This section sets out the findings from ERO’s review of each of the 16 Ministry‑funded service academies. 

Overall most of the 16 service academies provided high quality education and support for their students. Three of the 16 were highly effective providers and another nine showed good levels of effectiveness. Three were effective across some aspects, albeit significant improvement could have been made in several areas. One of the service academies demonstrated limited effectiveness.

The context of Service Academies

The academies have different approaches which reflect their different students, priorities and objectives. A memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the host schools and the Ministry of Education sets out the broad structure of service academies. This document outlines the basic programme structure, how funding is to be used and the expected age and school background of academy students. Despite the expectations of the MoU, differences were found in the type of students attending the different service academies. Across the country service academy cohorts ranged from students who have essentially been alienated from school to those who have acquired Level 2 NCEA.

The academy programmes also have different objectives in line with their different cohorts. Some academies are focused on students entering the military as a career option. Others see the service academy as a way for disengaged students to make a step forward in their education and training pathway. Some academies cater for a range of student outcomes.

The amount of time students spend together as an academy class also varies between schools. While the academies all generally keep to the one third academic, one third military and one third discretionary programmes expected in the MoU, some academies keep students together for most or all of their programme, while others have very little time together as a classroom unit. Similarly some academies strictly enforce a stay of one year on the programme while others are more flexible in letting students stay for additional time.

The ethnic makeup of academy students reflects that of their schools. Approximately 80 percent of the service academy students are Māori or Pacific. Males make up approximately 70 percent of the students. Eighty percent of students are in Years 12 and 13. There are also students in Year 11 and Year 14 at some schools.

The service academy directors are not usually fully registered trained teachers. They all have some form of services background and many have also been instructors in the services.

Contribution of the New Zealand Defence Force

Students in the service academies have considerable contact with the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF). Students experience an induction course held either in the South Island (Burnham Camp or West Melton) or, in the North Island, at Hobsonville (Auckland). This course is typically for 12 days. Most students also take part in a five-day outdoor challenge course (Mil Skills) course. Selected students will also complete leadership courses hosted by NZDF.

Evidence from the academies strongly indicates that the NZDF are highly effective in achieving the aims of the induction course. These include introducing students to significant life skills and values, and fostering the degree of teamwork that can serve as a foundation for the remainder of the academic year. The induction programme was a key element in setting the culture for the academies and providing an authentic (real) context for developing their attitude and motivation for success.

The induction course was awesome. Academy student

At the time of this evaluation NZDF was surveying directors to help with the review of its work with the service academies. This survey is one of the ways the NZDF can review its contribution to the service academies. The academy directors have a good understanding of the needs of the students and their services background can help inform the nature of the NZDF courses. Their input can help to enhance the quality of the NZDF contribution in the future.

An area for improvement identified by military and academy staff is the need for student learning from the NZDF courses to be recognised through the qualifications framework. There have been some initial discussions between NZDF staff and the academy directors about how this can proceed. This work is expected to increase the number of credits students can gain during their time in a service academy.

Student outcomes

Social and academic outcomes

ERO found high levels of student engagement across the service academies. Almost all students demonstrated high levels of commitment to their service academy programme. This was typically reflected in the attendance and behavioural data of the academies.

In many cases the motivational and social changes of students in the service academies could be considered transformational. Many anecdotes provided evidence of students who had gone from being poorly behaved, low achievers to successful students and role models in the school. The comments from the students below were indicative of those from a majority of academy students, their previous teachers and parents.

I can get on better with my father now and I do what my mother asks me. I used to hit and swear at my parents.

I help around the house and keep my room tidy. I’m proud of what I’ve learned in the academy. I am respectful of my family and they are proud of me.

I can see a better path for myself. It’s very positive and uplifting.

I was suspended from school for fighting. I was always angry and hated myself. I’m not going back there again. I’ve changed. I’ve got a purpose now. My parents are very happy and proud.

I used to hate my teachers but staff [1] really cares about us even though he is very strict, I’d do anything for him because he takes an interest in me.

