Key findings

System‑level findings

ERO found a number of challenges across the 24 TPUs that require a system‑level response. The highly effective TPUs focused on supporting students and their children to gain better social, health and wellbeing outcomes. Anecdotal evidence indicated that effective TPUs, in partnerships with external agencies, already helped to improve the social, health, and wellbeing outcomes of many students and their children. However, there was a lack of data to clearly show these improvements. A strategy focused on student wellbeing could provide a basis for the Ministry, host schools and other agencies to analyse the TPUs effectiveness, and systematic ways to further improve the wellbeing of the students and their children.

Curriculum delivery was also a challenge for the TPUs. The small numbers of staff and diverse student priorities made it challenging to deliver The New Zealand Curriculum and provide suitable options for the students. Some modes of curriculum delivery were not effective for engaging students in learning. For example, many TPUs accessed individual distance learning programmes provided by Te Kura; this approach was less useful for those students who already had been unsuccessful in mainstream education settings. The effective TPUs used a variety of teaching approaches that allowed students to work together in groups, to learn in contexts that were interesting and meaningful for them, and supported them to achieve their goals.

Attendance and retention were, and continue to be, ongoing issues for the 24 TPUs. Often students were enrolled for less than three months or left within 12 months. Highly effective TPUs understood the multi-faceted challenges students faced and developed a number of incentives and schemes to support them to complete their education. They reviewed these incentives and schemes regularly, and worked collaboratively with the host school leaders and teachers to understand how to better support the students and their children.

The recording and reporting of data was a challenge for both the TPUs and the Ministry. Some of the highly effective TPUs reported that the current student management system was incompatible for recording students’ enrolment, attendance, achievement and destinations. These TPUs developed their own system of recording data that was often different from the current student management system and difficult to incorporate into the mainstream system. To help identify how to improve attendance, retention and achievement in TPUs, the Ministry should consider developing more centralised systems for recording such data.

ERO found some gaps in the data provided by the TPUs and the Ministry such as the number of students who attended for more than 80 percent of the time and their achievements, and the number of the students who received the Young Parent Payment, and their attendance (Figure 4).

Better data collection could:

  • help TPUs, host schools and the Ministry understand significant patterns about attendance, retention and destinations
  • help identify the conditions for success in effective TPUs and host schools  
  • determine other types of data needed to measure the performance of TPUs
  • identify the type of extra support needed for students not engaged in their learning 
  • identify follow‑up actions required by the TPU and host school.

 Figure 4: TPU enrolment, attendance and destinations data 

TPU data

2013

2016

Total student enrolments

831

810

Students enrolled for more than 3 weeks

751

592

Formal student exits

454

398

Destination5 outcomes

231

198

Source: Ministry of Education, 2016

Teen Parent Units findings

The overall performance of teen parent units has improved since ERO’s review in 2013 (see Figure 5). The effective TPUs were performing well and demonstrated practices that led to better educational, social, health and wellbeing outcomes for the students and their children.

Figure 5: ERO’s judgements of effectiveness 2013 and 2017

ERO judgements   

2013

2017

Highly effective

5

11

Mostly effective

10

8

Limited effectiveness

3

3

Not effective

3

2

Strong leadership was key to the overall effectiveness of the highly or mostly effective TPUs.6 This was influenced by, and had an influence on, stewardship and partnerships. The TPU leaders were improvement focused, valued positive student outcomes, engaged and supported students in their learning and transitions, and provided strong pedagogical leadership. Figure 6 is a summary of the key features of the 19 effective TPUs, which are discussed in the next section.

Figure 6: Key features of Teen Parent Units

Stewardship and leadership

Consistent and stable leadership were key features in the highly effective TPUs. Leaders had an inclusive leadership style that created a collaborative culture within the TPU where everyone was striving for the same thing: students achieving and succeeding.

TPU leaders had positive relationships with the host school’s principal and board of trustees (the board). They attended board meetings and reported regularly about the TPU’s performance. The board were aware of challenges faced by the TPUs and provided advice or support for them. Often, the positive relationships with the host school’s principal enabled professional support for the TPU leaders and teachers, and provided them with access to the host school’s professional learning and development (PLD), specialist teachers and other resources. Involvement of the TPU staff in the wider‑school activities fostered inclusion and raised the visibility of the TPU in the host school and its charter, strategic plans and website.

