Opononi Area School - 28/06/2013

1 Background and Context

What is the background and context for this school’s Arotake Paetawhiti review?

Opononi Area School has an important and historically significant place in the Hokianga. Nearly all students who attend the school are Māori and all students, their parents and whānau have strong iwi connections with the local area. Opononi Area School caters for students from Years 1 to 13, and parents can choose for their children to learn within the school’s Whānau Kotahi immersion unit.

ERO’s 2009 report identified concerns about several areas of school operations, including the quality of education provided for students. In 2011, ERO noted that some progress had been made in improving the learning environment for students and staff. Concerns continued, however, about student progress and achievement, the quality of teaching, the quality of leadership and management, and the decreasing school roll.

At the time of the 2011 ERO review, a commissioner was managing major personnel and financial matters effectively. He was also working alongside kaumātua to develop a governance structure to form a board of trustees for the school. In June 2011, the role of the commissioner was changed to that of Limited Statutory Manager (LSM) with responsibilities for employment and communications. A board of trustees was re-established, comprising Ministry of Education appointees and elected trustees. Changes in leadership have also occurred, including the appointment of a new principal for the start of the 2012 school year.

ERO has continued to visit Opononi Area School over the past two years. These visits have allowed ERO to periodically evaluate the school’s progress in addressing areas of concern identified in the 2011 ERO report. During this time the school has benefited from external support provided by the Ministry of Education and other external providers.

2 Review and Development

How effectively is the school addressing its priorities for review and development?

Priorities identified for review and development

Areas for review and development identified in ERO’s 2011 report included the need to:

  • build a positive school culture, including provision of a safe emotional and physical environment for students and staff
  • improve the quality of teaching and learning
  • promote student progress and achievement
  • develop the school’s curriculum in partnership with parents and whānau
  • strengthen the leadership, management and governance of the school, especially in promoting positive relationships with the community.


Since ERO’s 2011 report, significant progress has been made in a number of areas of school operations. This progress is promoting an increasingly positive school culture for students, their parents and whānau, and for school staff.

Governance.  In 2012 the school’s commissioner was replaced by an alternative constitution board of trustees.  The commissioner role was changed to that of LSM and he remained in the school until the end of Term 3, 2012, providing advice and guidance to board about its governance role and responsibilities. The board currently has a governance structure that consists of four trustees appointed by the Minister of Education in consultation with community kaumātua, two trustees elected by the community, a staff trustee elected by school staff, and the principal. This model of governance is operating effectively. Decisions about when the school will return to a normally constituted governance structure have yet to be made. 

The board is well led and improvement-focused. Trustees are reflective and are working well together as the school’s strategic decision-makers. They are successfully managing some long-term financial challenges, and are now looking forward to resourcing teaching and learning programmes appropriately and to providing necessary upgrades to the school environment. Trustees have strong connections with their community and are committed to promoting a successful school for their tamariki.

Leadership and management. The principal and deputy principal have added two new leaders to the senior leadership team. These additions are promoting more specific leadership of the junior, middle and senior areas of the school. In particular, they are providing a strong and well researched focus on middle-years schooling for students in Years 7 to 10. The three learning areas, Ngaru Nui (Years 1 to 6), Ngaru Roa (Years 7 to 10), and Ngaru Pae Whenua (Years 11 to 13) connect the school’s vision well to its history, values and culture.

Senior leaders are clear about their roles and responsibilities. They appropriately identify their own leadership strengths and areas for continued development, and are focusing teachers on improving student achievement. They visit classrooms regularly and support teachers to improve their practice. Clear, logical and measurable student achievement targets have been established and are suitably aligned to teacher appraisals. Achievement targets, together with school strategic goals, are displayed in classrooms to promote staff and student awareness of the school’s focus on improvement.

The principal is strengthening school systems and processes, promoting high expectations for staff and students. She is establishing positive relationships with staff and parents and is managing change carefully. She has a clear vision, her leadership approach is evidence-driven, and she is developing good foundations for the next round of school improvements.

Teaching and learning. Classrooms are becoming settled learning environments. Many students are focused on learning and have good relationships with each other and staff.

Teachers are developing better understandings, and making better use of, the school’s increasingly good student achievement data for planning, assessing and evaluating classroom programmes. There are increasingly high expectations for teachers to use student achievement data to reflect on and improve their teaching practice. Many teachers are responding well to changes and are stepping up as leaders of learning.

The deputy principal is introducing an academic mentoring approach with Year 11 to 13 students in Ngaru Pae Whenua to promote their engagement, motivation and success. Students throughout the school are being supported to set and evaluate their own learning goals, and to further understand their levels of learning and achievement. 

3 Sustainable performance and self review

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

Opononi Area School is well placed to sustain and improve its performance. Improved performance is being promoted through:

  • an effective governance structure and an improvement-focused board of trustees
  • the principal’s professional and thoughtful leadership
  • the increasing capability of the senior leadership team
  • the establishment of clear and consistent expectations of students and staff
  • better engagement with school community.

Priorities identified for review and development

The board, principal, senior leadership team and ERO agree that the principal and leadership team should continue to work in partnership to:

  • promote a shared vision and understanding of the school’s charter, curriculum and leadership approaches
  • design a student-centred school curriculum that reflects the local context, encourages teachers to be innovative and creative, promotes student engagement, and offers students a variety of opportunities to experience success
  • provide opportunities for parents to be partners in their child’s learning.

The board has appointed an external appraiser to provide their new principal with appropriate support. It is important that the board continue to work closely with the principal to enact the school’s vision, develop and maintain professional connections, and plan for her continued professional development.

Student achievement in National Certificates of Educational Achievement (NCEA) Levels 1, 2 and 3 needs to be improved. The school’s NCEA results in 2012 show that students achieve a good number of credits, but these are often not in the important areas of literacy and numeracy and consequently do not always enable students to gain university entrance or to pursue future study and career opportunities. The principal and school leaders have identified that to further improve student achievement:

  • teachers in Ngaru Nui and Ngaru Roa require continued support to further promote their understanding of National Standards and to make valid overall teacher judgements
  • more work is needed to build positive relationships for learning between students and teachers, especially in the Ngaru Pae Whenua area of the school.

Review and development work should also include a focus on strengthening self review. School leaders should collect and evaluate information from students, parents and staff to help them understand the views of different groups in the school community and their levels of satisfaction with the school. Trustees agree that board meetings could be more strategically focused. This would increase the board’s focus on reviewing school performance, including regularly monitoring progress during the year towards the achievement of student achievement targets and the board’s strategic goals.

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.

When is ERO likely to review the school again?

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

Dale Bailey
National Manager Review Services
Northern Region

About the School


Omapere, Northland

Ministry of Education profile number


School type

Composite (Years 1 to 15)

School roll


Gender composition

Boys      56%
Girls       44%

Ethnic composition

NZ European/Pākehā


Special Features

Māori immersion class

Review team on site

May 2013

Date of this report

28 June 2013

Most recent ERO report(s)

Supplementary Review
Supplementary Review
Supplementary Review

June 2011
November 2009
August 2008