The social transformation led to better academic outcomes for academy students. Twelve of the 16 academies demonstrated good levels of achievement, especially in areas such as numeracy and literacy. Three of the 16 academies provided very high quality education. At two of these academies students gained a considerable number of Level 2 and 3 credits in addition to NCEA Level 1. At the third a majority of the students moved from being alienated from school to achieving Level 1 NCEA and returning to mainstream education.

Most of the students at the other academies were on track to make significant academic achievements as a result of their improved motivation and behaviour in the service academy. The specific achievements of students depended on their cohort. For example, where students were expected to have achieved their Level 1 numeracy and literacy credits as an academy pre-requisite, a majority of students were likely to achieve NCEA Level 2 passes by the end of 2011. Students who had fewer academic achievements were typically making good progress towards NCEA Level 1.

Lower levels of student achievement were observed in four of the academies. Students at these academies tended to achieve fewer NCEA credits than their peers at more effective academies. These academies had lower levels of student engagement and attendance. They also had a lower quality of programme planning, and academy staff used a limited range of teaching strategies.

The analysis of achievement information

ERO identified the analysis of academic data as a key area for review and development across the academies. None of the academies had fully developed their analysis of academic achievement and their subsequent self-review systems. While some directors monitored student performance during the academic year, academy staff did not examine student achievement patterns systematically and make changes to their programme.

Academies established in 2010 need time to build up their annual records of student achievement. Once annual information is prepared then academy staff will have a baseline to consider student outcomes from year to year.

Host schools also need to assist academy staff to develop self-review systems. Given that most academy staff have well-developed goal-setting strategies for students then school-based knowledge about aspects such as assessment and Individual Education Plans (IEPs) could be used to create more detailed student records of achievement over time that combined the academic, social, physical fitness and personal goals of students.

Destination information

The information on students’ destinations is typically not analysed or used to improve the quality of teaching in the academies. This is despite the fact that directors provide destination information to the Ministry in their milestone reports.

Where directors had destination information available there were indications that almost all students go on to further education and employment. To some extent the destination outcomes of students were influenced by the student cohort. Students who could be considered more at risk were less likely to go on to education or employment compared to those who had been more successful at school.

From juvenile detention to school prefect and beyond

In 2009 a student from one of the academy host schools was charged with aggravated assault. He was placed in a juvenile detention centre although his lawyer and staff from the school sought to have him transferred to the school hostel where he would have 24-hour supervision. The court agreed although a condition of his release included that the student must wear an ankle bracelet.

The boy made progress under this arrangement and joined the academy which opened in 2010. The boy continued to make progress while at the academy. He also continued to wear his ankle bracelet. He was elected a prefect of the school and became the Military Academy platoon sergeant. During his time in the academy the bracelet came off and his attitude and demeanour were exemplary. In 2011 he won a position in a local sports academy.

The boy’s school principal stated, “We are very proud of this boy’s achievements… the Military Academy was the icing on the cake for this boy and came at the right time for him. We are all very proud of him.”

School-wide outcomes

The positive social and academic outcomes of students also benefited the culture of most schools where the academies were hosted. Academy students were typically role models who made significant contributions to the life of the school. For example, non-academy teachers commented to ERO on how much they enjoyed having academy students in their classes and that their academy classes were their best.

Academy students also acted as leaders in the school. ERO was given examples of academy students intervening in playground disputes and helping to run school events. At three schools the leadership skills of academy students were developed through their work as mentors for younger students. At one of these schools, each academy student worked in a seven-week block with a Year 10 student to build their motivation for school. Students from this academy also took classes of younger students for physical fitness activities.

The academies were also a source of pride or mana for most schools. In some ways this status is analogous to the position a first XV has in some schools. For example, at one school the status of the academy, and the leadership skills of students, was evident in academy students tutoring the whole school in marching. The academy students subsequently led a march of the whole school down the town’s main street during a celebration.

The importance of health and physical fitness

Central to the student engagement at the academies was the role of health and physical fitness. The values, discipline, leadership and sense of pride and achievement felt by so many of the academy students related strongly to improvements they made in their overall well being.

In the first instance physical fitness gave students an excellent context for developing and measuring personal goals. Goal setting is a significant aspect of academy life. The experience of directors in setting and meeting health and fitness goals was a key motivator for students. The intrinsic motivation students held towards their physical fitness goals meant that many students developed personal training programmes that took place before school, after school and in the weekends.

