Entry transitions

Most schools had sound processes for students’ entry transitions into the schools. Making the transition as smooth as possible was key to making the most productive use of students’ time in the school. For many students, the transition itself was traumatic and unsettling with little certainty of how long the student would be in the school. This challenge was felt particularly in the Youth Justice residences, as students are on remand and their future is subject to decisions made in court. Schools often had very little warning before a student arrived, and this unpredictability put pressure on school transition procedures. Evidence of this occurred in the week prior to ERO visiting, when ten students arrived.


Each school had a strong focus on developing positive relationships with and between students. Staff demonstrated genuine empathy, care, and concern for their students.

Teachers and leaders were skilled at building rapport with students, and in most cases worked alongside the CYF residential staff to initiate this process as soon as possible. Many enrolling students had suffered from trauma. In most cases, both teaching and residential staff were trained in trauma-informed approaches, which emphasised physical, psychological and emotional safety, and provided opportunities for students to rebuild a sense of control and empowerment.

At the transition stage, teachers and leaders used a range of methods to help develop positive relationships, including:

  • treating students with courtesy and respect
  • getting to know individual students’ interests and needs
  • discussing feeling safe and secure
  • modelling calm and non-confrontational behaviour
  • introducing students to behavioural expectations and class culture
  • presenting themselves authentically, as trustworthy adults.

Gathering information

Accessing reliable existing information about students was a challenge in most cases. Many of the schools had sound processes in place for gathering information from a variety of sources, but the availability of information nevertheless varied from student to student. Schools had access to the case history information CYF social workers had collected, and leaders also accessed (where possible) education-specific data from the Ministry of Education’s ENROL system and the New Zealand Qualification Authority (NZQA) record of learning for older students. Where possible, leaders made contact with students’ previous schools to gain more information, but this was often difficult. Students may have been disengaged from education for some time prior to arriving in a CYF residence, may be arriving from another part of New Zealand, and often arrived with little notice.

As soon as possible after enrolment, staff used a variety of tools to conduct baseline assessments of students’ literacy and numeracy. In addition to these formal literacy and numeracy assessments, staff gathered information about students’ mental and physical health and social and cultural needs, as well as their strengths and interests. One school had a very thorough process that took place over three days in a dedicated assessment unit. The assessment unit teacher, and various other specialists worked together to form a comprehensive picture of the student. Where possible the CYF whānau engagement coordinator contacted whānau to learn more about the student and establish an ongoing connection.

Teachers and leaders in many of the schools recognised threats to the validity and reliability of these initial assessments. There was a tension between the need to conduct assessment early to inform individual planning, and making sure students were settled enough to complete the assessments in a manner that reflected their true abilities. Student anxiety around transitions (both entry and exit) may have had a negative impact on assessment results.

Individual planning

Individual Learning Plans (ILPs)4 were also generally created as soon as possible. The effective practice ERO found involved setting both broad, specific individual goals that were closely linked to the information teachers and leaders had about student strengths, needs and interests. In these instances, ILPs included both social and wellbeing goals as well as specific educational goals in literacy or numeracy. Where relevant, older students also had goals relating to achieving NCEA credits. Effective ILPs were also closely linked to students’ Individual Care Plans (ICPs) and informed by the school’s values. They were regularly reviewed and updated to reflect student progress. Weekly and day-to-day planning demonstrated a clear link to students’ ILP goals.

Where practice was less effective, the link between ILPs and the classroom programme was limited. When students were only in the residence for a short time, and the exact duration of their stay was not known, by the time an ILP was created, the student had already transitioned out of the school, resulting in ad hoc and unplanned teaching.

Responsive professional learning and development

All staff had some degree of access to ongoing professional learning and development (PLD). In effective schools the choice of PLD was responsive to the needs of students, and the capabilities that teachers required to meet these needs. In the less effective schools, there was not as strong a link between PLD and student needs. In these schools, decisions about PLD generally reflected the broader priorities of the education providers.

Staff had accessed specific PLD in a variety of areas including:

  • trauma-informed practice
  • speech and language therapy
  • assessment with e-asTTle
  • teacher inquiry
  • te reo Māori
  • non-violent conflict training
  • mindfulness
  • cultural responsiveness.



