Ashburton College - 31/07/2015

Findings

Achievement in Levels 1 and 2 of NCEA has improved in recent years. The school knows which groups of students are at risk of not achieving well, and some initiatives are helping students make faster progress.  Trustees and leaders should plan effectively to bring about the improvements required to maintain the momentum of positive change.

ERO is likely to carry out the next review in three years.

1 Context

What are the important features of this school that have an impact on student learning?

Ashburton College is a large coeducational secondary school in Mid Canterbury. It is the only secondary school in Ashburton. The roll has remained stable but is increasingly diverse, with students from a wide range of cultures.

The principal has continued to develop strong links with local and Mid-Canterbury businesses, organisations and industries. The aim is to be innovative in how these links can contribute to positive changes in the school curriculum. These initiatives increase opportunities for students and have raised the profile of the school in the community.

Since the last ERO review in 2013, changes in roles and structures have been made at board level, in the senior leadership team and in wider staff responsibilities. Teachers value the professional support they receive from the senior leadership team to introduce initiatives for raising student achievement and for improving their own practice. Staff turnover has led to the appointment of a significant number of beginning teachers who are supported to be able to become part of a collegial staff culture.

The school has made good progress in some of the areas identified by ERO in 2013 as needing improvement. Key developments include:

  • the way well-planned, school-wide professional development has strengthened teaching practices
  • evidence of significant improvement in several aspects of achievement outcomes for students
  • the way trustees have strengthened their practice in governance, focused on improving student achievement and making more evidence-based decisions.

A range of initiatives is in place, aimed at improving learning and student outcomes. The school is in an improved financial position to support continued improvements. 

Aspects of school operations identified in earlier ERO reports require further improvement in order to realise the board’s stated strategic intent. Trustees and senior leaders have established clear priorities for school improvement. They need to implement agreed, coherent plans that turn these priorities into actions. They should then rigorously evaluate the outcomes of initiatives designed to support these priorities.

2 Learning

How well does this school use achievement information to make positive changes to learners’ engagement, progress and achievement?

The school has made effective use of learning information to set purposeful goals for improved attendance, better achievement and improved progress for year-level groups of students over time.

School-wide information over the last three years shows:

  • attendance rates across the school have generally increased
  • stand-downs and suspensions have declined significantly
  • achievement in NCEA at Levels 1 and 2 has steadily increased
  • achievement in NCEA at Level 3 has remained about the same.

Many students make appropriate vocational choices in the senior school. They combine some NCEA achievement with work-related training at the school or in the community. They make successful transitions into employment and/or further training. The school sees the need to match the information they have about school leavers’ intentions with their actual destinations. This would allow leaders to evaluate more thoroughly the impact of strategies to support all students to make successful and appropriate transitions beyond school.

The school is well on track to have 85% of the school roll achieving NCEA Level 2 by the end of their time at the school. Recent NCEA information shows that the achievement and progress of boys is below that of girls. Similarly, Māori students’ achievement overall is below that of non-Māori students. The important next step for the school is to set specific targets for these groups of students and evaluate and report the impact of the planned actions taken to bring about the accelerated progress needed.

Leaders and teachers have developed and implemented an improved system to track, monitor and mentor students at risk of not making sufficient progress. A group of targeted students in Year 11 benefited from this approach in 2014, gaining NCEA qualifications as a result. The next step for the school is to extend this targeted action to other key groups of at-risk students to raise their levels of achievement.

Leaders of learning areas report to the board by providing information about student achievement and the work of faculties and departments. The quality, amount and usefulness of this reporting is variable. Some learning area leaders are able to show summary information about progress through years 9 and 10. This information should be consistently provided to leaders and trustees to show progress over time and to determine areas of need. 

Areas for review and development

School leaders and trustees have agreed on guidelines for the reports they require about students’ learning.  They should ensure that reports they receive consistently include detail about:

  • how key groups such as Māori students, Pacific students, boys, and students at risk of not making sufficient progress are being targeted and the impact of these interventions
  • how teachers can show they are doing things differently to improve student outcomes
  • the contribution being made to achieve the school’s annual plans.

3 Curriculum

How effectively does this school’s curriculum promote and support student learning?

A wide range of opportunities within and beyond the school, and ongoing improvements to curriculum programmes and practices, are helping to support and promote students’ learning. Some initiatives are at an early stage of development.

The principal and senior leaders are working to ensure that the school’s curriculum is becoming increasingly more flexible and responsive to students’ interests, needs and aspirations. At senior levels, students benefit from a variety of curriculum choices and learning pathways. This is providing them with opportunities to explore and experience a wider range of career and employment interests. School leaders have identified, and ERO agrees, that continuing to extend these opportunities to all interested students is an important next step.

