Leadership in practice

In this section we highlight examples of effective leadership in practice. The section is divided into the six leadership evaluation indicators and under each we discuss ERO's findings, highlight effective practice and indicate areas for improvement.

Establishing goals and targets 

This indicator focuses on the leaders role in developing a school's vision, values, strategic direction, goals and targets. In this section you can read examples of effective engagement with parents and whanau; setting goals and targets for equity and excellence; filtering and integrating policy requirements and initiatives; and resourcing for priorities.

Ensuring an orderly and supportive environment

This section is all about a leader's role in setting the tone at the school, making sure student wellbeing is promoted and supported and that the students understand what's expected of them. There are examples of promoting positive behaviour as well as giving students the opportunity to give suggestions and feedback.

Designing, evaluating and coordinating the curriculum and teaching

Leaders in high-performing schools are involved in planning, coordinating and evaluating the curriculum and teaching. In this section, we discuss the varying degrees of leadership involvement in the curriculum, the importance of a coherent and responsive curriculum, and taking the time to review and adapt it.

Leading professional learning

Promoting and participating in professional learning is the leadership activity that has the greatest impact on student outcomes. This section highlights examples of professional learning from ERO reports and emphasises the importance of appraisal systems that are aligned with student needs and teacher goals.

Internal evaluation and inquiry

Effective leaders engage in collaborative internal evaluation where all staff participate and understand the importance of internal evaluation and inquiry. This section includes examples of effective internal evaluation in practice and tells how external evaluation supports a school's continuous cycle of improvement.

Building relational trust and collaboration

Effective leaders value and engage parents, whanau and the wider community in supporting the success of all the students. This section shares examples of educationally powerful connections and the role they play in student success.

Evaluation indicator

Leadership collaboratively develops and pursues the school's vision, goals and targets for equity and excellence

Leaders seek out the perspectives and aspirations of students, parents and whanau, and incorporate them in the school's vision, values, goals and targets

Effective school leadership begins with a strong commitment to seeking the perspectives and aspirations of students, parents and whanau as part of the development of the school's vision, values, goals and targets. Inclusive planning provides a platform for widespread commitment across a school and community for educational purposes. Effective change leaders expect every teacher to take responsibility for engagement with family and whanau because this is central to the progress and achievement of students.

In Educationally Powerful Connections with Parents and Whanau (2015) we reported that the trigger for developing or improving relationships with parents and whanau was often when leaders recognised that what the school had previously been doing was not good enough. It was time to try something different. These change leaders recognised that to be educationally powerful, relationships with parents and whanau needed to go way beyond regular communication. Instead the school and its parents and whanau needed to plan and work together more effectively to support future student success.

To plan and develop goals and targets these schools involved students, and their parents and whanau in four key processes. Leaders were clear about the purpose for each process as shown in Figure 1.

Planning process Purpose of the relationship
Identify learning strengths and needs; language, identity and culture; and interests and aspirations To know who the student is, in the wider context of school and home, in order to develop more holistic and authentic learning.
Respond with deliberate actions and innovations that involved parents, families and whanau to improve student outcomes To extend learning by designing and implementing multiple aligned learning opportunities.
Recognise the impact of the actions that influenced the improved student outcomes To evaluate the impact and alignment of the multiple opportunities to know what worked for whom, when and why.
Refocus on next actions

To be persistent and:

  • sustain what worked about the relationship for the students involved
  • change and improve what did not work
  • transfer what worked to more students and their parents, families and whanau.

Leaders with the most effective educationally powerful connections led a whole school focus on improving relationships with parents and whanau. These leaders had a key educational goal for parents and teachers to work together more effectively in the interests of children. This involved more than just school planning. They set out to develop the conditions necessary for success. Through initiatives that focused on particular students, leaders expected and helped teachers to make time for frequent and regular conversations with parents and whanau. Together they designed and implemented multiple and aligned shared learning opportunities that bridged the gap between home and school.

Leaders set and relentlessly pursue goals and targets that accelerate the learning of students that are at risk of underachievement

Successful schools are keenly aware of the need to achieve both equity and excellence. Effective educational leaders pursue equitable outcomes. Effective school change leaders establish and develop specific and measurable goals so that progress towards equity and excellence can be shown, monitored and acted on. Goal setting works by acknowledging the discrepancy between what is currently happening and some desired future state. Goals focus attention and lead to persistent and unrelenting effort.

The general principles of target or goal setting should apply at each level of the school, from board to classroom teachers, and include goal setting by students with parental involvement. Effective change leaders expect all parties to work together - they know and value the strength that collective input will have to ensure that the whole needs of a child are met and educational outcomes achieved.

We have described the alignment of targets and actions as 'a clear line of sight for success'. In Raising Student Achievement Through Targeted Actions (2015) ERO reported that the majority of schools (65 percent) were effective at setting targets, but only about 40 percent of schools did this while linking targeted actions to leadership development and school improvement processes across the community.

In the most successful schools, trustees and school leaders analysed data to target and raise student achievement, while also building school capacity and sharing leadership at multiple levels. We found that:

  • goal setting worked through optimum challenge, with targets being low enough to seem possible but high enough to make a difference
  • school stewardship[18] worked by ensuring plans and resources were directed to priority learners, and to those learning areas where needs were highest
  • school leadership worked by influencing the quality of curriculum pathways and the focus of classroom teaching, as well as ensuring the visibility of target students amongst teachers
  • team leadership worked by sharing expertise and applying teaching as inquiry in professional learning conversations for teaching focused on target students' needs
  • individual teachers influenced outcomes positively by taking responsibility for learner success, and involving students, parents and whanau in meeting individual needs
  • the most successful school leaders used outside expertise to enhance internal expertise, and match particularly challenging achievement issues with an appropriate response. 

In Accelerating the Progress of Priority Learners in Primary Schools (2013) ERO found that the principal had a pivotal role in binding trustees and staff to an absolute commitment that all students succeed in the school.

The principal believes, and inspires others to believe, that everyone within the school can and must play a role in helping those students who need to catch up with their peers do so. School goals and priorities clearly reflect this shared commitment.

Leaders use a range of evidence from evaluation, inquiry and knowledge building activities for the purposes of selecting, developing and reviewing strategies for improvement

Schoolwide goals for improvement need to be based on what is working (but might be improved) and what is not working so well in the school. ERO's Raising Student Achievement in Primary Schools Report (2014) noted that effective leaders demonstrated high capability in designing, implementing and evaluating key strategies for school improvement. Leaders gathered evidence for trustees about priority needs. They worked with trustees to select and resource responses, and then helped them monitor progress. We found that the most effective and coherent plans had both short and long-term components. For example, in a school with a recognised problem of reading underachievement, a short term tactical response might involve resourcing a programme specifically targeted at raising students' achievement in reading through intensive supplementary instruction.

A longer term strategic response might involve school-wide professional learning and development to raise the capability of all teachers to teach reading.

Effective leaders in this study ensured that both tactical and strategic responses worked well together and, if not, details were adapted in response to changing patterns in student outcomes. These leaders worked as a team with other senior leaders in the school; devised systems that supported knowledge building and inquiry; and knew what was needed to build teacher capability through professional learning and development. In these schools cohesive planning and reporting was evident at three levels: school wide, syndicate and classroom. Any proposed innovation was supported by appointing a teacher who had the capability to succeed and was resourced for success. The individual teachers understood acceleration, progression and expectations from the curriculum and National Standards, and knew how to use evidence-based practices to achieve success.

Effective leaders use a range of evidence resource in any school'.[19] Principal appraisal offers an opportunity for shared decision making about how this critical resource is directed.

In Supporting School Improvement Through Effective Principal Appraisal (2014) ERO investigated the extent that goal setting as part of a principal appraisal process supported the principal's focus on either leadership development in staff or school improvement across the school community. In many schools, principal appraisal and associated goal setting was not focused to any great extent on improving teaching, learning, or leadership. The goals set during principal appraisal contributed to teacher development in about one third of schools; to leadership development in about 30 percent of schools; and to improving student achievement in about 25 percent of schools. We also found that selecting more appropriate goals was critical to the effectiveness of the principal's appraisal in supporting improved teaching, learning and leadership in schools.