In the effective schools, classrooms were bright, spacious and engaging. Students’ work appeared on the walls, along with other displays. Furniture was set out to enable flexibility for both group and independent learning. Students had access to laptops, tablets, and a variety of appropriate and interesting books and other resources. One school was establishing a model farm to give students opportunities for contextual learning in agriculture, horticulture and using machinery and vehicles.

In the less effective schools, some classrooms were cramped, limiting the use of engaging pedagogies and raising the likelihood of students becoming distracted. Other classrooms were less well resourced in terms of information and communications technology (ICT) and, particularly, reading material.

Engaging curriculum and pedagogy

In the most effective schools, teachers provided a broad and engaging curriculum, with relevant topics and activities carefully chosen to appeal to students. In the best examples, students were given significant opportunities to choose their own activities. The learning contexts were relevant, and students had the opportunity to develop real life skills such as health, parenting, safety, employment skills and life skills. Students had opportunities to engage in hands-on learning in relevant contexts across the breadth of the curriculum, including technology, music and arts. In one school, music was used as a form of therapy, as well as a curriculum area. We observed an occasion where a student had become very agitated and went to the music room with the guitar to ‘reset’. Some schools were able to offer outdoor education experiences, with careful planning around safety. These experiences included mountain biking, tramping, gymnastics, and surfing.

Teachers and leaders in effective schools continually adapted the curriculum to make sure it remained relevant as students with different strengths, needs and interests transitioned in and out of the school. Some schools provided a cohesive curriculum across the school and residential contexts. Te Kura5 was used to give wider curriculum choices, but only when there was a clear link to students’ individual needs and interests.

Teachers in the most effective schools took advantage of favourable staffing ratios to provide a mix of one-to-one and group learning. They were also able to use a variety of evidence-informed pedagogical approaches for engaging students who have experienced significant trauma. They used encouragement, questioning and gentle prompting to keep students engaged. ERO observed young people in these classrooms engaging quickly in their work and valuing the opportunity to improve their skills.

In the less effective schools, teachers did not display the same variety of pedagogical approaches. We observed students in these classrooms frequently disengaged and off-task.

Orderly classrooms with few interruptions were evident in all schools. Teachers made sure they used praise and incentives to acknowledge and reward students’ positive behaviours. Some schools operated a points system to formalise this process. In some schools, we observed teachers personally greeting each student at the beginning of the day. Most interactions were respectful and courteous, showing students had a clear understanding of teacher expectations.

When students did display challenging behaviour, teachers and residential staff were highly attuned to early signs a student was becoming unsettled. They swiftly moved to de-escalate these situations, which usually involved short-term withdrawal from the environment and one-on-one counselling. These interventions were done in a calm, non-confrontational manner, modelling positive ways of dealing with behavioural issues and minimising disruption for other students.

Individual responsiveness

Programmes in the effective schools were individually responsive. Weekly and day-to-day planning was strongly informed by student strengths, needs and interests as set out in their ILPs. At one school, students had a learning map, which set out their learning goals and how they would achieve them for each week. These were reviewed weekly with teachers. Another school provided students with an ‘IEP box’, which contained a variety of activities for learning across the curriculum to support their learning plan. These activities changed daily.

Students in the effective schools were working at their own level, towards their own specific goals. They were aware of their progress and taking ownership of their learning. As mentioned above, teachers made every effort to relate the programme to students’ interests. One school had a three day programme once per month, which was tailored to meet specific student needs such as cooking on a budget, first aid, and sexuality education.

In the less effective schools, individual responsiveness was not a strong feature. There was a greater degree of whole-class teaching. In the schools needing to make significant improvements, an over-reliance on worksheets was evident rather than engaging pedagogies that helped students to learn by building on their strengths and interests.

Cultural responsiveness

Although all the schools recognised the importance of implementing a culturally responsive curriculum and pedagogy, the capability to do this was variable. In most schools, one or more staff members with expertise in this area helped build overall teacher capability. Cultural opportunities included te reo Māori, kapa haka, Māori art, Te Tiriti o Waitangi, Matariki, and student inquiry into aspects of their own background. Classroom protocols included karakia, waiata, mihi and the natural integration of te reo Māori. In a few schools, students participated in pōwhiri, or mihi whakatau for visitors. Artefacts such as murals or other artworks were also visible in classrooms. One school had a whare and marae which students had helped decorate, and these contributed to their sense of belonging.

