Evaluative study of co-located schools established following the Christchurch earthquake Publications
The key purposes of this study were to describe the co-location arrangements made by the schools in Christchurch following the earthquake and to identify the impact to date (August 2011) of co-location on students families teachers and schools.
Author(s): Vince Ham, Gina Cathro, Michael Winter and Josephine Winter, CORE Education Limited.
Date Published: December 2012
As a result of the February 2011 earthquake and subsequent aftershocks, a number of schools in the central city and the eastern suburbs had sustained significant damage or were located in the 'red zone'1 and unable to reopen on their existing site until either extensive repairs and rebuilding had been undertaken or decisions had been made about the viability of the land with respect to future redevelopment. In order to get students back into learning as quickly as possible, it was decided to co-locate the affected schools on other schools' sites for periods expected to vary from a month or so to the rest of the 2011 academic year, and potentially beyond that.
The nine relocating schools (two primary, one intermediate and six secondary) thus became 'guest' schools, sharing a school site and facilities with one or more 'host' schools (one special, one primary, two intermediate and five secondary) that had been less affected by the earthquakes.
The key purposes of the study are to identify and describe the various co-location arrangements made by the schools concerned, and to identity the impacts to date (August 2011) of co-location on students, families, teachers and schools. Note that some schools will remain co-located into the 2012 school year.
The key findings of the study are that:
- given the good will and commitment of the parties involved, co-location is a workable solution in disaster situations like that generated by the Christchurch earthquakes, but it was not seen by respondents as educationally ideal or sustainable in the longer term.
- co-location was more problematic among the shift-sharing schools than the site-sharing schools, in particular for the afternoon/guest shift-sharing schools.
- many of the schools involved took the opportunities afforded by co-location to review many of the 'taken-for-granted' aspects of school processes, to reflect on their distinctive cultures and values, and to reconsider their particular relationships with their respective communities.
Broadly, there have been two forms of co-location operating in the co-located school sites. For convenience we refer to 'site-sharing' as the arrangement made in several cases whereby two (or in one case three) schools operated on a single site at the same time. In the 'shift-sharing schools' (all but one secondary school), the 'host' school operated on the site in the mornings and the 'guest' school operated in the afternoons.
In the shift-sharing sites the normal school day was compressed to be up to two hours shorter than normal, with the morning schools starting up to an hour earlier and the afternoon schools finishing up to two hours later than normal.
Ministry-provided bus services were arranged to transport guest schools' students between their former school site and their new co-located site at the beginning and end of each school day at no cost to the school or students.
The extent of sharing of facilities, teaching resources and equipment between guest and host schools has varied from site to site. At most sites, additional, relocatable buildings have been brought in to accommodate guest schools' administration and office blocks and some classrooms. Many host site-sharing schools adopted a 'what is ours is yours' approach to sharing resources, while at the shift-sharing (secondary) schools resource sharing has varied more on a department-by-department basis.
On the whole, in both site-sharing and shift-sharing schools, hard resources such as computers, data projectors, gymnasium and sports equipment, musical instruments and more expensive art equipment have been shared, while guest schools, where they could, have removed soft resources such as software, book sets, art supplies, task sheets and so on from their original sites and brought as much as they could to the new sites.
Negotiations between the principals and school boards of co-located schools regarding arrangements for sharing the cost of wear and tear on the host schools' plant and resources has been problematic at several co-location sites.
At most shift-sharing sites, and at one of the site-sharing sites, the schools tried to keep social contact between the two student bodies to a minimum, and in most, but not all sites, there was relatively little interaction between the two groups of teaching staff.
Effects on family life
The effects of co-location on the family lives of staff, students and parents/whānau were often little differentiated in people's minds from the effects of the earthquakes in general. The effects on family life that were attributable to co-location, have been greater for the communities of shift-sharing schools, in particular teachers, than those of site-sharing schools, and were greater for the families of guest schools than host schools. Overall, 91% of students, 84% of parents and 76% of staff at shift-sharing schools said their family relationships had either not changed or improved as a result of co-location.
The greatest effects of co-location on family life have related to disruptions in transport, daily routines, and anxieties about students' safety as a result of timetable changes in the shift-sharing schools. Changed commuting patterns and commuting longer distances, along with children's security while at home alone or travelling to/from school in the dark, have been of concern for families in both host/morning and guest/afternoon shift-sharing schools.