Meaningful progress is being made to improve the quality, consistency and sharing of effective teaching practices across the school. This includes:

  • the use of external expertise to provide strong support for teachers’ professional development and evaluation of their own teaching
  • the effective use of restorative practices to promote and strengthen a culture of positive relationships to support learning and achievement
  • teachers’ increased contact with parents to further support students’ learning and wellbeing.

Overall, the focus on improving teaching is leading to more purposeful teaching and learning, and contributing to improvements in student engagement and achievement.

A high number of students participate in sporting and cultural activities. Students spoken with by ERO said that teachers not only support students’ sporting and cultural activities but regularly make extra efforts to provide additional support for their wellbeing, learning and achievement.

Heads of house, deans, family-form teachers and other pastoral staff provide a wide range of regular student support and guidance. Students have leadership opportunities, especially at Years 12 and 13, and can contribute their ideas and opinions in a number of ways. 

Information and communications technologies (ICT) are increasingly being used by students and staff to extend learning and improve communication between school and home. Upcoming improvements to the school’s ICT network should further improve the reliability of current access and use. 

Areas for review and development

School leaders began planning in 2014 to review the curriculum and have taken some significant early steps. It is now time to complete a robust curriculum review. Key review areas should focus on how well the school’s current curriculum reflects:

  • the school’s unique context, vision and values, and the values, principles and key competencies of the New Zealand Curriculum
  • the views and aspirations of Ashburton College students, staff, parents and community
  • bicultural perspectives and the school’s cultural diversity
  • the extent to which current programmes and practices are meeting the needs of Year 9 and 10 students and students at risk of poor educational outcomes
  • how well the careers programme is meeting the needs of students at all year levels
  • the profile of what a successful leaver might be in terms of lifelong-learning skills, attitudes, knowledge, personal qualities and successful transition beyond school.

How effectively does the school promote educational success for Māori, as Māori?

The school needs to make more progress in supporting and promoting educational success for Māori, as Māori.

Some improvements to programmes and practices are at an early stage of development. These include:

  • opportunities for the whānau of Māori students to meet with school leaders to discuss matters of interest to them
  • the re-establishment of the kapa haka group
  • some meetings with local rūnanga to develop collaborative approaches that provides strong support for Māori students’ language, culture and identity.

The achievement of Māori students, especially that of boys, generally remains considerably below that of their school peers. This was identified in the 2013 ERO report as a priority for improvement. The school can demonstrate that trends for many aspects of Māori student achievement in Years 11 to 13 show improvements during the last two years. Leaders and teachers need to maintain their focus on accelerating the progress of Māori students at risk of leaving school with low levels of achievement.

Areas for review and development

In consultation with whānau, Māori students, staff and the local iwi, the board and school leaders should:

  • review current provisions, programmes and practices regarding accelerating success for Māori, and consider using appropriate external expertise to do this
  • use the outcomes of this review to identify and develop planning that prioritises key areas and goals for improvement, and include these in the school’s strategic and annual planning
  • implement a regular cycle of review and reporting to the board, whānau and the community about progress towards identified goals. 

How effectively does the school promote success for Pacific students?

An increasing number of Pacific students at the school means they now make up over 6 per cent of the roll. The school supports and engages Pacific students and their families well. A high percentage of Pacific students achieve well in NCEA Level 1.

Factors contributing to these positive outcomes for Pacific students include:

  • a well-led strategic focus on improving learning and pastoral support for Pacific students
  • a team approach to building positive partnerships with parents
  • celebrating aspects of Pacific culture as a valued part of school life.

The initiatives that support success for Pacific students are a useful model within the school for planning and implementing programmes to meet the needs of other student groups that would benefit from a targeted approach.

4 Sustainable Performance

How well placed is the school to sustain and improve its performance?

The board will be better placed to sustain what is going well and improve its performance when the areas for review and development identified in this report have been effectively addressed.

The board of trustees has increased its focus on supporting students in their learning and improving student achievement outcomes. In order to maintain the momentum of school improvement trustees have sought assistance and advice from the Ministry of Education and the New Zealand Trustees' Association. The board is committed to strengthening its understanding of stewardship / governance and its role in ongoing school development.

Areas for review and development

The board agrees with ERO that more rigorous monitoring of the school’s performance against the strategic goals is needed. This would help assure trustees that what is going well is sustainable and what needs to be improved has been identified and addressed. The board can then:

  • enable, require and support the principal, senior leaders and teachers to establish clear, coherent and manageable long-term and  annual objectives for future school development
  • set expectations for regular monitoring and reporting on progress towards achieving these objectives, and for the evaluation of the impact of school initiatives on the desired outcomes.

