Focus on academic performance telling

If a sharp drop in the Pisa international rankings represented a sobering judgment on this country's education system, not all is doom and gloom. And there is no better story than that of Selwyn College, which has improved its performance in the most dramatic fashion.

A dunce just a few years ago, it last year boasted a very impressive 93% pass rate for its pupils sitting NCEA Level 1, and 94% and 90%, respectively, for Levels 2 and 3. A strong focus on academic performance and equally strong leadership have wrought an outstanding transformation.

Five years ago, it was all so different at the Kohimarama school. Below-par pupil achievement and a strong emphasis on the arts had put it offside with many local parents, who sent their children elsewhere. Finally, the Government stepped in, ousting the board of trustees and appointing a commissioner to run the school. In just a few years, the declining roll has been reversed, thanks largely to a new intake from the immediate area. Parents in that community are now clearly satisfied that the school is serving their needs.

The Education Review Office attributes the turnaround orchestrated by principal Sheryll Ofner (picture) to the central focus on academic performance, better use of each pupil's achievement data, new and renovated buildings, and improved teaching practices.

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The latter, tellingly, is emphasised by those who compile the Pisa rankings. It also underpins the Government's plan to use the best teachers and principals in executive and expert roles. In Selwyn, there is a ready-made source of inspiration.