An Evaluation of Network Learning Communities — Main Report
This report presents findings from a study evaluating the Network Learning Communities initiative in 2010.
Author(s): Ward, L. and Henderson, A. CYPERUS with Quigley and Watts (Report to the Ministry of Education)
Date Published: May 2011
This report presents findings from an evaluation undertaken for the Ministry of Education (Ministry) to determine the extent to which a school leader’s participation in an NLC (Network Learning Community) has impacted on the curriculum design and review processes in their school. It considers four main evaluation questions and describes the implementation of the NLC initiative at a regional and cluster level.
The NLC initiative was first introduced in 2008. While the composition of the participants and the nature of the support provided has changed since its introduction, the model remains essentially the same. Groups of school leaders are brought together, in professional learning groups, to develop their understanding of The New Zealand Curriculum and to support its implementation in their schools. These groups are led and facilitated by sector leaders from within the group. Advisors from School Support Services provide guidance and resources to the sector leaders. In 2010 there were 195 such groups operating, ranging from small, principal led groups to larger, secondary school curriculum area groups. In addition there were a number of cross-curricular groups.
The evaluation utilised a range of data collection methods including a facilitated workshop, interviews, online surveys and document analyses. The workshop involved six advisors from five of the six regions and Ministry personnel. In addition, telephone interviews were undertaken with 11 advisors from across the six regions. All those who attended the workshop were interviewed.
In total, 79 sector leaders and 144 school leaders completed online surveys. These are return rates of approximately 41% and 15% respectively. Ten case studies were also undertaken from around New Zealand, focussed on individual NLCs and the journey they have taken. During these case studies data were gathered from 10 sector leaders and 26 school leaders. Most were interviewed either face-to-face or by telephone, although some completed written questionnaires due to availability issues. A companion technical report provides detailed data analyses from the survey and includes the ten case studies in full. Abbreviated case studies are available online.
Overall, the data from this evaluation suggest that those involved in NLCs are positive about the initiative. They report enjoying the opportunity to network with colleagues, to learn what others are doing in their schools and to support each other with the implementation of The New Zealand Curriculum. Few reported they would not want to see their NLC continued in some form or other. However, the wide standard deviations in the survey data suggest that the experiences of the respondents have been diverse; something likely to be replicated across NLCs in general.
The knowledge and/or expertise of the school leaders surveyed had reportedly increased across all areas included in the survey during the time they had been in the NLC. There were no instances where some degree of influence was not attributed to the NLC. Areas where the NLCs have reportedly had the greatest influence are increasing the knowledge and/or expertise of school participants in leadership practices for facilitating change; engaging students in decisions around their learning and effective pedagogies as described in The New Zealand Curriculum. The level of attribution appears to be dependent on the focus of the NLC with wide variation in responses. One area where there appears to have been little focus is Māori achieving success as Māori.
In 2010 the focus of the NLCs broadened beyond the development of local curriculum. Only three of the ten case studies reported this was a focus of their group. However, the data gathered show that where it was a focus the NLC had supported school leaders in developing their local curricula; providing increased motivation for them to do so and in some instances helping them to get started.
While no respondents to the surveys attributed the reported changes to teaching and learning practices entirely to the NLC they did report it had been an enabling factor. Further, when asked whether they would choose the NLC model of professional development as the most effective for influencing teaching and learning practices within schools an overwhelming majority responded positively.
While the opportunity to network within the NLCs was reported as being the greatest benefit for those participating there does not appear to have been networking between communities. Nor do many of the NLCs appear to have operated as professional learning communities, where challenge and critique are the norm. Rather they tend to be professional learning groups focussed on the professional development of those attending the NLC meetings. The exceptions to this do suggest that it may be possible to raise the bar of expectations and to begin to implement more formally a networked learning community model where the focus is explicitly on enhancing student outcomes through the implementation of The New Zealand Curriculum.
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