Sara Cohen School

We maintain a regular review programme to evaluate and report on the education and care of young people in schools.

We are in the process of shifting from event-based external reviews to supporting each school in a process of continuous improvement.

There may be delays between reviews for some schools and kura due to Covid-19 and while we transition to our new way of reviewing.

Read more about our new processes and why we changed the way we review schools and kura.

Find out which schools have upcoming reviews.

Education institution number:
3816
School type:
Special School
School gender:
Co-Educational
Definition:
School for pupils with intellectual impairments
Total roll:
42
Telephone:
Address:

44 Rutherford Street, Caversham, Dunedin

View on map

School Context

Sara Cohen is a specialist school in Dunedin, catering for students from age 5 to 21 with diverse and complex special education needs. The total roll is 44 students, 10 of whom identify as Māori. The school has a base site for 11 to 21 year-old students. Satellite classes are at Concord School for students aged 5 to 8 and Bathgate Park School for 7 to 11 year-olds. The school also provides specialist teacher outreach services to students in a number of schools in Dunedin.

The school’s culture of diversity is reflected in its vision and values. Its vision is for students to learn the skills to best equip them to actively participate in and meet the challenges of life beyond school, through high quality individualised and adapted education. Its stated values are: difference and diversity (rerekētanga me te kanorau), respect and caring (manaakitanga), community (whanaungatanga), participation (wānanga) and equity (mana taurite).

The school states that its strategic goals are for all students to be engaged in learning that recognises each individual’s needs, language and identity, and reflects the school’s vision and values; and that its whānau and community are actively engaged in the life of the school. All cultures represented within the school, and the special position of Māori, are respected.

Leaders and teachers have begun reporting to the board, schoolwide information about outcomes for students in relation to their progress and achievement against individual goals set in regular collaborative learning plans (CLPs).

A new principal was appointed in 2017 and the school’s statutory management was withdrawn by the Ministry of Education in July 2019. The board has chosen to maintain the services of a specialist governance advisor.

There have been significant changes in teaching and support staff. The school now employs specialists in occupational therapy, speech therapy, physiotherapy, music therapy, and psychologists. Staff have accessed Ministry of Education funded professional development in science, narrative assessment, collaborative goal setting and cultural competency.

Evaluation Findings

1 Equity and excellence – achievement of valued outcomes for students

1.1 How well is the school achieving equitable and excellent outcomes for all its students?

All students are effectively supported to achieve individual success.

The school can show that by mid-2019 the majority of students had achieved their individual goals in literacy, numeracy and key competencies.

1.2 How well is the school accelerating learning for those students who need this?

The school is very effective in its response to those students whose learning needs acceleration.

The school is highly inclusive and interventions are personalised, specifically resourced and closely monitored.

2 School conditions for equity and excellence – processes and practices

2.1 What school processes and practices are effective in enabling achievement of equity and excellence, and acceleration of learning?

Since ERO’s July 2016 review the school has made significant progress in all areas identified for improvement.

Students participate and learn in a highly relationship-based learning community, characterised by a culture of care for each individual. Teachers, support staff and specialists take collective responsibility for all students’ learning and wellbeing. Leaders and teachers advocate for students, respond to whānau aspirations, and make connections beyond the school to better support students and their families.

Parents and whānau are valued as genuine partners in their children’s learning and wellbeing. They are supported through information sharing and networking opportunities through the school’s community engagement strategy. Parents and whānau are appropriately informed through a range of means about their children’s daily activities and learning progress. Trust has been built across the school community to foster reciprocal, learning-centred relationships.

The curriculum is very responsive to students’ strengths, needs and interests. Leaders have a clear line of sight from the school’s vision, values and strategic priorities, to classroom programmes, so that all learning is focused on what is most important. Clear and detailed guidelines show teachers how to meet the school’s expectation that students experience success. Teachers are well supported to meet these expectations through professional development, appraisal, and documented guidelines aligned to The New Zealand Curriculum.

Specialist therapists collaborate with teachers and contribute to the design of programmes tailored to meet the needs of each student. SMART goals are set in partnership with parents and whānau, professional experts and teachers to ensure students’ learning, behaviour, social, physical and emotional needs are met, reported on and celebrated. The curriculum is delivered through adapted programmes and environments that empower students to fully engage in school life. Students experience a wide range of activities to support their holistic development and life skills. Enterprise learning is a context for building differentiated and carefully planned transitions for students preparing to leave school.

Leaders ensure that students are at the centre of all strategic and operational decisions. They maintain a relentless focus on a small number of key priorities for school-wide improvement. The principal has implemented immediate steps to create a physically and emotionally safe school for staff and students. Leaders and trustees are developing and implementing clear, coherent systems and processes to ensure the safe and smooth running of the school. Leadership of strategic projects by some teachers, is building the school’s capacity to meet students’ diverse learning and wellbeing needs. Leaders have built valuable connections with specialist education, support and funding providers for the benefit of students.

2.2 What further developments are needed in school processes and practices for achievement of equity and excellence, and acceleration of learning?

New systems, processes and practices need to be consolidated and embedded to ensure they are implemented consistently and to a high standard across the school and satellite classrooms, and that they are sustained through future developments.

