Formal school evaluations: More than 100 schools overdue, next ERO reports could take years

More than 100 schools across the country have overdue Education Review Office reports and at least one school hasn’t had an independent reviewer through its doors for seven years.

And 77 of the 117 state and state-integrated schools who are over the average three-yearly assessment period won’t start ERO’s new partnership evaluation process until later this year and could be waiting until 2024 for a new ERO report to be published.

The government’s external evaluation agency ERO is blaming the delays on the Covid-19 pandemic and the time needed to transition to its new system where it supports schools’ own internal evaluation, strategic and annual planning and reporting after dumping its old one-off cyclical review method in 2019.

Auckland mother-of-three Penny Tucker said ERO reports were a fundamental tool caregivers used to help assess a school and any delays kept parents in the dark.

Tucker, whose daughters are aged 14, 15 and 16, said before buying a property in the eastern suburbs she asked parents in the area about the local schools and pored through the ERO reports to make sure their children would be going into a supportive, friendly and diverse environment.

It was “really naive to assume” that parents didn’t care or that they are not doing the analysis, she said.

“Certainly the ones [parents] I’ve hung out with are intimately involved in what the school is doing, how much screen time there is, what the teacher is like, what the culture of the school is like, what the diversity is like. How the school operates in the event that the child does something wrong or that the child does something good. Everybody wants to know about the school that they are sending their child to and I don’t understand why a lack of clarity in that is acceptable.”

Data provided to the Herald under the Official Information Act requests shows 40 schools whose reviews are overdue – due to being mostly carried out in 2016 and 2017 – will join the new evaluation approach in term three. The remaining 77 will join in term four.

Hastings’ Lindisfarne College is facing one of the longest waits and was last reviewed in 2014.

As of mid-April, 350 schools had already started their reviews under the new model and all 2500 schools were expected to have joined by the end of 2022.

ERO regional director Te Tai PÅ«tahi Nui Phillip Cowie said ERO’s work programme had been affected by the Covid-19 lockdowns due to reviewers being unable to visit schools because of school closures and ongoing social distancing requirements.

Auckland schools were the worst affected, with the region experiencing multiple lockdowns.

Cowie said due to the “bespoke process”, an ERO report could be online within the first three months of a school being in the new model or could take the full three years depending on the work each school was undertaking. The format of this report was still being developed.

In the meantime, schools were “encouraged” to update their communities via school newsletters as they progressed through the new evaluation process, he said.

ERO deputy chief executive Jane Lee said ERO was very aware of the public interest in its reporting and would still identify schools that were not performing and not meeting the needs of its community or its children to make sure they got Ministry of Education help.

Lee believed developing a long-term relationship with the schools where an assessor would visit the school between one and six days a year instead of the old model where two assessors visiting three days every three years would help ensure more accountability.

National’s education spokesman Paul Goldsmith said it was “absolutely not acceptable” so many schools were overdue ERO reports.

Goldsmith said the new system was “still a bit vague” and there was a lot of uncertainty about how it would work in terms of accountability.

“Robust and effective and regular independent assessments of schools is critical and that’s why it’s important.”

NZ Principal’s Federation president Perry Rush said moving to a partnership model that asked schools to evidence their improvement cycles was appropriate because the last evaluation model was not fit for purpose.

He said such a substantive culture change in the review office and how it worked with schools was bound to take time.

Associate Minister of Education Jan Tinetti, who oversees ERO, said Covid had made it difficult on ERO’s capacity to engage with the sector to the extent that it had planned.

She supported ERO’s more-collaborative way of working with schools, allowing ERO it work more intensely with the schools that need it the most.

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