“The unit is part of the host school’s strategic plan but has its own specific goals which are decided collaboratively and form part of the unit’s annual plan. The TPU director presents her annual report to the board in person and the school board visits the unit.” (Board representative) 

Leaders, teachers and students in the TPU interacted respectfully with one another, accepted each other and quickly established trusting, open relationships. Their interactions created an environment that was caring, nurturing and safe for the students. Partnerships with service providers also reflected the commitment, approach, values and vision of the TPU.

Leaders and teachers emphasised understanding and responding to the ‘whole’ student. This holistic approach to learning had a strong focus on wellbeing, achievement and success. Leaders and teachers identified factors that affected student learning and improved student outcomes and success.

Most of the TPUs were located in purpose‑built facilities that were attractive and comfortable for both students and staff. TPUs were well resourced and had inviting learning spaces. Some TPUs were co‑located with health services, social agencies and training providers offering students a ‘hub’ of easily accessible services while they attended the TPU. Early learning services (ELS) were located close to the TPU, allowing the students to attend to their child when needed. These physical attributes contributed to the positive conducive‑to‑learning environments evident in those effective TPUs.

Areas of development

Some of the ‘mostly effective’ TPUs need to build and strengthen relationships with their host school principal and board. There was a lack of formal oversight and support of these TPUs, and the impact of this was evident through the lack of formal engagement between host school principals, boards and the TPU leaders. 

The five less effective (limited and not effective) TPUs need to:

  • clarify roles and responsibilities with the host school; one TPU had very little control of their resourcing, staffing, or the enrolment of students
  • formalise relationships with the host school, and board by developing MoUs
  • address high staff turnover and the resulting loss of knowledge which was affecting the operations and sustainability of these TPUs
  • use the Ministry’s Operational Guidelines for Teen Parent Units and Outcomes Framework to guide or review their performance.

One TPU was not built for the purpose of teen parent education. Learning spaces were small and the kitchen and bathroom spaces were inadequate. While learning and success remained central to the culture of the TPU, the physical learning environment must be addressed urgently to be better support this intent.

Positive student outcomes

Students in the highly effective TPUs experienced a relevant and meaningful education across the academic, social, health and wellbeing domains. They were encouraged and supported to determine, own and self‑manage their learning. Leaders of the highly effective TPUs were highly skilled and committed. They coordinated a cohesive and strategic approach that contributed to positive outcomes for the students.

Every aspect of teaching and learning focused on students improving their outcomes. Teachers deliberately planned induction processes based on the strengths, interests, aspirations and learning priorities of each student. They explicitly linked learning programmes to future pathways identified by the students. As a result, students had a real sense of autonomy, self‑determination and ownership of their learning. Based on the TPUs records, most of these students made considerable academic and social gains.

Teachers showed empathy; nurturing and caring for students. Students were treated with respect, acceptance and understanding; creating warm, caring and positive environments. Teachers encouraged students to follow their dreams, and supported them to achieve beyond what they thought was possible. They knew students with more frequent attendance achieved better outcomes; student learning was flexible to suit both their ways of learning and commitments as parents. Students were proud of their successes and celebrated their achievements; they were confident, resilient and had a great sense of belonging.

“A young mum who attended this TPU engaged in a range of learning experiences including Red Shirts (work experience). She left the TPU when she found full-time employment. This was a successful outcome for the young mum, although she had only gained a few credits at Level 2. After a few months, the teachers followed up with the young mum – she had been promoted at work and was really enjoying the workplace as it is linked to her interests.” (TPU leader)

Teachers integrated career education and guidance throughout the students’ educational experiences, which extended personalised learning. They helped students to develop relationships with external agencies by linking them to providers they may not usually have access to. Developing these partnerships motivated students to learn and helped them with well‑supported transitions to study and work pathways.

Established partnerships with nurses, doctors, social workers, youth workers, careers advisors and specialist teachers, host schools and other educational providers supported students to overcome learning barriers. Individual students attested to gains in their health and wellbeing, even if these were not systemically recorded by the TPUs. NCEA assessment progressively shifted from unit standards to achievement standards. Some TPUs supported students to achieve NCEA Level 3 and University Entrance, and enrol in tertiary education programmes. These TPUs maintained contact and supported students in the early stages of their tertiary education journey. Other TPUs supported students to achieve national level certificates and undertake training or courses, such as driving lessons. 

