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Key Findings From Survey Of Secondary Schools 2003


Rosemary Hipkins with Edith Hodgen

This summary reports key findings from the National Survey of Secondary Schools carried out by NZCER in mid-2003. Ninety-five principals from a range of school types and deciles, 744 teachers from a range of curriculum subjects, 180 school trustees and 503 parents of students in some of the sample schools responded to comprehensive questionnaires. Where relevant, respondents from two or more groups answered matching questions, but other parts of each survey were tailored to the specific interests and issues of each group.

Does decile make a difference?

The results of this survey paint a clear picture of very different learning experiences for students in schools of different deciles. Students and teachers in high-decile schools, and in state integrated schools, generally have access to better resources, with more funding available to them. Parents of students in these schools are likely to spend more on their children’s education, including after-school activities and tuition, and to be in better touch with teachers and trustees at the school. Students in these schools are likely to have better opportunities to learn because behaviour and discipline issues are less likely to be distractions, although where they attend bigger schools, they are likely to be in larger classes. By contrast, parents of students in low-decile schools are more likely to want more challenging learning for their children, or to say they have not been able to attend their school of first choice.

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Issues with school funding

Schools struggle to make ends meet financially but stretch their financial resources by raising funds locally, with varying degrees of success. For high-decile, larger schools, international students make the highest contribution to locally raised funds. Other sources of extra funds are school fees and donations/grants/sponsorships. There is a consensus view amongst principals, teachers, trustees, and parents that funding is one of the three key issues facing boards and schools. Most schools face issues with deferred maintenance and have problems with vandalism, with graffiti/tagging and broken windows the most common type of damage. Fortunately, trustees often see financial management and property maintenance as areas of personal strength.

Issues with school staffing and school size

Most schools employ teaching staff in addition to their staffing entitlement and fund them in a variety of ways. These teachers typically provide additional learning support in areas such as ESOL, special needs, or literacy or numeracy programmes. Like funding, staffing levels and teacher quality are seen by principals, teachers, trustees, and parents as key issues to which the government should give priority. Most schools, and especially lower decile schools, are experiencing difficulty attracting suitably qualified teachers and relieving teachers, particularly in the core curriculum subjects. For a variety of reasons, around half the teachers expected to be leaving teaching within the next five years, with mid-career teachers those most likely to be staying. Most schools employ provisionally registered teachers. Some providers are seen as being better than others at preparing beginning teachers, with their ability to manage student behaviour the most common area of concern.

In 2003, a majority of schools had rolls that were growing in the lower secondary area, although a few reported losing students through competition with other schools. Many principals of larger urban schools did not want their school to grow any bigger and these schools were more likely to have enrolment schemes.

Workload issues

Workloads are very high, with principals working an average 67 hours week, and teachers spending an average 17 additional hours per week above their class- contact time. Administration and paperwork are major contributors to workloads and most principals and teachers want to reduce the amount of this work they have to do. The NCEA implementation has increased teachers’ workloads. Teachers’ non-contact time is mostly used for face-to-face interactions with others in the school community, leaving preparation for classroom work, marking, assessment and report writing to be carried out in after school time. Not surprisingly in view of this, a third of the teachers wanted more non-contact time.

What about morale?

Principals’ morale is generally high. They take pride in providing good leadership and a sound educational environment. Principals want more time to read, reflect, and innovate but fewer principals than teachers want to reduce their overall workload. Teachers’ morale is lower overall. Those who are fully involved in the working environment of the school have higher morale than those who feel excluded from collegial sharing and decision making.

Teaching and assessing the curriculum

Curriculum change is ongoing with many teachers wanting to make even more curriculum changes – for example the introduction of critical and creative thinking. Lack of time, and the time taken for NCEA implementation, are seen as barriers to making curriculum changes. Principals see lack of money as a constraint and for some teachers class size can be a barrier to making changes. Developing improved literacy skills is the curriculum initiative most frequently reported by principals. Some schools have also initiated ICT and numeracy initiatives.

Specialist facilities such as the library, science laboratories and ICT rooms are likely to be in better condition than classrooms or other spaces used by teachers and administrative staff. Spaces for teaching the arts are often seen as inadequate. A majority of teachers do not have adequate resources for their classroom programmes.

