School programme chalks up early success

02:04, Jun 26 2014

A teacher-training programme designed to attract high-quality teachers to low-decile schools has been praised for its early results.

Teach First NZ fast-tracked the teacher training of 16 university graduates, offering an eight-week course to become a reduced-hours teacher while completing a postgraduate diploma in teaching from Auckland University.

They were then placed for two years in lower-decile secondary schools in Auckland and Northland.

A New Zealand Council for Educational Research (NZCER) report on the first year of the programme praised it for attracting high-quality candidates to low-decile schools.

The report found that the "thorough" and "rigorous" selection process and the high calibre of those selected to be major strengths of the programme.

For the 16 places in the 2013 intake there were 261 applicants.

The eight-week programme set a strong foundation in preparing participants for the classroom, the report said.

The programme is intended to reduce education inequality.

The report found that participants had a "very clear focus" on why they were teaching - ensuring that all their pupils achieved their full educational potential, regardless of socioeconomic background.

All participants completed the first year of the two-year programme.

The programme drew some initial criticism, with one principal saying it was another experiment on vulnerable youth.

Teachers were enthusiastic about the benefits of the initiative, the report said, and strong in-school mentor support enabled participants to become successful teachers.

Participants were frequently described as high-calibre, hardworking, friendly, resilient and well-liked, and the report found that participants had raised expectations and energised departments.

All partner school principals said they would like to employ more participants in the following year.

Principals "unanimously" judged Teach First NZ participants to be "performing extremely well in the classroom".

"Our experience as a school reflects much of the NZCER findings. Our two participants are adding significant value to the Aorere community, and the opportunity for current staff to act formally as mentors is an additional strength of the programme," said Patrick Drumm, principal of Aorere College, one of Teach First NZ's partner schools.

Participants found behaviour management challenging in the first few months but soon developed strong and learning-centred relationships with pupils.

The report said the participants had "won over" some difficult classes.

Some participants were reported to be "beacons" in their schools.

"We are delighted that this report reflects the positive impact our participants are having in their classrooms," Teach First NZ chief executive Shaun Sutton said.

"We are committed to continually developing the programme to ensure all participants are equipped to advance the life chances of children affected by educational inequalities in New Zealand."

The report is the first phase of a four-year independent evaluation of the programme commissioned by the Ministry of Education.