Westbridge Residential School - 05/08/2015

1. Context

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

Westbridge Residential School is a special school for students with learning and social difficulties. The school and residential cottages together constitute a programme that is designed to support students to learn new skills and ways of behaving, stay engaged in education, and enjoy a successful home and school life.

The school is part of national provision of intensive support for the small number of children and young people with highly complex and challenging behaviour, social or education needs. Students are referred to the school as part of the Intensive Wraparound Service and are typically resident there for 3 terms. The school has previously catered for students in Years 3 to 8. Recent changes mean that the school will now also cater for older students in Years 9 and 10. Currently most of the students are from the wider Auckland area.

Since 2014 the school has been under the stewardship of a national appointed board that is also responsible for Halswell Residential College in Christchurch. Trustees have been appointed for the particular area of expertise they bring in aspects of special education and school governance.

ERO has not reviewed Westbridge Residential School since 2011, when there was a commissioner in place. ERO was not happy with the provision for learners at the time, and had not been for several reviews prior to that. The role and future of the school was under review for some time, and this period was unsettling and difficult for staff. Since that time, there have been significant changes in school leadership and governance.

2. Learning

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

Each student at Westbridge is assessed very carefully across a range of dimensions. Typically students have serious gaps in their literacy and numeracy skills. Diagnostic testing to determine what needs to be addressed first is used to help develop a programme that is right for each learner. While ninety percent of the students are below or well below National Standards, the challenge is accelerating progress for each individual learner.

Good strategies are used to share achievement data across the school and to build student ownership of their progress. Very small classes and high levels of positive adult attention also help learners to make good progress. Students quickly become confident in the school setting, and classrooms are purposeful learning environments.

Students take part in a programme of graduated behaviour modification as part of their learning. Expectations are very clear and there are agreed behaviour and learning goals for each student. Consistent implementation of individualised programmes across the classrooms and cottages, and a cheerful professional culture is resulting in increasingly happy and engaged learners.

Current professional development for teachers in strategies that help students understand the learning process and how to help students write better is having pleasing results.

Comprehensive achievement data are reported to the board. The challenge now is to consider how to present data most simply and effectively to better inform others, including families and whānau.

3. Curriculum

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

The school curriculum is very effective in promoting and supporting student learning.

While priority is necessarily given to literacy and numeracy, the other learning areas of the curriculum often form the context for basic skill development.

Staff recognise that the curriculum operates both in the classroom and in the cottages, and they work hard at making learning activities enjoyable and relevant. Cottage staff play a very important part in implementing the learning programme for each student. The high degree of consistency of programme implementation between the classrooms and the cottages is a result of the professional culture now established across the school.

Good humoured and respectful relationships among staff and between staff and students help to build a culture of success for each learner. Students take part in a diverse range of sporting, cultural and developmental activities that are designed to broaden their experiences, provide personal challenge and build self worth.

The liaison teachers in this school play an important role, supporting families and whānau to make change sustainable. They also liaise with schools the students have come from and the schools they will go back into. A key part of their role is to help schools use the most effective strategies to keep these vulnerable young people engaged in education.

There is a strong focus throughout the school on enhancing student wellbeing. Staff are beginning to use NZCER’s Wellbeing at School survey to monitor how students are feeling, and to build a longitudinal data base to inform planning.

The school’s curriculum is aligned to the vision, values and principles of The New Zealand Curriculum (NZC). It would now be worthwhile to consider aligning the school’s social skills programme more explicitly to the key competencies of the NZC.

The school population is constantly changing as students enter and leave the programme. One of the challenges in designing the curriculum is considering how to most effectively cater for older learners now that the school will also be taking students from Year 9 and 10, who bring with them different levels of prior learning and achievement.

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

About one third of the students currently in the school are Māori. Many of the Māori students coming into the school do not have strong sense of where they are from or what their iwi affiliations are. The staff are aware of the need to build each student’s sense of belonging and pride in their cultural identity. Many of the staff model this effectively and are able to play a key role in building mana Māori in the school.

