There are 14 activity centres in New Zealand that cater for secondary school students (Years 9 ‑ 13) who are at risk of disengaging from mainstream schooling and at risk of low educational, social and vocational outcomes (see Appendix 1). Activity centres are established by agreement of the Minister of Education. Priority is given to those students whose behaviour is likely to impede their own learning and the learning of others, and who are most likely to benefit from the programme. The objectives are to prepare these students to return to their enrolling school, to re‑engage with their education and experience success.

The Ministry funds the board of the managing school for the Activity Centre based on a notional roll of 20 students. This includes operational funding at a Decile 1A rate and staffing and management units at a 1:10 ratio.  Activity centre enrolments are also counted on their home school roll for funding purposes1. In 2017, activity centres were funded approximately $13,000 per notional student, totalling about $3.6 million for the year. Students in alternative education were funded approximately $11,000 per notional student2 (total of about $21 million) and secondary school students are funded on average about $8000 per year.

Students attend centres for varying lengths of time and many more than 20 students pass through each activity centre in each year. In 2016, 429 students attended activity centres, many successfully transitioning back to their enrolling school. In the first half of 2018, 273 students took up the 240 places available across the 14 centres. In this six‑month period, 88 percent of students attended for more than three weeks, with the average attendance at 14 weeks. Activity centres have a staffing entitlement that generates a full‑time director with two salary units, plus a full‑time base scale teaching position.

The specialised learning programme in activity centres is designed to improve student attendance, engagement and achievement at school, improve social outcomes, and achieve successful transitions back to education, further training or employment. Registered teachers, guided by Individual Learning Programmes (ILPs), support students to increase their achievement and engagement in education. The ILP should be responsive to the needs of each student by detailing their learning goals, developed in partnership with the student, teacher, parents and whānau, and the enrolling school. The learning goals should address academic, social and emotional development as well as promoting students’ health and wellbeing.

Each activity centre is managed by a school. That school’s Board of Trustees (board) holds governance responsibility for the activity centre and provision of a high quality educational service in a physically and emotionally safe learning environment.

ERO reviewed every activity centre to determine how effective each one was in promoting positive outcomes for students. The following terms of reference were developed with the Ministry of Education (the Ministry) and guided the evaluations.

ERO looked at the:

  • management and governance practices, including planning, internal evaluation and professional capacity building3
  • use of information to plan and implement individual programmes for, and with, students, and to monitor their progress
  • support for students to achieve improved social and educational outcomes
  • educational and social outcomes, including the extent to which students’ learning has been accelerated
  • students’ experience of interagency support for them and their families
  • transitions in and out of the activity centre.

In ERO’s 2013 review, we found that only one activity centre was using the activity Centre Policy Toolkit that set out the key responsibilities and reporting requirements for activity centres. The quality of provision in activity centres was variable with some major concerns identified. Since the 2013 review of activity centres, the Ministry has replaced the activity Centre Policy Toolkit with a clear Memorandum of Understanding to guide centres in their operations.

For this review, ERO developed evaluative questions for each of the domains identified in School Evaluation Indicators: Effective Practice for Improvement and Learner Success (ERO, 2016) and aligned them to the agreed terms of reference. Reviewers used investigative questions to prompt discussions and identify good practice associated with each domain. See Appendix 2 for this framework.

Each activity centre received an individual report about their performance. Links to these reports are in Appendix 1. The individual reports and their evidence base inform this national report.

Data was analysed by the review team and activity centres grouped according to a final moderated judgement of performance. The judgements of good or very good were made if processes and outcomes for students were almost all good. Exemplar practice was shared, and anomalies, trends and areas for improvement identified. 

ERO’s judgements are based on the data held by activity centres and the Ministry of Education. In the absence of long-term outcomes data, ERO was only able to make judgements about how well centres were promoting positive outcomes for these students. As such, this first phase evaluation about the current state of activity centres will be complemented by a wider investigation about the place of activity centres and other alternative education provision in the New Zealand education system.

[1] Activity centre students remain on their enrolling school’s roll as the enrolling school is accountable for the student’s learning and wellbeing; and many students attend an activity centre for a short period of time.

[2]  Note direct comparisons are difficult to make as activity centres’ funding includes funding for property, teachers’ salaries and the additional units paid. The alternative education notional student funding does not include any allowance for property and tutors do not have to be registered teachers. It does, however, include an allowance for pedagogical leadership and there is an additional allowance, across all alternative education providers, for annual professional learning and development not available to activity centres.

[3] Accountability for operational funding was not a part of the scope of this evaluation. Each centre provides the Ministry with an Annual Financial Statement.