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Mallard Speech: Quality teaching counts

Trevor Mallard Speech: Quality teaching counts for students

Speech to the NZ Association of Intermediate & Middle Schools (Aims) Conference, Wairakei Hotel, Taupo

Thank you for the invitation to join you here today. The middle years are very important ones for young people making the move from primary to secondary schooling, and I want to take this opportunity to address some of the issues these students face that are relevant to their education.

Research evidence is clear that a ‘dip’ in achievement is likely to occur after any move from school to school.

This has been attributed to changes in students’ perceptions of themselves, to the onset of puberty, and to the different ways that schools handle transitions for their students.

The interesting point is that the achievement ‘dip’ happens in all countries regardless of when the transition occurs.

It is generally agreed that the years from ages 10-14 are characterised by what the Education Review Office has called “change, diversity and complexity” for students.

When students make two transitions in as many years, the effects of transition are likely to be magnified and the risks of educational ‘dips’ increased.

Supporters argue that the middle school model has the potential to meet the needs of the 10-14 age group best because they can focus on this group of students and their particular social and developmental needs as they move into adolescence.

But there may also be risks for middle school students when they make transitions to Year 11 at a new school at the same time as they begin work towards qualifications, and also have to deal with a new school environment and new classmates.

There is a great deal more that we need to know about the middle years stage of education, the “forgotten years” as the Educational Review Office described them in 2000.

Having a diversity of schooling models means we’ll be able to make future comparisons, although I note that at present the small number of middle schools in New Zealand makes it inappropriate to generalise from such comparisons.

New Zealand-based research on the middle years is lacking, and international studies are not necessarily comparable. Some New Zealand-generated data presents only a partial picture, and focuses more on quality of provision than hard evidence of achievement.

While the Ministry of Education's analysis of issues relating to middle schools is informed by the best evidence about influences on student outcomes, confounding factors such as school type, size or student profile prevent a complete analysis of assessment and qualifications data. The Ministry will continue to monitor outcomes for students in the middle years.
As well as continuing to monitor the achievement of students in middle years, research projects are underway that will provide valuable information in the future.

The Ministry has a research project on students making the transition to secondary school from Year 8 to Year 10. It includes a semi-longitudinal study aiming to identify key variables that help or hinder a smooth transition for students between Years 8 and 10.

Achievement data will be collected for each student before and after transition, and the study will also include the perspectives of students, parents and teachers. The research findings are expected to be published in the second half of next year.

And the NZCER’s Competent Children at 14 and at 16 will provide further information about schooling and experiences in the middle years.

Recent reviews of district networks of schools have resulted in some but not all intermediate schools being closed. The views of local communities were taken into account, and we tried to ensure that the needs of all students in local areas were met. This is especially important in light of projections we have about the declining age of the school population. Reviews have not targeted a particular type of school.

All school types that cater for the middle years have a legitimate stake in how best to meet the needs of students during this stage of their lives, whether the model of provision is an intermediate school, a composite [area] school, a middle school, a year 7-13 secondary school or a year 9-13 secondary school.

Changes needed to meet demographic trends provide us with opportunities to develop new and innovative learning pathways and education provision models for students.

These may include secondary-tertiary partnerships, year 7-10 schools and year 7-13 schools. The traditional models of schooling are not being thrown out; it is just that no one particular model is being favoured. We don’t believe necessarily that the structure of a school changes outcomes, but sometimes it can act as a catalyst for changing the thinking and practice.

I find it interesting that Year 8 NEMP results show no overall difference in results by learning area related to school type or size.

That suggests that school type and structure is not strongly associated with variations in student achievement in New Zealand. It may also indicate that we have special challenges in the middle years. Is it surprising, for example, that intermediate school results aren’t better than other types of provision?

The Ministry of Education’s best evidence analysis for quality teaching in fact shows that the most important influence on a students' achievement within the school is the quality of teaching.

As a government we are determined to lift the education standards of all students, especially those groups of students who traditionally have not done so well.

That is exactly why we are particularly focused on lifting the bar as far as quality teaching goes, giving teachers support and resources through professional development that focuses on what we know actually works on the ground, in the classroom, for students.

We do have clear evidence that a teacher's expectation of a student's potential achievement is a crucial determinant of learning outcomes.

The research shows the importance of teachers taking the trouble to understand students’ backgrounds: their family and cultural influences. Not to make excuses for what students may not be learning, but to identify characteristics they can capitalise on to help the students learn better.

The Kotahitanga research by Professor Russell Bishop showed that ‘deficit thinking’ or the expectation that students won't achieve because of their background - for example their ethnicity, their gender, their family income - can contribute to poor outcomes for students.

Professor Bishop focused on improving education for Maori students but his research has shown what a huge difference can be made for any student when teachers reject the notion that they have "deficits" stemming from their background, that prevent them achieving.

By helping teachers confront their deficit thinking and making a serious attempt to understand and relate to students as Maori, and plan programmes accordingly, Professor Bishop has helped teachers make extraordinary differences to students’ outcomes. Difference is not an excuse for low expectations.

Strong professional relationships are also essential for quality teaching. Your being here today reflects your understanding of that and your commitment to delivering the best for your students.

To deliver quality education teachers also need to know how to teach very well – to know their subjects, understand that there is not one right way to teach X or Y, and know how to relate to students’ experiences and prior knowledge and use appropriate strategies to help them learn.

Assessment information like asTTle is a great help in delivering quality teaching. It can help determine what students already know and understand and asTTle enables teachers to adjust their teaching accordingly for individual students.

AsTTle has four major strengths: it enables teachers to track the progress and achievement of individuals and groups of students; it enables the achievement of students to be compared against national standards; student performance can be analysed in relation to levels of the curriculum; and by identifying students’ strengths or gaps in their learning, links to teaching resources can be made to help students progress through the curriculum.

It is a particularly useful tool for generating reliable and valid data to inform secondary schools about where their new students are at educationally.

This is because regardless of the primary or intermediate school that a student comes from, the asTTle data is nationally referenced and consistent and therefore can be used by secondary teachers with confidence.

You are all involved in teaching students through some of their most crucial years of learning. Thank you for your commitment – you have my commitment that we will continue to support you with research and assessment tools to help you do the best possible job for your students.

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