Many students ERO talked to showed pride in their physical training (PT) regimes and the gains they had made in fitness as well the weight they had lost. In this sense some students not only made social and academic transformations in the academy but physical transformations too.

I used to mock my friends, and hit them in a ‘friendly’ way. It wasn’t too friendly actually. I was more of a bully. No one would hit me back because I was a lot bigger and louder. Now I’ve lost weight, about 15 kgs, and my friends hardly recognise me because I’ve changed so much - they admire me.” I like how I have changed and so do my family. I’ve got a lot more pride in myself and I feel like I’ve got a future to look forward to.

Female academy student

At one academy the health and fitness achievements of students were supported by the school’s health department. Staff from this area of the school gave curriculum and assessment support to the director so that students could gain Level 2 and 3 credits in health and physical education. A partnership such as this could potentially work well at other host schools.

Student success stories from one academy*

Wiremu was a Year 12 student who was thinking about going to university but always had an interest in going to the military. He was highly academic and decided to stay on at Year 13 so he could pursue this interest through the academy. Wiremu was one of three students who entered the military recruitment course at Waiouru in June 2011. He was one of two successful students from his academy who ‘marched out’ of the course. As his family was on a limited income it was important for him to achieve well at the recruitment camp and thereby be place on the army payroll.

Lance’s dad was a keen outdoors man and was injured in a shooting accident when Lance was 12 years old. His dad became physically dependent as a result of the accident. Lance was very angry about losing his opportunity to enjoy the outdoors with his father. Lance has been in the academy in 2011. He has really enjoyed his outdoor education and his mother, who talked with ERO, discussed what it has meant for the family for Lance to have the opportunities offered in the academy.

Hine is a Year 13 student who has suffered with a speech impediment. As a result of her challenges she has completely lacked confidence. Her Dean said that at Year 11 she was going to drop out of school. As a result of the academy she now has confidence to instruct students. Hine won the drill sergeant award at camp and has no difficulty instructing and drilling students. She has also become a school prefect. The deputy principal said that when she was in Year 9 her confidence was so low that there was no way she would have been considered to be a school prefect or leader.

Gail is a Year 13 student. The deputy principal and Year 13 Dean said that she came to the school from a very difficult background. She liked what she saw in the service academy programme. She would have left school but wanted to come back and try the Service Academy. She is now determined to do something for young students through the programme. She is deputy head girl at school and a mature student leader. She is very committed to the academy and is modelling leadership for students in the academy and the wider school.

*The actual names of students have been changed

The quality of teaching

Academy staff

Directors and assistant directors are fundamental to the quality of teaching at service academies. All academy staff had developed good relationships with students. Generally they were stern or strict with students, in terms of their expectations, while also acting as mentors in one-to-one interactions. The strictness of staff did not, however, prevent them from being supportive of students’ development. Indeed their mentoring and support and helped to build up students’ self-esteem.

Despite this, ERO observed differences in the discipline standards and routines among academies. In the most effective academies there were ongoing high standards for drills, physical fitness and behaviour that provided an excellent basis for student learning and development. Well-documented programmes set out the objectives and timelines for the year. This included details about academic, military and off-site learning and the contributions each of these components made to student learning and NCEA credits.

In four academies the quality of teaching was limited. Little or no documented programme planning was evident. This often meant that it was not clear to students how they were to gain credits or reach other goals during their time in the academy. These academies also tended to have lower expectations for discipline and routine compared with the more organised examples.

The overall contribution made by academy staff to the quality of teaching has to be seen in light of the fact that almost all of the directors and assistant directors were not trained teachers. The lack of a teaching qualification was not, in any way, a barrier to directors’ and assistant directors’ effectiveness. However, academies that had better links with their host school were more likely to show the levels of coordination and organisation necessary for a high quality programme. The features of this coordination included academy staff working in partnership with school staff to provide careers advice and support, and specific teaching programmes.

Multi-level teaching

A feature of the effective academies was the ability of staff to meet the diverse needs of students, especially in literacy and numeracy. Staff developed programmes that catered for students’ individual strengths, interests and needs and the different NQF standards they had gained before entering the academy programme.

