They were commissioned by primary teachers’ union NZEI Te Riu Roa to review whether the government’s evidence on effective collaboration, leadership and sharing of effective practice measured up in the New Zealand educational context.

Massey’s Dr Peter Rawlins, Dr Karen Ashton, Dr Tony Carusi and Evelyn Lewis investigated evidence used by the Government’s working group to validate IES, which aims to improve student achievement by having teachers and principals working across communities of schools.

Dr Rawlins says the IES model ignores key evidence and research that underpins quality teaching and learning.

Among the findings is the need for teachers to be centrally involved in the planning and implementation “so their classroom needs are at the heart of the design of the initiatives.”

Dr Rawlins says his team’s research shows that a student’s background and out-of-school factors have the largest impact on achievement and educational outcomes. “Within the school, the teacher is the most significant variable affecting student outcomes, so it is important to get buy-in from teachers,” he says.

The research also identified particular characteristics of leadership in a school that affect student achievement. Leadership should focus on planning, coordinating and evaluating the curriculum, promoting and taking part in professional learning, and providing support by observing and giving feedback to teachers, he says.

“These characteristics are central to creating a school community that learns how to improve student success and are best done by a leader who is an integral part of that school community. School leadership should extend beyond the principal to include all levels of teachers and should be genuinely distributed rather than just the distribution of managerial roles.”

He says some models of collaboration, such as corporate-driven or managerial approaches, are likely to be counterproductive in an education setting because of the effect of “contrived” rather than real collegiality.

The importance of cultural context in designing new policy was also highlighted in the Massey research, as opposed to “adopting a strategy from overseas and then contextualising it to a New Zealand setting,” he says.

Dr Rawlins and his colleagues presented their findings to a group of education professionals in Wellington at the end of February. The forum also provided a chance for attendees to discuss the NZEI’s ‘Better Plan Joint Initiative’ which it developed with the Ministry of Education late last year, following the union’s vote of no confidence in IES.

Through a number of working parties, the initiative aims to identify ways to support children’s success at every level of their learning and encompasses early childhood education, primary, support staff and special education.

Meanwhile the IES policy is also underway, with the first Communities of Schools now established and Education Minister Hekia Parata recently announcing the first five schools to receive the Principal Recruitment Allowance.

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