Leaders and teachers need to continue to improve the gathering and use of a wide range of valid information to better know about the impact of new initiatives on students’ learning and wellbeing outcomes.

Regular, high quality information should be provided to the board so that it can further scrutinise how well the school’s vision for equity and excellence is being achieved.

3 Board Assurance on Legal Requirements

Before the review, the board and principal of the school completed the ERO board assurance statement and self-audit checklists. In these documents they attested that they had taken all reasonable steps to meet their legislative obligations related to the following:

  • board administration
  • curriculum
  • management of health, safety and welfare
  • personnel management
  • finance
  • asset management.

During the review, ERO checked the following items because they have a potentially high impact on student safety and wellbeing:

  • emotional safety of students (including prevention of bullying and sexual harassment)
  • physical safety of students
  • teacher registration and certification
  • processes for appointing staff
  • stand down, suspension, expulsion and exclusion of students
  • attendance
  • school policies in relation to meeting the requirements of the Children’s Act 2014.

4 ERO’s Overall Judgement

On the basis of the findings of this review, ERO’s overall evaluation judgement of Sara Cohen School’s performance in achieving valued outcomes for its students is: Well placed.

ERO’s Framework: Overall Findings and Judgement Tool derived from School Evaluation Indicators: Effective Practice for Improvement and Learner Success is available on ERO’s website.

5 Going forward

Key strengths of the school

For sustained improvement and future learner success, the school can draw on existing strengths in:

  • a collaborative and inclusive school culture that builds relational trust and places students at the centre of all decision making
  • leadership that is focused on delivering on high expectations that each student will experience success, through its enacted vision and values
  • a highly adaptive curriculum that is responsive to students’ holistic learning and wellbeing needs
  • effective communication that strengthens partnerships with families/whanau and specialist agencies to achieve shared valued outcomes for students.

Next steps

For sustained improvement and future learner success, priorities for further development are in:

  • consolidating and embedding new systems, practices and processes so that they are consistently implemented and become sustainable
  • gathering and scrutinising a wide range of data to fully evaluate the impact of strategic initiatives on students’ learning and wellbeing outcomes.

Area of non-compliance

ERO identified a non-compliance in reporting to the Ministry of Education incidents of student stand-downs and the use of physical restraint.

Since the onsite stage of the review the school is now complying with the requirements to report to the Ministry of Education any incidents of student stand-downs and the use of physical restraint.

Dr Lesley Patterson

Director Review and Improvement Services Southern

Southern Region

21 November 2019

About the school

Location

Dunedin

Ministry of Education profile number

3816

School type

Specialist school

School roll

44

Gender composition

Male 30 Female 14

Ethnic composition

Māori 10
NZ European/Pākehā 29
Other 5

Students with Ongoing Resourcing Funding (ORS)

Yes

Provision of Māori medium education

No

Review team on site

September 2019

Date of this report

21 November 2019

Most recent ERO reports

Education Review July 2016
Education Review February 2013
Education Review June 2009

r

Findings

Sara Cohen is a special school providing education and care for students with diverse, special education needs. The education and care services for students at Sarah Cohen base school, the Bathgate Park satellite class and provision by the itinerant service are supporting students in their educational and social development. The board and leaders were not well informed about aspects of the performance of the satellite class at Concord School. ERO will work with the Sara Cohen board, LSM and other agencies to support the school’s return to effective self-governance.

ERO intends to carry out another review over the course of one-to-two years.

1 Context

What are the important features of this school that have an impact on student learning?

Sara Cohen is a special school providing education and care for 28 students with diverse special education needs. The school has a base site for 14 to 21 year old students and two satellite classes: Concord School for 5 to 10 year olds and Bathgate Park School for 10 to 13 year olds. Students in these satellite classes are partly integrated into the life and learning of the host school.

Satellite classrooms have been significantly upgraded since the last review. A process for a rebuild at the base site has begun with concept plans prepared. The school also provides itinerant Specialist Teacher Outreach Services to 12 schools in Otago where 27 students with special education needs are learning in main-stream classes.

The school is staffed to provide high levels of support to students. The staff includes many long-serving, experienced specialists and highly skilled teachers and teacher aides. A new deputy principal began in 2015. The principal and deputy principals support the teachers and teacher aides through ongoing professional provision and in times of immediate need.

Before the ERO review process was completed, the Ministry of Education (MOE) initiated an independent investigation of complaints and governance practices. These related mainly to the Concord satellite class. Following this investigation, the MOE agreed to the Sara Cohen board’s request for the appointment of a Limited Statutory Manager (LSM) to address the risks to the operation of the school and the welfare of its students.

2 Learning

How well does this school use achievement information to make positive changes to learners’ engagement, progress and achievement?

Teachers use learning information to support positive changes and success for students. ERO observed respectful relationships between students and their teachers that help students to enjoy school and engage in their learning. Students often demonstrate tuakana-teina relationships, supporting and caring for each other. Leaders, teachers, teacher aides and therapists understand students’ needs very well.

