Blind and Low Vision Education Network NZ - 18/01/2017

Findings

BLENNZ is an effectively managed national network providing high quality educational services to blind and low vision learners nationally. These children and young people benefit from the lifelong skills they gain from skilled staff over an extended period.

The network offers wrap-round support for families, and values the partnerships with parents and whānau that are built around their children’s needs. The organisation is improvement focused and invests responsibly in the future of blind and low vision education.

ERO is likely to carry out the next review in four-to-five years.

1 Context

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

The Blind and Low Vision Education Network NZ (BLENNZ) provides educational programmes and specialist support services to children and young persons throughout New Zealand who are blind or have low vision. National assessment, and specialist Developmental Orientation and Mobility services, together with the Year 1 to 13 Homai Campus School, are based at the national hub in Manurewa, South Auckland. The national network comprises 14 regional Vision and Resource centres, and includes residential facilities on the Homai campus.

Over 1500 students across New Zealand receive services from BLENNZ. Of these, 37 students, many with complex learning needs, currently attend the Homai Campus School. Others are enrolled in mainstream schools, attached units, special schools and satellite classes. A wide diversity of staff including Resource Teachers; Vision (RTV), teacher aides, clinicians, residential youth workers and centre managers are employed by the school Board of Trustees

BLENNZ was established in 2005, when the funding and resources allocated for the regional centres was aggregated under a single board of trustees. At the time of ERO’s 2012 review, BLENNZ leadership was transitioning to a restructured management team and a new principal. Good progress was noted in the efficiencies created by the aggregation, the overall performance of the organisation, centralisation of senior managers, and positive outcomes for learners.

Over the past four years, BLENNZ has continued to build staff capability, particularly in the areas of leadership and professional practice. A learning culture, based on well-established values and beliefs has enabled staff to embed the new BLENNZ curriculum and develop shared expertise. The principal and senior leaders model the network’s vision. They work collaboratively and strategically. Together, they have strengthened consistency and alignment around the board’s direction and policies, and national operating systems.

BLENNZ is becoming positioned internationally as a centre of excellence for blind and low vision learners and their families. Significant resourcing for professional learning and development is enabling staff to gain post graduate qualification, attend and contribute at Pacific and overseas conferences. A strong emphasis on inquiry and reflection, based on evidence and consultation, underpins a commitment to ongoing evaluation and continual improvement.

2 Learning

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

The school is increasing its use of achievement information to make positive changes for learners’ engagement and progress. Progress information is critical to designing programmes that respond promptly to each student’s changing learning needs. Many students have an Individual Education Plan (IEP) with goals that are regularly updated with input from RTVs, classroom teachers, parents, and increasingly from student voice.

The National Assessment Services based at Homai campus, provide valuable information to support teachers and parents, and inform the development and monitoring of the IEPs. These services are staffed by high quality professionals with expertise in visual impairment and specialist learning strategies. Immersion programmes and curriculum days are offered throughout the year at the Homai campus and at local centres. These courses, tailored for small groups of students and their RTVs, are proving highly effective in increasing learner engagement.

Senior leaders closely examine the use and validity of assessment information. They align the use of data gathering and analysis to the BLENNZ curriculum as well as to The New Zealand Curriculum (NZC) level expectations and, where appropriate, to the National Standards. Professional development for teachers and RTVs includes best practice in the use of IEPs, and the use of suitable assessment tools. As a result, the tracking and reporting of assessment information has become more reliable and valid.

A new national diagnostic assessment tool has been developed to use across the network. A framework of indicators, based on key domains, enables network leaders to assess the different strengths and needs of each student. This information is useful in determining learner priorities across the regions and guiding differentiated approaches to resourcing. Consideration could be given to collating and analysing this information in different ways to inform future decision making.

Network goals in relation to student learning are specific and measurable. The principal reports very thoroughly to the board on progress towards these goals. Further analysis in relation to gender and ethnicity could also be useful. Network leaders are currently working with the Ministry of Education to design a national outcomes measurement tool for learners with special needs. The use of indicators based on presence, participation and progress, could be useful in evaluating organisational effectiveness over time within the context of special education.

