Sara Cohen School - 21/11/2019

School Context

Sara Cohen is a specialist school in Dunedin, catering for students from age 5 to 21 with diverse and complex special education needs. The total roll is 44 students, 10 of whom identify as Māori. The school has a base site for 11 to 21 year-old students. Satellite classes are at Concord School for students aged 5 to 8 and Bathgate Park School for 7 to 11 year-olds. The school also provides specialist teacher outreach services to students in a number of schools in Dunedin.

The school’s culture of diversity is reflected in its vision and values. Its vision is for students to learn the skills to best equip them to actively participate in and meet the challenges of life beyond school, through high quality individualised and adapted education. Its stated values are: difference and diversity (rerekētanga me te kanorau), respect and caring (manaakitanga), community (whanaungatanga), participation (wānanga) and equity (mana taurite).

The school states that its strategic goals are for all students to be engaged in learning that recognises each individual’s needs, language and identity, and reflects the school’s vision and values; and that its whānau and community are actively engaged in the life of the school. All cultures represented within the school, and the special position of Māori, are respected.

Leaders and teachers have begun reporting to the board, schoolwide information about outcomes for students in relation to their progress and achievement against individual goals set in regular collaborative learning plans (CLPs).

A new principal was appointed in 2017 and the school’s statutory management was withdrawn by the Ministry of Education in July 2019. The board has chosen to maintain the services of a specialist governance advisor.

There have been significant changes in teaching and support staff. The school now employs specialists in occupational therapy, speech therapy, physiotherapy, music therapy, and psychologists. Staff have accessed Ministry of Education funded professional development in science, narrative assessment, collaborative goal setting and cultural competency.

Evaluation Findings

1 Equity and excellence – achievement of valued outcomes for students

1.1 How well is the school achieving equitable and excellent outcomes for all its students?

All students are effectively supported to achieve individual success.

The school can show that by mid-2019 the majority of students had achieved their individual goals in literacy, numeracy and key competencies.

1.2 How well is the school accelerating learning for those students who need this?

The school is very effective in its response to those students whose learning needs acceleration.

The school is highly inclusive and interventions are personalised, specifically resourced and closely monitored.

2 School conditions for equity and excellence – processes and practices

2.1 What school processes and practices are effective in enabling achievement of equity and excellence, and acceleration of learning?

Since ERO’s July 2016 review the school has made significant progress in all areas identified for improvement.

Students participate and learn in a highly relationship-based learning community, characterised by a culture of care for each individual. Teachers, support staff and specialists take collective responsibility for all students’ learning and wellbeing. Leaders and teachers advocate for students, respond to whānau aspirations, and make connections beyond the school to better support students and their families.

Parents and whānau are valued as genuine partners in their children’s learning and wellbeing. They are supported through information sharing and networking opportunities through the school’s community engagement strategy. Parents and whānau are appropriately informed through a range of means about their children’s daily activities and learning progress. Trust has been built across the school community to foster reciprocal, learning-centred relationships.

The curriculum is very responsive to students’ strengths, needs and interests. Leaders have a clear line of sight from the school’s vision, values and strategic priorities, to classroom programmes, so that all learning is focused on what is most important. Clear and detailed guidelines show teachers how to meet the school’s expectation that students experience success. Teachers are well supported to meet these expectations through professional development, appraisal, and documented guidelines aligned to The New Zealand Curriculum.

Specialist therapists collaborate with teachers and contribute to the design of programmes tailored to meet the needs of each student. SMART goals are set in partnership with parents and whānau, professional experts and teachers to ensure students’ learning, behaviour, social, physical and emotional needs are met, reported on and celebrated. The curriculum is delivered through adapted programmes and environments that empower students to fully engage in school life. Students experience a wide range of activities to support their holistic development and life skills. Enterprise learning is a context for building differentiated and carefully planned transitions for students preparing to leave school.

Leaders ensure that students are at the centre of all strategic and operational decisions. They maintain a relentless focus on a small number of key priorities for school-wide improvement. The principal has implemented immediate steps to create a physically and emotionally safe school for staff and students. Leaders and trustees are developing and implementing clear, coherent systems and processes to ensure the safe and smooth running of the school. Leadership of strategic projects by some teachers, is building the school’s capacity to meet students’ diverse learning and wellbeing needs. Leaders have built valuable connections with specialist education, support and funding providers for the benefit of students.

2.2 What further developments are needed in school processes and practices for achievement of equity and excellence, and acceleration of learning?

New systems, processes and practices need to be consolidated and embedded to ensure they are implemented consistently and to a high standard across the school and satellite classrooms, and that they are sustained through future developments.

Leaders and teachers need to continue to improve the gathering and use of a wide range of valid information to better know about the impact of new initiatives on students’ learning and wellbeing outcomes.

Regular, high quality information should be provided to the board so that it can further scrutinise how well the school’s vision for equity and excellence is being achieved.

3 Board Assurance on Legal Requirements

Before the review, the board 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 the following:

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

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

  • emotional safety of students (including prevention of bullying and sexual harassment)
  • physical safety of students
  • teacher registration and certification
  • processes for appointing staff
  • stand down, suspension, expulsion and exclusion of students
  • attendance
  • school policies in relation to meeting the requirements of the Children’s Act 2014.

4 ERO’s Overall Judgement

On the basis of the findings of this review, ERO’s overall evaluation judgement of Sara Cohen School’s performance in achieving valued outcomes for its students is: Well placed.

ERO’s Framework: Overall Findings and Judgement Tool derived from School Evaluation Indicators: Effective Practice for Improvement and Learner Success is available on ERO’s website.

5 Going forward

Key strengths of the school

For sustained improvement and future learner success, the school can draw on existing strengths in:

  • a collaborative and inclusive school culture that builds relational trust and places students at the centre of all decision making
  • leadership that is focused on delivering on high expectations that each student will experience success, through its enacted vision and values
  • a highly adaptive curriculum that is responsive to students’ holistic learning and wellbeing needs
  • effective communication that strengthens partnerships with families/whanau and specialist agencies to achieve shared valued outcomes for students.

Next steps

For sustained improvement and future learner success, priorities for further development are in:

  • consolidating and embedding new systems, practices and processes so that they are consistently implemented and become sustainable
  • gathering and scrutinising a wide range of data to fully evaluate the impact of strategic initiatives on students’ learning and wellbeing outcomes.

Area of non-compliance

ERO identified a non-compliance in reporting to the Ministry of Education incidents of student stand-downs and the use of physical restraint.

Since the onsite stage of the review the school is now complying with the requirements to report to the Ministry of Education any incidents of student stand-downs and the use of physical restraint.

Dr Lesley Patterson

Director Review and Improvement Services Southern

Southern Region

21 November 2019

About the school



Ministry of Education profile number


School type

Specialist school

School roll


Gender composition

Male 30 Female 14

Ethnic composition

Māori 10
NZ European/Pākehā 29
Other 5

Students with Ongoing Resourcing Funding (ORS)


Provision of Māori medium education


Review team on site

September 2019

Date of this report

21 November 2019

Most recent ERO reports

Education Review July 2016
Education Review February 2013
Education Review June 2009