Areas of development

Even in some of the mostly effective TPUs, there seemed to be some pressure on TPUs to ‘fix’ or ‘hide’ what some school leaders saw as ‘problem’ students. Leaders of both the host school and TPU need to support each other to be inclusive of these students, and to collaboratively support them to succeed.

While all 24 TPUs struggled to get the students to attend regularly and engage in their learning, attendance was a significant challenge for the five less effective TPUs. Only about half of the students in each TPU attended regularly. The learning programme was not aligned with the students’ future pathways and teachers struggled to keep them engaged in their learning. Often students’ irregular attendance and understanding of expectations were seen as barriers to achieving their goals.

“These students won’t succeed at the TPU because they have been out of school too long and associate schooling with negative experiences. They find five days a week attendance and meeting behaviour (no smoking and appropriate language) and learning expectations (completion of Te Kura assignments) too difficult to manage.” (TPU leader) 

Host school leaders of the five less effective TPUs need to work with TPU leaders and investigate ways of better supporting students to attend regularly and to achieve their goals. Leaders need to review the learning environment and the learning programme with input from both the teachers and the students. They also need to model high expectations for both the students and teachers. 

Student support and engagement

The positive culture and enactment of values in the highly effective TPUs supported reciprocal learning and teaching by the students and teachers. Teachers welcomed students to the TPU and introduced them to the early learning service staff. They often used a tuakana teina7 model to support students as they settled into the TPU, particularly if students preferred small group introductions. Teachers’ non‑judgemental and sensitive interactions with the students helped them to build a rapport quickly and understand the type and level of support students needed. 

“I am not judged. I am accepted. I am in my own zone now, with girls like me. I am in control of my learning.” (Student)

Comprehensive interviews during induction helped to identify each student’s strengths, interests, aspirations, learning priorities and future pathways. These interviews also helped to build mutually respectful relationships between the teachers and the student. During induction, the TPUs used a range of formal and informal diagnostic tools including the HEEADDSS8 assessment. These formed the basis for developing individualised learning plans (ILPs)9 explicitly linked to the students’ future pathways.

During induction, external agencies were invited to meet and present to students at the TPU. Students had access to programmes about life skills, parenting, leadership, goal setting and time management. New students were also introduced to health, social and education services provided either onsite or locally.

For highly effective TPUs, settling the student’s child into the early learning service was a priority during induction. Several TPUs supported students to settle their children before beginning their learning programme. For other TPUs, there was a focus on building trusting and open relationships with the early learning service staff to ensure students felt comfortable about leaving their children at the service while attending the TPU.

High expectations and levels of engagement by the teachers supported the students to have a sense of belonging and ownership in developing their pathways. Personalised ILPs and learning goals supported students to work at their own pace, self‑manage, and build independence. ILPs and future pathways were adapted according to the students’ interests. Students’ journals contained their ILPs and goals, attendance data, ongoing assessments, and inquiry learning. The journals were also a tool for engaging students in their learning, identifying new pathways and strategies for critical thinking. Students were also able to demonstrate the skills and knowledge they acquired along their learning journey. This approach helped students articulate where they wanted to go and the planned steps to achieve their goals.

There was a strong focus on promoting each student’s culture, language and identity, and providing authentic experiences. One TPU reviewed their learning programme which led to the appointment of a Māori teacher to deliver a te reo me nga tikanga programme. The TPU reported an increase in student attendance and engagement in the programme. The students also attended the Mātatini pōwhiri which was linked to a learning outcome.

“Most of us are Māori and some of the staff are Māori too. We have lots of opportunities to talk about our learning and our hauora (wellness), we use our language, say karakia, sing waiata and talk about anything.” (Student) 

Most TPU leaders had positive relationships with the staff and students, and had an open door policy for students. The high staff‑student ratio provided teachers and students with opportunities to co‑design learning activities that responded to the students’ interests, strengths and aspirations. Students had access to a variety of courses and appreciated the independence of learning. Some students reported this as their first positive educational experience.