We concluded that principal appraisal was more effective and more likely to improve the quality of teaching, learning and leadership across the school community when: 

  • all developmental goals were clear, specific and challenging
  • goals focused on teaching and learning, and plans for improving student achievement
  • goals distinguished between the principal's personal development and leadership development across the school
  • goals were linked to the school's annual or strategic plan
  • appraisal discussions about school improvement focused on the leader's knowledge of the impact of teaching on learning across the school
  • appraisal discussions about leadership development focused on the leader's actions in developing senior or middle leaders. 

Allocation of resources (for example, staffing and time) is clearly aligned to the school's vision, values, goals and targets

Effective resourcing of school improvement initiatives is the joint responsibility of leaders in their management role and trustees in their stewardship role.

When it worked well, we found trustees and leaders worked closely together and understood the impact that their resourcing had on student outcomes. Trustees demanded achievement based reports and leaders provided them with useful information to support further resourcing decisions. When it didn't work so well, there was a disconnect between school targets and the resourcing decisions made by the board.

A group of people at a meeting listening to a speaker

ERO has consistently reinforced the importance of robust internal evaluation of school resourcing decisions. In our 2013 report,Mathematics in Years 4 to 8: Developing a Responsive Curriculum (2013) it was noted that when done well, internal evaluation had the potential to lead to considerable system wide improvement in New Zealand schools.

We found that in schools that improved mathematics achievement most resourcing decisions were made as follows:

Senior leaders and the board used the student achievement information as the basis for all resourcing decisions. The information was broken down to year groups, ethnicity, gender, English language learners, and students at risk of underachieving. The senior leaders collated data in year groups and tracked ethnicity and target students. This information was shared with teachers in each syndicate to discuss overall progress. At the end of each term, student achievement data from each class was shared in syndicate meetings and the progress of each student was discussed along with the effectiveness of particular teacher actions. A mid-year and end-of-year report went to the board that discussed the targeted students' progress and the effect of the board allocated resources.

Leaders buffer and integrate external policy requirements and initiatives in ways that support achievement of the school's vision, values, goals and targets

Effective leaders filter the many programmes and approaches that are available in the education system. Because effective leaders have a strategic focus they can be discerning about which programmes or approaches will best meet their objectives. They are also demanding of the programmes and providers in terms of what value they are actually receiving, and will act quickly when they are not having the expected results.

The New Zealand Curriculum is the major policy guideline for the vision and goals of schools in New Zealand. ERO has found that effective leaders have a critical role in modelling and promoting both an inclusive vision and an agreed platform of core values that are based on the vision and principles outlined in The New Zealand Curriculum.

In The New Zealand Curriculum Principles: Foundations for Curriculum Decision Making (2012) ERO describes how leaders promoted school and community discussion about key curriculum principles. Such discussion provided an effective forum for fostering the goals and priorities of equity and excellence.[20]

The principal created energy and enthusiasm for key curriculum principles through a series of forums involving senior leaders, teachers and trustees. This was followed by community consultation on emerging goals and priorities. There was also significant input from students, parents and whanau. The principles are now reflected in the school's charter and in the learning programmes and teaching practices.

In Working with National Standards: Good Practice (2012) we studied eight primary schools that had showed promising practice in implementing National Standards within The New Zealand Curriculum. Leaders in these schools understood the need to frame National Standards within the work that the school had already done around The New Zealand Curriculum. Teachers' and trustees' understanding of the standards was developed through high-quality professional learning and development (PLD), both internal and external. This helped all staff fully understand the concepts and learning principles behind the standards before they changed anything.

These schools focused strongly on enhancing good assessment and reporting systems that were already in place, rather than scrapping these and starting again. Any new processes and practices that felt promising were trialled, and school leaders were conscious of teacher workload arising from this. If new processes proved useful they replaced existing processes rather than being additional. As a result, unnecessary workload from implementing National Standards within the schools assessment strategy was minimised and changes were aligned to enhance existing good practice.

Evaluation indicator

Leadership ensures an orderly and supportive environment that is conducive to student learning and wellbeing

Leaders establish clear and consistent social expectations that are designed to support teaching and learning

Effective leaders not only set high social expectations for staff and students but model respectful and empowering relationships, setting the tone for the whole school. They hold themselves to account to the children, families, whanau and communities they serve. They use internal evaluation and self-reflection to continually learn and improve. As one very effective leader said "We do not give up on any child". Nor do they give up on raising the performance of the school overall.

In Wellbeing for Children's Success at Primary School (2015) ERO reported that schools with an extensive approach to student wellbeing had an agreed set of goals that emphasised student wellbeing and guided all actions, reviews and improvements. A cohesive approach was critical and leaders, with teachers, actively monitored student wellbeing and reviewed the effectiveness of the approaches taken.

Leaders established goals that set the direction for improving student wellbeing and engagement in both the strategic plan and in subsequent actions. These goals had annual targets and included expectations for: 

  • raising student achievement
  • Māori enjoying success as Māori
  • Pacific experiencing success as Pacific
  • increasing students' responsibility to themselves and others
  • fostering students' sense of belonging within the school community. 

The goals reflected their aspirations for enhancing all students' academic and social wellbeing. All goals and targets had associated actions in curriculum plans, appraisal plans, and in defined committee tasks or teaching team responsibilities.

In schools with an extensive approach to wellbeing, students had the power to make decisions affecting their wellbeing. Teachers and students made decisions together. Students contributed to many daily decisions, such as what they learnt, who they interacted with, and how they engaged. Students were expected to develop and use skills in leadership. They were seen as inherently capable, despite any barriers or challenges they faced. Students were in control of many of their experiences. A wall display in one school stated:

Leaders are organised and confident.

Leaders who make good decisions know their strengths.

Leaders who notice and utilise others' strengths enhance others to build their own capacity.

Students in this school were expected to work with adults and contribute to solutions.

Internal evaluation focused on improvement and accountability to students for goal achievement. Leaders and teachers were mindful of the multiple goals and targets at all times. They incorporated their findings about overall progress towards success into a range of coordinated approaches to improving outcomes for more students.

Students' ability to make and take accountability for their own choices was another key factor in the extensive approach taken by these schools. Students had opportunities to develop their own leadership, self-efficacy and resourcefulness while participating with others within a high trust culture and through a stimulating curriculum. Students found school deeply rewarding.

Leaders ensure that efficient and equitable management routines are in place and consistently applied

In Towards Equitable Outcomes in Secondary Schools (2014) we found that effective leaders ensure the senior leaders worked together as a team, all having clearly defined roles according to their strengths. The principals were crucial to the school's success and actively involved in implementing the school's vision. They were knowledgeable, skilful and exhibited the dispositions necessary for powerful leadership by making sure leaders and staff were together focused on the key areas they wanted to improve. The strategy of working with the staff to suggest the solution meant that everyone understood their role.

The principal, working with the staff, explored the student and teacher behaviours that were hindering learning and together they identified strategies for changing them. Staff ownership of the problem and involvement in developing the solutions helped to establish a culture of care within the college. The culture they developed is solution focused, strength based and aims to keep everyone's mana intact. This culture has resulted in increased accountability (staff and students) for achievement throughout the college. Students are now more focused in class and teachers are able to spend more time teaching. Teachers are also more open to individual and peer-review feedback in appraisal, which further strengthens the professional community. The change has taken time and is ongoing. Stable staffing helps to embed these practices.

In another school focused on equitable outcomes the leaders and board had made careful and additional resourcing decisions to make sure they could achieve their goal to have a greater focus on academic success by building on the caring foundation. The principal effectively coordinated the significant changes that occurred in order to achieve that.

The board gives priority to provide all-round care for the student community. One deputy principal has overall responsibility for pastoral care. Trustees have allocated additional resources and the school is structured so the students are supported by 10 deans, a senior leader committed to transitioning new Year 9 students; two guidance counsellors; and a dedicated Student Services Centre with a receptionist, nurse, clinics for a doctor, a physiotherapist, a sexual health nurse, and a chaplain. Trustees also employ a person who makes home visits as necessary and has additional expertise in drug rehabilitation programmes.

