Uptake and early implementation: Communities of Learning | Kāhui Ako

Publication Details

This report provides an overview of the early implementation of Communities of Learning | Kāhui Ako (Communities of Learning) up to December 2016.

Author(s): Research and Evaluation, Ministry of Education.

Date Published: April 2017

Please consider the environment before printing the contents of this report.

This report is available as a download (please refer to the 'Downloads' inset box).  For links to related publications/ information that may be of interest please refer to the 'Where to Find Out More' inset box.

Executive Summary


Momentum is increasing for the establishment of Communities of Learning. Approvals and achievement challenge endorsements have accelerated during 2016. Almost two-thirds (62%) of schools eligible to access the three new roles were in Communities of Learning by the end of December 2016. At this stage, about one-fifth of schools are in Communities of Learning with endorsed achievement challenges and are in the early stages of implementation.

Strong foundations for collective impact and productive collaboration are in place: High levels of shared purpose and commitment, confidence about working with other members, and understanding why working together is important. Communities of Learning are confident about their capability to use data to identify achievement challenges, and to monitor and evaluate how well the actions they are taking are working. For sustainable collective impact, the active engagement of all stakeholders will be critical if Communities of Learning are to transform the education landscape and its outcomes. At this stage, Boards are participating and engaging at lower levels than other members of Communities of Learning and parent/family/whānau involvement is not yet well developed.

Communities of Learning recognise that student achievement is a key measure of success. However tracking and measuring change in leadership and teaching practice features less significantly in plans about what to monitor. This suggests that Communities of Learning will need support to monitor the line of sight between what they are acting on – leadership and teaching – and how this translates into tangible improvement in learners' rates of progression and their achievement results.

Communities of Learning are making a strong start in their implementation journey. The picture we see so far points to the complexity of creating a system-wide change in a highly differentiated implementation environment. Implementation success depends on a constellation of local factors that make it easier for some and more difficult for others. The Ministry will need to be able to identify these communities and provide appropriate and tailored support when needed.

Schools that do and do not belong to Communities of Learning are similar. There do not appear to be obvious differences in the characteristics of schools that do and schools that do not belong to Communities of Learning. However, there is likely to be a complex relationship between more "objective" characteristics – numbers of members and students, scale and depth of achievement challenges, and decile composition – and less apparent attributes and qualities. For the Ministry and its sector partners supporting Communities of Learning, understanding how these features interact will be critical to ensure services and supports are responsive and targeted to what Communities of Learning need to be successful.

Communities of Learning share a focus on common achievement challenge topics – reading, writing, mathematics, NCEA Level 2 – but the targets that they set vary considerably in their scale, level of granularity, focus on priority learners, and ambition. Although people in the new roles are working on the same sorts of challenges, variations in the breadth, scale and scope of these challenges will mean each Community of Learning will use these roles quite differently.Backfilling staff is challenging for some Communities of Learning. The degree to which this will be an issue for Communities of Learning mostly depends on the availability of the local teacher workforce.

Communities of Learning are implementing a broadly framed but not prescriptive model, working in highly localised implementation contexts. It will take time to understand the factors that shape their success and how best to support this. We know that implementation support will need to be nuanced and bespoke, and lined up to the individual characteristics of Communities of Learning in their early development. Over time, the model will evolve as early adopters share their learning, and greater clarity emerges about what elements of the model are critical for success and need to be implemented consistently alongside those that can be more flexible and locally responsive.


Communities of Learning are part of the government's $359 million Investing in Educational Success (IES) initiative. The goal of IES is to raise educational achievement by lifting the quality of leadership and teaching so that best practice becomes universal. Communities of Learning provide the opportunity for significant change in the way New Zealand education is organised, functions, and works as a self-improving education system. Communities are designed to enhance teaching practice and leadership by providing opportunities for collaborative enquiry and knowledge sharing, and extending career pathways for kaiako/teachers. There are three new roles (Community Leader, Across-Community of Learning Teacher, Within School Teacher). The new roles work across and within the community to support and share effective teaching and leadership practice. Appointments to these roles are made by their respective Communities of Learning.