Parents of children at guest schools were twice as likely to report that their personal finances had been negatively affected by co-location as parents of students at host schools. Thirty-seven percent of parents at guest schools reported increased personal costs, probably reflecting the increased cost of transport. Students at guest/afternoon schools were much more likely to report negative effects (loss of part time jobs, increased transport costs etc.) on their personal finances than students at host/morning schools.
While the students in shift-sharing schools tended to spend their respective mornings or afternoons at home, their teachers tended to spend that time at school. Seventy percent of teachers stated that they mainly spent their non-classroom time at school, doing lesson preparation, marking, school administration or attending school meetings. Several of the teachers in interviews said that their daily work pattern had changed in that their working day was extended as they were now doing at school a lot of what they had previously done at home during the evening.
Effects on curriculum, teaching and learning
For the most part, teachers in the site-sharing schools continued to work to more or less the same timetable as before, and for more or less the same number of hours over the day. They taught their own classes and taught those students all or most of what was, in most respects, a normal day but in a different location. Accordingly, there was little report from the site-sharing primary and intermediate schools of changes in the content they covered or the ways in which they taught it.
In the co-located shift-sharing schools, however, students have covered fewer curriculum topics, teachers have taught differently, and anxiety levels about achievement in NCEA assessments have significantly increased. Insofar as these effects are attributable to co-location (as opposed, for example, to staffs' or students' domestic circumstances and the earthquakes), they seem to have been largely a consequence of the shortened school day and the compression of lessons into shorter-length periods in the shift-sharing schools.
Staff at shift-sharing schools, in particular, said that they were on the whole working longer hours, and that their work had 'intensified' significantly during co-location. In many schools, senior management staff felt that their normal duties have suffered because of the extra workload imposed by post-earthquake and co-location administrative tasks, whereas, for classroom teachers, much of this intensification was attributed to the shorter periods and lack of preparation or transition time between classes under the new timetable.
The staff, parents and students at the shift-sharing secondary schools were generally agreed that methods of teaching have changed in notable ways during co-location. In particular, lessons have changed to be more teacher-centred and more 'focused', with less time available for student feedback and interaction than normal. However, there is much less consensus as to whether those changes have been for the better or the worse in terms of student outcomes and achievement. Some teachers, and students, thought that through these changes their teaching has become more effective during co-location, while others claimed that it has become less effective. Twenty-five percent of staff at shift-sharing schools said the changes had made their teaching more effective whilst 19% felt they had changed to be less effective. Senior secondary students were more likely to say that teaching methods had changed to be less effective than junior secondary students, and junior secondary students were more likely to say the changes had been for the better.
In the shift-sharing secondary schools, anxiety about student performance in the NCEA was high, with nearly half of senior students saying they feel more anxious about NCEA than normal, and over half saying they expect to achieve lower grades in standards. As a result of co-location and the compression of their school timetables, teachers and students in the shift-sharing schools may have covered less of the curriculum in lessons and many, though not all, have reduced the number of NCEA assessments attempted.
Senior students and parents of senior students were more likely than junior students and parents of junior students to report a deterioration of academic performance because of co-location. Over a third of senior students and parents of senior students, and two thirds of staff, believed that academic performance and student motivation had deteriorated because of co-location. Students, parents and staff in guest schools were more likely to report negative effects on attitude and performance than in host schools, and these were felt to be greater for senior students than for juniors. This reflects and reinforces a generally greater concern for students doing high stakes assessments and the often-expressed preference for morning over afternoon timetables in co-located schools.
Attendance and behaviour were reportedly less negatively affected by co-location than attitude and academic performance. The majority of parents, students and staff in host/morning schools reported that student attendance and behaviour had either not changed or improved during co-location, though up to half of those in guest/afternoon schools reported a deterioration in these. In contrast, a number of staff interviewed reported improvements in student behaviour particularly in class. They attributed this to reduced time within classes, increased intensity of lessons, the absence of formal lunchtimes and opportunities to congregate together.
When analysed according to students' ethnicity, the surveys show few significant differences between or among Māori, Pasifika and European students' responses. Some effects on student outcomes may have been slightly greater among Pasifika students, but Māori and European students tended to respond similarly to each other on all questions.
Effects on social and professional relationships
Though stress levels seemed high in the schools overall, this appears to be due more to other factors than co-location itself. More staff reported feeling stressed than other groups, in particular, staff at the guest schools (40%). Fewer students and parents seem to have been stressed by co-location. About 80% of students and 78% of parents stated they had been either 'not stressed' or 'slightly stressed' by co-location.