The guidance team play a central part in the establishment of the overall school culture, based around the core values of ‘Quality work' and 'Respect for others'. The core school values are clearly expressed and include detailed statements about what they look like and sound like in practice. These provide excellent direction for both staff and students.

Leaders identify and resolve conflict quickly and effectively

Different people in schools can be expected to hold diverse views and beliefs. Staff typically have a range of views and values, about a number of educational issues, which can have a negative impact on school tone unless skilfully managed by school leadership. These differences should not be ignored or smoothed over but treated as an opportunity for further learning. The Internal Evaluation: Good Practice (2015) report showed that respectful disagreement and challenging conversations among staff were an important part of a collaborative knowledge building and inquiry process. Professional issues were a powerful driver for new and improved insights when handled productively by school leaders. This required an environment of relational trust built on respect for the leader's expertise.

The principal had attended substantial PLD in coaching, and the impact of coaching staff in problem solving as a leadership style for resolving conflict. Staff described coaching for problem solving as being inspiring to them as a group, promoting collegiality, and giving an opportunity to really reflect and explore issues. Staff also reported being able to use coaching in their own work and across different contexts, including the school's professional learning groups and in its behaviour clinic.

Effective leaders often use restorative practices to resolve disagreement among students as well as student-staff issues. In Towards Equitable Outcomes in Secondary Schools (2014), we reported that having relationships which focused on the wellbeing of each student underpinned a school's success in keeping secondary students at school and engaged. Every school leader in this study emphasised the fundamental importance of having deeply caring relationships to establish the school culture they wanted. These leaders rarely terminated the student's education at their school because of behavioural issues. Leaders, teachers and trustees explored alternatives to punitive responses to undesirable behaviour.

Effective schools had highly effective processes for promoting positive behaviour. Leaders and teachers used restorative practices (based on respect, empowerment, collaboration and, when necessary, healing) to build these relationships and develop all students as young adults able to succeed and participate in, and contribute to, their community. Towards Equitable Outcomes in Secondary Schools (2014) describes a secondary school that was successful in accelerating learning for Māori students through improved engagement in learning.

The board and principal made the conscious decision to improve the social interactions in the college; to promote core values that recognised the diversity of the school population as a strength and to build on that. To maximise students' academic achievement they focused on developing a college characterised by solution-focused attitudes, strong teamwork based on culturally respectful relationships and suitable behavioural management strategies to support those.

Leaders involve students in the development of an environment that supports their learning and wellbeing

Leaders who value student input into decision making that affects them design curriculum to enable students to explore their own leadership qualities and to reflect on leadership in different contexts.

In Wellbeing for Success: Effective Practice (2015) we found schools where students actively contributed to the planning, implementation and review of wellbeing initiatives. Many schools adopted a tuakana teina approach to foster student-to-student relations. Leadership roles and responsibilities in these schools included mentoring, coaching, leading interest groups, and representing the school in the local community.

Students were viewed as inherently capable. Their views, ideas and decisions were sought and valued. They were trusted to take on the leadership roles that contributed to their wellbeing.

In the example below students initiated a variety of groups to develop an environment to reflect its values of fairness, diversity, inclusion, creativity and sustainability. The school actively sought and engaged students in a variety of wellbeing activities and programmes.

The student-led Healthwise Panel actively promoted ‘mental health matters'. Students on this panel worked to remove stigma around mental health issues. They sponsored a range of initiatives including a ‘Don't Panic' day and 'Live for Tomorrow' which promoted stress management activities. An example of the work of this panel was when students ran a stall that distributed stress relief packs to students and teachers that included information pamphlets about stress.

This school was a pilot school for the Peer Sexuality Support Programme (PSSP). Selected senior students attended a four day training camp at the start of the year where they were trained by external facilitators in providing information to their peers on issues related to sexuality. Information was provided to students through one-to-one contact, assembly presentations and an anonymous question and answer text service. One assembly presentation dealt with the issue of the need for informed consent in sexual relationships.

Another very active group in this school was the feminists. This group, which had a male co-leader, conducted an energetic campaign for a unified school dress code. Students in this group believed that the existing code discriminated against girls and was more strictly enforced than the boys' code. They talked to students at assembly and got their feedback. They negotiated with senior leaders and the board of trustees about the school's dress code, and presented at school assemblies. The outcome was that the code became non-gender specific, and teachers looked at and altered their own dress code.

Other student groups supporting student wellbeing include the Peace Ambassadors (a peer mediation initiative). A peer support team operated in Term 1 to assist the transition of Year 9 students into the school. Some Year 13 students gave up study time to provide academic support for juniors in their subject classes.

Leaders provide multiple opportunities for students to provide feedback on the quality of the teaching they receive and its impact on their learning and wellbeing

Change leaders have deep knowledge about the curriculum. They centre the curriculum in relation to every child so that there is a meaningful connection between the learner's interests, needs and experiences. These leaders pay particular attention to ensuring that cultural diversity is respected and the needs of vulnerable learners are addressed.

ERO has found that leadership heeding student voice is a significant factor in many instances of improving learner success, especially in secondary schools.

In Educationally Powerful Connections with Parents and Whānau (2015) we noted how one secondary school started a systematic review to improve both the home and school learning experiences for Year 10 students at risk of underachieving by asking the students first for suggestions and feedback.

For example, one departmental head designed a survey seeking student ideas for improving learning opportunities in his subject. Using information from the survey, the teachers designed a multi-layered supplementary response for their subject (not English). This gave the students many more opportunities to learn the critical literacy skills that would help their subject learning. Figure 2 shows the students' ideas and the resulting learning opportunities.

Figure 2: Student feedback and learning opportunities

Student feedback New learning opportunity
'The textbooks are too hard' To be successful readers, students need to be scaffolded into the key concepts that underpin ideas in the texts. Teachers started deliberately teaching these concepts.
'We've never really been taught how to use the texts' Students need to be taught strategies to 'attack' text. Some students need to be given more time than others to make sense of texts. Lunchtime guided reading sessions for those interested were instituted.
'We don't want to be spoon fed but we've never really been shown how to manage our own learning' 'Learning logs' were introduced, to support students to set goals and understand how they learn, so that they knew where they were going with their learning, and where to next.
'I am a hopeless writer' Teachers introduced study of how sentences and paragraphs in the text were structured and sequenced, so that models were available for those who were struggling with expository writing to learn from.

As a result the students increasingly felt that the teachers were on their side and they appreciated the teachers' extra support. They knew the supplementary support was an opportunity to learn, so they put in extra work. Both students and teachers were motivated to accelerate their progress in the subject through improved capability.

Leaders ensure that policies and practices promote students' wellbeing; confidence in their identity, language and culture; and engagement in learning

Effective leaders cultivate teaching communities that are focused on improving student success. They do this through an intensive focus on understanding the connection between teaching actions/decisions and students' engagement and learning. Leaders support teachers to share "collective responsibility and accountability for students' achievement and wellbeing" (p.120). Students are at the heart of school business.

ERO's report Teaching as Inquiry: Responding to Learners [21] (2012) shows that this connection between deliberate teaching and learning was not yet well developed in primary schools, and even less so in secondary. While some leaders created opportunities for teachers to look closely at students' results, many had not focused teachers on deep and critical analysis of the relationship between achievement, progress and teaching practice. To accelerate learning, there must be a focus on the interrelationship between how teachers teach and what students learn.

This practice works best when teachers and leaders are willing to try new or different approaches to teaching and learning that might benefit students.

Group looking at a whiteboard in a meeting

In Raising Student Achievement in Secondary Schools (2014) we found that as part of an inquiry and improvement approach, school leaders and teachers must also see curriculum development as a potentially critical area for change.

In particular, they should consider wholesale changes to the way their resources, options and timetables are organised to ensure that those students who may not previously have achieved well are fully engaged and learning. A focus on mentoring students to achieve the subject qualifications they are participating in is not enough on its own. Much more could be achieved if curriculum changes were introduced that ensure every student participates in courses that both engage them and lead to qualifications that enable them to reach their potential in the future.

