Not being overly confident that Anne Tolley’s staff have put their top people on to my questions I decided to be proactive and go and look for some of the answers to my questions myself. You know, the kind of thing I would ask my students to do. A few people gave me some pointers as to where to look, and scrolling through Anne Tolley’s press releases has been helpful.
In my quick initial look through things I was struck by a striking confluence of results from various searches.
A press release on 2 August, 2010 announced the $36 million funding to lift student achievement. It says there will be a wider plan rolled out into secondary schools in 2012. As they are using national standards as way to identify schools that need help this is presumably part of the plan to introduce national standards to Year 9 and 10 schools in 2012 (something National said they weren’t going to do). I’m not sure why they have to wait though. NCEA data has been available throughout this period – even organised into helpful league tables – so it seems like an easy place to start. As I work in a secondary school this is why I have heard nothing about this programme.
A press release from 1 September, 2010 announced more support for alternative education centres. These are often little houses down the road from a school where a very small group of the most behaviourally difficult students are sent for some more intensive and flexible help. Pita Sharples stated:
“A review of Alternative Education last year highlighted the need to do more for these young people. We are giving them the opportunity to achieve better results and qualifications, and making sure they have greater support in getting back into regular education.”
The end of the press release says that this funding increase is connected to another programme called Positive Behaviour for Learning.
If you look at the glossy Positive Behaviour for Learning brochure (which is full of really good stuff), you will find this statement very early on about the programme:
It recognises that there are no quick fixes. It takes a long-term view to ensure that changes in behaviour are sustained.
Unfortunately the top result hit in the news section I got related to this came from Ohorere school.
A Masterton school that has been changing the lives of troubled kids has had its funding cut, forcing its closure.
New Zealand has one of the highest school drop out rates in the developed world and Ohorere School is a transition unit, a place for children who struggle at school.
Housed in an old trout farm in Masterton, it is a place for kids who have behavioural issues such as bullying or learning difficulties .
So, this is an example of the alternative education I was talking about earlier, but also about working with bullies and developing positive behaviour for learning.
“We’ve got an 85% success rate. We are making a difference for kids. I’d like to keep making a difference.”
The children attend the school for six months, with classes consisting of just six pupils, one teacher and two teacher aides.
“We’ve had students in six months jump forward two years educationally. We’ve had students go back who have made quite astounding changes in their life,” said Webb.
But wait, there’s more,
At the last election in 2007 John Key visited the school, and shot a scene for a National Party DVD. The government reports said then Ohorere could be used as model for other regions.
“The evidence is very clear that you need to get these students back into mainstream schooling, you need to put some extra help and support around them but the best results for kids are actually when they’re in the actual schools,” Tolley told Close Up.
These students are being put back into mainstream schooling, after a six month intensive programme. I think that it was absolutely brilliant that this programme ran and it seemed to prove that if you really do invest the money in getting the right people and right resources directed in the right place then you can make a difference, but it comes back to this quote:
there are no quick fixes. It takes a long-term view to ensure that changes in behaviour are sustained.
Changes in behaviour doesn’t just mean for an individual; it surely must mean for a community. That might take ten years as two entire cohorts pass through a school, and the local school becomes a place that people want to send their kids because they know their kids will do well there.
It’s not that the programmes don’t work, it is that they are not supported for long enough. I have seen support and funding lift a poorly performing school up the achievement rankings, and I have seen the same school start slipping back down as the support and funding was taken away. Is it surprising that having the money to get excellent professional development on literacy and numeracy, or money to allow meetings between teachers focused on literacy and numeracy, or money to put two teachers into a classroom actually makes a big difference?
But what happens is what happened to Ohorere. You get told you have done well, problem solved, now take the skills you have used and carry on, and if you need the money (we are now taking away you) will have to fund it yourself. Even though your school draws on a poorer community. Meanwhile other schools are funding for themselves: artificial sports turf, indoor cricket nets, 3D printers and aviation courses.
It’s about choice.
It’s choice to have money.
Well, my first outing to look for answers has not been a happy one, but I will continue to look.