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Current issues in my professional context

Intending to describe the socioeconomics of a school by using a single digit descriptor is, if anything, naive. However, we must start somewhere, so let's do it.

I work in a decile 9 school, step Q. That only goes as far a to tell me that my school receives $29,22 TFEA , $22 SEG and $16,25 CIG (per student)... Not much information there!

I can say, also, that 1/5 of our students is from out-of-zone (which means that they would not be meeting this decile 9 descriptor). 

In regards to ethnicity, 61% of our students describe themselves as Asian; 31% as European; 0.03% as Maori and 0.01% as Pasifika. The achievement rates for all these groups seem consistent (saving some over representation of Pasifika on the Achieve section and underrepresented on the Excellence one).

According to the American Psychological Association the Socioeconomic Status (SES) "encompasses not just income but also educational attainment, financial security, and subjective perceptions of social status and social class". This means that beyond income and attainment, these subjective social perceptions create a unique perspective of the world which in term will affect attitudes towards learning. Gargiulo (2014) present three paradigms (Poverty, Middle Class and Wealth) to categorise SES and their perspective on common issues (such as jobs, wages, crime, etc).  I could immediately identify on this table elements which clearly describe our school population perspectives and concerns (challenging jobs, salary and benefits, taxes, quality of services, quality and variety of food). This mental model of Middle Class values achievement (over relationships and connections).

This is, perhaps the best descriptor so far. The culture of my school is highly bias toward examination results and quality of  the examination board. In her article School Culture, Stoll (1998) mentions that "the school culture is influenced by the school pupils and their social class background". It is not unusual in this context to hear heated debates amongst  our students in relation to which pathway (NCEA or CIE) will enable them to go to the best universities abroad or what classes you should aim for if you want to an A*.

An immediate consequence of this Middle Class mindset is that students study plans have ended up being unbalanced, with an over representation of Maths, the Sciences and Business; and a lack of Humanities and the Arts. Unfortunately, for many years the leadership of my school has allowed this process to continue (particularly because this high regard for achievement positioned the school as one of the 3 leading public schools in New Zealand). This culture of achievement somehow permeated into the professional relationships and even the appraisal processes. To describe it in Stoll's terms, we had become a traditional, cruising school. 

However, during the past year the leadership team has focused on changing this student and whanau perception of what academic success looks like. A new set of rules regarding subject options (intended to encourage students to explore a wider variety of subjects/subject areas) and regular meeting with parents and carers in order to adjust expectation in regards to grades and exam performance are taking place.

Stoll and Fink identify 10 cultural norms that help influencing school improvement. It is tempting to see these as guidelines to lift achievement, but I can see them as effective as rules to improve school culture. And even though our SMT has not yet been able to articulate this change in such an eloquent way, I can recognise some of these phrases starting to be shyly used around the school.

Source: Stoll (1998). School Culture. School Improvement Network’s Bulletin 9. Institute of Education, University of London.

Slowly but surely, as a school, we have started a process to move from Individualism (private, isolated classroom spaces and practices) to Collaboration ... but although we have not yet reached  a stage in which teachers spontaneously decide to work together, smaller collaborative groups are emerging.


Gargiulo, S. (2014). Principal sabbatical report.

Stoll (1998). School Culture. School Improvement Network’s Bulletin 9. Institute of Education, University of London.


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