Staff at some of the schools recognised they did not currently have the knowledge and expertise to provide a culturally responsive curriculum and pedagogy, and were working on strengthening their cultural responsiveness through PLD.


Effective schools engaged students in learning, often after a sustained period of educational disengagement. Once students were engaged, they were able to pursue and achieve their specific learning goals. Effective schools had an appropriate focus on improving student wellbeing and social-emotional outcomes, raising achievement in literacy and numeracy, building students’ key competencies, and equipping them as much as possible for their exit transition. Overall, student progress was variable, but effective schools had a clear sense of the impact they had.

In some of the other schools, staff were less able to demonstrate student progress in educational achievement. There were a number of challenges in measuring the progress of students. The validity and reliability of assessment information could be influenced by student factors such as trauma. After exit transitions, schools often lost contact with students, which limited the knowledge schools had of long-term outcomes. Additionally, the less effective schools did not always have a clear purpose for using particular assessment tools, or using the information they collected.

Social and wellbeing outcomes

All schools aimed to support and improve the social and emotional wellbeing of students. This was seen as desirable in and of itself, but also a necessary precursor to engagement in learning and achievement of educational goals. In one of the schools, students’ progress with the key competencies was reviewed every four weeks.

Another school had recently developed a new curriculum with a more specific focus on wellbeing.

Students made uneven progress towards greater wellbeing and social competence. The respectful and courteous relationships observed in classrooms provided some evidence of improved social competence outcomes. Staff recognised it was not always a linear progression for students, but occasionally a process of ‘two steps forward, and one step back’. Teachers therefore had to be flexible and responsive to cater for non-linear progress. In one school we observed many students unable to express an idea as they had little confidence in their own abilities when invited to say something positive about themselves. One student suggested it would be easier to say something positive about a peer instead, and they did this successfully.

Literacy and numeracy

In the more effective schools, achievement data showed students made accelerated progress in literacy and numeracy. All students had baseline assessments done as part of their entry transition process. However, the short duration of many students’ stays meant there was sometimes no time for retesting. In these cases, staff did not have formal assessment data to demonstrate their impact on short-stay students. It would be more useful for schools to measure progress more informally against students’ individual short-term goals.

One school’s particular focus on the teaching of writing resulted in some outstanding student poetry. The writing was honest, personal and polished. The students were expressing emotions and writing about their experiences in a mature and convincing way. Their teacher was planning to publish a book of the students’ best poetry.


Schools had an appropriate focus on supporting older students to earn NCEA credits. In one school where 90 percent of students enter without any credits, some students gained up to 46 credits in 12/13 weeks at the school. Gaining NCEA credits was both a desired outcome in and of itself, and also worked as a motivating factor for further engagement in learning as students experienced success.

Key competencies

In many of the schools, developing students’ key competencies was a particular focus. Education staff considered managing self, relating to others, and participating and contributing as key to a successful transition back into mainstream education, and then training and employment. Students in effective schools increasingly set goals relating to the key competencies and education staff focused on integrating the competencies into the everyday programme, with some assessing students’ progress.


School staff and residential staff

In some of the schools, relationships between education and CYF residential staff have improved since ERO’s previous evaluation. In one school this was largely attributable to a change in education provider, in whom residential staff had greater confidence. In another school, relationships improved following a change in CYF residential staff and the implementation of a more collaborative approach, with daily debriefs and joint management meetings.

Where the relationships were operating well, education and CYF staff had mutual trust and respect for each other and co-operated closely with a clear focus on the students. Staff worked together to support one another in the classroom. Information was shared freely and there was good alignment of students’ individual education plans and CYF planning. In the best cases, there was a coherent set of behavioural expectations for students in both residential and school contexts.

Relationships in the less effective schools were occasionally strained, with school staff and residential staff having different philosophies on students’ education. This lack of cohesion limited the learning opportunities for students. Effective working relationships between staff are of crucial importance in creating a stable and consistent environment for students. There was also a lack a of clarity around roles and responsibilities, particularly at transition time. Some education staff expressed frustration they did not get a lot of notice about changes that affect their work with students.

Other relationships

Effective schools also built relationships with people or agencies outside the residence to access ancillary services for their students, such as music tuition, or mental health assessments. Other relationships were aimed at pursuing PLD opportunities for teachers. Schools also worked with NZQA for moderation purposes and to increase internal capability in assessment.

