While student achievement in Reading and Mathematics tends to get a lot of focus in research and intervention projects, it is in writing that New Zealand has the highest levels of under-achievement.
Almost one in three Year 5-8 students in New Zealand do not achieve the national standard in Writing. Proficiency in writing is vital to succeeding in education and in the workforce. This low achievement is found most prolifically across Māori, Pacific, and male students. Despite this gap in achievement, Ministry of Education findings show that most Year 5-8 teachers find it difficult to support their Māori and Pacific students and boys to become proficient writers.
To acknowledge this issue, the University of Auckland in conjunction with the New Zealand Government, is conducting a joint research project with four South Auckland primary schools in New Zealand. The two-year project led by University of Auckland Professor Judy Parr, aims to help teachers develop robust ways of raising achievement levels in writing, particularly amongst boys, Māori, and Pacific students who are falling behind in this area. Because the project is teacher-led, it is grounded in classroom realities.
“The collaborative research and development project aims to support Year 5-8 teachers to generate stronger engagement, accelerated progress and higher levels of achievement in writing by priority learners. It will do this through a process of teacher inquiry into practice and learning, with participating teachers diagnosing and evaluating aspects of their instruction that are ‘making a difference’ for their priority students,” says Judy Parr.
While the funding for this project was secured in 2016 and delegated to four primary schools – Balmoral and Marshall Laing in Auckland, and Mt Cook and Fergusson Intermediate in Wellington – recently the team was approached by a fifth South Auckland primary school, Clayton Park. Clayton Park School is a decile two school located in Manukau whose students are achieving a low standard in writing. Less than one in two of their students are at the national standard and this statistic declines as they move into more senior class levels.
Mainfreight, New Zealand’s largest domestic freight forwarder and a global logistics provider, has generously stepped in and offered a gift of $20,000 to fund the release of teachers to lead this project in Clayton Park School. Mainfreight’s gift will directly support 30 staff and 430 students at the school. Executive Chairman and Founding Owner of Mainfreight, Bruce Plested, is a passionate supporter of education initiatives and is a distinguished alumnus of the Faculty of Education and Social Work.
“This funding will allow Clayton Park School to participate fully in an active community who are engaged in evidence-informed learning focused on ensuring that priority learners make accelerated progress in writing. These teachers will engage collaboratively with their colleagues in other schools and with experts in writing practice and research to solve issues of practice in teaching writing.
“Already, the gift has enabled a very successful mini-conference to take place in Auckland and Wellington for all teachers in these schools. Teachers who have participated for a year presented their findings from their own classrooms; some of the findings to date were briefly presented and there was input from Dr Rae Si’ilata, an acknowledged expert in bi-lingual/ TESOL but with particular expertise about Pacific and Maori learners’ language development,” says Parr.