Staff form close relationships with families and whānau who are well informed about their child’s learning progress. While all students involved with BLENNZ have needs related to visual impairment, there is a wide range of ability and outcomes. The students who attend the Homai campus school have complex needs and many are working towards Level 1 of The New Zealand Curriculum. Others, who attend mainstream schools, aspire to and attain national secondary qualifications and pathways to tertiary education.

Student progress and achievement is carefully monitored and reported. Achievement is closely aligned to the BLENNZ Expanded Core Curriculum that encompasses social skills, orientation and mobility, and the use of assistive technologies. These related skills are critical to lifelong success for blind and low vision learners.

3 Curriculum

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

The BLENNZ Expanded Core Curriculum clearly promotes and support students’ learning. The unique and well-designed curriculum has developed over a number of years through a process of consultation and research. It is a purposefully structured document, drawing on learning dispositions from Te Whāriki, the Early Childhood Curriculum, key competencies from The New Zealand Curriculum, and expectations of learners at tertiary levels.

The school curriculum relates strongly to the BLENNZ vision for lifelong learning, and recognises that the majority of students have a long term relationship with the network from early years to the age of 21. Positive and enduring relationships with parents and whānau are established over this extended period. Transition points from early childhood, through primary and secondary schooling and beyond, are inherent in the curriculum and consequently managed very effectively.

The emphasis on leadership training, team building and professional development for RTVs and specialists has positive benefits for the network. Critical components of the curriculum, include the variety of orientation, mobility and digital learning skills that students require to access learning programmes and gain independence. The specialist staff, based at the Homai campus, who deliver these programmes work closely with teachers and parents to ensure that students develop these skills from a young age.

The curriculum is delivered effectively through the work of the RTVs and the managers of the regional visual services. Extensive and targeted professional development across the network is ensuring that the curriculum is being embedded in teacher planning, assessment and reporting practices. Operating systems are well understood, and communication has strengthened with the upgraded digital infrastructure. Staff feel well connected and informed through the virtual staffroom. A positive and professional learning culture is evident across the network.

The BLENNZ curriculum offers learners a number of flexible pathways. For the majority, in mainstream schools and attached units, serviced by skilled RTV, it complements the NZC and National Qualification Framework guidelines. For those with more complex learning needs attending the Year 1 to 8 Homai campus and other special schools, the curriculum provides a focus for teachers and parents to collaborate in supporting student’s learning progress.

The residential Kickstart programme, for mature students aged 18 to 21 years, is also underpinned by the BLENNZ curriculum, with a strong focus on gaining independent living skills. Current residents, and some who previously attended Kickstart, reported enthusiastically to ERO on the benefits of living on the campus and learning to live independently. New initiatives, including Jump Start for younger teenagers, are being trialled to extend the use of residential education, which is a key feature of the network’s curriculum design.

BLENNZ leaders agree that surveying ex-students could provide timely information about learner outcomes and school leaver destinations. This data, together with feedback about curriculum learning opportunities, could provide valuable information to review the curriculum, and evaluate its alignment with the NZ national qualifications framework. 

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

BLENNZ has strengthened its relationship with local iwi in order to better promote success for Māori learners as Māori, and also to raise the profile of biculturalism across the network. Cultural advisers have supported the school at all levels, including the understanding and use of te reo and tikanga Māori.

Students at the Homai campus take part in pōwhiri, learn waiata, and are encouraged to use te reo Māori. Teachers’ professional practice and appraisal is underpinned by culturally responsive criteria from the Education Council’s resource Tātaiako: cultural competencies for teachers of Māori learners. Students and staff have responded well to these recent developments, and Māori learners are proud of the increased recognition of their language, culture and identity.

Iwi consultation has contributed to the recently completed large-scale landscaping project at the Homai campus. Features included in the design of the campus grounds reflect aspects of local cultural significance. The significantly enhanced outdoor environment has extended spaces for physical activity, learning and enjoyment that are benefitting school and residential students, and the staff.

