Communities championing success

Issue: Volume 93, Number 6

Posted: 14 April 2014
Reference #: 1H9ctY

Bay of Islands College is finding that great results come from quality whānau involvement.

NCEA is an important step in providing greater choices and opportunities for all students. In fact NCEA Level 2 or an equivalent qualification is considered the minimum qualification a student needs to be able to succeed and progress in further education or the workplace. One of the primary goals in front of the secondary education sector is to raise student achievement so that in 2017, 85 per cent of 18-year-olds leave school with NCEA Level 2 or an equivalent qualification.

The Achievement 2013-2017 initiative, which is part of the Achievement, Retention and Transitions programme (ART) works in collaboration with a number of secondary schools to help staff identify students at risk of not passing NCEA level 2, with a particular focus on Māori and Pasifika students.

Bay of Islands College has used this assistance to great effect, and in so doing, has become a worthy example to all schools on the efficacy of community engagement and targeted intervention.

When Dave Scott took over as Year 11 and 12 dean at the college in term 3 last year, he set about getting a handle on exactly where his students were at with NCEA. His assumption was that he could expect a pass rate of around 72 to 75 per cent, a roughly typical number. An investigation into the current state of play alarmed him, however, and he made the decision to identify a group of ‘at risk’ (of failing NCEA Level 2) students who staff believed could benefit from assistance.

A collaborative effort from Darlia Walker, senior adviser with the Parents Family and Whānau (PFW)team, and Madeline Armstrong, Student Achievement Function practitioner, played an invaluable role in this process, says Dave. On a case-by-case basis, they came up with strategies between them that could help students make the most of their remaining NCEA credit opportunities.

Dave then paired these students with teacher mentors, who met weekly with students to track their progress, enquire as to how school was going for them, and give advice and offer ideas on how they could better cope with the challenge of pursuing credits.

The team realised that identifying students who could really benefit from assistance was only part of the job. Evidence shows that whānau engagement in their children’s education is a vital component of students education success.

Darlia Walker, who plays an important role as a ‘go-between’ for whānau and the Ministry has been responsible for liaising with the community, but when she realised that her time was becoming ever more stretched, Bay of Islands College needed a long-term sustainable solution.

Del Bristowe, a parent, board of trustees member, and keen advocate of Bay of Islands College and Kawakawa community stepped up to support whānau and students with understanding NCEA. She is well-known among the community, well-versed in the workings of the school, and familiar with many of the school’s families, making her the perfect candidate for Community Champion. Through a series of NCEA workshops delivered by PFW advisers Darlia Walker and Jaqi Brown to 60 potential Community Champions in the Northland area, Del was able to share and use her new knowledge with the whānau of the college.

“With ART assisted funding, we were able to employ Del. She would meet with me, Darlia, and Madeline to come up with strategies. I would work with the kids and their teachers, and Del would go into the homes of the students and talk to whānau. The whole idea was just to sit down with family, and talk about what’s happening at school.

“Del would then come back to me, and we were able to put the picture together. I could tell her what’s going on at school, and Del was able to put that in a home context. We were able to develop a really clear picture of some of the challenges that a number of our students were facing,” says Dave.

“Honestly, I think that it made an immense difference to the students. I can probably get away with saying that we would definitely not have had the pass rate we did without Del’s input.”

That pass rate, after factoring in school leavers, stands at 84.7 per cent, representing a dramatic improvement on 2012.

Supporting Whānau to Understand NCEA

Dell says that persistence always reaps rewards in her experience.

“You have to stalk the kids a bit! You know what I mean; you have to give them a poke every now and again to make sure they stay on track.

“I have a strong relationship with the college anyway; I had spent a lot of time in and out of the school, through various board activities. I am familiar with the community, and I was able to get to know the students as well. I’m that sort of person anyway. I like to get involved.”

Armed with a list of names, Del went about the business of becoming an easy contact point for parents. She would spend her evenings visiting families at home and would always begin by ascertaining where gaps in parents’ knowledge lay.

Del reports that many parents had only a vague understanding of the concept of NCEA, and some perhaps didn’t really grasp the importance of NCEA Level 2, in particular. But they were always keen to improve their understanding.

“A lot of parents don’t really understand that they can play a role; that school isn’t just ‘get them out of bed in the morning’, it’s a fundamental community institution, and we all play a part.

“When I went into homes, parents were really receptive. They were really happy to know that someone cares. That’s something we should be working on in our schools; we need to make this kind of community involvement the norm.”

Encouraging involvement

A sensitivity that Del was constantly aware of was not to make families feel as though they’d been singled out or that their children were being punished. For that matter, says Del, she was telling parents that it wasn’t their fault, and that they could play a big part in turning their child’s lack of achievement around. She tried to make parents feel comfortable (a bikkie and a cuppa never goes astray, says Del) and let them know that their lack of knowledge about their children’s school life is OK, and a point from which to build.

Some parents needed just that little bit of contact to spur into getting involved with the school, says Del. She talks about a student she worked with whose primary caregiver was an uncle; after talking with him, he became a passionate advocate of his niece’s education, perhaps, says Del, more so than his niece may have liked.

“It’s great to see; he was always eager for updates, he really threw himself into it and was very passionate.

“I think lots of parents, through no fault of their own, think that when they put their kids on the bus in the morning, that the school takes over and that’s it.

“But this kind of thinking is changing. The reality is that responsibility for learning comes in three parts: the student must take responsibility for their own progress; the school has a responsibility to help them make the most of their education, and whānau have a responsibility to support their children. I love that the educational climate is changing like that, parents realise more and more that the school door is always open.”

The Bay of Islands college community champion journey

Meet the real life Dave, Dell and team and hear first-hand from students and whānau about how including community champions in their education helped them to get lifelong skills and qualifications.


BY Jaylan Boyle
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 9:18 PM, 14 April 2014

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