The process of forming a Community of Learning starts with a school or service, or a group of interested schools and services submitting an Expression of Interest (EOI) to the Ministry. A local Ministry advisor supports them to formulate an eligible Community of Learning, one that reflects the whole learning pathway from early learning to post-secondary education. The Minister of Education approves the Community of Learning, on the Ministry's advice. After formation is approved, a Community of Learning leader can be appointed. The next stage is for members to develop a shared achievement challenge and plan, working with their wider community, families and whānau. Communities of Learning then submit their achievement challenges and action plan to the Ministry's regional Director of Education. Once the Minister of Education endorses their achievement challenges, communities can recruit people for the new teaching roles. When appointments are complete, communities finalise a detailed plan and implementation starts. The Community of Learning monitors and reports progress, and adjusts course as required.

Uptake and characteristics

The Minister of Education approved the first 11 Communities of Learning in December 2014. Two years later, in 2016, there were 180 approved Communities of Learning. Achievement challenge endorsements have naturally tracked behind approvals as it takes time to develop these once a Community of Learning has been approved. The first Community of Learning had its achievement challenges endorsed in July 2015, and by December 2016 there were 54 communities with endorsed achievement challenges.There is significant coverage of schools and students in Communities of Learning. By early December 2016, nearly two-thirds (62%) of the 2,409 schools that are eligible to access the three new roles were in Communities of Learning. Of those 1,500 schools, 519 (35%) were in Communities of Learning with endorsed achievement challenges. Two-thirds (66%) of eligible school students were in Communities of Learning, with over a quarter (26%) being in Communities of Learning with endorsed achievement challenges. With respect to deciles, participation does not vary by National Standards achievement results, regardless of whether schools belong to communities or not,Early learning services' engagement is just starting - existing Communities of Learning have relatively few early learning service members, with a small proportion (2%) of early learning services belonging to Communities of Learning in December 2016. Twenty-four communities have at least one early learning service. The most recent tranche of approved Communities of Learning (November 2016) included more early learning service members, indicating that this momentum is beginning to grow.

Patterns of uptake across Ministry education regions vary, reflecting the region's size, composition, and number of schools and services. Different education regions have different proportions of Communities of Learning that are approved or have achievement challenges endorsed. For example, in the Tai Tokerau region a third (33%) of schools were in five approved Communities of Learning, of which two had endorsed achievement challenges, by December 2016. Auckland had 43 approved Communities of Learning, covering two-thirds (66%) of eligible schools, of which 19 had endorsed achievement challenges. Nelson/Marlborough/West Coast had a full complement of Communities of Learning (12), covering the large majority of eligible schools (90%) and students in the region (97%). The majority (9) of these 12 Communities of Learning had endorsed achievement challenges.By mid-November 2016, 35 Community of Learning leaders had started in their roles in the 148 Communities of Learning that were approved at that time. Eighty across-community teachers (9% of the possible provision of these roles through IES) had started in their roles. This was similar (8%) for the within-school roles, with 352 people having started in these roles.

Most Communities of Learning have between five and eight school members. There are two Communities of Learning with 20 or more schools. There are nine Communities of Learning with fewer than five school members.

The numbers of learners Communities of Learning cover ranges from under 1,000 learners to over 8,000. Over a quarter of communities (27%) have between 1,000-2,000 learners. In contrast, smaller proportions of Communities of Learning have very small or very large numbers of learners. Twenty-four (13%) cover under 1,000 learners, and there are 18 communities (10%) with more than 5,000 learners.

