30 Oct 2015

School watchlist hits new low, concerns remain

10:57 am on 30 October 2015

The number of schools on the government's watchlist for poor performance has reached a new low.

Stock photo of students using technology

A record 450 schools in New Zealand are so trusted they are only checked once every four or five years. Photo: NZQA

The Education Review Office (ERO) said just 190 schools needed review visits every one or two years while, at the other end of the spectrum, a record 450 were so trusted they were checked only every four or five years.

The figures had been steadily improving since mid-2010, when 20 percent of schools were on one or two-year review cycles - a figure which prompted widespread concern among principals and teachers.

By the middle of this year, just 8 percent of schools were on one to two-year review cycles, 72 percent were on three-year reviews, and 19 percent on four to five-year reviews.

However, an ERO statement downplayed the figures.

"While 8 percent may seem relatively low, it still means that 190 schools are not giving their children and young people the education they deserve. Disappointingly, just over 30 percent of those schools were previously on a one to two-year review."

What about student achievement?

ERO said its reviews had not got any easier but it did not agree the change indicated an improvement in the school system.

"An increase in student achievement, coupled with a decline in the number of schools staying on a one to two-year review, will indicate an improvement in the system.

"The most telling figure is the number of schools that continue to be on one to two-year reviews. In 2013-2014, 30 percent of schools remained on the one to two-year review cycle. In 2014-2015, this figure was just over 30 percent."

But education consultant Brian Annan said the figures were proof of improvement.

"It shows a maturity of the system, where schools have got their heads around what learning needs are for kids, and the support systems around schools have got more sophisticated.

"So the New Zealand system itself is, sort of, like it's coming out of a self-managing environment and getting into much more of a collaborative environment."

However, Dr Annan said if student achievement did not rise, hard questions would need to be asked.

"What it needs now is it needs quite a critical, challenging element put into the system," he said.

"It's been quite a sharing, caring environment and not emphasis on critical analysis of achievement of the lower kids, and how on earth do we all, all being schools, communities, and government, how do we all work together to get those achievement levels up?"

Greater understanding of school requirements

Principals Federation president Denise Torrey agreed school reviews were not easier but said the figures had improved in part because schools better understood what was wanted.

"Schools now understand what ERO is actually looking for, whether it's engaging with families, or raising Māori achievement, or using information in different ways, or teachers are using data in a different way," she said.

"So I think first of all that people understand what ERO is looking for. And, secondly, they're working really hard."

Ms Torrey said she expected the review figures would continue to improve.

PPTA principals' council president Allan Vester also said schools had got better at ensuring they met ERO requirements.

But he said increased training for school trustees might also be a factor in the improvement.

"Potentially boards are better trained in their role and I think sometimes the ERO reviews actually pick up on board duty," he said.

"And a school can be on a short review not necessarily because of something happening in the classroom but actually because of the way in which the school's being governed."

Mr Vester said he hoped the drop in the number of schools requiring frequent visits would give ERO more time to do research.

It might take some time for the improvements apparent in the figures to result in improvements in student achievement, he said.

More from John Gerritsen