In general, principals are more supportive of the NCEA than teachers. However, many teachers rated the NCEA implementation as a main achievement for the 2002–2003 year. Successful implementation is associated with higher morale and negativity about the NCEA is associated with negativity about the services provided by the MOE. There is little unqualified support for the introduction of standardised national testing.

ICT and learning

Ease of student access to computers is a barrier to the use of ICT for learning but teachers also need more time and to build their confidence and skill levels. Teachers are more likely to use ICTs for low-level applications such as word processing than to use them for more complex tasks that integrate ICTs into the learning programme. Many teachers prefer to use their home computer for work-related tasks and most do not have personal costs such as Internet access or printing of materials reimbursed.

Reducing disparity in learning opportunities

In general, parents are satisfied with the education their children are receiving. Few parents rate their school's learning programme and their child's learning progress as poor or very poor. They would like more information about progress and achievement, assessment including the NCEA, and school planning. A majority of parents want their children to move on to tertiary education when they leave school.

Most schools have a policy for countering educational disadvantage for Mäori students, but this is seldom seen as a priority for target setting within the school planning and review framework. Fewer schools have policies for Pasifika students, or for other groups who may be educationally disadvantaged. Small numbers of transient or boomerang students can be found in many schools, but there are more of them in low-decile schools. Most schools have initiatives to monitor truancy. Many teachers teach special needs students but less than half of them access RTLB support.

Professional development for principals and teachers

Many principals turn to their peers as a preferred source of advice and most took part in professional development in 2003, often focusing on literacy leadership. Around half took part in NCEA-related professional development. Teachers also prefer to seek advice from their peers, frequently sharing ideas, teaching and assessment resources, and lesson planning, but it is less common for them to give and receive feedback based on observations of each other’s teaching. Teachers’ professional development was dominated by NCEA training in 2003, especially the Jumbo Days. Most teachers also took part in at least one other type of professional development, often paying for this themselves.

Parental involvement in secondary schools

There are low levels of direct parental involvement in secondary schools and the majority of parents do not want to be more involved because they work and lack the time. Direct involvement is usually episodic, in areas such as sport, fundraising, or school trips. Formal parent teacher interviews are the main form of contact between parents and secondary teachers, but participation varies considerably, with parents of students in lower decile schools less likely to talk with teachers, and more likely to express discomfort about the prospect of doing so. Boards tend to use paper-based methods to consult parents and the community, but few parents said they receive board newsletters. Boards want to consult parents about policy and planning but parents tend to raise more prosaic issues with boards—for example discipline issues or concerns about specific teachers.

How are boards of trustees doing?

Boards are more often seen as “making steady progress” than “on top of the task”. Most trustees are parents of students at the school and there is a steady turnover, with most leaving because their children have changed schools, or they have changed employment, or shifted to a new location. Trustees tend to be over-representative of professional and managerial occupational groups when compared to the overall parent population of the schools. Trustee’s workloads average a manageable 4 hours per week although some experienced trustees are spending considerably longer on board work. Two thirds of trustees undertook professional development in 2003 but most wanted more training in strategic planing, board and school self-review. Opinion is fairly evenly divided over whether the one key role of the board is providing direction for the school, working in partnership with the staff, or representing the parents. In reality, boards spend most time on financial management and property maintenance. The majority view is that boards should not have to take responsibility for negotiating the principal’s salary and conditions. Appointment of new teaching staff, including senior management staff, is most frequently seen as a shared responsibility for some combination of the principal, trustees, and other teaching staff.

School self-review

Most secondary schools have an established process for school-self review and school relationships are mostly in good heart. Some people in schools see the new planning and review framework as being of more use for national policy development than for school improvement. Some principals think it will be used to tell schools what to do. A majority of schools have access to student achievement data with which to evaluate their success in reaching their student achievement targets. While many teachers feel their ideas are listened to, fewer see themselves as taking an active role in school decision making. Most teachers have been appraised, with multiple methods employed for this process, and outcomes used to identify professional development needs. The change to “assess and assist” ERO reviews has been well received in secondary schools. Most schools that had undergone such a review found the process helpful.

How to find out more

The full report, National Survey of Secondary Schools 2003 can be downloaded from the NZCER website

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