Part 6: Information needs to be used better

Summary of our Education for Māori reports.

An effective education sector learns from its performance and uses information to make changes. Our work has shown that schools and the Ministry of Education can more effectively support Māori student achievement and target resources at what works by using information better.

Schools need to be more consistent in their use of information

Our analysis raised questions about whether support for using information is getting to where it is needed.

Teachers are collecting information, but many are not effectively using performance information to improve student achievement. Our work indicated that the major contributors to schools not effectively using information are:

  • variability in leadership and purpose in schools; and
  • lack of capability and capacity in schools to effectively use information to measure performance.

In our view, there is significant potential for improvement in the achievement of Māori students through more consistent practices by schools.

Common areas for improvement include using appropriate separate and aggregated data about Māori students, identifying trends or patterns, setting targets, and, importantly, teachers using performance information effectively to improve their teaching.

The variety of schools' student management systems do not always support schools to collect, use, and share information. Student management systems that are able to interact with one another will help to prevent the manual transfer of information about transferring students, many of whom are Māori. Also, student management systems that are capable of collecting softer7 information could be used in schools and for national purposes.

The Ministry of Education is aware of these issues and has set up a special project to improve student management systems. Improvement is not only about having a computer-based process; it is also important to understand how information is used in schools.

Boards of trustees need to show strong leadership and use information effectively

Boards of trustees need to have a clear understanding about Māori interests. They need to show effective leadership by having goals and objectives for Māori student achievement in school charters.

These goals and objectives are important for all schools. To understand what progress a school is making towards its goals and objectives, clear performance information must be available to the boards of trustees.

The Ministry of Education needs to promote sharing of good practices between schools

There are publications, including many from the Education Review Office, about school performance and effective practices that allow schools to learn how to collect and use information, and to use the good practices that are improving outcomes for Māori students. However, more opportunities are needed to identify and share good practices in the education sector.

Our analysis from our 2016 report on using information to improve Māori educational success showed that, at times, achievement varies significantly between similar schools in similar circumstances.

Schools have a lot to gain from learning how other schools collect and use information. From our audit work, we identified some important areas where schools could focus their learning on:

  • leadership in focusing on better outcomes for Māori students;
  • creating a culture of inquiry and ways to effectively challenge current practices;
  • building capacity and capability to collect and use information; and
  • building strong and positive relationships with whānau and the wider community.

We saw examples where schools supported their Māori students well. An effective way to improve outcomes for all Māori students is to harness those good practices and share them between schools. To share good practices and to re-use hard-earned lessons, the Ministry of Education and other agencies need to encourage and build further capability in schools.

For example, a college we visited in West Auckland took part in an initiative that aimed to improve educational outcomes for students who are currently not meeting educational criteria for entry into degree-level study. The initiative included these strategies:

  • academic counselling or coaching of students;
  • using data to set academic targets, and track and monitor student learning and academic progress; and
  • enhancing family/whānau engagement.

The school reported that, although it used data to challenge and change current teaching practices, it was still difficult to shift some entrenched views about, for example, the reasons for student truancy. However, staff reported that involvement in the initiative and using data and analysis was contributing to improved results for Māori students.

A primary school we visited in north Christchurch was collaborating with other schools to build better relationships with whānau and to share information. The school reported stronger relationships with whānau and huge interest in Māori studies and kapa haka throughout the school.

One commentator said when referring to the findings from our 2016 report on using information to improve Māori educational achievement:

There are fairly easy steps the Ministry could make that would help schools to tell where they are succeeding and where they are failing relative to comparable peers, rather than as compared to pass-rate benchmarks that are far too easy for some and impossible for others.

The Ministry of Education has an important role in helping schools to share good practices. The Ministry's overall view of the school system means it can provide suggestions about what works in similar schools.

However, our work indicates that more needs to be done between and within schools so that schools can lift their performance to the best levels achieved by other similar schools. If successful, the benefits to Māori students throughout schools could be significant.

The Ministry of Education needs to evaluate and target initiatives more effectively

The Ministry of Education could not accurately identify the funding for all programmes focused on Māori students. In our 2016 report on using information to improve Māori educational success, we included a list of the many programmes and initiatives that support student achievement, including Māori student achievement.

A Ministry of Education stocktake identified that evaluation information on the effectiveness of programmes is scarce. Of the relevant programmes, only three had evaluation information available. Two recent reports8 have noted similar concerns to ours that, throughout the education sector, there is a lack of systematic evaluation or the use of too many initiatives that are not linked in a coherent way.

In our view, because it uses public money to fund programmes and initiatives, the Ministry of Education needs to work out how much these activities cost, whether they are effective, and whether they add any value overall and to Māori students in particular. Understanding cost and effectiveness will enable the education sector to make more informed decisions about future investment and how this can be targeted to have the greatest effect.

We noted in a 2011 report that many public entities have difficulty measuring cost-effectiveness.9

Ministry of Education officials explained to us that it was difficult to "unbundle" funding to identify how much is associated with Māori students.

We still expect the Ministry of Education to improve its ability to monitor the effectiveness and efficiency of its programmes and initiatives that are designed to improve the achievement of Māori students.

The education sector needs to improve its understanding about educational success as Māori

There is no single definition of what achieving educational success as Māori means. However, some schools were successfully collecting and using information based on what they understood Māori succeeding as Māori means.

For example, one teacher said that it means "what Māori people value". The school where this teacher works used a wide range of indicators to encourage success as Māori. This included:

  • options programmes (learning Te Reo and about Māoritanga);
  • marae stays;
  • pōwhiri at the beginning of term, led by a kaumatua;
  • two tiers of kapa haka;
  • assessing confidence speaking at a pōwhiri as an example of achieving success as Māori;
  • the quality of feedback from whānau about charter consultations; and
  • high attendance by Māori whānau and students at student-involved conferences.

Iwi are also taking a role to improve schools' understanding about the meaning of educational success as Māori. An iwi in Manawatu works with eight primary schools to provide consistent advice and support from a Māori perspective. The facilitator of the Manawatu collaboration contacted us after reading our reports, to say how they would use our advice:

The specific focus now is to produce, for each individual school, a culturally responsive learning framework to guide school wide practice to meet the learning needs of Māori learners and the needs of their whānau, hapū and iwi. This has come about from the intentions and goodwill of schools but they don't have any guidance, no markers or reference points to help them understand. So we have come up with a common framework. I learned that the makeup of every school is not the same. They may have the same goals, the same curriculum, but what was different is the learning needs of the children and the aspirations of whānau, when it comes to education and well-being.

Information about educational success as Māori is varied and is not aggregated throughout the education sector or used to evaluate overall success. This is a significant gap in information that the education sector will need to address. The guidance we saw does not clearly and consistently set out what is required, and can be improved.

7: Softer information can be, for example, information about a student's goals, aspirations, family circumstances, and extracurricular activities.

8: Udahemuka, M (2016), Signal Loss. What we know about school performance. The New Zealand Initiative, page 6, and Ministry of Education (2015), Ka Hikitia: A demonstration report, page 15.

9: Controller and Auditor-General (2011), Central government: Cost-effectiveness and improving annual reports.