Nicholas Jones

Nicholas Jones is the New Zealand Herald’s education reporter.

The secrets of our highest-performing low decile schools

High-achieving lower-decile schools reveal how they are bucking the trend.

McAuley High School student leaders, from left, Hinemoa Finau, 17, Selena Tugaga, 17, Hazel Celeste, 18, and Lidia Araboo, 17. The school has recorded high marks in NCEA results. Photo / Dean Purcell
McAuley High School student leaders, from left, Hinemoa Finau, 17, Selena Tugaga, 17, Hazel Celeste, 18, and Lidia Araboo, 17. The school has recorded high marks in NCEA results. Photo / Dean Purcell

The secrets of some of the highest-performing lower decile schools have been unlocked in an attempt to address one of the biggest problems in New Zealand education.

Seven schools that draw their students from relatively poor areas have been visited by the Education Review Office (ERO), in an effort to find out what they are doing well.

New Zealand has one of the biggest gaps in achievement between students with well-off and poorer backgrounds in the developed world.

The report notes non-school factors contribute to this, but some schools buck the statistics.

McAuley High School, an integrated decile one school for girls in Otahuhu, has seen huge change over the past 10 years.

Principal Anne Miles and the board focused on making the school a safe place to be. Key to this was community engagement - school leaders and student ambassadors visit the local Catholic churches and 26 feeder schools.

Invitations to school meetings are followed up with phone calls to families, resulting in 90 per cent attendance at parents' meetings.

There, senior students talk about what their parents do to support their learning. Last year's participation-based NCEA results showed achievement rates of more than 90 per cent at Level 1, 2 and 3, and 74 per cent university entrance.

Ms Miles told the Herald that her staff deserved mention. "Our teachers work incredibly hard over here to support the students, to track their achievement, to guide them and inspire them.

"They keep on their backs - 'get on with your work, do your work, have you finished this' - there's constant pressure and expectation to not only achieve, but achieve with merit and excellence.

"And it's that expectation that is shared by the students, the staff and the parents that makes a difference."

At Mt Roskill Grammar, a co-education school with a roll of 2200, the ERO report noted clear expectations for all students' success - followed through by an extensive pastoral care network and use of achievement information to keep a sharp eye on each student's process.

The decile 4 school was also praised for its teacher development. One aspect is the creation of "lead teams" to focus on areas of learning including writing, e-learning and mentoring.

"You get that vibrant atmosphere of can-do," said principal Greg Watson.

Arif Abdulla, whose son Sohail left Mt Roskill Grammar last year and is now studying engineering, said he would recommend the school to anyone.

The other schools are Whakatane's Trident High, Otaki College in Kapiti, Opotiki College, Gisborne Boys' High and Naenae College in Lower Hutt.

Star schools

A study of high-performing lower decile schools cited numerous reasons for their success. Here are some of them.

Trident High School, Whakatane, decile 5:

Induction for new staff includes a trip from Ruatoki to Whakatane, hosted at several marae en route. This enables staff to fully appreciate where many of the students come from.

Mt Roskill Grammar School, Auckland, decile 4:

Staff are encouraged to trial and use new practices, including "flipped classrooms" - where teachers use videos to pre-teach ideas before class, then use lessons for collaborative work and individual tutoring.

Otaki College, Kapiti, decile 4:

Phone calls from parents are returned with urgency, and responses to situations are rapid and often involve the community beyond the college.

Naenae College, Lower Hutt, decile 2:

Timetable changes include a 100 minute period every day - which means staff can be more flexible in teaching, and work more with students one-on-one.

Gisborne Boys' High School, decile 3:

A Tu Tane programme helps boys develop with a strong sense of themselves and their place in the community. Based around celebrating manhood, it is run with support from Gisborne Police.

McAuley High School, Otahuhu, South Auckland, decile 1:

Considerable sums are raised to pay for uniforms, trips and lunches so girls from the most disadvantaged backgrounds can participate in school on an equal footing.

Opotiki College, decile 1:

A morning tea group of students identified as at-risk makes it more likely they will attend school, and is a time for staff to mentor them.

Read the ERO report here

- NZ Herald

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