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Cobden School – Developing a Graduate Profile to underpin teaching, learning and assessment

Cobden School is a small full primary school in Greymouth, on the west coast of the South Island, with a student population of around 150 students.

Cobden School.

This story illustrates how Cobden School has worked to improve teaching and learning for the students in its community. School leaders are happy to share the school story with others but stress that each school will have to find its own pathway to improvement, based on the community, its children and their needs. "It's about our kids."

In this small primary school in Greymouth, school leaders have chosen not to be a part of a local Community of Learning | Kāhui Ako, preferring to collaborate within their own school community to improve teaching and learning. They are, however, part of NPDL (New Pedagogies for Deep Learning).

The Principal, Noula Markham, and the DP, Mandy Dodds, have been working alongside staff on the development of a Graduate Profile over the past couple of years, after having investigated how to best serve the needs of their learners and their community. They were determined to improve outcomes for their students. They read a wide range of educational research, sought advice, visited other schools and deliberately targeted Leadership and Assessment PLD for themselves and their staff. All these actions informed their decision for change.

Developing the Graduate Profile

In the development of the Graduate Profile the school initially consulted with stakeholders – students, teachers, parents and whānau – on what they wanted for their school, a process that took a number of months. Both leaders are adamant that consultation shouldn’t be rushed, that it takes time, that it’s essential to involve all stakeholders so that they too feel commitment to what is developed.

When the survey responses were consolidated it was surprising that there was considerable alignment between all stakeholders, students, teachers and parents and whānau. Responses were developed into 10 goals, and from there formed into a Graduate Profile (see below), comprising the dispositions desired in Cobden School students. These dispositions align with the values, principles and key competencies outlined in the New Zealand Curriculum. The graduate profile includes 10 indicators underpinning each goal.  This formed a rubric that includes progressions, emergent to developing to proficient. Of particular note is a description of what each goal looks like for adults within the school community. The school is adamant that everybody should be invested in and striving to live up to the values embedded within the profile, children and adults alike.

Download a copy of the Graduate Profile below.

PDF icon. Cobden - Graduate Profile August 2017 (PDF 81 KB)

Using the Graduate Profile

For classrooms

The Graduate Profile underpins teaching and learning in the classroom.

  • Senior students select their own goals from the Graduate Profile. These are evaluated by students each term. Students collect evidence of attainment.
  • For junior students, the GP is used daily as a formative assessment of dispositions for learning.

For school leaders

This year leaders and teachers are reviewing the curriculum, so the Graduate Profile drives the curriculum and reporting to parents in plain English on the "whole child", skills and strategies to be learners.

This information will then be collated from a whole school perspective and reported to the BOT.

For the Board of Trustees

The Board of Trustees has insisted that the Graduate Profile should be reflected in the strategic plan. Strategic goals are underpinned by the Profile. Recent communication from ERO expressed support for the school’s efforts to incorporate the "front end" of the curriculum into strategic planning in order to address learners’ needs.

At risk register

Underpinning the Graduate Profile is the At Risk Register. Through both formative and summative assessment, teachers identify students at risk of not reaching the level required to enable them to fully access learning across the curriculum. Then using the risk monitor sheet (attached), specific behaviours are identified, goals are set and differentiated support is implemented for students to make progress. Deliberate strategies and actions are identified to support the students. The Risk Monitor Sheet is formally referenced three times a year to check on progress, adjust strategies if necessary and to identify the strategies that make a difference for these students. This process is used for at-risk students and all Special Needs students are monitored through their individual IEPs.

Download a copy of the Risk Monitor sheet below.

PDF icon. At Risk Matrix Master (PDF 81 KB)

What has happened as a result?

Student progress and achievement

Results since the Graduate Profile was implemented have shown considerable shifts in student dispositions for learning, and in their progress and achievement. Teachers also note a marked increase in student confidence. The number of students deemed to be at risk has significantly decreased. Of the reduced number of students on the register in 2018 it is hoped and expected that they will make similar improvements.

There is collaboration between Cobden School and the local secondary schools. Year 8 students attend John Paul II High School for weekly science lessons, in return for singing lessons by the Cobden School singing teacher. Senior students attend Greymouth High School for technology. The secondary schools have reported that students coming from Cobden School are confident, critical thinkers.

Teaching capabilities

Leaders and teachers have worked really hard to develop consistency of teaching practice across years 1 to 8.  The Graduate Profile forms part of the appraisal process, with the expectation that an inquiry goal should come from the GP.

Student voice is frequently collected and used to improve teaching and learning within the school. Some teachers were early adopters of the changes within the school and transparency about this allowed respect for others who took longer to accept the changes. However, insisting on a steady and manageable pace of change is leading to consolidated, embedded and sustainable practice.

School culture

The school has developed a culture of collaboration and sharing across all staff – leadership, teaching, and administration.

  • The Principal and the Deputy Principal share an office, as do the school secretary and the Principal’s PA.
  • Teachers work collaboratively to support each other to support student improvement. Senior leaders are part of the team.
  • There is no stigma to sharing problems of practice. Teachers take shared responsibility for student progress and achievement.
  • There is opportunity for ongoing reflection on progress, as a whole staff and within teams. This reflection is marked by professional trust and respect.
  • The school hires staff who fit in with the school’s collaborative philosophy.

Next steps

Ongoing school review is investigating changes to be made post National Standards. The school is in the process of setting up sub committees to explore how individual curriculum areas will be incorporated into the Graduate Profile.

Infographic of the Cobden School story

Take a look at the creative and informative infographic created by Cobden School to present their story to the Education Review Office. They used Piktochart software.
Select the image or download the whole infographic.

       Select the image to view at full size.

PDF icon. Cobden School infographic ERO.docx (PDF 1 MB)

With thanks to Noula Markham, Principal, and Mandy Dodds, Deputy principal for sharing their story.