The phases of inquiry – focusing inquiry, teaching inquiry, learning inquiry- represent three important stages in a process that focuses teachers on:

  • which learners need help
  • what they need to learn
  • what should be done to support them
  • whether learners have successfully achieved the goals and targets teachers have prioritised for them.

While 20 percent of teachers were using this process very well, 37 percent of teachers were either using inquiry minimally or were not using it at all. The implications for the students in their classes are significant. ERO has outlined suggestions for improving practices so that leaders and teachers are better equipped to respond to all learners. These improvements are especially required for those students whose achievement and progress must be accelerated.

The systems, processes, practices and expectations leaders put in place, and the attention they put into maintaining these systems, convey to teachers what is valued in the school culture. Leaders should extend the scope of teachers’ current inquiry practices by:

  • shifting the prevailing view that reflection is a technique that should result in some form of tangible outcome that should be shared with colleagues and/or leaders
  • fostering the notion that inquiry is a valuable process that can greatly contribute to their practice, and to outcomes for students
  • helping teachers to include inquiry in their daily practice.

The most common inquiry activities used by teachers were: classroom-based programme evaluation (in primary schools); departmental curriculum review (in secondary schools); and collaborative teacher inquiry. Less apparent among teachers were the moment-by-moment reflections and responses to how students were learning that are at the heart of effective teaching. It would be useful for leaders to explore with teachers a range of formative inquiry approaches and assess the impact that these have on professional practice and on students’ learning and engagement.

Teaching as inquiry was happening more effectively in primary schools than it was in secondary schools. It is possible that more sustained interaction with groups of students, and more frequent opportunities to meet and discuss student achievement across a range of learning areas, facilitated better inquiry practice in primary schools. It would be worthwhile for secondary school leaders to investigate ways that teaching as inquiry could be used more frequently to lift the achievement of priority students. There were no clear differences in the extent to which inquiry was happening at different year levels in primary schools or between subject areas in secondary schools.

ERO encourages school leaders to develop a better understanding of the nature of inquiry, the benefits it can bring to teachers’ professional practice, and the extent to which inquiry is happening in their schools. It would be useful for them to review the extent to which good quality inquiry is currently being practiced. Leaders should use the findings to identify the contexts in which it is being used successfully to improve students’ learning, and the gaps in practice that represent lost opportunities to make a difference for students. A reference point for this review could be the extent to which teachers have the capacity, and the opportunity to:

  • clarify meanings
  • identify issues/problems/dilemmas/puzzles/successes
  • develop significant inquiry questions
  • collect data using a range of processes
  • locate and draw on relevant research
  • critically interrogate their own and other’s practice and data
  • analyse/interpret and theorise quantitative and qualitative data
  • develop and implement strategies that are focused on enhancing student learning outcomes
  • assess the extent to which strategies or action have improved learning or the learning environment.[33]

In response to the findings from our 2011 report the Ministry of Education, through Learning Media, has produced a resource to support schools to better understand teaching as inquiry.[34] It would be useful for the Ministry to continue to provide support to teachers in this way, giving priority to building teachers’ and leaders’ capacities to use inquiry as a form of responsive pedagogy.