By Neil Robinson
The Government launched the Investing in Educational Success initiative in January 2014 and it included a number of ideas that it felt would deliver significant and sustained improvements in students’ educational outcomes. One of these ideas was then labelled Community of Schools (CoS), which was later to be changed to Communities of Learning (CoL) and more recently, Kāhui Ako (KA).
Initially, the scheme was criticised heavily because its restrictions and conditions were seen by the teaching profession to be counterproductive to schools working together. Amongst these was that the government believed that by financially rewarding a small group of educators, collaboration across the sector would improve. The system also omitted the significant place that Deputy Principals hold in the school, effectively leaving them out of the entire process.
Over time though, the government and Ministry of Education have relaxed some of these restrictions and schools that have chosen to be part of the process, have collaborated to make good use of this extra resourcing. Interestingly, no two Kāhui Ako are the same, and all seem to operate in ways that best suit their own community and unique context.
The Lynfield Kāhui Ako was one of the first to be established in the country and began its work in the second half of 2015. There were eight schools originally in the group: Lynfield College, Waikowhai Intermediate, Blockhouse Bay Intermediate, Halsey Drive Primary, Marshall Laing Primary, Chaucer School, Glenavon School and Blockhouse Bay Primary. Hay Park Primary joined in 2019 and New Windsor became a member school at the beginning of 2021.
The scheme is overseen by the principals who meet regularly to set and monitor the direction of initiatives that are being undertaken. Six Across School Leaders work throughout the cluster to initiate and implement activities which bring together staff and students to fulfil goals set within the strategic plan. These people have teaching roles within their own schools but are released for two days per week to run these initiatives as well as coaching Within School Leaders to run professional development programmes within their own schools. The KA has thirty-one Within School Leaders who provide leadership and assistance to other teachers in their own kura. They meet together regularly to exchange ideas which focus on helping their teachers to build their own teaching practice.
In 2021, the Lynfield Kāhui Ako is focusing on the well-being of staff and students, teaching in culturally responsive ways, and improving teaching and learning overall. These themes were recently explored in a ‘Colference’ where guest speakers and presenters explored these themes and challenged the assembled teaching and support staff to look at ways of refining their work in schools.
Initially, there was very little (if any) consultation with the teaching profession about the Community of Schools concept and this led to a very shaky start to its implementation. Since then, more flexibility in the system and the ability of teachers to make things work, have allowed the initiative to make a significant contribution to New Zealand's educational landscape.