Evaluation indicator

Leadership ensures effective planning, coordination and evaluation of the school's curriculum and teaching

The school curriculum is coherent, inclusive, culturally responsive, and clearly aligned to The New Zealand Curriculum and/or Te Marautanga o Aotearoa

The New Zealand Curriculum offers a broad framework allowing schools to design learning programmes based on their students' interests and needs. In planning and coordinating the curriculum, effective school leaders play an important role in helping teachers to interpret and implement wider curriculum principles.

In Directions for Learning: The New Zealand Curriculum Principles, and Teaching as Inquiry (2011) ERO found primary school principals typically drive curriculum review and development in Years 1 to 8. Leaders need to be knowledgeable about the principles of good curriculum design, and to be able to interpret the broad direction of The New Zealand Curriculum in a way that is responsive to their particular community context.

The principal took a strong instructional leadership role, leading collaborative brainstorming about curriculum progressions, working in classrooms and modelling approaches to teaching and learning key topics, fostering vertical and horizontal connections in the qualities of learning and teaching, and developing new ways to support those students who needed to progress faster in mathematics.

In many secondary schools, because of their departmentalised structures, and the culture of specialist teaching, middle leaders have often had a far stronger profile in curriculum design and coordination. In Directions for Learning: The New Zealand Curriculum Principles, and Teaching as Inquiry (2011) we found that in secondary settings, senior leadership generally had a more facilitative role, with curriculum leadership remaining the responsibility of departmental heads.

In Towards Equitable Outcomes in Secondary Schools (2014) ERO found secondary principals taking more of a direct leadership role when it comes to student wellbeing in their schools and keeping students engaged. In one secondary school with previous concerns about student safety and levels of academic achievement, the principal led concerted action to turn things around.

The board and principal made the conscious decision to improve the social interactions in the college, to promote core values that recognised the diversity of the school population as a strength and to build from that. To maximise students' academic achievement they focused on developing a college characterised by solution focused attitudes, strong teamwork based on culturally respectful relationships and suitable behaviour management strategies to support these. (Medium sized urban secondary school)

In Vocational Pathways: Authentic and Relevant Learning (2016) we found teachers increasing curriculum relevance by providing more authentic learning and assessment contexts for their students. Leaders in these schools identified a tipping point at which they realised that taking pathways seriously meant that they had to consider how their curriculum implemented relevant learning and supported a pathways approach.

If you want to excite people, you have to have education for a purpose that relates to their lives. (Principal)

However, our report Raising Student Achievement in Secondary Schools (2014) confirms that considerable work is needed before all New Zealand's secondary schools consistently and effectively use inquiry and improvement that lead to necessary curriculum changes for students at risk of not achieving. This remains an imperative for school leaders who with middle managers and teachers must improve their analysis and interpretation of assessment and other information they collect about students. Such skills are needed to gain greater insights into what is working well and what should change to most influence student achievement.

The New Zealand Curriculum[22] states that its eight key principles[23] put students at the centre of teaching and learning and should be the foundations of school curriculum decision making. The principles relate to how the curriculum is formalised in a school. They are particularly relevant to the processes of curriculum planning and review. When they are used well by schools they result in a curriculum that is cohesive, inclusive and responsive.

When the principles are not fully enacted, students do not have opportunities to experience a broad and deep curriculum that caters for their interests or strengths. The quality of principle-based curriculum design and review in New Zealand schools is mixed.

In The New Zealand Curriculum Principles: Foundations for Curriculum Decision Making (2012) we noted the considerable variability in the extent to which the curriculum principles were evident in the schools reviewed. High expectations was an important principle where the curriculum's coherence and responsiveness was high in schools. We found that, in curriculum review, leaders and teachers in these schools made clear links between the curriculum principles of high expectations, learning to learn and inclusion. Typically, teachers, leaders and trustees were aware that promoting the notion of high expectations began with their own actions.

Effective leaders set high expectations for both staff and students. In Supporting School Improvement Through Effective Principal Appraisal (2014) ERO identified school factors likely to contribute to a school culture of ongoing improvement. First and foremost were the high expectations evident for all students.

High expectations coupled with a learner-centric curriculum is a powerful combination. These effective leaders also demonstrated a commitment to raising achievement through a planned approach to improving teaching and learning including:

  • good use of analysed data to identify needs, determine priorities, develop goals, inform resourcing, and monitor progress and effectiveness
  • strengthening and using school systems to support improvement, such as improving teacher appraisal to support teacher development
  • PLD for leaders linked to strategic goals, such as leading and managing change
  • targeted PLD on effective teaching, appraisal, and analysing data.

Data is the window into understanding student progress and modifying and developing a curriculum that engages them in learning. Robust data is essential in order to form a view of what each child knows and can do, and what is needed next. Leaders focused on change make sure that their teams know what the data is for and refer to it frequently to make real time decisions.

Leaders ensure that community and cultural resources are integrated into relevant aspects of the school curriculum

Evaluation at a Glance: Priority Learners in New Zealand Schools (2012) reported ERO's vital interest in supporting Māori learners to achieve their potential. ERO understands the importance of teachers, school leaders and trustees having a good understanding of Māori language, culture and identity; the aspirations Māori have for the success of their children and young people; and the progress and achievement of every single Māori student. Regardless of the number of Māori students on the roll, ERO expects to see these aspects reflected in school planning and review (including in the charter and targets set for students at risk of not achieving), in the nature of the curriculum policies, and in enacted classroom programmes.

In Raising Achievement in Primary Schools (2014) we found that culturally responsive education appropriate for the local community was alive and well in some schools as shown in this example in a small rural full primary school where Māori students made up 90 percent of the roll:

Leaders and teachers have a learning centred relationship with whānau. Teachers and local iwi developed their 'Kuhukuhu' initiative, applying authentic contextual matauranga Māori experiences with significant community role models. These experiences were also designed to be contexts for students' reading and writing. 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 manaaki - hosting their pakeke - elders with kai. This experience provided students with a context that they enthusiastically wrote about.

Leaders are more likely to see an improvement in Māori student outcomes if they include students and their whānau as active partners in designing curriculum to enhance their learning.

Raising Achievement in Primary Schools (2014) discusses how this partnership works in practice. It shows how, by including Māori students as partners, teachers are able to include learning contexts that are based on student interests. More learning then happens in ways that students prefer, such as through collaborative group tasks, oral work, and self and peer assessment. Students also give regular feedback to their teacher around what is working or what is not working well in these schools. Leaders support these processes for increasing student voice.

Man making a presentation using a whiteboard

In a more recent example, from the Secondary Schools: Pathways for Future Education, Training and Employment (2013), ERO found examples of the leadership and teaching practices which can be effective in raising achievement and engagement for its Māori students:

Over 40 percent of the students identify as Māori. The college's mission is to provide a holistic education that seeks to develop the whole person, in line with its special character. The senior management team is a strong driver of the school's overall direction. It has emphasised self-review, introduced key student support programmes, developed systems to monitor student achievement and implemented suitable teacher appraisal and development mechanisms.

The He Kakano programme has been significant in supporting the development of teacher practice and cultural understanding. Its implementation has led to improvements in Māori student engagement, attendance and achievement. The school has built strong links with local hapu and iwi. Frequent whānau hui seek parents' aspirations for their children and provide an opportunity to report progress. Māori language and tikanga programmes highlight the focus placed on Māori education. All Year 9 and 10 students take part in an introductory course focused on te reo me tikanga Māori.

The pastoral team includes a Māori dean and a whānau support worker with strong links to the school's Māori community. There are four Māori teachers on the staff. Māori success is a high priority and highly visible as a focus in annual planning, well-planned actions and ongoing monitoring and review.

ERO's 2012 report on Improving Education Outcomes for Pacific Learners noted that: "As schools develop their curriculum they should take into account the cultures, interests and potential of all their students, including those from Pacific cultures. The reality is that most primary and secondary schools in this evaluation had not drawn on contexts and themes that were relevant to Pacific learners. Indeed, while references to Pacific students appeared in the overarching statements of a school's curriculum, classroom planning and practice frequently missed opportunities to reflect the culture, knowledge and understanding of these learners.”

