Education Review Office (ERO) Report
Wairau Valley Special School provides specialist teaching and therapy services for children and young people who have high or very high learning and health care needs.
Students with very high needs are generally provided for at the base school. Twelve satellite classes at surrounding mainstream schools provide specialist teaching and opportunities for students to integrate into a regular school environment.
Approximately eighty percent of students are on the autistic spectrum. Some students have multiple disabilities. All students benefit from the provision of a range of therapies including speech and language, occupational and physiotherapy.
In addition, the school provides an itinerant specialist teaching service to support children with identified needs enrolled at their local school.
There have been significant changes to the school management team since the 2013 ERO review. A new principal was appointed in mid-2014, and a new deputy and two assistant principals have been appointed. A senior leadership team has also been established to mentor and coach staff on their professional practice.
The school makes good use of achievement information to support student learning. Senior managers have introduced an assessment framework that is appropriate to the context of the school. It is used to provide school-wide achievement information to the board.
Teachers consult with parents, and therapists to prepare individual learning programmes (IEP) for students. Each IEP includes annual learning goals. The assessment framework helps teachers break down learning goals into manageable steps that assist with planning and showing progress.
The school keep parents well informed about student progress and participation using a variety of approaches. Teachers and parents communicate regularly through booklets that go home daily with students. Staff also communicate using electronic methods. Parents receive regular and informative newsletters.
Recently a new electronic student information management system has been introduced that is helping staff to gather and analyse information about student learning.
The school’s curriculum continues to effectively promote and support student learning. It takes a holistic approach to education and is broad in its scope. It is based on The New Zealand Curriculum and makes provision for students’ individual differences and needs. There is a clear expectation that all children will learn and progress.
The school curriculum has recently been reviewed. Therapists often work with teachers to find ways to help students access the curriculum by developing ways for them to communicate. Literacy and numeracy are taught regularly and students are supported to be creative.
Learning new skills often involves initial modelling by adults followed by repetitive practice by students. Teachers, teacher aides and therapists work closely as a team to support students’ learning. Students are well supported to develop a wide range of life skills to help them gain greater independence and enjoyment.
Students have many opportunities to learn through experiences within the wider community. They take part in excursions. Students regularly visit the gym and swimming pool. Education providers such as music teachers add to the richness of the programme. Students in the transition classes engage in work-related experiences and practise skills that give them greater independence at home.
Students in satellite schools benefit from interacting with the mainstream students. In some cases, they attend mainstream classes for part of the day. They have opportunities to form friendships with the students from the host school.
Students between the ages of 17 and 21 attend transition classes where there is a significant focus on life and vocational skills. The curriculum is designed to support students’ independence and to support them to access the community and its facilities.
The process of transitioning students into the school, between classes, and from the school is well managed. Students who have difficulty learning in the satellite classes are sometimes transitioned back to the base school.
The school charter identifies the unique position of Māori in New Zealand society and expresses the school’s obligation to supporting Māori student identity by including aspects of tikanga and te reo Māori into the educational programme. The board is committed to consulting Māori whanau to discover their views on how the school can best support their children as Māori.
The school is well led. Senior managers work effectively as a team to provide a school environment where students feel safe, supported and challenged in their learning environment. They have established a culture where staff and parents are consulted and can have a positive influence on students’ education.
The formation of a senior leadership team has had a positive impact on the quality of teaching. Professional development is now better aligned to teachers’ and students’ learning needs. Teachers’ knowledge of autism and appropriate teaching strategies have been increased. The improved appraisal process promotes teacher inquiry and reflection. Teachers feel well supported to improve learning outcomes for students.
Induction programmes for new staff, and job descriptions, clarify the roles for all staff. Teacher aides are a very significant part of the staff and they value the guidance they get from their colleagues to enable them to support students effectively.
The board has clarified its role in governing the school. It has reviewed how it operates and has developed a more coherent approach to planning and development. Policies have been reviewed to ensure that they are up-to-date and provide guidance for school personnel.
The school roll is growing and the number of satellite classes is increasing. Facilities at the base school have improved. These now include a fully fenced sports field, improved playground equipment, sunshades, staff car parking and office facilities for the therapists. Future plans include improving the swimming pool facilities and bus loading area.
The improvements to teaching and learning, leadership and facilities have improved learning opportunities for students. School leaders recognise the need to consolidate changes so that they are sustained.