Students were more optimistic about their social and professional relationships during co-location than were staff and parents on their behalf. Though they acknowledged a lessening of interaction with teachers and other students while at school, students in shift-sharing schools particular seemed to like the shorter school days as it gave them more time for socialising outside of school and doing other activities.
At the same time, there were high levels of resilience and commitment by staff, students and parents towards their particular schools, and high levels of good will between the sharing schools — their desire, as several expressed it, 'to make this work'. Staff at both the site-sharing sites and the shift-sharing sites who responded to the survey were more likely to report that their professional relationships had stayed the same or changed for the better (65% and 68%). The guest school communities were grateful to their hosts and the host school communities were generous in their accommodation of their guests. While not without stresses and strains, it was this sense of good will towards each other and sense of sacrifice, as much as any practical systems or organisations, that made the relationships 'work' in the co-locating schools.
Effects on school identity and culture
The effects of co-location on the identities and cultures of the schools have been somewhat double-edged in nature. On the one hand, co-location with another school, combined with relocation from one physical site to another (often to a very different school in an unfamiliar neighbourhood), the compression of the school day into fewer hours, and the curtailing of many co-curricular activities, seems to have decreased the opportunity for co-located schools to build and consolidate their distinctive cultures and identities during the year. In particular, Year 9 students at the secondary schools, who had just joined the school when the earthquake hit, have had less chance to become familiar with the culture of the school, and Year 13 students have had less opportunity to lead its development.
On the other hand, co-location has also provided an unusual opportunity for students and communities to compare and contrast their schools' 'ways of doing things' with the ways of other schools. Students, parents and staff spoke of becoming more self-aware as schools by observing at close quarters the facilities, processes and values of one, and in some cases two, other schools. Boys' schools had to accommodate the presence of girls on their campus, high decile schools combined with low decile schools, large schools shared with smaller schools, schools with one type of 'special character' had to share with schools of another 'special character', and so on. For the most part this has resulted in the schools feeling a greater sense of their unique identities and their affiliation to their particular community.
Many of the shift-sharing schools have, or are actively considering changing their normal timetable as a result of the co-location experience. The preferred changes consist of starting earlier and finishing earlier in the day than before, with shorter breaks between classes.
Most feel that co-location has been largely successful as a short term fix to an unprecedented situation, but few feel that such co-location is sustainable in the longer term. Anxieties about longer term sustainability are especially great among those schools that are likely to continue co-location arrangements beyond the end of the current academic year.
Information and communication systems
There was a range of ICT challenges faced by several of the co-locating schools, many related to failures of backup systems and lack of access to student records in damaged buildings and the like resulting from the February earthquake.
Co-location and the earthquakes generally showed the importance of maintaining constant communication between schools and their communities through as many media as possible.
Some schools used social media to good effect in maintaining communications with parent communities, but use of on-line alternatives for teaching and learning was sporadic rather than typical among the schools.
We suggest that three key areas for further research on the Christchurch schools' experience of co-location are:
- A comparative analysis of the 2011 NCEA results for the co-located schools. It was beyond the scope and timing of this study to report on the effects of co-location on student achievement as evidenced, for example, by NCEA results and other end-of-year assessments. Such a study could compare the results of both host and guest co-located schools with their own previous results, with the results of other earthquake-affected but not co-located Christchurch schools, and with national averages. This would better determine the effects of co-location on students' academic achievement than the current study was able to do.
- An ethnographic study of the sites where co-location is known to be continuing into a second year or more. It is one of the findings of this study that the parents staff and students of co-located schools have seen co-location as a workable short-term solution to an emergency situation, but that it is not seen as sustainable in the longer term. While most of the guest schools have returned to their original sites, or are scheduled to do so for the beginning of next year, up to seven of the schools are expected to continue co-location in some form into the coming academic year. Such a study would help determine the limits of viability of school co-location as a sustainable disaster response.
- A study of re-location, and the issues faced by both as guest schools return to their home sites and host schools try to return to their 'old normal'. The current study has described the experience of co-location at a point in time where some schools had already relocated back to their original sites, and some were in the process of doing so. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the process of relocating back to school's original sites has also raised issues around the re-establishment of the schools on usable but still compromised sites that have implications for policy development and disaster management in such circumstances. Such a study would round off the current study by providing a more complete view of the entire cycle of co-location as an aspect of disaster recovery, and would allow some further insight into the possible long-term effects of co-location as schools return to their former sites and practices.
- The 'red zone' indicates a public exclusion zone due to the risk posed by damaged buildings or land on the site or in surrounding properties.
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