Raising achievement through cross sector collaboration
A collaborative strategy involving early childhood centres through to secondary schools is breaking new ground in order to lift student achievement levels in West Auckland.
Back in 2007 the spark that initiated the West Auckland Principals Association’s WAPA 2020 learning project was student underachievement in secondary schools. Rather than looking solely at their own schools for solutions however, a group of principals in the area decided that by working across early childhood centres, primary, intermediate and secondary school sectors they could more effectively address the issue.
The fact WAPA was already collegial made it quite easy to start this kind of initiative, says WAPA 2020 community engagement coordinator Chris McLean.
Principals and teachers conducted surveys and had meetings to come to a consensus on what they wanted for education in the region.
“It’s the concept of it takes a village to raise a child. We’re not just doing this in our schools alone, we’re looking at the bigger picture and taking responsibility for all students in our area,” she says.
The planning phase of the initiative took place from 2007 to 2009 and involved securing funding from private sponsors and initially the Ministry of Education. A lot of time was spent developing protocols, researching similar international cluster projects and getting schools on board.
Building up the relational trust with principals and teachers is really important so that they want to participate and make it work at a cluster level, says WAPA 2020 coordinator and Flanshaw Road School principal Cherie Taylor-Patel.
The objectives were narrowed down to three key strands; student achievement, leadership and community engagement. The pilot phase was then conducted over the following two years and involved 16 schools across West Auckland primary, intermediate, secondary and special needs schools from deciles 2 to 10. The WAPA 2020 group of schools has since increased to include 23 of the 93 schools located in the Waitakere area.
In the student achievement strand there has been a lot of professional development around using standardised e-asTTLe testing in participating schools. The aim of using this assessment tool is to be able to analyse what schools are teaching effectively as a cluster and where they need to focus their professional development in order to strengthen classroom programmes.
Common reading comprehension tests for years 4-10 were used this year, which will most likely be extended to maths next year and writing the following.
Leadership centres on developing capacity across the board; at student, class, school and cluster level, says Dr Taylor-Patel.
Regular professional development workshops are provided for educators and professional learning groups have been set up that involve emerging leaders in schools. This term senior leaders such as deputy principals have the opportunity to go to another school and shadow a leader who then does the same at their school. Next term a teacher swap week is planned where teachers can exchange classes for the week.
Student-led conferences is one way the initiative is providing leadership opportunities for pupils. Some schools within the cluster have experience with this and WAPA is currently looking to support others to do the same. Students from year 6 to secondary school are also often invited to workshops to talk about their learning and what teachers do to engage them.
“When we get students in the room it’s really nice to get that mix of primary, intermediate and secondary students because that doesn’t happen very often. We plan to do more things like that in the future,” says Ms McLean.
The community engagement strand aims to involve the community, as well as local government representatives. The initial focus was on tightening transitioning strategies from early childhood to secondary school. Student engagement between those transition points is really important because that’s when students are most likely to fall between the gaps, says Ms McLean.
WAPA members soon realised that feedback from families on the transition process is also extremely important.
“If you have families that have the capacity to support students learning then that’s going to raise the chances of the students being successful. It’s about shifting from the mentality of enrolling the student in a school to enrolling the family,” says Dr Taylor-Patel.
New Zealand Council for Education Research NZCER Me and My School Surveys were used to analyse student engagement last year and involved all year 5, 7 and 9 students from participating schools. Principals met to analyse that data and address issues relating to what was happening between such things as the different levels, genders and within Maori and Pasifika groups.
“It’s student self reporting so what you’d expect to happen over time is to see improvements around motivation, attitudes to learning, relationships with teachers and so on. Each school has their individual data that comes back to them but also trends can be picked up across the cluster, says Dr Taylor-Patel.
The information the surveys provide is really informative and should help us keep students in school longer. It’s something we see working alongside the student achievement data, says Ms McLean.
Dr Taylor-Patel says WAPA 2020 is already seeing positive results and calls it a “new and powerful way of working”. Thirty four per cent of West Auckland students were leaving school without NCEA level 2 in 2006, a figure that by 2009 had decreased to 19 per cent of all students.
But both educators admit there is still a lot of work to do. As with national trends, Maori were still underachieving in West Auckland’s NCEA results last year. However, while the statistics for Pacific students were also low, they displayed a more positive trend upwards than statistics involving Maori students.
I think it’s been a brave project to initiate, says Dr Taylor-Patel.
“It’s looking outside the box at how we can do things better. When you talk about why it works it’s because nothing is mandated. It’s about people really buying into that collective vision. We see it as a cluster model that could be scaled up and replicated elsewhere.
“It’s very heartwarming that the WAPA 2020 vision is still strong when you think about it starting back in 2007. It’s slower in the beginning [to work collectively] but you go further in the end.
“By 2020 we want our NCEA results to be really high, we want all students across our schools to be well connected, articulate and confident young citizens, she says.
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