Tolaga Bay school's NCEA pass rate transformation

Posted on 2015-08-05 by RLH

A small East Coast school has seen its NCEA pass rates rocket. Tolaga Bay Area School has just under 250 students from years 1 to 13. In 2004, less than a quarter of the pupils on the roll got NCEA level 1. Last year, four out of five passed. "You have to expect that you would want to rise from where we were in 2004," principal Nori Parata said. "We've taken every opportunity we can of every initiative that's been offered by the Ministry of Education and/or NZQA." At level two, the school's pass rates have doubled over the same period: from 38 per cent in 2004 to 80 per cent in 2014.

The improvements are on roll-based data, not participation-based, so cannot be manipulated by pulling pupils out of courses. They represent among the largest improvements in NCEA pass rates for any school in the country. Parata, who is education minister Hekia Parata's sister, said the school had improved its results by giving pupils a taste of possible careers. "Often when they don't know what they'll be doing when they leave school they lose focus and they don't have a context," she said.

The school was involved in programmes including Gateway, STAR and, over the last three to four years, trades academies. It also worked on showing students Vocational Pathways and acknowledged "not everybody's going to university". The local iwi, Te Aitanga a Hauiti, helped find students mentors in the community, and had provided community-based work spaces with broadband access. "There's a whole lot of initiatives that are going in to support [the students] and the community has a great attitude to realising that it's not teachers and schools alone that are responsible for educating their young people," Parata said. "They're willing to put up their hands and say 'Yep, we will help too'."

The school had "poured" professional development into its teachers. Staff members work to identify and support students at risk of not achieving (ARONA) early each year, using data on attendance and engagement in class. Senior staff also meet with each pupil around the beginning of term 3 to discuss how their subjects are going and address any problems. Marae-based wananga (workshops) form part of course work for students. "The teacher will spend a couple of days and a night at a marae with them and work through some concentrated learning," Parata said.