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Literacy project helping young South Aucklanders

24 July 2003 Media Statement

Literacy project helping young South Aucklanders

A literacy project in South Auckland schools is making significant improvements to the reading skills of six-year-olds, according to new research released today by Education Minister Trevor Mallard.

The research by Auckland University’s Helen Timperley looked at the teacher training project within the Strengthening Education in Mangere and Otara initiative.

The study’s aim was to pinpoint what actually worked for the children, in terms of the way literacy was taught.

“The literacy gains made for the Mangere and Otara children as a result of this project were significant,” Trevor Mallard said at the launch of the research, at Koru School, Mangere.

“The research is a watershed for literacy teaching in New Zealand and shows that professional development has made a real difference to student learning.

“A key finding was that the schools and teachers that were able to sustain high levels of achievement tracked the progress of their students over time and used this information to adapt and target their teaching.

“The study also found that professional development should focus on raising teachers’ expectations of what their students can achieve.

“According to the study, achievement was not related to the socio-economic background of the students, for instance.

“This backs up what our government is focussing on in education. We believe every child, regardless of their background, can aim high, and should be given the chance to do so. This is essential if we want all New Zealanders to participate and contribute to New Zealand’s growth, socially and economically.

“This research shows how we can start our young children on the right path for this to happen.”

Thirty schools in Mangere and Otara were part of the Strengthening Education in Mangere and Otara initiative. The in-depth research, carried out over three years, focussed on seven of these schools. They took part in a professional development programme Picking up the Pace designed by Dr Gwenneth Phillips and Professor Stuart McNaughton.

Trevor Mallard said the research indicated there was significant reading improvements for six-year-old students in all of the schools studied, in each of the three years.

“Results were outstanding in two schools in particular. The teachers and managers in these schools focussed on using student achievement information to monitor progress and change teaching practices.

“This study is exciting news and shows professionalism is on the rise in Mangere and Otara. I’m delighted that the talk amongst the professional leaders is focusing on how to teach students effectively. This also reflects one of my key goals for education.

"There has been a lot of interest in the lessons learnt in Mangere and Otara within the education sector and Ministry of Education, and this research is another important resource for teachers.

“Other schooling improvement initiatives, such as Te Putahitanga Matauranga (Far North) and the Porirua Achievement Initiative, have taken the lessons and adapted them to suit their local contexts. The Ministry is also using this information to adapt policy and is now tailoring national strategies to address local needs."

The research found that:
- schools that are most successful in sustaining high levels of achievement are those whose teachers base their teaching methods on student achievement information;
- professional development needs to focus on raising expectations of student achievement;
- student achievement must be the criterion, or touchstone for measuring the effectiveness of teaching methods;
- the concept of ‘being professional’ changes when student achievement is the touchstone. For example, professional autonomy (where individual teachers decide what teaching methods to use) may hinder rather than support the goal of improving student achievement;
- professional development programmes need to be integrated into teachers’ every day working responsibilities rather than isolated one-off programmes held off-site;
- teachers must have ongoing support if professional development is to have a long-term positive effect on student learning; and
- schools that are most successful in raising student achievement are those that create strong professional learning communities.


Dr Timperley’s findings are outlined in the report ”The Sustainability of Professional Development in Literacy, Parts 1 and 2”, available on

The purpose of the study was to assess the extent to which student achievement gains were sustained after teachers were up-skilled in early literacy teaching.

The research is one of a series of formative research projects completed by Uniservices Ltd from the University of Auckland as part of the Ministry of Education’s Strengthening Education in Mangere and Otara (SEMO) initiative. Further research will be done to help the schools increase their gains.

Picking up the Pace delivered concentrated professional development to teachers at 15 schools and a range of early childhood centres in Mangere and Otara. More than 400 children were involved in the research.

A report on Picking up the Pace and its success is available at:


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