A staff member also serves as the school kaumātua. He is able to provide worthwhile guidance to help staff across the school to experience and value tikanga. Te Mangai, a group of staff committed to supporting success for Māori, has been in place for some time. They make a valuable contribution to growing the cultural understanding of all staff.

4. Sustainable Performance

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

The school is well placed to sustain and improve its performance. External factors that have made the school’s future uncertain have mostly been resolved.

There have been significant shifts in the culture of the school. There is now a clear:

  • shared vision of what matters most
  • alignment between the programme in cottages and classrooms
  • embedded and distributed leadership
  • robust, coherent, well understood systems
  • specific focus on learning success, both social and academic.

The focus throughout the school is on building success for each student.

The impact of good leadership is very evident in the confidence and capability of the senior leadership team and the increased professional engagement of staff. Teachers are now able and willing to inquire into the impact of teaching strategies, and there is a shared agreement about the importance of reflective practice in classrooms and cottages. The use of data to inform practice throughout the school is highly evident.

The national board sees part of its role as aligning Westbridge Residential School and Halswell Residential College in terms of key documents. Policies and procedures are currently under review nationally. Trustees are keen to take advantage of opportunities to build professional dialogue across the two schools, and to provide access to high level expertise to support each school.

Trustees are also aware of the need to continue to foster professional growth in their staff so that there are good opportunities for professional learning that promote improvement and innovation.

Next steps for senior leaders include:

  • refining the appraisal system to remove unnecessary complexity
  • continuing to build a richer understanding of the value of Māori language, culture and identity in the school
  • exploring further ways of using available data from classrooms and cottages to improve practice.

The board of trustees, school leaders and staff share a commitment to answering the most difficult question in this kind of special education: what evidence is there of benefits for students in the short and long term? They are currently gathering data to allow them to interrogate their own practice and are using data collected to inform what they do. Long‑term outcomes are harder to measure, but staff know the importance of demonstrating the value that they add.

Provision for students in the school hostel

In this review ERO evaluated the extent to which school cottages provide a safe physical and emotional environment that promotes learning for the students accommodated there. All the students at Westbridge are accommodated in one of three cottages. The cottages are licensed as the school hostel by the Ministry of Education and are required to comply with minimum standards as specified in the hostel regulations. The board attested in a Hostel Assurance Statement that it meets these requirements.

The cottages are well managed, helping students to feel at home and secure in a warm and welcoming environment. Good food and interesting, student-centred activities characterise each cottage. Students are given practical support to develop self-management skills and social skills that will stand them in good stead.

Some of the cottage staff provide good leadership in the use of te reo Maōri and are helping students build their understanding of Maōri language, culture and identity. Their modelling of manaakitanga and whanaungatanga helps to benefit the whole school.

Hostel staff play an important part in helping to collect data about each child’s growth and development, so that evidence can be collated about what they are doing and its impact. They are well aware of the challenge of ensuring that change for students is sustainable in other environments. The role that they play in engaging families and whānau is an important and valued part of the outreach of the school.

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

Students at Westbridge Residential School receive highly focused, very professional support in classrooms and cottages that is helping them to meet their learning and behaviour goals and experience success. They are building academic and personal skills as the basis for being able to make better choices about their futures.

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

Graham Randell

Deputy Chief Review Officer Northern (Acting)

5 August 2015

About the School

Location

Royal Heights, Auckland

Ministry of Education profile number

4157

School type

Special School

School roll

19 (The school has a notional roll of 40)

Gender composition

Boys 18

Girls 1

Ethnic composition

Māori 6

NZ European/ Pākehā 12

Samoan 1

Special Features

Residential School

Review team on site

June 2015

Date of this report

5 August 2015

Most recent ERO report(s)

Education Review December 2010

Education Review May 2009

Supplementary Review February 2007