Getting established

A number of parties contribute to the establishment of Communities of Learning and having achievement challenges endorsed. However, principals have contributed significantly more to progress than other parties involved in establishment. They have been involved in recruiting the Community of Learning leader, reaching agreement on vision and goals, establishing systems for operating as a Community of Learning and identifying some achievement challenges. In most cases Boards have had limited involvement. Parent/whānau involvement has generally not extended beyond being informed by communities about their establishment. Engagement with early learning services is still emerging.In the establishment phase most Communities of Learning had met to agree ways of working, identified some achievement challenges, and agreed vision and goals. In terms of working with data, the majority have shared local data and many have interrogated this to identify achievement challenges.Generally, participants' views on the purposes of their Community of Learning are aligned with each other. They see improving student achievement, collaborative professional inquiry and improving teacher practice as the key purposes. They believe there are many shared understandings about the achievement challenges to be addressed, and feel that most schools are capable of working with data to identify these. There is less shared clarity about the actions needed to address achievement challenges. The majority of Community of Learning leaders and across-community teachers see improving student transitions as a core goal. A smaller proportion of Board members share this view.Communities of Learning put their ability to make progress down to having a prior history of working together in a professional context, and leadership collaboration between member schools/kura and early learning services. People in key roles (e.g. Community of Learning leaders and across community teachers) report few challenges in working effectively with principals, Boards and early childhood representatives within Communities of Learning so far. Confidence and levels of trust in Communities of Learning are also reflected in their willingness to trust each other's data and evidence and share it. Community of Learning leaders and principals are confident about working together, Boards less so.

The most common challenges Communities of Learning faced for identifying achievement challenges are using different assessment tools to measure student achievement and data not being comparable across schools/kura because of differences in how assessments are carried out.

Communities of Learning achievement challenges vary in number of challenges and number of topics. As at the end of December 2016, all endorsed achievement challenges have two or more focus areas where there is nationally collected data: National Standards (reading, writing, mathematics) and NCEA. This is likely to reflect real areas of need, but as these are focus areas that schools routinely report on achievement data for, this emphasis is to be expected. The majority of communities' achievement challenges include targets each school needs to meet, in addition to overall cohort targets (e.g. 85% of students at or above the national standard for reading). Most communities have targets for primary and senior secondary students, but only half include targets for Years 9 and 10. This means achievement challenges do not yet cover the whole learner pathway.

Planning, implementing and leading change

Community of Learning members' levels of understanding about their action plans vary. Community of Learning leaders rate their understanding of the actions, their role in achieving these, and others' roles highly. Board members, however, have the least clear understanding of these aspects of their Community of Learning action plans.

Almost all Communities of Learning with endorsed achievement challenges had either appointed people to the across-community teacher roles (75%), or had begun the process (21%). Many had appointed within-school teachers (50%), or had started recruitment (25%). Overall, Communities of Learning have not found making appointments difficult, but there are some challenges. The most common of these are: lack of clarity about how best to use the roles; employing part-time staff to cover teacher release; and insufficient applicants for the across-community teacher roles.

Community of Learning leaders have a complex job. They need to keep the Community of Learning moving forward - making appointments, and setting up monitoring and evaluation systems and processes. At the same time, they need to bring everyone along by keeping engagement, buy-in and commitment going across the Community of Learning.

Teachers in both roles are confident about working with others to facilitate inquiry, share their own teaching practice, and lead professional learning activities. Teachers in the new roles are focusing on literacy, culturally responsive practice, professional inquiry and numeracy. Across-community teachers are also focusing on data use, assessment, and effective practice.

Shared measurement: Understanding progress and impact

Communities of Learning are confident that they have the capability to monitor the effectiveness of what they are doing to improve student achievement, and align their monitoring and evaluation processes. However, the shared measurement systems and review processes fundamental for Communities of Learning to operate as effective improvement systems are still developing. Overall, although people feel that many of the schools in their Community of Learning do have monitoring and evaluation capability, a substantial proportion of endorsed communities are yet to make detailed arrangements for working with student achievement data, beyond agreeing when specific Community of Learning-wide data will be collected.

Communities of Learning are clear that student achievement is a key indicator for measuring the impact of their work. There is less clarity about how to measure and track progress on what leads to these outcomes (e.g. the signs that change is happening in teaching and leadership practice). While over a third of Communities of Learning had support in planning for monitoring and evaluation, this was the least common form of support they had received.


  1. Hargreaves (2012) distinguishes between two forms of education system improvement: one that is led and directed by central government, focused on individual services and schools; and the other led by the sector to foster and embed a culture of professional learning within and between education providers to generate a self-improving system.

Where to find out more

Contact Us

Education Data Requests
If you have any questions about education data then please contact us at:
Email:      Requests EDK
Phone:    +64 4 463 8065