“I struggled with school, I felt like a failure. I didn’t feel teachers understood me. We were considered dumb at school, so we played up and didn’t do any work. We need teachers who want to know you and like you. We get one‑on‑one help here and can ask teachers anything.” (Student)

Areas of development

Despite good relationships with students, relational trust between host schools, TPUs and teachers in the less effective TPUs was low. This was evident in the lack of relationships across these groups which negatively impacted the organisational culture, learning environment, expectations and levels of engagement. 

ERO also observed some negative attitudes from staff towards students and their situation. There is an urgent need for the less effective TPUs to support students to experience education that is relevant and meaningful for them and have a real sense of self‑determination and ownership of their learning. 

Some TPUs could further develop their responsiveness to Māori and Pacific students. For example, most Māori students did not have suitable opportunities to learn in a te ao Māori environment. Māori and Pacific students need more opportunities to draw on their interests, strengths and aspirations across the curriculum.  

While the less effective TPUs set learning goals with students and developed ILPs, the process for achieving the students’ goals, tracking their progress and monitoring student wellbeing was unclear. In one TPU there was no discussion or guidance about how students could achieve their goals; students did not feel supported by their teachers, and had to manage their own learning. They also lost faith in incentive schemes run by the TPU; often their rewards were not followed up.

“The teacher sits in her office all day and doesn’t help. If you want something you have to keep pushing to get it. I waited for a week for my Te Kura login. I was told to go and ask someone else.” (Student)

Some TPUs had partnerships with nurses, doctors, and social workers who provided feedback to the TPU staff. However, the feedback was not used by the TPU to understand and monitor the students’ health and wellbeing outcomes. These TPUs need to formalise the processes for regular contact between external providers and students, and the integration of such feedback into monitoring reports so that students can be better supported.   

Destinations

Leaders and teachers in the highly effective TPUs deliberately and purposefully developed relationships with external agencies to support students to make smooth transitions into further study or work options. Most TPUs used careers advisors through their host school. One TPU had a dedicated careers advisor position. The well‑qualified advisor provided support and continuity across settings: from the TPU, to further study and into work pathways. Career advisors and teachers maintained connections with students for a significant period after the students had left the TPU. This type of support helped students to develop independence, resilience and self‑confidence.

Well‑established partnerships with education providers also played a role in the success of career education and guidance and in planning successful pathways for students. Some teachers used their own networks to help students’ access ‘taster’ courses or gain work experience placements. Many of the teachers also had skills in career education and guidance that helped students to identify future pathways.

“There are no official Gateway placements through the host school. However the TPU has been autonomous in arranging work experience for their students. In 2016, the TPU organised placements at a law centre ‑ three full days – and this is continuing into the following year. Placements were also arranged at the tourism centre, SPCA, a dressmaking factory and a nursing home.” (TPU leader)

Many TPUs had a display wall of ‘graduates’ to show the various training and employment destinations of former TPU students. Some former students were invited to share their journey during annual graduations, which helped to motivate the other students. 

Areas of development

For the less effective TPUs, career education and guidance is an area for development. While individualised learning focused on the interests and strengths of the students, career planning was not as well integrated in identifying the students’ future pathways.

Some TPUs integrated career education into their curriculum and sought placements for their students but they did not have formal processes for keeping careers advisors or employers engaged in supporting the students’ transition into further training or employment. Strengthening partnerships with career advisors through the host school or Careers New Zealand could support teachers and students in these TPUs.

Some TPUs had an academic focus, but did not necessarily view secondary‑tertiary partnerships as an opportunity to support students’ transition into further training or employment.

“There is little use of Gateway to support student work experience – the teacher in charge feels this does not fit well with students’ parenting responsibilities.” (TPU teacher)

Less effective TPUs had poor quality data about student destinations. Leaders of these TPUs need to collect more data on student destinations, particularly for those students who struggle or seemed unmotivated to engage with their learning. Support for these students during their transitions was also unclear. Although some of these students maintained contact via social media, there was very limited follow up by TPU staff.

Teaching and curriculum

A variety of factors contributed to the successful implementation of students’ individualised learning plans; quality teaching was the most influential.