4 Sustainable Performance

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

BLENNZ is very well placed to sustain, and to continue improving its performance. High quality leadership, management and governance are key features of the organisation. Policies and procedures are promulgated through regular management forum and improved information and communication technology networks. The introduction of a revised appraisal system has been used to strengthen the focus on teachers using evidence to inquire into the effectiveness of their practice.

The network’s planning is strategic and goal focused. Trustees and leaders use a variety of external facilitators to support their reviews of operations and their planned internal evaluations. Expectations for improvement and adding value underpin the work of national and regional managers. Teachers conduct inquiry in areas that support their own professional growth and in addition, contribute to wider network internal evaluation.

The board of trustees supports the development of the network, and is very aware of the continuing need for growing staff capacity and capability. BLENNZ employs highly qualified specialists in the area of blind and low vision education. The board invests significantly in building teacher effectiveness and planning for staff succession. Professional development is very well resourced, as are post graduate qualifications for staff through a formal arrangement with Massey University.

The national management team works collaboratively and strategically. The principal has a pivotal role in leading the team and maintaining effective relationships with sector groups. She is a well-respected leader within the organisation. Trustees are considering different options for the principal’s appraisal, to ensure their annual performance agreement supports both the principal’s professional and individual development goals, and the network’s strategic direction.

The board is well informed through a schedule of reporting and policy review, and has established a useful process for the induction of new trustees. Trustees have reviewed employment procedures in response to new legislation. The new student management system, with increased capacity to collate data from across the network, has the potential to better inform managers and trustees about how well the school is meeting the identified needs of learners nationally.

Trustees are thoughtfully managing the network’s aggregated funding responsibilities. They are developing long term plans for managing risk, investing in the future of blind and low vision education, and for promoting BLENNZ in an international arena. These are worthy ventures for the future.

Provision for students in the school hostel

The Homai campus hostels, Nikau Whare and Kickstart are owned and operated by the BLENNZ Board of Trustees. The hostels provide flexible short and long term accommodation to meet the needs of a variety of students, parents and teachers. The hostels enables some secondary students to attend local high schools and supports older students to gain independent living skills through the successful residential Kickstart programme. Small groups of visiting students, with the RTVs, from regional centres, can stay at the Nikau Whare hostel for the duration of short term immersion programmes.

The board is committed to providing modern hostel facilities within an attractive and safe environment. Students enjoy the family-like atmosphere of the hostel and the friendships that they develop. The spacious and redesigned campus grounds enable hostel residents to have increased independence and opportunities for physical recreation. The board continues to make improvements to the management and operations of the hostel, including a closer alignment of hostel management systems with BLENNZ policies and expectations.

Other areas of review include:

  • guidance and training for staff in promoting a positive hostel environment and building respectful and trusting staff and student relationships
  • appointing well qualified residential youth workers and reviewing procedures that help students feel secure in the hostel environment
  • frequent and responsive communication between staff, students and families and increased student input into hostel review and decisions that affect them.

The board has attested that all the requirements of the Hostel Regulations are met.

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.

Conclusion

BLENNZ is an effectively managed national network providing high quality educational services to blind and low vision learners nationally. These children and young people benefit from the lifelong skills they gain from skilled staff over an extended period.

The network offers wrap-round support for families, and values the partnerships with parents and whānau that are built around their children’s needs. The organisation is improvement focused and invests responsibly in the future of blind and low vision education.

ERO is likely to carry out the next review in four-to-five years. 

Graham Randell

Deputy Chief Review Officer Northern

18 January 2017

About the School 

Location

Manurewa, Auckland

Ministry of Education profile number

4156

School type

Special School

School roll

37 at Homai Campus School (Years 1 to 13 )

1542 in BLENNZ

Gender composition (Homai Campus School)

Boys 24 Girls 13

Ethnic composition (Homai Campus School)

Māori

Pākehā

Pacific

Indian

other

7

9

13

6

2

Special Features

Nikau Whare and Kickstart Residential Hostels

Review team on site

October 2016

Date of this report

18 January 2017

Most recent ERO report(s)

Education Review

Education Review

Education Review

November 2012

November 2008

November 2005