ERO observed some benefits when academy students stayed together for a majority of their programme. This made it easier to maintain academy routines, establish the culture of the academies and build literacy and numeracy programmes around the academy’s attendance at off-site components of the programme. Having a whole‑academy literacy and numeracy programme meant that academy students’ attendance at off-site courses did not affect the programmes taught by mainstream teachers.

Significantly the academy-based literacy and numeracy programmes were often taught by experienced and effective teachers. This included heads of department and members of the senior leadership team from the host school. Their experience as teachers was useful in the multi-level design of these programmes and helped ensure that literacy and numeracy were successful parts of the overall academy programme.

Assessment of all learning

One of the key challenges for the academies is developing an assessment approach that adequately acknowledges student learning in terms of NCEA and NQF credits. Some academies were better at aspects of this than others.

Central to this is the assessment of student learning during their defence force instruction. The directors have started working with members of the NZDF to identify how students can receive NQF credits for this learning.

Other dimensions of student learning have not been consistently captured in terms of NCEA credits. This varies according to the academy, but there is scope for academies to use standards from health and physical education, core generics, outdoor education and leadership. Other domains are also likely to provide opportunities for students to map their learning to the qualifications framework.

Programme coordination, careers and goal setting

Effective support for student goals involved directors helping students to identify goals in the following sorts of areas:

  • Careers
  • Physical fitness (and well-being)
  • Numeracy
  • Literacy
  • Other academic study
  • Personal goals
  • Military course components
  • Outdoor education knowledge and skills.

Although students typically identified goals in these areas, different levels of support and coordination was observed for different goals in each of the academies. For example, some academies did not regularly review student goals. Many did not adequately help students identify the steps needed to reach significant goals such as their career aspirations. Some academies had detailed processes for monitoring and achieving fitness goals but were far less detailed in other areas. In some cases careers staff helped students develop goals, but these did not necessarily follow the steps a student needed to take to achieve them. None of the academies used an IEP model for supporting student goals across a range of areas.

Interestingly the patchy coordination and support for the specific goals of students, especially those outside of physical fitness, was a contrast to the intrinsic motivation students demonstrated towards reaching their overall goals. In this regard academy staff were generally successful at building the determination of students to strive for goals, such as a ‘career in the police force’, although they were not always good at monitoring the overall progress of a student and responding to specific barriers to student progress. At least part of the reason for students being motivated during their time in the academy was linked to the generally good levels of verbal feedback academy staff gave students for their day-to-day achievements, behaviour and motivation.

The effective goal-setting approaches that were used included the work of a director at one academy who met with individual students each week to monitor their progress towards academic, social and physical goals. This director also prepared a weekly report on each student’s attendance, progress and the development of their attitudes, skills and personal qualities.

In another academy students prepared presentations to their class on the progress they were making towards their goals. This process helped students to take responsibility for their goals. The ‘public’ quality of students’ goals echoed the common practice of students’ physical fitness standards being displayed, as part of the overall academy fitness levels, in the academy classroom.

One of the less effective goal-setting processes was observed at a school that used host school teachers to monitor the goals of academy students. This had the effect of distancing the academy staff from student goal-setting and undermined a key aspect of the programme. Other processes affecting the quality of student goal-setting included the lack of follow up by academy staff, inaccessible student achievement information and a lack of detail about the steps students needed to take to both reach goals and make a successful transition from the academy programme.

Life after the academy

Although the available destination information from academies indicates that a high proportion of students go on to employment or further education and training, ERO found some areas for development related to students leaving at the end of their academy programmes. In general academies had limited processes for supporting the transition of students to work, training or future employment.

ERO also found that there were no processes to track the outcomes of students who had left the academy programme and returned to mainstream education. While it can be difficult to track the ongoing progress of students who have left school following their year in the academy, those who return to the mainstream provide a sample of students who could be closely monitored. An analysis of the outcomes reached by students who return to the mainstream would help identify the sustainability of the motivation and achievement gains made by students during their time in the academy.

Some schools found that students benefited from another year in the service academy. Some of these schools allowed second year students to act as leaders in the following year’s programme. The ‘promotion’ of previous year’s students allowed them to be role models to the current year’s academy intake, gave them ongoing contact with the academy staff and provided an opportunity to benefit from staff’s mentoring and support. It did however use up an academy place that could have gone to a new student. Schools have to weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of repeat years to make sure that the best use is being made of the academy resources.