Teachers in the highly effective TPUs were experienced and specialists in their field. They exhibited high quality teaching practices demonstrating a variety of competencies including sound pedagogical knowledge; strengths in a variety of curriculum areas including careers education and pathway planning; strong pastoral care; and the ability to negotiate and navigate systems to support the health and wellbeing of the students. These teachers operated from a strengths‑based perspective, acknowledged the students’ experiences, and developed positive relationships. They provided students with immediate and ongoing feedback, and were highly responsive and reflective.

Learning, growth and wellbeing were at the centre of quality teaching practices in highly effective TPUs. Teachers’ knowledge or commitment to find support for individual students’ learning priorities enhanced the quality of teaching. Students had access to a wide variety of learning opportunities and pathways to support them in achieving their goals and aspirations. In many of these TPUs, leaders and teachers encouraged and supported the achievement of NCEA Levels 1 and 2 as the foundations for further study and training.

Host school and TPU teachers met regularly to discuss areas for improvement or further development. Assessment and moderation practices were transparent and helped students to actively participate and engage in planning, goal setting, assessment, feedback and then celebrating success. Teachers provided students who were at risk of not achieving with additional support and their goals were adapted to reflect this. TPU teachers participated in PLD at the host schools and students had access to learning programmes at the host school. Teachers used courses and programmes from Te Kura to complement teaching and curriculum, but they did not rely on these as the only learning resources.

Teachers had high expectations for the students as young parents and as positive contributors to society. They treated students as adults and expected them to act responsibly and take responsibility. Teachers valued the students’ experiences, acknowledged their individual circumstances and worked in partnership to reduce barriers that impeded learning. In some cases, they were advocates for their students when dealing with other agencies or the host school.

The characteristics of the teachers working in highly effective TPUs were consistent with that of the Effective Teaching Profile (Bishop and Berryman, 2009). They cared for their students, most of whom were Māori, had high expectations and believed students could succeed. Students were engaged in learning from the time of induction into the TPU. Leaders and teachers created a culture that promoted learning and monitored a variety of outcomes, and stimulated improvement in teaching practices that supported students’ interests, aspirations and future pathways.

Areas of development

Learning programmes at the less effective TPUs were compromised by the high turnover of key staff. Generally there were low levels of staffing at these TPUs and professional support for teachers was limited.

In the less effective TPUs, host school and TPU leaders could support TPU teachers by:

  • reviewing the curriculum to align with the students’ interests, aspirations and identified pathways; rather than the scope of the teachers’ curriculum knowledge
  • providing specific PLD for teaching and working with young parents 
  • using student outcomes data to inform their goals, and integrating these goals in relation to the students’ learning priorities
  • reviewing their reliance on Te Kura as the only learning resource provided to students
  • improving relationships between the host schools and TPUs, with specialist teachers, and learning partners
  • recognising the importance of student health and wellbeing as well as academic outcomes
  • reviewing their teaching, assessment and moderation practices
  • improving support for Māori students’ language, culture and identity in their teaching practice and curriculum.

Partnerships

Highly effective TPUs had strong and well‑established partnerships with a variety of services and providers ‑ health services (Plunket, nurses, doctors), social services (counsellors, social workers), early learning services and other providers (tertiary education, parenting and life skills, careers advisors, and first aid). Partnerships were often based on the strength of the relationship between the TPU staff with service providers in the wider community.

“Many agencies have a regular time each week in the unit. This way students know who to go to and for what, and feel comfortable to access these agencies independently. Each student has a VIBE worker allocated to them whom they can access at any time.” (TPU leader)

Partnerships with the early learning services were of particular importance. For these TPUs, the relationships between the students and their child’s teachers were vital. The students were supported both in the transition of their child into fulltime early childhood education and the celebration of their child’s progress. Weekly meetings with the Early Learning Service manager provided an opportunity for the students to make suggestions, raise concerns, become further engaged in their child’s learning and communicate through an established forum rather than ad hoc meetings.

Wrap‑around support was available in almost all of the highly effective TPUs. For example, some students travelled long distances to the TPU and the provision of transport enabled them to attend the TPU and other appointments, or to get to the bus stop and train station with their children during the winter.

TPUs also benefitted when they had strong partnerships with the host schools. TPU teachers, staff and students were able to access resources, such as PLD, other professional materials and school career advisors. Courses and programmes from the host school and Te Kura were used to complement teaching and the curriculum.

