Team and peer meetings of teachers throughout the year focused on sharing reading practices and the strategies that they were using. Individual teachers identified and tracked the progress of targeted boys in their class. Class teachers explored different ways of communicating and supporting families. They have highlighted what children were doing well, shared next steps and explained how parents can help at home.

A large urban contributing primary school

In many successful schools (especially primary schools) school leaders played a key role in linking the target setting actions of trustees with the teamwork of teachers. For example, in one successful primary school the plans and actions to accelerate learning were dramatically intensified when a new principal was appointed at the end of Term 2, 2014.

The ‘business as usual’ situation was dramatically changed when a new leadership team was appointed mid-way through last year. The principal, ‘flipped’ the culture of the school from an inputs focus with little review, to a professional culture with a student outcomes focus. The development of evidence-based practice has provided a foundation to motivate and energise teachers to look more deeply at their teaching practice. In doing so, they can build on students’ strengths, and target gaps in skills and understandings.

A medium-sized urban contributing primary school

Leaders and teachers applying ‘teaching as inquiry’ 17

Leaders in successful schools used inquiry to help teachers and trustees surface inequities and plan improvements. This started with a focus on patterns in student achievement data.

Last year the charter targets became an explicit focus for classroom teachers. The teachers monitored the progress of target students and inquired into contributing factors in focus group meetings where teachers brought along evidence of their practice and how they were improving the achievement of these students.

An urban, full primary school

Groups of teachers had many discussions with an inquiry theme.

The establishment of professional learning groups that focus on teaching as inquiry and providing teachers with opportunities to discuss and share successful teaching strategies has been successful and is continuing in 2015. Teachers talk of their successes, they evaluate the evidence and are buoyed by the results. They also explore the interventions they have tried in the past that have worked.

An urban intermediate school

Most teachers’ inquiries into effectiveness were centred on individual students identified at risk of underachieving. The inquiry questions were explored with other teachers and leaders. Systems were sometimes modified to help in scanning for evidence about what was working and what needed to be modified.

Teaching as inquiry is another arm actively fostered to accelerate the target group. Each ako (syndicate) tracks their target students on a register and talks about the effectiveness of their classroom practices. Teachers understand the urgency to progress their target students.

An urban contributing primary school

Boards’ inquiries into teaching effectiveness were also important in making key resourcing decisions in some schools.

Here the board asked the critical question of what difference the intervention was making before they agreed to fund it for a second year.

An urban contributing primary school

In some cases, attention to the details of interventions that were adopted from external sources was particularly important in the inquiry supporting acceleration.18

The school’s PLD focused on the Te Kotahitanga programme’s key principles: knowing your Māori learner; using effective feedback; applying Ako in the classroom; and integrating elements of tikanga Māori. Teachers were expected to inquire into one of these areas and plan necessary actions. As a result there was very strong evidence of closing the gap.

Secondary Year 7 to 13 school, secondary urban area

Figure 4: Leadership by learning conversations in successful schools There were two main types of learning conversation in successful schools

Leadership by learning conversations in successful schools diagram is two boxes with arching connecting arrows above and below. The first box is discussing quality teaching and steps for increasing teachers adaptive expertise in PLC's. Schools did this by fostering more collaboration and community among teachers. Box two is discussing quality learning with students and how to increase learners' adaptive expertise with parents. Schools did this by fostering more confidence and connectedness among learners

Capability building for school improvement

Every successful school’s planned actions ensured that at least 40 percent of targeted students made more than one year’s progress. Leaders in these schools focused action on building professional capability of teachers. In turn this built collective capacity of staff.

ERO found successful schools structured capability building for school improvement around a series of productive professional learning conversations. 19 There were two main types of professional learning conversations — one focused on how to accelerate learning and the other on how to improve teaching (see Figure 4).

Learning conversations focused on how to accelerate learning

Accelerating learning was a key theme in many conversations in successful schools. Regular meetings to discuss how to accelerate learning and whether acceleration was fast enough were a feature in many schools that succeeded in accelerating progress for target students. For example in one successful primary school:

The Deputy Principal provided release time for teachers to prepare, plan, discuss and monitor the progress that target students were making. Weekly planning and review meetings were held with classroom teachers, team leaders and the senior leadership team (SLT). The school was very rigorous in ensuring the planned intervention was happening and having the intended impact. Formative and summative data was collected regularly and the SLT monitored the effect size of the gains being achieved.

Large urban contributing primary school

Schools made changes when the improvement from an adopted intervention did not match what was expected. For example, in one school that was involved in the Accelerated Literacy Learning (ALL) programme:

The school identified being on the ALL programme as central to its success in accelerating achievement. However, they were very clear that, in the first year, they had misinterpreted the programme and withdrew students from the classroom for extra tuition. This was not successful enough in accelerating students. It was not until this was abandoned and the acceleration programme was brought back into the classroom setting that students began to progress at a good rate. Though this was more difficult to resource the school believes it is well worth dealing with the resourcing and organisational challenges that in-class delivery creates.

