In 2012, my Office started a five-year programme of work to find out how well the education system supports Māori students to achieve their full potential. This third report looks at whether the Ministry of Education, education agencies, and schools use and manage information effectively and efficiently to improve educational success for Māori.
I expected to see an education sector that collects, analyses, and shares information to improve Māori student success by targeting and using its resources to best effect.
My staff looked at what information is collected and how it is collected, analysed, and shared to support Māori students' success. We analysed data collected by the Ministry of Education and others, including the Education Review Office. We formed a view about the completeness, quality, accessibility, and usefulness of the data.
Our analysis raises several questions about how the education sector uses information. We do not answer those questions. We intended our analysis to show the sorts of questions and insights that can be explored using existing information.
When individual schools and agencies make good use of what they know about a student, it makes a difference to that student's success. However, there is a lot of room for the education sector to improve how it collects, shares, and uses information.
Using information well makes a difference
Using information provided by the Ministry of Education gives the education sector a clearer understanding of the issues affecting Māori students' achievement. Māori educational achievement is improving over time in absolute terms and relative to non-Māori educational achievement.
However, the results vary enormously for Māori students from roughly similar communities who are being educated in roughly similar settings and circumstances. The great results that some schools are achieving despite their low-decile status offers a source of learning and encouragement for other similar schools to do just as well.
We visited some schools to see how they used information and how well their students were achieving. We saw a strong relationship between using information effectively and better Māori student achievement. Schools that used information well had several common attributes:
- The school has an intense focus on using information to change processes.
- The school is managing and using information about individual students.
- The school monitors its relationship with students and whānau.
Better-performing schools also tended to do a more detailed analysis of the educational success of different groupings of students, whether by year, gender, ethnicity, learning needs, or level of transience.
Schools with better results for Māori students used data to inform their activities and to decide how and where to target resources to get the best result. These schools were committed to improvement and had management cultures that valued inquiry and challenge. The schools wanted to see continuous improvements, and people were encouraged to ask questions and challenge norms.
These successful environments do not happen by accident – strong leadership is needed to build a culture focused on performance and improvement. Once schools have achieved this, they need appropriate guidance and leadership to help them continue to use information effectively to solve problems and make the right decisions for and with Māori students.
A basic start is to ensure that schools identify the performance of Māori students in particular. School charters signal the goals and targets of a school. We looked at school charters to find out whether they had achievement targets for Māori. Of the 553 charters we examined, 23% had no achievement targets for Māori students.
Strong relationships between and within schools, local communities, and the Ministry of Education, together with the right capability and capacity, also help schools to use information effectively.
Improving information quality and how information flows
Collecting, using, and analysing information is important, but what is done and what changes are made are ultimately crucial to improving Māori student achievement. I outline in this report several initiatives the Ministry of Education has put in place to improve the use of information. For these initiatives to be successful, it is important that the Ministry has a "joined-up" approach internally and throughout the education sector. Leadership at all levels is also needed to drive improvement in the collection, quality, and active use of all kinds of information.
The Ministry of Education has started to take stock of what information it has and how it can best use and share it, to better understand performance and target resources. In my view, this is important work, because good quality information is essential to making effective decisions.
Schools also need to ensure that they collect good quality information. As a starting point, schools need to collect ethnicity data consistently, in keeping with the approach used by Statistics New Zealand.
Information that is currently collected is not always readily available or accessible. This limits its usefulness in making decisions. There are also gaps, particularly in "softer" information about Māori achieving as Māori and the cultural aspects that are important to Māori students. Some individual schools have this information but need to use it more consistently. These schools could also share what they learn with other education entities.
As one of the school staff we spoke with said, "There's a story behind the data." These stories are the broader information that schools value and use in their day-to-day practice.
Knowing which approaches work best and offer the best value for money
Many policies and programmes support improving student achievement, including Māori student achievement. There is a lack of information about which approaches and practices are most effective. Educational experts and officials need to assess the cost-effectiveness of policies and programmes. Although many different factors influence achievement outcomes for Māori students, a better understanding of the effect of different initiatives would help the education sector to better target its resources.
Teaching costs are the largest investment in schools, and research shows that large gains are possible when teachers engage with Māori students effectively. However, it is not possible, at a sector level, to see how effective that engagement is overall. It is also not possible to see the specific forms of support that teachers in different schools need for them to better engage with Māori students.
In my view, the education sector needs to commit to building the capability and capacity to use information effectively and efficiently to support and raise Māori students' educational achievement.
We saw that there are inexperienced principals and teaching staff in schools that operate in the most challenging circumstances. Appropriate ongoing support and mentoring is needed to help them do their job well.
Getting the strongest resources to the schools with the greatest need and improving the capability of schools to effectively use information are essential for building sustainable improvements in Māori educational achievement.
I thank the Māori Advisory and Reference Group for their review of the report and for continuing to share their experience and wisdom with my Office. I also thank the many members of school boards, principals, and teachers who met with my staff. And last but not least, I acknowledge the help of staff from various other education entities and, in particular, staff from the Ministry of Education.
Controller and Auditor-General
1 June 2016