Academy spaces

Most of the academies were comfortably housed in their own classroom spaces, in which students could take pride. They had space to store outdoor gear and to also allow for a range of learning activities. They had networked computers so that students could complete a variety of work in class. Some academy classrooms had kitchen areas to make it easier to welcome guests. Some academies had also made allowance for academy uniforms and had irons and ironing boards to help students look their best in their ‘number ones’ or formal uniforms.

There were advantages if academies were on site. Being on site typically gave students access to parade grounds, libraries and, most importantly, gymnasiums, showers and fitness equipment. Flag poles were important at some academies and were used in specific flag raising ceremonies. Some academies also had good careers resources, or were located close to careers offices in the school. The association with the careers department facilitated the goal-setting of students.

Where academy spaces were of lower quality there were difficulties getting basic classroom equipment, including curtains and computing resources. There were also issues getting gymnasium time and equipment for some academies.

Leadership and management

As is set out in the quality of teaching section of this report, directors were generally effective leaders of the academy programmes. Their leadership helped to build student motivation and achievement. Despite this there were some significant gaps in the way most academies were managed or supported by their host schools.

In the most effective cases academy directors worked well with the school principals to make sure that academies had a strong profile in the school. Teachers understood the value of the service academy and appreciated the role this had in building up the achievement of its students.

This is the most valuable programme the school has had to influence students’ lives.

School Principal 

The other features of effective management found in academies were:

  • clear student entry criteria
  • high expectations for what students would achieve
  • entry pathways for academy students
  • effective management systems
  • detailed planning and programme documentation
  • suitable self-review systems
  • regular and developmental appraisal of the director
  • support and professional development for the director
  • integration between the academy and the main school.

None of the academies had all these features in place, although three had most of them. However systems for appraisal, professional development and support, self review and long term planning were typically not strong in the academies. Primarily these are the responsibility of the leaders of the host schools who can be expected to induct and support academy staff who are, on the whole, new to the systems and management of schools.

The lack of management support for academies was in contrast to the high regard and appreciation shown by principals towards academy staff. This situation is somewhat analogous to that in Alternative Education (AE) where ERO has found that many secondary schools are not working with AE providers sufficiently to ensure that students achieve useful outcomes.

The lack of appraisal and professional development and support for academy staff needs to be seen against their LAT status. School leaders should be providing additional support for academy staff so they can build on their existing knowledge (which frequently includes experience as instructors).

The status of directors and other academy staff also raises questions about their employment conditions. ERO found some differences in the salaries of academy directors. These salary differences were part of an inconsistent approach to funding from the host school principals. While some schools provided additional resources, others primarily used the Ministry’s tagged funding to meet the academy costs. In some cases principals did not seem to appreciate that they also received staffing and operational funding for academy students in addition to the Ministry service academy grant. [2] It should be pointed out that schools do not report on their use of the $90,000 service academy grant as part of their milestone reporting to the Ministry.

Another management issue relates to the placement of academies. While not strictly a school management issue it is important to note that some principals were reluctant to be seen ‘poaching’ students from neighbouring schools to enrol at the academy. Schools that host academy students also receive the staffing and operational funding that comes with having these students on the roll. There are also likely to be schools that are reluctant to send students to service academies at other schools because of the funding they may lose. This suggests that not all the students who would benefit most from academies are able to access these programmes. Potentially this is a management issue for the overall Youth Guarantee policy and not just service academies.

Culture of the service academies

The culture of the service academies was typically supportive and inclusive. Students talked about a quality of ‘brotherhood’, whānau or teamwork in operation in their academies. This quality was strongly developed by the induction courses held by the military and was continued by the ethos of the academy staff.

I used to get picked on at school, but I don’t in the service academy – it is quite peaceful here…My parents think I am more self reliant and independent now.

Special needs student at one academy

Physical fitness was a central element to the supportive and inclusive culture of the service academies. Students actively encouraged each other to reach their fitness goals and strive to achieve new ones. This was seen, for example, in the teamwork that has operated in the end of year outdoor excursions (such as the ‘coast to coast’) where students work together to get their team to the end.