Students’ parents and whānau were also important partners, where circumstances allowed, in supporting students. Notices about students’ progress were sent to whānau, which helped them understand more about the students’ learning and future pathways, and how to support the students and their children. For some students, this was the first time their whānau received ‘good’ news about them and their achievements.  

Teachers introduced students to people in professional support roles and students had ongoing opportunities to engage with such people. These partnerships helped students to access a wide variety of training opportunities, and to develop relationships that aligned with their identified future pathways.

Areas for development

The less effective TPUs need to develop and strengthen strategic partnerships with early learning services and others. This was a particular issue for one TPU where the students’ children were going to different early learning services in the region. The TPU had not established relationships with any of these services which meant the students’ children did not always have a place at an early learning service. These TPUs also need to collaborate with the early learning services to review their policies and expectations of the young parents. At one TPU, there was a policy requiring the students to enrol their children in the attached early learning service. However, the service did not always prioritise the enrolment of these children so the students’ attendance at the TPU was often delayed because they had to wait for an opening at the service.

The less effective services also need to:

  • plan for and access PLD for staff, careers advisors, health and social workers; some TPUs struggled to access PLD due to timetabling arrangements
  • formalise partnerships with other service providers such as Plunket and counsellors
  • inform potential employers about the student’s interests and availability for a placement.

Improvement focus

Highly effective TPUs had a good understanding of internal evaluation and its role in making improvement‑focused changes. They developed a culture where staff and students participated, engaged and contributed to inquiry and improvement-focused activities. Appraisal processes in the effective TPUs were robust and meaningful and aligned with the Education Council’s requirements. Staff used the students’ feedback to identify areas of improvement for their teaching practices, the learning programme and support for students. 

Some of these TPUs developed their own systems, separate from the host school, for collecting data about enrolment, attendance and transitions. These TPUs had good quality data collection methods in place (student surveys, minutes from group meetings and student committees, exit surveys), and inquiry findings were acted upon and informed both decision‑making and appraisal processes.

Teachers modelled inquiry as a practice that improved what they did and how they did it. Students were involved in inquiry processes and encouraged to think about inquiry for their own learning. Teachers regularly monitored and reported on improvements to TPU leaders.

“Academic achievement and wellbeing are equally valued. Each teacher has a whānau group. They meet at 9.15am each morning – teachers touch base with each student about how they are feeling, how their night was, and how their child was before discussing the lessons and learning for the day.”  (TPU leader)

A feature of the highly effective TPUs was their ability to provide wrap‑around support services for students and improve their wellbeing. However, they did not always review how effective they were in supporting students or in identifying the social, health and wellbeing gains students made over time. 

Areas of development

Internal evaluation in the less effective TPUs could be developed further to improve the provision of education and student support. While some TPUs were engaged in a process of inquiry for improvement, data collection methods and the use of students’ achievement information to inform decisions needs strengthening. Robust data collection methods would provide a stronger evidence base for reporting and decision making. TPU leaders and teachers should also further consider how to incorporate student inquiry when evaluating unit practices and programmes.

ERO found very limited use of the Ministry of Education’s TPUs Operational Guidelines and Outcomes Framework in the less effective TPUs. They need to align their operations and practices more closely to the guidelines and the framework. Teacher appraisals could also be improved to align with the Education Council’s requirements and provide teachers with regular and specific feedback about their teaching practice.

In these TPUs, the provision of PLD by the host school was not always adequate or appropriate to the needs of the TPUs.

“We work with students who face many challenges outside the classroom. In her appraisal, the manager identified the need for formal supervision for herself and the teachers but no formal PLD has been planned.” (TPU teacher)



[5] Destination outcomes are student identified pathways for further education or employment. Effective TPUs usually maintain contact with former students and provide support, if needed.

[6]  See Appendix 2 for summary of key findings. 

[7]  Tuakana teina provides a model for buddy systems. An older or more expert tuakana (brother, sister or cousin) helps and guides a younger or less expert teina (originally a younger sibling or cousin of the same gender).

[8]  HEEADDSS is an acronym for Home, Education/Employment, Eating, Activities, Drugs and Alcohol, Sexuality, Suicide and Depression, Safety. More information is available at www.werryworkforce.org/

[9]  Individual Learning Plans are also known as Individual Education Plans in some contexts.