At the on-site stage of this review the principal did not have a signed performance agreement for 2015. A performance agreement has since been put in place and the board understands the need for continuity within the performance management system. Clearer board policy and documented procedures for performance management would clarify annual professional expectations for the principal. These would support the principal in aligning his leadership role with agreed school priorities. They would also guide his leadership practice so that the vision for the school can be shared and supported by all staff.

 The board needs to receive appropriate assurance about aspects of its governance role that are delegated to the principal or senior leaders. This includes reporting, based on evidence, that compliance requirements have been met. Since the on-site stage of the review the board has taken steps to clarify and strengthen aspects of its complaints process and police vetting.

Further aspects of the board’s role as a good employer need to be strengthened. These include continuing regular surveys of staff wellbeing and responding in a timely way to issues raised in surveys or complaints.

Many existing procedures contribute to self review. When the reports the board receives are more evaluative and analyse impacts, they will be more useful. Trustees will be better informed when the following functions are rigorously evaluated and reported:

  • key leadership groups such as the senior and middle-leadership teams
  • key initiatives and programmes for student support, such as the learning support programme and careers provision.

The previous ERO report identified aspects of school leadership that required significant improvement.  The deputy-principal team has strengthened its performance and improved interactions with staff. The principal was supported by appraisal and mentoring in 2014 and significant improvement was evident. The key ongoing areas for development of the principal’s leadership are to continue to:

  • build teachers' capacity for the changes needed to support improved student outcomes
  • build a productive culture based on teacher collaboration
  • more effectively manage conflict and other challenging situations.

The board is continuing to review the way fees are charged for course-related materials to determine how well it is providing equitable access to learning for all students. The board should also be assured that the school is advising parents well in advance of any payments they are being asked to make.

As some of the improved practices were at an early stage of implementation, the board has agreed to providing ERO with summary updates of the progress and outcomes of the action planning resulting from this external review.

Provision for international students

The school is a signatory to the Code of Practice for the Pastoral Care of International Students (the Code) established under section 238F of the Education Act 1989. The school has attested that it complies with all aspects of the Code. ERO’s discussions with the school confirmed that the school has an appropriate self-review process for international students. The outcomes of this review process, with the evidence supporting the conclusions, should be reported annually to the board.

At the time of this review there were ten international students attending the school. International students benefit from good quality pastoral care. Their education, involvement and integration into the school and its community are monitored and supported. Reports to trustees about provision for international students should have a clear focus on how well the wellbeing of these students is supported, how well they are integrated into the school and community, and how well they are progressing in their learning.

Board assurance on legal requirements

Before the review, the board of trustees and principal of the school completed the ERO Board Assurance Statement and Self-Audit Checklists. In these documents they attested that they had taken all reasonable steps to meet their legislative obligations related to:

  • board administration
  • curriculum
  • management of health, safety and welfare
  • personnel management
  • financial management
  • asset management.

During the review, ERO checked the following items because they have a potentially high impact on student achievement:

  • emotional safety of students (including prevention of bullying and sexual harassment)
  • physical safety of students
  • teacher registration
  • processes for appointing staff
  • stand-downs, suspensions, expulsions and exclusions
  • attendance.

During the review, ERO discussed aspects of compliance with the board and where it could strengthen procedures for assuring trustees that legislative requirements are being met. The board demonstrated a commitment to seeking advice and making improvements to its policies and processes.

Conclusion

Achievement in Levels 1 and 2 of NCEA has improved in recent years. The school knows which groups of students are at risk of not achieving well, and some initiatives are helping students make faster progress.  Trustees and leaders should plan effectively to bring about the improvements required to maintain the momentum of positive change.

ERO is likely to carry out the next review in three years. 

Chris Rowe
Deputy Chief Review Officer Southern (Acting)

31 July 2015

About the School 

Location

Ashburton

Ministry of Education profile number

351

School type

Secondary (Years 9 to 13)

School roll

1226

Number of international students

10

Gender composition

Male 51%; Female 49%

Ethnic composition

Pākehā
Māori
Asian
Samoan
Cook island Māori
Other Pacific
Other ethnicities

69%
13%
  6%
  3%
  2%
  2%
  5%

Review team on site

April 2015

Date of this report

31 July 2015

Most recent ERO report(s)

Education Review
Education Review
Education Review

August 2013
January 2011
December 2007