Linked to the physical fitness was the discipline expected at most of the academies. Correction training (CT) and physical training (PT) were core ways in which the high expectations of students were translated into specific goals and consequences from letting the rest of the class down. Specifically students might be expected to ‘carry logs’ around the field for lateness or incorrect uniform. In some cases an individual’s punishment was extended to the whole class to underline the importance of everyone meeting expectations. Students’ also had opportunities to lead their classmates by acting as a ‘second in charge’.

Staff is always on our case. It was a bit of a shock when we joined and not fun for a start but it was a good hard shock.

Strictness made the difference

It helps us to take responsibility for ourselves

The service academy affected my attitude to school

My parents were pleased – they could see the changes in me.

These expectations were well accepted by almost all students. It is important to point out that while the academies were strict, they were not punitive, bullying or based on individual humiliation. Indeed teamwork, support and inclusion were observed in the many examples of students who had gained self-esteem, friendships, success and role‑model status through their time in the academy.

In 2010 a male student was encouraged to enrol at the nearby service academy by the careers counsellor of his school. The student was verbally and physically capable but had very poor social skills. He had not made any friends and was depressed and withdrawn. After joining the academy he made friends who have supported him as a member of the academy team. They accepted his differences and have included him in their social and physical activities, including at the weekend. His parents are very happy that he has friends and a social network that look after him. He re-joined the academy in 2011 and is more confident, outgoing and is completing NCEA Level 2. 

A male student from an Auckland academy had struggled at school in 2010. He had significant absences and poor achievement. In 2011 he joined the service academy and has transformed his attitude, attendance and cooperation. As he said “I used to be really naughty, I hated my teachers and caused lots of trouble in my classes. My teachers didn’t like me and I used to hide so I couldn’t go to class. I felt useless and never was any good in tests or anything. Why have I changed? I can’t explain it, it’s a miracle”. 

Significantly, those academies with lower levels of student ‘morale’, pride and success were those that were also less strict. One of the factors which is likely to have affected this was the lower number of students applying to enter the academy programme. In schools with higher numbers of applicants it is easier to set high expectations so that only students accepting certain demands can enter the programme.

An element in some academies was their community involvement or community service element. This added to the culture of the academy and helped build a sense of pride in the community and in the academy itself. One academy, which had an off‑site classroom, did several marches down the main street to get to their classes back on the main school site. This was received, by community members. Other academies participated in community work such as providing firewood to the elderly, security for a community event and helping out at the supermarket. They participated in the ANZAC celebrations and have regular contact with RSA members. They also run the school breakfast club.

Engaging whānau and families

Links with whānau and families was variable in the service academies. All of the academies could build stronger partnerships with parents in relation to the exit transitions of students. Notwithstanding this, nine of the academies had good relationships with whānau and parents, albeit with minor areas for improvement. Seven of the academies had more limited relationships with parents and could make significant improvements in this area.

At the academies that made the best connections to families, whānau were seen as a key element to changing student lives. For example at one academy the director developed a range of formal and informal ways to connect with families. The director’s wife and the local kaumatua were part of this process as they formed a collective with parents to attend academy celebrations, inductions and powhiri. The quality of these relationships meant that there was a common understanding about the academy drug-free policy for students, and student attendance in after-hours classes, camps and training.

Other strategies for engaging families included a meeting with the whānau as part of each student’s induction. These meetings were used to explain the nature and expectations of the service academy. They were also used to outline the support parents needed to give to their son or daughter during their time in the academy. Most academies included regular academy newsletters, school reports, report evenings as well as visits and phone calls home. One director had set up a Facebook page to assist parents, and ex-students, to keep in contact with both the director and events at the academy. At another academy there were monthly meetings for parents to hear about activities at the academy.

Where families were less engaged with service academies ERO observed that academy staff had not seen the opportunities or benefits to be gained through better relationships with parents. As a result the connections with parents tended to be minimal. Parents might be part of the induction process at these academies but had little involvement other than receiving school reports.

The variability in the links with families is perhaps connected to the experience of the academy directors themselves. In their military backgrounds these people have dealt directly with recruits and therefore have not needed to develop partnerships with parents.