This report, as well as Directions for Learning: The New Zealand Curriculum Principles, and Teaching as Inquiry (2011), and The New Zealand Curriculum Principles: Foundations for Curriculum Decision-Making (2012) noted that many teachers were not making use of valuable information about students' cultural backgrounds to plan programmes that celebrated and further extended students' understanding of their own and others' rich and diverse cultural backgrounds.

ERO's Pacific report concludes "when a school's curriculum fails to connect learners with their wider lives it can limit their opportunities to respond to a particular context or to engage with and understand the material they are expected to learn”. For Māori students, a curriculum that has limited or no connection with students' language, culture and identity is not one that contributes to their self­worth, to their sense of themselves as culturally located persons, or to Māori achieving success as Māori as outlined in Ka Hikitia.

School leaders have an important role to play in requiring teachers to position learners at the centre of classroom programmes, including ensuring the curriculum has relevance and meaning for students. This might mean their leadership role is less about monitoring the school's mandated curriculum is followed to the letter, and more about reminding and checking teachers are creatively and appropriately responding to their students.

Leaders actively involve students, parents and whānau in the development, implementation and evaluation of the curriculum

Effective leaders value parents, whānau and the wider community and actively involve them in the life and work of the school. As a result, the school curriculum is enriched by community and cultural resources while reciprocal learning opportunities lead to increased participation, engagement and achievement.

Some of the most successful involvement of parents in the review and development of the school's curriculum was highlighted in ERO's report Continuity of Learning: Transitions from Early Childhood Services to Schools (2015). One leader used recorded interviews with parent to review and develop their whole junior school curriculum.

In another school a group comprising parents and teachers help develop a strong sense of common purpose throughout the school as they evaluated how successfully the programmes provide for children. Meetings were held for each of the major ethnic groups in the school: Pacific, Māori and Indian. Before a new topic for learning was introduced to students, the partnership group discussed what the children already knew and related it to any similar experiences they may have had. This practice helped teachers gain valuable cultural insights that help to close the cultural gap between school and home, and provided important information for staff when designing the curriculum.

In the report Wellbeing for Young People's Success at Secondary School (2015) we identified that more can be done to involve students and parents in the development and evaluation of the school's curriculum. In general, consultation about curriculum with parents, families and whānau and communities was quite limited. Schools consulted their communities about the content of sexuality education programmes but not about other aspects of the health curriculum or wider curriculum. This affected its overall quality of their response to students' wellbeing.

Opportunities for students to make decisions about their learning and school processes also varied, sometimes even within a school. In some schools, students reported that their suggestions had been acted on, but in other schools survey responses had not been analysed or used. Student opinions were gathered only through surveys in some schools. This meant that schools often had limited information on how well the curriculum was responding to their students. Students should be involved in such review as they are the group that experience the curriculum and can provide valuable insights.

Leaders ensure that the school's teaching programme is structured so that all students have maximum opportunity to learn and achieve at or above the appropriate standard

Effective leaders systematically gather data to evaluate curriculum provision and its impact on teaching and learning. We have paid close attention to how well schools evaluate the effectiveness of their programmes in terms of curriculum objectives, teaching quality and student outcomes. In Mathematics in Years 4 to 8: Developing a Responsive Curriculum (2013) we found that in many schools both leaders and teachers were involved in regular reviews of their mathematics programme as part of the wider school curriculum. Teachers were assessing students' progress and achievement and were then aggregating the results. This helped leaders and teachers identify learners needing support or extension.

Leaders in schools with highly effective processes for reviewing and adapting their curriculum used an integrated approach to apply collated assessment information to inform curriculum review and design. A culture of reflection and inquiry at board, leader and teacher levels supported ongoing review of programmes in these schools. They used their information to decide which strands or concepts they should spend more time teaching, and to determine the most effective teaching practices for their learners' identified needs.

In primary schools where achievement information was well used, leaders played a critical role in establishing school-wide procedures. They developed assessment processes for multiple purposes that enabled trustees, teachers and students to reflect on progress and achievement and to identify any next steps for which they were responsible. A key focus for school leaders was on teaching strategies that were working for learners. This was integral to school level internal evaluation and to teaching as inquiry processes. Some of these leaders were also using research evidence to rethink what they were doing to support learners. In particular, they used it to identify the most promising teaching strategies in similar settings to their own. As a result, these leaders and teachers used teaching strategies that generally proved to be effective for their learners.

In other schools, achievement information could have been better used by school leaders to make sound resourcing decisions, or to determine the focus of targeted professional development that responded to identified achievement challenges. Leaders in the majority of these schools were able to identify those learners who were not achieving, but their school continued to use the same teaching strategies, programmes and initiatives to respond to these learning needs.

Most used ability groupings within or across classes or resourced teacher aides to assist individual learners. Few had evidence that such programmes, initiatives and interventions worked, or actually had ever accelerated the progress of their priority learners. As a result, accelerating the progress of students working below or well below the standards was challenging for teachers in these schools.

Evaluation indicator

Leadership promotes and participates in teacher learning and development

Leaders ensure alignment of student learning needs, teacher professional learning goals, and processes for teacher appraisal and attestation

Building a good team may be achieved through appointing the best teachers available. In most cases, leaders inherit their teams and helping the current team to be the best they can be is part of effective leadership for change. Effective leaders make the best use of appraisal and professional learning and development systems by aligning these with the findings of internal evaluation and to the needs of their staff. They know the strengths of the team and can deploy their staff to best effect.

In 2014 the Ministry of Education stated that the biggest single issue reducing educational success for all learners in New Zealand schools today is 'within-school variation' in teaching quality. This partly explains the drop in the international ranking of our education system in recent years.

"There is still much to be done to ensure education delivers for all students. Improving the quality of teaching within every school, supported by quality school leadership, is the most important single contribution the education system can make to improve learning".[24]

Teacher appraisal is the tool to respond to within-school variation in teaching and learning outcomes. Effective appraisal processes can help build professional capability and improve outcomes for all students.

In New Zealand, school leaders have a pivotal role in ensuring appraisal procedures are working well and result in focused teaching to improve student learning. It is not enough to develop and use an appraisal system for accountability purposes only. School leaders need to ensure their appraisal system has a strong improvement focus as well, if it is to have any impact on the quality of teaching and learning. Effective appraisal should be a component within a self-review framework that focuses on improving achievement for all students in the school, as well as providing quality assurance.

In Supporting School Improvement Through Effective Teacher Appraisal (2014) ERO found that schools with high-quality appraisal systems had transparent classrooms, stemming from an open and collaborative school culture. In these schools teachers were prepared to show and share their ideas. In addition to this, those involved in appraisal looked deeply into the student achievement results associated with particular teaching actions. Within the appraisal process teachers inquired into the impacts of particular teaching practices and decided what aspects of their teaching they needed to improve.

The appraisal system links directly to outcomes for students. School leaders' observations of teaching provide teachers with useful feedback to improve their teaching. There is a clear expectation that teachers are reflective about their teaching, and provide evidence in their appraisal documentation of successful teaching for target groups of students.

Teacher and principal appraisal is strongly linked to targets through a highly effective four minute walk-through booklet. The booklet is used to help teachers link their targets for raising achievement of priority learners to their appraisal goals. This has been a highly effective and reflective tool. Results of this reflective practice are shared with the board and more specifically the trustee with responsibility for curriculum. Trustees and the principal articulated the usefulness of this process in raising targeted student achievement and improving pedagogy.

In many other schools, appraisal was either compliance based or less useful as a driver for improved teaching practice. In a third of the schools there was effective appraisal in pockets, but not across the whole school. In another third of the sample, the schools had appraisal systems that met the national requirements but had limited or no impact on teaching quality or student outcomes.

We found two constraining factors limiting effectiveness in these schools. In some cases the appraisal process lacked evaluative discussion during the 'analysis of teaching practice' phase about the learning goals, and impact of teaching actions on students' learning. In other cases the process lacked discussion at this point about teaching goals that connected student targets with the plan for the teacher's professional learning and development. Leaders in both these groups of schools usually did not know how to embed the appraisal process into improvement focused internal evaluation, which was in turn linked to other school improvement processes.

