In two previous reports about schools’ preparation to work with the National Standards ERO concluded that schools were at varying stages in working with the standards. This remains the case.

This report highlights the relationship between strong professional leaders and the confidence and capability of trustees and teachers to work with the intent of the standards. Leaders also have a considerable influence on the extent to which teachers are focused on accelerating the progress of students who are below or well below the standards.

Where schools have the capability and capacity to work with the standards, this is often because they were already well placed in terms of their leaders’ capability to use achievement information for improvement and responsive curriculum design. Professional leaders work with the National Standards in a context that accommodates change. They work to align existing practices with the standards and embed change in quite a short period of time.

This report has identified the issues in schools with limited capacity for such change. In many of these schools, leadership is lacking, staff turnover is high and considerable work remains to be done in curriculum and assessment developments that lay the foundations for working with the National Standards.

A recurring theme across ERO’s reports on the National Standards is the ongoing difficulty associated with involving students in understanding what their progress and achievement looks like in relation to the National Standards. For some schools, the challenge lies in teachers having sufficient understanding of the standards to engage in meaningful conversations with students about their learning, achievement and progress. Schools also need to build a culture where such conversations can happen in a constructive way that builds productive relationships between teachers and learners and their parents and whānau.

This report also highlights the need for trustees to receive regular reports based on sound school-level achievement information so they can reliably determine targets for specific groups of students. Targets need to focus on accelerating the progress of students not meeting the relevant standards. Sound decision-making depends on trustees regularly receiving well analysed and reported information from school leaders.

In many schools, teachers are not clear about the schools’ targets or the strategies they should use to respond to them. Teachers need to be ‘in-the-loop’ and not only aware of the school targets but also well supported by school leaders to inquire into their practice and its impact for targeted students. They need to know about teaching strategies that are likely to accelerate progress for those students who are below and well below the standards in reading, writing and mathematics. These students are not likely to make expected gains if teachers’ practice is not effective in accelerating their progress.