Success in Southland: Invercargill Middle School

Issue: Volume 96, Number 3

Posted: 27 February 2017
Reference #: 1H9d68

Invercargill Middle School was named a finalist in the 2016 Prime Minister’s Education Excellence Awards. Principal Stan Tiatia talks to Education Gazette about the shift in school culture that has seen student achievement and self-determination grow.

A focus on accelerated learning techniques and a culture change has seen remarkable results for students and staff at Invercargill Middle School – Te Puna Wai Ora.

The oldest school in the city, and so named for its location in the centre of the town, Invercargill Middle School caters for children in years 1 to 6, 20 per cent of whom are Māori.

A finalist in the Excellence in Teaching and Learning category, the school’s consistent improvement in achievement data over five years can be put down to several initiatives, says principal Stan Tiatia.

“We’ve changed from being a deficit-thinking school to aspiring to be experts in accelerated learning,” he says.

Deficit thinking in the past had focused on community challenges such as socioeconomic issues, non-English-speaking students and transience.

“We decided that regardless of these or any other perceived barriers, we would focus on relentless teaching and learning for every child in the school.”

‘Accelerated learning’ methods recognise that everyone has a preferred learning style. At Invercargill Middle School, this means teaching methods are tailored to each student."

“It’s about reflecting on our teaching, and helping children to really think about what they are learning. We help them understand where they are at, and to set goals for where they want to go next,” says Stan.

Other practices undertaken at the school include a wide range of direct teaching methods such as talking, modelling, explaining and questioning. Tuakana-teina relationships also play an important role in student achievement and wellbeing.

Collaboration to improve achievement is vital, and the teachers work together as a team to discuss student needs and come up with new ideas and strategies. Reporting back is also an important element of what they do, says Stan.

“We’re all accountable for the results – each teacher reports back to their colleagues about the achievements and progress of each child,” he says.

Community effort

Stan highlights the importance of whanaungatanga at Invercargill Middle School – shared ownership and responsibility in this growth and strengthening work.

“We all decided to make a change – it wasn’t about finding blame anywhere but rather making a decision to take new steps,” he says.

“We realised we weren’t as reflective or collaborative as we could be, and we didn’t acknowledge the aspirations of our Māori students."

“That was where it all started: we asked ourselves, ‘what knowledge do we need to build, what systems do we need to develop, and how can we do better for our students?’

“Together, we had high expectations to live up to.”

Stan believes the most important element in the school’s transformation has been manaakitanga – the support and care shown amongst staff and students.

“There’s a high level of trust between us and everyone’s work is important. It’s not based on personalities – the idea is that if one person left, the strength would remain – it’s about making a legacy of change.”

Seeing results

A lift in achievement has been seen across the board, says Stan.

In 2011, 79 per cent of students were achieving at or above the expected national standards. This increased to 86 per cent in 2015.

Writing improved from 59 per cent achieving at or above the expected national standards to 82 per cent in those five years.

The data showed that Māori students improved their standard in reading, writing and maths.

On further analysis the data revealed that that Māori achievement was significantly higher in the whānau class that was established in 2013.

“The data on our Māori students shows they’re consistently achieving at or above the school average. We keep pushing students – they can always do better. We see this as our children becoming experts in their own learning,” says Stan.

A freshwater spring

Te Kura o Te Puna Wai Ora is the Māori name given to the school by kaumātua Riki Cherrington, and derives from the freshwater spring that runs under the school. The name also refers to education’s purpose and importance, and to children as the future.

Stan says that five years ago the decision was made to strengthen links with the Māori community, and the school now regularly meets with local iwi-based organisation Waihōpai Rūnaka to report on achievement and outcomes for Māori students in particular.

“It’s a two-way engagement with Waihōpai Rūnaka, based on powerful and meaningful relationships.”

The school has also made it a long-term goal to improve Māori provision in the wider Invercargill area, and is actively working with Waihōpai Rūnaka to do so.

“We’re all determined and dedicated – our whole team has its heart in the success of our students."

“There’s a real passion in this team – it really means something to all of us. They want to make the most of every learning opportunity,” says Stan.

Ready to enter the Prime Minister’s Education Excellence Awards?

  • Check out the tips and advice from previous finalists and the frequently asked questions.
  • There are four award categories and the Education Focus Prize on digital technologies and responsive local curriculum.
  • Download your entry form now from the Prime Minister's Awards website(external link) 
  • If you have any questions about entering, please call the awards line at 0800 PM AWARDS (0800 762 927) or email

Entries close at 4PM on Friday 17 March.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 11:38 am, 27 February 2017

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