Mission to turn around troubled schools

More than 100 schools serving thousands of students have been found to be in difficulty by inspectors in the past year.

Poor leadership and governance, a need to improve the quality of teaching or an unsafe environment are some of the problems that have been identified.

Schools across New Zealand have been flagged by inspectors, who subsequently call in the Ministry of Education and other agencies in an effort to turn them around.

Every state and state-integrated school is periodically visited by the Education Review Office (ERO).

Their findings are outlined in a published report, and a decision is made on how soon the school will need to be reviewed again.

The best-performing schools are reviewed in another four to five years, the majority of schools in three years, and those of most concern in one to two years only.

From April 2012 until May 31 this year, 217 schools (just over 100 a year) were assessed as needing another review within one to two years, information compiled for the Herald shows.

That was 12 per cent of the 1773 schools assessed over that time. The majority -- 76 per cent -- were given three years until next assessment, while 12 per cent were deemed good enough for the inspectors to return in four to five years.

Dale Bailey, a national manager of review services for ERO, said the purpose of a one- to two-year review was to help move the school from a state of difficulty.

The school needed to make changes so it could be self-managing, and in the meantime the Ministry of Education and other agencies were often called in to give extra support. "They have got some sort of challenge that they are needing to address ... our main focus is, are the kids learning there, is it a safe place, does the school have good systems?

"The school may not have good governance and management processes, or they might need to improve the quality of teaching."

Such schools can be rapidly improving. An example is Tongariro School, which remains on a short review cycle despite a May report highlighting significant changes at the decile 2 school.

The report praised new principal Steven Allen and the board for carrying out a robust plan to deal with the school's considerable historical financial difficulty.

The Turangi school, which is 84 per cent Maori and is Year 1 to 14, has made progress on steps to lift student achievement, including school-wide curriculum development and using data across all school levels.

Mr Allen told the Herald that student achievement had increased significantly in the past two years, which Education Minister Hekia Parata recognised in a March letter to management.

Mr Bailey said schools in the one- to two-year review cycle had certain challenges, but parents should not view them as failing. "We want to get [improvement] before it is a failing school ... to support them to get them into a good performing zone."

- Nicholas Jones of the New Zealand Herald

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