Teacher professional learning and development is focused and deep rather than fragmented and shallow

Effective principals actively involve themselves in the professional learning process. In Managing Professional Learning and Development in Primary Schools (2009) we found that an important difference between schools with high quality professional learning and development (PLD) and other schools, regardless of size or location, was the quality of the principal's leadership and management of the school's professional learning and development programme. They were not always seen as leading the PLD but they were present and active as learners. Consequently, their professional discussions with staff were based on shared understandings about new knowledge relevant to the context of their school.

Effective leaders:

  • had a rationale for what PLD would achieve in their school;
  • placed a clear focus on improving student outcomes;
  • participated with their staff in PLD programmes;
  • were willing to share leadership roles with other staff members;
  • took a collaborative approach to PLD decision-making;
  • modelled reflective practice;
  • understood the place and value of educational research; and
  • worked effectively with their board to resource PLD.

These leaders had the ability to communicate these characteristics to their teachers. They shared their vision and rationale for professional learning and development with teachers and other staff involved in the teaching process. These leaders sought the views of trustees and worked with the board to resource PLD prior to making decisions. Their collaborative approach encouraged and involved the school community. They worked with other school leaders and teachers to ensure that facilitation was well directed and that leadership was not seen as a 'top down' process.

Leaders can have significant influence on student outcomes through modelling continuing learning, and fostering teacher professional learning and development.[25]

Leaders may undertake multiple roles to achieve this but three roles appear to be crucial:

  • developing a vision of new possibilities for professional learning from improving everyday professional activities
  • leading needed professional learning opportunities in areas of personal expertise
  • organising learning opportunities using external experts in areas where internal expertise is limited.

ERO's report Accelerating the Progress of Priority Learners in Primary Schools (2013) explored some of the key roles that school leaders might have in promoting professional leaning and development in their school. In this study effective school leaders accessed professional development aligned to school priorities, and focused on the teaching practices in the school that needed to improve for those students who were not succeeding.

A variety of internal and external professional development opportunities, linked to the appraisal system, provide teachers with appropriate experiences to improve their current practices, especially when working with targeted groups of students, particularly Pacific students.

Leaders build the capability of teachers to be leaders who promote and support the improvement of teaching and learning

Effective leaders influence the school leaders of the future while also distributing leadership to others to promote teaching improvements.

In one school in the Internal Evaluation: Good Practice (2015) report, as part of leadership development, the principal asked the deputy principal (DP) to lead an evaluation focused on writing that would engage teachers to talk about their practice and improve outcomes, particularly for students of concern. The DP provided leadership in the analysis and sharing of the achievement data, observing the children in their classroom and exploring research about how to make the necessary improvements. The principal continued to be involved in the development but chose to model other professional development aspects such as leading collaborative brainstorming and working with teachers in classrooms.

In another school foregrounded in the report Towards Equitable Outcomes in Secondary School: Good Practice (2014) distributed leadership was a characteristic of the school, with a clear focus on growing leadership capacity. The philosophy was that 'leadership is about influencing another's thoughts or actions; anyone can lead.' Teachers were supported through a mentoring/coaching programme and aspiring leaders participate in a leadership group to develop potential. This practice had resulted in considerable achievement gains for students.

Organisational structures, processes and practices strengthen and sustain focused professional learning and collaborative activity to improve teaching and learning

Effective leaders build teacher collaboration and foster great teacher leadership in schools. Most schools do this through organisational structures variously called either 'professional learning communities' or 'professional learning groups'. Creating and leading professional learning communities (PLCs) is very important for school improvement.

Professional learning communities build density in a school's leadership, enhance teachers' morale, support their professional learning and practice and make a difference for students. To create professional learning communities, leaders need to:

  • share a student learning focus with a group of teachers
  • delegate responsibility and cultivate involvement
  • distribute leadership
  • build nurturing and trusting relationships
  • clarify reporting expectations.
The establishment of professional learning groups that focus on teaching as inquiry and provide teachers with opportunities to discuss and share successful teaching strategies has been a successful feature this year and is continuing in 2015. In these groups teachers talk of their successes, they evaluate the evidence and are buoyed by the results. They also explore interventions they have tried in the past that have worked or not.

Team meetings maximise the time spent on using evidence of student learning for collective inquiry into the effectiveness of teaching practice

In Raising Student Achievement Through Targeted Actions (2015) ERO found leaders formed groups of teachers that had many effective discussions with an inquiry theme.

However, creating new structures does not in itself lead to school improvement. To deepen the work of professional learning communities, leaders need to:

  • promote collaborative inquiry that leads to deeper learning
  • draw on external expertise (if needed)
  • develop 'critical friendship' partnerships or triads within the group
  • ensure supportive structures for each partnership or triad
  • ensure a relentless focus on improving learning outcomes.

small group meeting

We found that the most successful schools structured capability building for school improvement through a series of interlinked professional learning conversations that took place within PLCs. There were two main types of professional learning conversation in PLCs in successful schools:

  • professional conversations discussing the quality of teaching, and steps for increasing teachers' adaptive expertise
  • professional conversations discussing particular learner's needs, and how these might be better met in future.

In Raising Achievement in Primary Schools (2014) ERO noted two other characteristics that applied in effective professional learning groups. These were PLCs that were monitoring and improving their own group practices and PLCs that were applying data literacy when planning and monitoring student progress.

Teaching teams provide close and regular monitoring of all target students in terms of progress and achievement. They create action plans for target students in their classes that detail specific support strategies, especially direct acts of teaching and next steps for learning for students. Progress with these action plans is regularly reviewed by the team and reported to the principal.

In another school data was carefully analysed by professional learning groups, before groups planned teaching approaches for raising achievement. This school also illustrates group accountability.

Collective ownership of student progress and achievement was very evident in this school. Professional learning groups are used to interrogate the data before planning begins. The groups then share strategies to improve professional practice through a personalised approach for each target student. The strategies of PLGs are very well documented, and progress is carefully tracked and discussed with senior leadership.

Leaders identify and develop internal expertise, with the support of external expertise as appropriate, to ensure that improvement goals are met

In Raising Student Achievement Through Targeted Actions (2015), we found that successful schools used a variety of approaches to gain the expertise needed to accelerate the progress of targeted students. In many cases leaders drew on the expertise of curriculum leaders within the school to target professional learning for individual students' achievement.

A senior leader with expertise in mathematics observed the way teachers and students worked in the classroom before providing supplementary instruction for a small group of students. The teachers and leader designed the supplementary class foci to link to the classroom mathematics programme. The leader then trialled a range of teaching strategies in the supplementary class and coached the teachers in the strategies that worked, so they could use them with the same students when back in their own classroom.

In other cases school leaders looked outside their staff to source teachers with specific expertise for the school's current strategic focus. This tended to happen when schools noticed that progress from a planned intervention was plateauing or not accelerating at the rate initially expected. External expertise came from a range of specialist teachers including English Language Learner (ELL) tutors, Resource Teachers for Learning and Behaviour (RTLB), Resource Teachers for Literacy (RTLit) and Mathematics Support Teachers (MST). These outside experts typically worked with teachers in leadership roles within the school to plan a new or revised approach.

In the less successful schools success was often constrained by leaders' lack of knowledge and limited responsiveness to signs that initial plans might not be working. Instead their supplementary responses often involved putting less skilled teacher aides to work with students facing particularly difficult learning challenges, or taking students out of class to work with someone who had little contact with the class teacher. These responses had little effect in lifting rates of acceleration.

Making Connections for Pacific Learners' Success (2013) shows that when school leaders focus professional learning on the needs of priority learners and culturally responsive teaching, teachers can make a positive difference for children at risk of underachieving. The study found leaders effectively focusing professional development that resulted in improved outcomes for Pacific learners in many of the schools.

Twelve schools were involved of which five had a professional development focus on raising literacy and numeracy levels (which are a recognised precursor to academic success). As a result three of these schools had literacy and numeracy levels above the national norm for Pacific students. Another five of the schools focused professional development on using assessment data more effectively to inform teaching and learning. All five achieved results for Pacific students that were above or close to the target for NCEA level 2 achievement nationally.