Medium-sized urban full primary school

There were multiple conversations at different levels in schools committed to raising achievement for groups of students. Leaders worked with teaching teams to plan and implement the actions needed for acceleration. Consequently teachers discussed possible strategies with parents and whānau of target students.

For example, in a secondary school in an urban area with 50 percent Māori students and 20 percent Pacific students, multiple conversations took place at four levels.

Level 1: Teachers planning early intensive support for those students at risk of falling behind

The school’s co-construction meetings were a feature where class teachers reviewed the progress of individuals across all curriculum areas. The meetings promoted teacher expertise in classrooms. Teachers critically reflected on their practice, identified specific teaching strategies and differentiated learning practices for students who were having difficulty achieving. They recognised the value of sharing knowledge about students. Class teachers had knowledge, ownership, and buy-in of targets and worked collaboratively to accelerate learning for boys at risk.

Level 2: Teachers creating productive partnerships with parents, whānau, hapu, iwi, communities and business that were focussed on educational success

Parents and whānau and teachers met formally at the school during Academic Day. During this day, boys worked with their parents and whānau and teachers to set learning goals. These goals and subject choices were about how they planned learning pathways based on their aspirations. Teachers, parents and whānau and boys worked together and discussed how they could achieve success. The school has established a smart-phone app to keep parents and whānau informed of their son’s progress and achievements.

Level 3: Teachers sharing high expectations with students and parents and whānau

Boys were set high expectations and were well supported by the school and parents and whānau. The holistic approach to the way boys learn and the school culture of success for all was well embedded in the school. High expectations for achievement and behaviour promoted a settled environment. Young men experienced respectful relationships based on shared values and had access to high quality counselling and healthcare. Māori and non-Māori student achievement was comparable, with school results continuing to improve.

Level 4: Teachers discussing appraisal objectives and performance management criteria with middle leaders

The robust Performance Management and Appraisal System (PMAS) guided how the school promoted and managed ongoing change. The PMAS provided all leaders and teachers with a framework for critical self reflection that was aligned to strategic goals, professional learning and development initiatives, targeted student achievement and curriculum design and delivery. Whole school professional learning for teachers and leaders was strong and students’ achievement outcomes have improved. Self review was rigorous, highly effective and underpinned positive performance and continuous improvement.

Some conversations about maximising learning opportunities for acceleration included curriculum redesign that improved learning pathways and transitions.

The school has extensively redesigned their curriculum. A position of head of faculty for Year 7 to 10 has been established as a result of the restructuring of the junior school. The leadership and teachers worked closely together to establish clear guidelines for staff in implementing the new approach to teaching literacy across curriculum areas and through the transition from Years 7 and 8 to Years 9 and 10. The agreed guidelines were then transferred into individual classrooms. The school noted a positive shift in both reading and writing of the target students as a result.

Secondary Years 7 to 13 school, urban, minor urban area

Learning conversations focused on how to improve teaching

In many learning conversations in successful schools, improving teaching was a key theme. School leaders focused capability building through teacher appraisal processes, or key professional learning and development activities in prioritised learning areas. These were usually aspects of learning such as literacy and numeracy. In some of these learning conversations teachers asked whether the right things were being learned. Teachers and school leaders worked to make changes if the answer was ‘no’.

In the past the maths programme focus was heavily weighted towards the Numeracy Project where students’ numeracy stages framed the teaching programme. Using this approach was not preparing students well enough for Year 9 or meeting the needs of National Standards. Now the focus in maths is on providing more learning opportunities at Curriculum Level 4 which will enable the Year 7 and 8 students to learn more about measurement, geometry, statistics, probability and algebra.

Medium-sized secondary Years 7 to 13 school

Where school capacity was limited, externally sourced professional expertise was used to assist. This meant that teachers had access to the knowledge and expertise needed to focus their planned intervention on individual needs of targeted students.

In this school professional learning linked with appraisal engaged all staff. ALL was a big influence, meaning an extra hour’s support each morning from the literacy coordinator working in-class with individual teachers in three solid coaching sessions per week. The ALL mentor, cluster meetings and sharing with wider ALL schools all contributed.

Medium-sized contributing primary school

Team collaboration was important in capability building. Members of teaching teams talked about how they could help each other teach more effectively.

Individual teachers were given targeted support within the team to grow their capability in teaching of writing. This happened through modelling, individual teacher support by a team leader or language unit member, or whole team discussions.

Medium sized contributing primary school

Appraisal was linked to student progress in some schools.

Teachers had an appraisal goal linked to target student progress. Because of this goal, teachers looked more closely at data, tracked target student progress more carefully and identified specific teaching actions to address underachievement. They were not afraid to try out a range of ideas. They then engaged in professional discussions with their appraiser to identify what had gone well and what needed to change.

A large urban contributing primary school

The most successful schools used effective learning conversations at multiple levels to apply the key capabilities of leaders and teachers in twelve critical areas of school improvement (Figure 5).