Exit transitions

As reported in previous ERO evaluations, exit transitions remain a challenge across all of the schools. Student placements are ultimately the responsibility of CYF, not the school. The arrangements for students’ future residential placements have to be in place prior to any education planning, which often compresses the transition timeframe significantly. Transitions out of Youth Justice residences were particularly likely to happen at short notice.

Some of the schools had good formal and informal processes that mitigated systemic weaknesses for transitioning students. These were most successful when students were transitioning geographically near to the school. However, many teachers and leaders expressed frustration they were unable to have more of an influence on student placement, or consistently provide follow-up monitoring or support. They considered the Ministry of Education could put in place better feedback processes about student transition outcomes, and this was confirmed by the Ministry.

Students had various stated destinations. Some transitioned back into mainstream schooling, alternative education, tertiary education or training, and employment. School staff attempted to remain in contact with students after their transition, but this was not always possible. The lack of reliable follow-up monitoring meant schools were not usually in a position to know about the success or otherwise of exit transitions unless they were aware more informally through their networks. One leader used anecdotal information to estimate that 20 to 25 percent of their students were successful in the longer term. In another school, teachers had identified monitoring of transition outcomes as a next step, but faced the challenges of unpredictable exit times, and losing contact with students when they came from, or were moving to, a different part of New Zealand.

Education staff provided information about the student to the team in charge of transition. They shared student strengths, needs and interests, and how they had progressed in their time at the school. In many cases, teachers and leaders told ERO they had stepped outside of their specified roles to contact students’ agreed destinations directly, undertaking visits and meeting with staff at the destination school or provider. They felt ‘education talking to education’ supported better outcomes for students.

One school provided a comprehensive ‘discharge portfolio’ for transitioning students, including entry and exit assessments in literacy and numeracy, a record of achievement, individual learning plans, NZQA assessments, and a communications passport. However, school staff reported to ERO they thought the destination schools or other education providers did not make good use of this information, and students were often re-assessed on arriving. As many of these young people have been out of education for a long time, it is critically important systems support any education successes or gains made while at the residential school. Information about teaching practices that were effective for students, and progress they made needs to be fully shared when students are transitioning into another educational setting.

Internal evaluation

All of the schools had formal school-wide internal evaluation processes in place. However, the quality of the processes and the extent to which teachers and leaders used this information to improve their performance was variable.

In the effective schools, leaders sought the views of all stakeholders, including students, whānau, the Ministry of Education, CYF, other relevant education or social agencies, and iwi. They identified benefits and risks, key messages, and links to other work and strategic priorities. One school had analysed and used collated student achievement data linked to specific action plans for reading, writing and mathematics. They also used the number of significant incidents (use of force, secure admissions etc.) as a negative indicator of school improvement. Leaders shared data with ERO showing a trend of fewer significant incidents over the last six years.

In some of the effective schools, ERO also observed evidence of informal evaluation that complemented the more formal processes. Informal evaluation occurred on a

day-to-day basis, as teachers noticed emerging student needs. They regularly reflected as a group on what they do well, and what they could do better. This enabled them to respond and improve rapidly.

In the less effective schools, by contrast, school-wide internal evaluation processes were not as well embedded. Internal evaluation was more compliance focused than improvement focused. The data collected was not used well to evaluate effectiveness of teaching practices and make changes accordingly. The connection between data and decision making needed to be strengthened.

All schools had formal appraisal processes, but the usefulness of these to improve practices varied. In effective schools, teachers linked their reflections to standards such as the Practising Teachers Criteria and Tātaiako6.

Appraisal processes included aspects such as:

  • formal appraisal meetings
  • goal setting
  • reflective journals
  • peer review
  • formal and informal observations.

Teacher self-reflection and teaching as inquiry was often superficial and an area for development in many of the schools. More emphasis is needed on using appraisal and assessment information to identify which teaching approaches are successful and which need to be improved or discontinued.

4 The terminology used was sometimes Individual Education Plans. This report uses Individual Learning Plans to cover both. These are distinct from, but usually aligned with, the Individual Care Plans which are the responsibility of CYF staff.

5 Te Aho o te Kura Pounamu – The Correspondence School.