Evaluation indicator

Leadership builds collective capacity to do evaluation and inquiry for sustained improvement

Leaders establish the conditions for effective evaluation, inquiry and knowledge building in the service of improvement

Internal evaluation requires boards, leaders and teachers to engage in deliberate, systematic processes and reasoning, with improved outcomes for all learners as the aim. Internal evaluation is about asking questions and digging deep into data and evidence. Where student achievement is not good enough, schools need to investigate, make sense of what has been happening, make plans, take revised actions and then evaluate the impact of the new actions.

Data is the window into understanding the progress that students are making. Robust data is essential to forming an accurate view of what each child needs next. Leaders focused on change make sure that their teams know what the data is for, ensure it is robust through sound moderation, and refer to it frequently to make real time decisions.

ERO and the Ministry's 2015 investigation of good practice in internal evaluation[26] found that effective school leaders scaffolded widespread participation in evaluation and inquiry. They provided templates to structure internal evaluation which promoted a consistent approach. In many cases, leaders or others with expertise in data analysis shared this with teachers as a way of building the capability of them to engage in useful inquiry. Engaging in collaborative internal evaluation provided teachers and other staff with opportunities to undertake evaluative reasoning, making evidence-informed judgements about the quality of their practice in order to improve.

The best schools at internal evaluation had evaluative reasoning embedded into day-to-day operations. In these schools, leadership promoted the value of internal evaluation in driving improvement and innovation:

The principal felt that while strategic and school planning had been embedded at the management level for a long time, more recently there had been growth of teacher involvement and the use of teacher inquiry as an element of school evaluation. The publication of The New Zealand Curriculum, Best Evidence Synthesis (BES), Autism Guidelines and Registered Teacher Criteria had all acted as triggers to further promote teachers' involvement in review and development.

This shared reflection on the documents above caused leaders to think about how they could do things differently to improve staff professional learning and collaboration, and bring a sharp focus on what their students need to learn. Teachers were formed into specific professional learning groups which were distinguished according to the needs of students. Indicators of effective teaching were identified and linked to student learning. Leaders supported the process by providing a template to help structure teachers' critical thinking.

A pervasive 'inquiry habit of mind' was evident in the effective schools. In one school, teacher conversations indicated that the professional culture was improved as a result of the way leaders involved staff in school evaluation.

By our leaders' streamlining the activities and providing templates and prompts, evaluative self-review processes and thinking have been embedded into different layers of the school and are integral to our staff's thinking about practice.

The school's professional culture has changed as a result. Teachers talk about a greater sense of collegiality and trust. They are used to asking questions about their practice. Teachers use research about effective practice and are able to engage in deeper reflection, critical conversations, and more robust use of data. Conversations between the principal and teachers are frank, which is an indication of relational trust.

Leaders, teachers, trustees and students now have multiple ways of identifying priority areas to focus on in the future. The principal and associate principals have sophisticated understandings of how to use student achievement data, and know that such data is only part of the picture. They interrogate the causes of the issues identified using multiple data sources.

Skills in assessment, data collection, analysis and evaluative reasoning are important for evaluation at the school level, but also at the teacher level, where they underpin the teaching as inquiry process. Teaching as Inquiry (2012) found that effective leaders had created routines and protocols that facilitated teacher discussion about student achievement and teaching practice. Systems were developed so that focused inquiry also became part of teachers' classroom practice. In schools where teaching as inquiry was well supported by school leaders, the culture was characterised by shared aspirations to improve learning and teaching, and staff shared a strong desire to work as a team. Organisational structures and practices in these schools sustained ongoing learning and collective decision making on plans to raise student achievement.

Each teacher set a development goal that came from school targets about increasing student engagement. Teachers set their goals using data gathered from class observations, videoing and self-assessment. Information from these goals fed into an overall review of the school target. Twice a year teachers had meetings with the principal where they discussed individual student achievement and progress against set targets. From these discussions teaching approaches were constructed.

Leaders provide an accurate, defensible evaluation of the school's performance and engage constructively with external evaluation

School evaluation can be either internal or external: in New Zealand it is both.

ERO has mandated responsibility for external reviews, while the National Administration Guidelines require every school to develop a strategic plan and maintain an ongoing programme of self-review. The intention is that all schools and their communities should be engaged in an ongoing, cyclical process of internal evaluation and inquiry that is directed at improving educational outcomes for all their students.

Both The New Zealand Curriculum and Te Matauranga o Aotearoa position teaching within an inquiry framework and highlight the importance of teachers and leaders having the expertise to inquire into their practice, evaluate the impact and build knowledge about what works.[27] The term 'internal evaluation' includes all the activities and processes that schools and their communities engage in to evaluate how effective they are in supporting success for all learners. These include schools' ongoing programme of self-review, planning and reporting processes, and other inquiry and evaluation activities that boards, leaders and teachers engage in for the purposes of accountability and improvement.

Leaders and their school communities need to be continuously evaluating the impact of what they do on learner outcomes. To do this, they need strong leadership and evaluative expertise. Their systems, processes and resources should support purposeful data gathering, collaborative inquiry and decision making and use a range of quality data. Boards, leaders and teachers should be responsive to findings, make changes as necessary, and ensure successful strategies are embedded into school practice so that all learners benefit. Periodic external evaluation supports this cycle of continuous improvement by bringing an external lens on achievement, the extent to which school conditions support improvement, and the plan for next steps.

ERO recently published the framework in Figure 3[28] for school leaders to use in establishing an account of their school's development activity since the last evaluation; where that development is currently and probable areas for future focus.

Figure 3: Getting the most out of external evaluation

Outcomes for learners

What are the outcomes that are valued for all learners in this school community, as learners in Aotearoa New Zealand, and as global citizens?

How well are all our learners achieving in relation to these outcomes?

To what extent is every student in our school a successful and confident, connected, actively involved, lifelong learner?

How well are we accelerating the achievement of those learners at risk of not achieving equitable outcomes?

How do we know? What sources of evidence tell us about performance and effectiveness?

School conditions supporting ongoing improvement

Since our last ERO evaluation: 

  • What areas of development have we focused on to improve learner outcomes?
  • How have we enabled the school community to participate in this development?
  • What actions have we taken? How effective have they been in promoting the improvements needed?
  • What have been the successes and the challenges? Which domains of school activity have been most significant in supporting our improvement journey?
  • What has been the impact? 
What are our continuing and/or next big areas for development and improvement?

Evaluation indicator

Leadership builds relational trust and effective collaboration at every level of the school community

Leaders actively involve students, parents, whānau and the community in reciprocal and collaborative learning-centred relationships

School leadership has a responsibility to actively communicate with and involve the whole school community in learning-centred relationships. At the most basic level, this involves keeping the community informed about charter targets and progress towards meeting them. However, ERO has consistently found evidence of the benefits of engaging with these key stakeholders in a fuller and more reciprocal way.

In Educationally Powerful Connections with Parents and Whānau (2015) we defined educationally powerful connections as relationships between schools, parents, whānau and communities that improved educational outcomes for students. In this report we outlined how such relationships involved two-way collaborative connections that reflected the concept of mahi tahi - working together towards the specific goal of supporting a young person's success. In the best examples of this relationship a whānau-like context was established in which parents, teachers and students all understood their rights and responsibilities, commitments and obligations - whanaungatanga - to help the students succeed.

In this evaluation we found that the most important factors for successful educationally powerful relationships were:

  • providing extended learning opportunities across home and school
  • a whole school focus on involving parents and whānau
  • recognising that the focus and complexity of the collaboration changed as students got older
  • leaders and teachers involving parents and whānau in designing and implementing a solution to underachievement.

Leaders and teachers in these schools learned to listen to parents. Once they started to listen they realised that they were wrong in thinking some parents and whānau did not want to help their children do well at school. Both teachers and parents demonstrated willingness to listen to new ideas, try things out, and work beyond their experience or comfort zone to understand and resolve educational problems.