Figure 5: Building school capacity for raising achievement through targeted actions

Building school capacity for raising achievement through targeted actions diagram is a circle divided into four parts they are from top left clockwise Strategic capability, Evaulative capabilty, Adaptive capability and Instructional capability

To apply strategic capability, leaders and trustees:

  • Established achievement targets within a broader consideration of the school goals, vision and values
  • Resourced strategically to support goal and target achievement by teachers
  • Involved learners, parents, whānau and communities in planned achievement initiatives

To apply evaluative capability, leaders, teachers and trustees:

  • Generated solutions for achievement challenges from data and evidence
  • Increased evaluative capacity by using evaluative questions (e.g. ‘is this good enough?’)
  • Refined solutions through trial and adjustment

To apply instructional capability, school leaders and groups of teachers:

  • Distributed leadership across formal and informal roles to people with instructional expertise
  • Planned accelerated progression for particular individuals and groups of learners
  • Transferred targets into curriculum achievement goals and personalised learning provisions for key target groups

To apply adaptive capability, middle leaders with individual teachers:

  • Planned interventions using teaching as inquiry for individual targeted learners
  • Participated in strong professional learning processes associated with specific achievement challenges
  • Utilized both internal and external expertise to build new knowledge and maximize learning opportunities for targeted learners

Constraints inhibiting success

In the less successful schools (whether primary or secondary) there was a lack of leadership capability to raise achievement through targeted actions. In less successful schools there were more constraints than conditions for success in place. The main constraints were the: 

  • lack of depth in data gathering and evaluative reasoning
  • inadequate focus on underachievement
  • limited responsiveness in their actions for school improvement
  • lack of follow through on planned actions.

Lack of depth in data gathering and analysis

Leaders at less successful schools were constrained by either limitations in their data gathering and analysis, or their ability to think using evaluative reasoning. In some schools, data analysis did not give a clear understanding of achievement or underachievement. In other schools, leaders and trustees were unsure what the data told them about students’ achievement, so they had little basis on which to plan what to do next to build educational improvement.

At some schools, no supplementary data about gender, ethnicity or specific needs were collected that allowed exploration of key variables. When data gathering and analysis lacked this depth, the variance20 in patterns of outcomes between groups of students, and reasons for variance, were hidden. In some of these schools, weak moderation processes in different parts of the school were blamed by leaders for differences in outcomes that should have been explored further.

At other schools, leaders seemed to be unsure what actions had led to 2015 outcomes or there was a lack of buy-in to the planned actions from teachers. In one school, teachers saw the act of data analysis as extra work. In another school, students did not know what the intended goal was for them personally, as teachers had not shared this. This lack of knowledge and knowledge sharing constrained any achievement gains.

Inadequate focus on underachievement 

Many leaders at less successful schools defined their target by talking about the percentage of students they wanted to have achieving to a particular level. Most of these schools had modelled their annual targets on the Ministry of Education’s system targets of 85 percent of students reaching NCEA Level 2 or equivalent; or 85 percent of students achieving at or above the National Standards expected for their year level. These targets are suitable at a system level but were not useful in a school setting. The targets lacked the detail of who needed to improve, and what needed to happen for the named students to make the necessary improvement. They did not help with decisions about a targeted response to underachievement at a school level.

Limited responsiveness in actions for school improvement 

In planning for school improvement, boards at the less successful schools were constrained by the quality of the reports they received and their ability to rigorously scrutinise these reports. They lacked critical information about specific needs when setting targets. This limited their capacity to plan for and resource an appropriate response.

Leaders were sometimes constrained by their lack of knowledge about designing and implementing coherent whole-school plans, with targeted support for both students and teachers. Instead, their supplementary responses often involved putting less skilled teacher aides to work with students facing learning challenges, or putting in place programmes where students were withdrawn from their classroom. In some instances ERO found few links to what the student was learning in the classroom and what was covered in the withdrawal programme. This lack of alignment meant students were not given the chance to embed any new skills. 

Classroom teachers in less successful schools were often not responsive enough to the strengths, needs and interests of the students who were at risk of underachieving. Teachers did not know whether the students in their class were part of the 85 percent already achieving at the desired levels, or part of the 15 percent yet to achieve. Teachers and leaders failed to see themselves as a key player in addressing the disparity in their school.

Lack of follow through in less successful schools

Leaders in less successful schools often planned to do new things. For example they usually had a plan to develop learning-centred relationships with parents, families and whānau. However, they were not always strongly committed to following through with the actions required.

There were early expectations for improved partnerships with parents from regular communication and meetings. However, this has not so far been implemented as planned. Several parents spoke to ERO about the lack of communication around support for their child in relation to targeted teaching. There has not yet been a meeting for parents of targeted learners - even though the year is halfway through. This is to occur next week.

A small rural contributing primary school

In some schools, teachers knew about barriers to learning, but they were not factoring this into effective actions that made a difference to learning outcomes for those at risk of underachieving.

Teachers knew from local knowledge quite a bit about their students and families. They spoke about factoring this into their understanding of children’s learning. However, this information was not being used in a deliberate sense for designing teaching that supported progress. Teaching didn’t change from year to year to reflect the groups of children in their class.

A medium-sized urban contributing primary school

In some schools, actions were taken in classrooms and some data about progress was gathered by teachers. But leaders and trustees were unaware of whether target students were achieving acceleration or not.