Students have input into creating their individual goals which are developed and reviewed every six months by the principal, their parents, teachers and support workers. Collaborative learning plans are developed. These are a more holistic approach to planning for students than earlier plans. ERO observed teachers that were sensitive to students’ emotional and physical day-to-day conditions and wellbeing. They adapt their expectations and the curriculum accordingly.

Next steps

Teachers are in the early stages of implementing a new system for tracking students’ individual learning pathways and progress and planning their next steps in an ongoing way. Leaders acknowledge that effective use of this tracking process is needed so that the information better informs teachers, leaders and trustees about progress, and more effectively records and reports incidents and interventions involving students. This information should be analysed to identify any trends and patterns and reported to the board.

3 Curriculum

How effectively does this school’s curriculum promote and support student learning?

Teachers are well supported by detailed expectations about what to do and how to work with students at this school. Students receive a great deal of one-to-one attention from their teachers and teacher aides. Students have some choice within the curriculum when appropriate.

The curriculum is well developed, adaptive and closely linked to the New Zealand Curriculum. Literacy and mathematics learning is prioritised and integrated across the curriculum. All learning areas are included in the curriculum, and Māori and New Zealand perspectives are integrated into learning programmes.

Programmes are tailored to meet the needs of individuals and small groups of students. There is a strong focus on building students’ skills to communicate appropriately and effectively. Teachers use diverse strategies and make good use of assistive technologies and visual prompts such as pictorial tools for goals, routines and schedules to enhance students’ learning. Currently, teachers are trialling mixed groupings where students and teachers work and learn in groups that are different from their home group.

Students benefit from a strong focus on learning through real-life experiences and developing life and social skills. Students have extensive opportunities to experience education outside the classroom (EOTC). These include managing themselves at home and in the community through activities such as catching a bus, cooking, paying for items, and work experience.

There are very carefully considered and progressive transition programmes in place for students. These support them to succeed with changes, particularly when they move into their life beyond school. Close links with some businesses and organisations support this learning.

Although the teachers are widely spread geographically, they are brought together regularly for meetings and professional learning and development (PLD). PLD is specific to students’ and teachers’ wellbeing and health and safety needs. Staff have increasing opportunities to work together through collaborative planning and peer appraisal.

4 Sustainable Performance

How well placed is the school to sustain and improve its performance?

The board is not well placed to improve its performance. Weaknesses in monitoring and reporting the outcomes of programmes, the effectiveness of procedures and the welfare of students and employees result in the board not being well enough informed about the effectiveness of leadership and governance. The MOE intervention is designed to improve governance and management in important areas.

The internal evaluation processes need to focus on how well the school is promoting positive outcomes for students using relevant indicators to determine success. For trustees to be adequately informed, the principal’s reports need to be evaluative and based on relevant evidence. The principal needs to provide the trustees with ongoing evaluations of the outcomes of all on-site and off-site services provided by the school.

The appraisal process for assessing employees’ performance needs to be further strengthened so that it is robust, meets all current requirements, recognises strong performance and supports staff who need additional professional development.

The school has embarked on a rebuilding project on the base site to better accommodate students’ needs. It is now timely for the board to formally identify and document key considerations and decisions to ensure effective and safe teaching and learning during this rebuild process.

Board assurance on legal requirements

Before the review, the board of trustees and principal of the school completed the ERO Board Assurance Statement and Self-Audit Checklists. In these documents they attested that they had taken all reasonable steps to meet their legislative obligations related to:

  • board administration
  • curriculum
  • management of health, safety and welfare
  • personnel management
  • financial management
  • asset management.

During the review, ERO checked the following items because they have a potentially high impact on student achievement:

  • emotional safety of students (including prevention of bullying and sexual harassment)
  • physical safety of students
  • teacher registration
  • processes for appointing staff
  • stand-downs, suspensions, expulsions and exclusions
  • attendance.

The independent investigation initiated by the MOE raised significant governance, management and health and safety concerns that resulted in a Statutory Intervention at the LSM level. The MOE has appointed the LSM to carry out all functions of the Sara Cohen board relating to:

  • its role as employer
  • communications within the school and with its community
  • management of health and safety of students and staff
  • the investigation and resolution of complaints.

Conclusion

Sara Cohen is a special school providing education and care for students with diverse, special education needs. The education and care services for students at Sarah Cohen base school, the Bathgate Park satellite class and provision by the itinerant service are supporting students in their educational and social development. The board and leaders were not well informed about aspects of the performance of the satellite class at Concord School. ERO will work with the Sara Cohen board, LSM and other agencies to support the school’s return to effective self-governance.

ERO intends to carry out another review over the course of one-to-two years.

Lesley Patterson

Deputy Chief Review Officer Southern

28 July 2016

About the School

Location

Dunedin

Ministry of Education profile number

3816

School type

Special School

School roll

28

Gender composition

Boys: 24 Girls: 4

Ethnic composition

Pākehā

Māori

Others

18

7

3

Special Features

Satellite classes Itinerant Resource Teachers

Review team on site

February 2016

Date of this report

28 July 2016

Most recent ERO report(s)

Education Review

Education Review

Education Review

February 2013

June 2009

August 2005