Parents found these new working relationships with leaders and teachers hugely satisfying. Through ako - parents and teachers as both teachers and learners - teachers learnt to listen and they learnt to see the student's aspirations as the parents saw them. Previously, for some students, communication with parents and whānau only took place when there was a problem, which did not promote effective engagement.

Two groups of siblings achieved NCEA Level 2 after a long, tumultuous relationship with their school. In their early years at the secondary school they were disengaged, misbehaving and defiant to authority figures. In their later years they became engaged in classes and motivated to learn. Early success had led to long term success.

The principal, through her engagement with Ka Hikitia, realised that the school's attitude was not helping all students succeed. Achieving success at school had not been the purpose of conversations with families. There was much deficit thinking. For example, teachers of these boys said:"The boys' parents aren't doing what they should to help them."

The principal, through the school's kaiawhina, invited the boys' parents to meet with her. The kaiawhina helped the parents express their disappointment and frustration with constantly hearing negative things about their boys.

"We avoid talking with teachers as they are not on our boys' side."

The parents explained: "We want the school to see the good in our boys and recognise and build on their mana as young Māori men."

Students were active participants in the most powerful relationship. They appreciated that adults were working together to help them as they experienced multiple and aligned learning experiences. They felt valued and that they belonged at school. Students and parents reported increased levels in the quality of interactions at home about school and future education.

An earlier evaluation, Making Connections for Pacific Learners' Success (2013) showed that partnerships between the school and community also provided school leaders with opportunities to gauge the community's aspirations for its young people. We found many examples of the power of leaders asking students and their parents questions to inform their decisions about a culturally appropriate curriculum. The discussion strengthened the parents' relationship with the school and, if a culturally responsive curriculum was developed, this enhanced the relevance and efficacy of learning for students. In this study, effective leaders understood the influence that family, aiga and community context could have on children's wellbeing, both positive and negative.

There were productive two-way relationships with parents and aiga where they shared solutions and listened to each other's perspectives. In the best examples, families were seen as inherently capable.

In many schools, leaders encouraged teachers to share resources or strategies that parents and the child could apply together at home to extend the learning relationship. As a result many students made accelerated progress.

The process of improving teacher-parent conversations aligned well with school values for inclusion and valuing cultural diversity. Teachers learnt the importance of listening to parents in a respectful way and of helping parents discuss children's learning in a non-judgemental way. Parents from diverse backgrounds were more ready to share information and support their child at home as a result. This also led to parents being more confident in what they were doing to support their child, and in raising any issues at school.

One parent's comments highlight the benefits to her child when a school created an environment where whānau and the school worked together.

I need to know exactly what is happening for my child, which initiatives are available and where I can get ideas about how I can support my child better at home. When all three of these happen, there is a positive impact on my engagement with the school and with my child's learning.
(Parent of a five year old Māori girl)

Teacher meeting with parents and child around the table discussion

Leaders build strong, educationally focused relationships with other educational and community institutions to increase opportunities for student learning and success

Transitions through education can be positive and rewarding experiences that set and maintain a successful learning pathway, as children move from early learning to school and beyond. Transitions can also be a period of vulnerability for many children. Effective transitions are critical to the development of children's self­worth, confidence and resilience, and ongoing success in education and in the future.

In Continuity of Learning: Transitions from Early Childhood Services to Schools (2015) ERO found that successful leaders at each stage build relationships and work effectively with their colleagues across the community of learning to ensure that children experience continuity. Such leaders think about and respond to transition as a process rather than a one-off. They recognise that children's experiences are different and some take longer to settle into learning. Transition to (and between and within) schools is more complex than just helping children become familiar with the new school's environment, staff and curriculum. Good relationships among children, teachers, parents and whānau are all essential to support children settling in to school. Helping children to make sense of what is happening and supporting them through the change helps them to confidently continue on their learning pathway.

Children who experience smooth transitions gain confidence as learners able to manage change. They experience a consistent educational experience when leaders in early childhood services and schools share a common vision, exchange meaningful achievement information and work closely with parents and whānau.

ERO found examples of excellent practices that clearly showed the importance of strong leadership focused on ensuring that transitions were as smooth as possible.

A key function of schools is to prepare students for their future. This involves designing curriculum opportunities to support students' interests, strengths and aspirations, and supporting them to make informed decisions about their subject choices and pathways. Learners can become much more engaged in education and highly motivated about the future when they have a clear understanding of themselves and how they might live and work when they leave school.

In Careers Education and Guidance: Good Practice (2015) ERO found effective leaders held a clear vision of their school's purpose in preparing young people for life beyond school. They had designed careers education and guidance as an integral part of their curriculum and pastoral systems. The key elements to support learning and wellbeing were evident where schools had:

  • well-designed curriculum structures and options to meet the diverse needs of students
  • understood the role of careers education and guidance in supporting student learning and wellbeing
  • a purposeful commitment to careers education and guidance from the principal or a member of the senior leadership team
  • a team to oversee careers education that included a senior leader, as well as curriculum and pastoral staff
  • strategic planning for careers education and guidance, showing how its goals link with those for curriculum design and pastoral care
  • good networks with local tertiary providers, employers and community groups.

Effective leaders play an active role in ensuring that students have clear pathways and are provided with suitable opportunities.

The principal actively promotes the value and importance of careers education and guidance to students, parents and staff. Careers education and guidance is one of the three pillars of student success, alongside course structure and professional development. These three pillars are linked coherently in strategic planning.

The principal recognises that the curriculum needs to suit a wide range of student needs, interests and career aspirations and provides resources for this approach. He spoke of ‘the need to find round holes for round pegs and square holes for square pegs. We look at what boys need and then tailor courses to suit'. Curriculum courses and programmes are flexible, with many choices for students strongly linked to career opportunities within the community. Students gain credits that are meaningful for them and connect to what they want to do in the future.

In another example:

The school has very strong community networks and recognises the advantages of partnerships with employers. The principal has set up a reference group of local employers (including the three biggest ones) to help the school understand the possibilities for employment and the skills employers are looking for. This information can then be used when the school reviews the effectiveness of its careers education.

There are economic and social benefits when learners are supported to make effective transitions from secondary school to tertiary education and training. Leaders have a key role in ensuring that students have quality information about the labour market to help them make sound decisions about future career pathways, and tertiary study. Informed decisions also support young people's overall quality of life, sense of purpose and the contributions they make to their families and communities.


[18]     ERO defines stewardship as applying collective leadership to the school's scrutiny of key activities for their effectiveness in supporting goals, and its planning of key actions for excellence and equity in outcomes.

[19]     Ministry of Education. (2008). Kiwi Leadership for Principals: Principals as educational leaders. Wellington: The Ministry.

[20]     Amongst these principles and values for local curriculum design and action are 'high expectations', 'excellence', 'equity', and 'inclusion'. The Ministry of Education. (2007). The New Zealand Curriculum. Wellington: Ministry of Education: pp9-10.

[21]     Education Review Office. (2012). Teaching as Inquiry: Responding to Learners. Wellington: Education Review Office. Teaching as inquiry, embedded in school culture, and operating as a continuous cycle of improvement, has significant potential to bring about better teaching and learning.

[22]     Ministry of Education. (2007). The New Zealand Curriculum. Wellington: Ministry of Education: p9.

[23]     These principles are: High expectations; the Treaty of Waitangi; Cultural diversity; Inclusion; Learning to learn; Community engagement; Coherence; and Future focus.

[24]     Ministry of Education. (2014). Aspiration and Achievement: Education System Briefing to Incoming Minister, September 2014. Wellington: The Ministry Briefing Paper: p19.

[25]     Timperley, H. (2008). Teacher Professional Learning and Development. Geneva: International Bureau of Education: p22.

[26]      Resulting in two publications: (1) Effective School Evaluation: how to do and use internal evaluation for improvement; and (ii) Internal evaluation: good practice.

[27]     Education Review Office. (2015). Effective School Evaluation: how to do and use internal evaluation for improvement. Wellington: The Office: p6.

[28]     Education Review Office. (2015). Effective School Evaluation: how to do and use internal evaluation for improvement. Wellington: The Office: p42.