Blenheim school's teaching 'unchanged'

Case study: St Mary's School

SONIA BEAL
Last updated 05:00 22/09/2012
Alister Bridgman
PUPIL FOCUSSED: St Mary’s School principal Alister Bridgman says national standards has had little effect on how teachers conduct lessons.

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National Standards have not helped staff at St Mary's School in Blenheim identify pupils' needs in the areas of reading, writing and maths, says school principal Alister Bridgman.

The standards had not really changed anything, it has simply formalised pupils' assessment, he said.

Bridgman says he understands the Government intended the standard to be a national tool to help teachers to determine how they can help students, but he feels his school has always done this.

''Our focus as a school is on the individual child, and the individual child progressing.

''It's something we've always been doing, it's something we have always been able to identify,'' he said.

He acknowledged that National Standards achievement data highlighted areas that schools needed to concentrate on improving, which might be around lifting the overall achievement level of Pacific Island pupils or all the school's year 5 pupils.

However, the biggest recent change to learning at the school had been around encouraging pupils to take ownership of their learning. This had been in place for the past five years, with support from teachers and parents.

It involved pupils putting forward their learning goals at student-led conferences, held several times a year, with their teacher and parents.

The teacher then provided parents with pupils' achievement level, after which parents provided feedback.

Teachers would then deliver pupils a programme focused around learning groups with similar goals, Bridgman said.

Teachers assessed individual pupils' achievement levels by Overall Teacher Judgment (OTJ), basically by observing and talking to their pupils. This was the most important tool to assess an individual's learning, Bridgman said.

The school had always tried to identify areas of learning that required work, and the data did make this easier. Professional development for staff or using teacher aids to support pupils below the achievement levels were among ways the school responded to achievement data to progress pupils' learning.

The school wasn't forgetting everyone else, the data was just another way of helping those students who needed it, Bridgman said.

The school had focused on teachers' professional development in reading and writing for the past four years, and was focusing on maths this year.

''Like any profession we're always trying to improve our outcomes,'' he said. ''Eventually, it all ends up back with the children.''

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Asked how he believed the school's results stacked up with other schools, Bridgman said: ''No idea - and I don't actually have any interest.  My focus is around the individual progressing.''

The data helped the Education Ministry to improve achievement levels of pupils in schools nationwide, he said.

During a morning literacy class, St Mary's School year 3/4 teacher Barbara Lormans said National Standards had not altered the way she taught her pupils.

Lormans has taught at the school for the past eight years, during which time she had always planned to ensure that pupils' learning was progressing.

- The Marlborough Express

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