Friday, February 26, 2010

Latest Learning Matters

If we accept that age old saying that it takes a whole village to raise a child it makes sense that schools and families have to forge a close relationship if we wish all of our young people to realise their potential.

The Ministry of Education requires schools to develop close relationships with whanau and when ERO visits a school it meets with community members to assess how strong that relationship is.

Traditionally parents have quite a strong and regular relationship when their child is at primary school, but for a range of reasons this relationship weakens and becomes much less regular at secondary school. This may be because a secondary school is a much larger institution so may not seem as welcoming or even that parents themselves didn’t enjoy their secondary school experience so feel a little daunted.

In many secondary schools the relationship concentrates on supporting the school with fund raising. At Opotiki College we do very little school-wide fundraising and prefer to have our parents form a relationship with us in other ways.

As with most schools we have a number of parent teacher report evenings at which we get between 25-35% of our families present. We do, however, run Bilingual whanau hui every term which are well-attended and other evening sessions to explain subject choices, enrolment and qualifications. The attendance at these is still at about the 25-35% level.

Our parents have other opportunities by attending sports events and kapa haka practices and noho.

It is important that parents and whanau find a way to make a link with their local school. Last week we tried something different at Opotiki College. We had a mix and mingle evening for the parents of our Year 9 students. It was quite informal with a shared supper and introductions followed by parents meeting and chatting with the teachers from their child’s class. 50% of our families were present and there was a neat buzz as teachers and parents got to know each other.

I explained to the parents that it was not important if they could not assist their child with some of their homework but that it was important that they were active in taking an interest in their child at school and being present for them wherever possible. Those parents who turned up last week had taken the very first important step in being present for their child and showing their strong interest.

We now expect stronger turnouts from these parents at future report evenings as we have broken the ice with them.

One interesting question asked at the evening was about decile rankings and what it meant for schools. The Ministry of Education assesses each school’s community as to its socio-economic status and then groups the schools into ten (decile) groups with decile 1 being in the lowest 10% socio economic group and decile 10 in the highest. It doesn’t mean the decile 1 schools are in poorer condition, or get less money or get poorer teachers.

Many schools are burdened by such a label and as a result have lower expectations and settle for less. Consequently lower decile schools tend to have lower achievement levels. Opotiki College refuses to be limited by such a label and operates under a belief that our students can and will do as well as students anywhere in the country. We prove this with our results year after year.

Students, schools and communities cannot be limited by labels such as decile rankings. The way forward is by learning and learning matters.

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