Northland College Principal Jim Luders, pictured with Associate Minister of Education Louise Upston at the opening of the school’s $14 million rebuild last month, is disappointed with the scathing ERO report on the college and says it would be very different today.

The report followed a visit by the ERO April, two months before the celebration of a $14 million rebuild, which Mr Luders said had been soured.

The review followed several since 2012, when the Government replaced the board of trustees with a limited statutory manager (LSM) after buildings were found to be in need of urgent attention. Mr Luders was appointed in 2013.

The latest report said the new board of trustees was governing the school efficiently with the support of the LSM, with some progress made to improving the quality of teaching and NCEA results.

But it also identified ongoing concerns, including inadequate systems to ensure student safety and staff accountability, curriculum and teaching and learning practices throughout the school.

Progress in providing the required school and curriculum leadership to effect change and result in positive outcomes for students had been limited.

“The board of trustees are not yet receiving regular assurance from school leaders that the school is meeting legislative requirements. A lack of appropriate systems and accountability measures place students and the board of trustees unduly at risk,” it said.

Issues included inaccurate records of registered teachers and non-registered staff; non-registered staff working without supervision, without limited authority to teach status or without being police vetted; inadequate appraisal of teachers and support staff; failing to meet mandatory reporting requirements to the Education Council about teachers whose actions might constitute serious misconduct; and non-scheduled school closures.

“These poor practices and lack of adherence to the Vulnerable Children Act 2014 places students and the board of trustees unduly at risk,” the report said. “Of continued concern are student attendance records and truancy statistics that indicate high numbers of students are disengaged from school. There are also high numbers of stand-downs.”

Many students were unprepared for learning, arriving without the required Chromebooks or other equipment.

Some teachers were maintaining positive learning relationships with students, but the ERO was concerned about the deficit attitudes and beliefs about students’ behaviour and learning, and about whānau and community, evident among staff.

The report made a number of recommendations, including developing internal evaluation processes and understanding so that the board received useful information about the impact of initiatives, including from the pastoral care team and Hiwaiterangi, the school’s teen parent unit.

It also called for implementation of the teachers’ appraisal system, and aligning it to Education Council requirements for accountability and improvement, development and implementation of an appraisal system for non-teaching staff, and alignment of professional learning and other school-based initiatives with the school’s strategic planning documents so the board can evaluate which goals and targets are being met.

Mr Luders said the school was already implementing many of the recommendations, and that if the ERO visited the school today it would have a far more positive view.

The shocking state of the school’s buildings over recent years had made it difficult for students and teachers to produce their best work.

He also noted criticism of the school’s experimenting with year 9 and 10 students together, but it was new idea, and was bound to have some teething problems.

“I think the best thing to do with the ERO report is accept it for what it is. It’s a snapshot in time,” he said.

“The [ERO] team came at a very difficult time of huge transition at the school. [Teaching year 9 and 10 students together] was quite a significant move, and like every type of experiment, it can be hard. It’s important to know that we were in the first stage of that huge experiment [when ERO visited]. What we have done since is get stuck in and start rectifying as much as we possibly can.

“The quality of teaching has improved. The new facility is a positive learning environment that is a far better place for students and the teachers.”

Mr Luders said it was a scathing report and he was disappointed but determined to further improve things. With a roll of 299 – 93 per cent Māori – the school also runs a teen parent unit, services and trades academy, farm, forestry and hospitality facilities.

THE FACTS OF LIFE

Northland College attendance and truancy figures were a source of concern for ERO earlier this year, but at least part of the problem is seemingly beyond the school’s control.

About 25 per cent of the roll comprises a ‘transient community’ – children of families who are following Ngawha prison inmates, or whānau who are caring for troubled youth. Such students attend only for the terms of the family member’s prison sentence or placement with other family members.

On any given school day up to 35 per cent of students may be absent or stood down. The college is currently working with Tautoro Marae to re-engage absentees with their education.

Source: Northland Age

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