Looking behind the data at Queen Charlotte College

It’s just before lunch and there’s an industrious buzz around Picton’s Queen Charlotte College (QCC). Year 7 to 13 students are working in busy classrooms, a new performing arts area and, surprisingly, the college’s own wet lab built with support from various companies in the local community.

In a town where a pathway into employment is through aquaculture, it’s a great example of a successful business education partnership. The college’s association with the aquaculture industry is one of the initiatives that has grown on the back of the community’s increased confidence that this year 7 to 13 school can deliver for its students.

Turning things around takes time

QCC has gone through a kind of renaissance in the last six or seven years. Tom tells historic stories of bullying, dissatisfaction and disconnection from families and whānau in the area. He says that QCC was not the “school of choice” back then. Picton families were sending their children out of town to school, the roll was low and declining.

Like any story of long-term change the kind of turnaround that QCC has been through has not happened quickly. Tom, his leadership team and staff have worked intensively on a number of strategies to get the college to a place where the roll has doubled, staff morale is high and educational success – particularly for Māori – is better than it’s ever been. For example in 2012, 95 per cent of Māori students at the school achieved NCEA Level 1.  When pushed to pinpoint the most effective strategies they have used in the last few years the leadership team say that looking behind the data and presenting it to the community has been of huge benefit.

Data informs key decisions

Tom, deputy principals, Alastair Boyce and Betty White, and assistant principal, Jack Saxon, all agree that identifying opportunities for gathering data right across the college, “unbundling” it, and analyzing trends to inform their decisions is making a big difference to the school’s success. In part, this shift in taking a more holistic view of the data has emerged from QCC’s involvement in the Ministry’s He Kākano initiative.

“It’s never about throwing the baby out with the bathwater here, “ says Jack. “We like to look at where we’re at – then we look at next steps … we are never complacent. If we are successful we want to understand why.”

Tom agrees and gives an example, “It’s all very well achieving 95 per cent for Māori – but we want to know where they’re going after QCC, we want to know if we've given them the right kind of preparation for when they are in further studies or meaningful employment. We don't think, good, that person’s got a job in a fast-food chain, we want to know why they’re not in the marketing or finance area … why are they just behind the counter? What do we need to do here so that students can see themselves getting beyond that?”

QCC bucks the trend in terms of reflecting national long tail of underachievement – and they put this down to having, over the years, personalised their approach to whānau engagement and teacher appraisal.

Engaging the community in data

Tom explains that the college had experienced frustratingly low attendance by parents and caregivers at parent-teacher meetings.

“We saw last year that we were only getting a 30 per cent turnout to our report evening. To counter this we put on buses, food, and babysitters at the local marae. That didn’t work. A leader in another school on the He Kākano project said he was having the same issue. He surveyed his parents, and sent me some of the data from that. One of the things that rang true for me was where parents fed back that no one had asked them what they wanted for their own children. One parent said, “They’ve told me he should do his homework, they’ve told me what course he should be doing … but no one asked me what I want for my child”.

That got us thinking. In response, we established something call MAP, My Action Plan. It’s really working. Our parental engagement since we’ve been doing this has increased from 30 per cent to 95 per cent. Form teachers interview all of our students with the parents twice a year. They use the MAP conference to present the data to them in a non-threatening way. Teachers have all of the data in front of them – from achievement data like National Standards and NCEA, to pastoral data like attendance and withdrawal. The korero that occurs between them is far more informed than it ever was before. The whānau and the student get to say where they want to go– between now and the next MAP – they have to state how they are going to get there. This is documented on a MAP template with the parent, and the parent can see how they can contribute to helping their child meet their goals.

At the second meeting – the parents can see the progress. In between times, because a relationship has been established at the first meeting, it is much easier for teachers to call home or vice versa about any issues arising. We’re already seeing a difference in student engagement and performance because parents and caregivers are more involved in their child’s learning.”

Betty points out that this chance to connect is very important, “We need to know the whole story of the child if we are going to effect change. This is where He Kākano has been helpful in showing us that behind every piece of data is a child. Engaging more effectively with family and whānau helps us to fill in some of the missing parts of the story for each student. It gives meaning to the data that we are collecting.”

The data presented at the MAP conferences is brought together and interpreted for parents. Jack’s responsibility in the data area has been instrumental in ensuring that the presentation is done in a meaningful and enabling way. Alongside Betty and the college’s curriculum leaders Jack runs regular professional learning sessions with all staff so that when parents come in the teachers can speak confidently and knowledgeably.

Says Jack, “One of the greatest results of doing the MAP work is that it’s been tremendous professional learning experience for our staff. Instead of having a few staff that are engaged with data how to use it how to share it and how it can inform practice – we now have the whole staff using data a lot more effectively. MAP provides the focus for their data learning.”

Appraisal linked to school goals

Other staff professional learning is determined through the college’s appraisal system. Again, data is used to inform how to resource PLD for particular curriculum areas or individual teachers.

Jack explains the system used at the college: “We don’t look at appraisal through an accountability lens anymore we are more about being on a professional learning journey. We created a new model of appraisal which is based on having HoDs as mentor teachers who use a range of data work with staff on their professional learning needs.

At the start of the year the mentor teacher and the teacher being appraised get together to look at a range of data. The data might cover things like teacher self-review from the previous year, student voice, lesson observations, achievement data from the previous year and student self-review from the previous year.

They co-construct the learning pathway for the teacher, marrying up data with system goals, one of which is improving Māori student achievement. This makes teachers think harder about where they want to head The pair capture all this on a Google shared doc which they revisit regularly. Classroom teachers also highlight any barriers to being able to teach effectively and what PLD they might need to support them. If all of this is in line with our goals, we look strategically at ways to resource the PLD for the teacher”.

Tom concludes by emphasizing how powerful sharing and interrogating data is in terms of facilitating shifts in school practices.

“Some of the staff call me a data nut – they used to do it pejoratively, but now it’s done in good spirit because they’ve been able to see the advances we’ve made through using data. I’m of the opinion that if you can’t measure it, you can’t fix it. It’s about highlighting the data to enable the board to allocate resources where they can do the most good for the most people.”

Reflective questions

These reflective questions might guide you in your reading of this story:

  • How do you use data in your school? Queen Charlotte College (QCC) looks behind their data. Data is used to look at where you are. Looking behind also means understanding why your school is as it is. It means understanding why you have made improvements or achieved success. Are you getting the most that you can from your data about how you school functions and the success or problems you are facing?
  • QCC has done much to buck trends and increase attendance at their report evenings. One way the college has succeeded is by personalising their approach to whānau or family engagement. They ask what parents or caregivers want for their own children. They make sure that each teacher has all the data in front of them whether it is national standards or NCEA, and pastoral data about each student. The whānau, together with the student and the teacher all prepare and say what they want to achieve as an outcome from the teaching. They have My Action Plan (MAP) to record what is said. What can you do to improve your parent, student and teacher meetings with data, and get the most from them for your school?
  • How do you link teacher appraisal with the collection of data in your school? QCC has regular professional learning sessions with all staff, encouraging each teacher to be able to speak confidently and knowledgably to all students and family or whānau. They use the data to indicate resourcing requirements for curriculum areas and individual teachers. It shows the college’s commitment to meeting the professional and learning needs of teachers. How would data help you improve teacher appraisal in your school?
  • QCC also uses data collection in board meetings so that the school is able to strategically allocate resources where they do they most good for their people. The importance of this dimension of leadership is outlined in the Leadership Best Evidence Synthesis. How could you use data with your Board in a way which improves what your school achieves for its students, teachers, and whānau or families?

Tags: Leadership and NCEA, Māori student achievement

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