Conclusion

ERO found considerable positive changes in the performance of activity centres since the review in 2013. We found evidence of the impact many activity centres have on achieving and promoting outcomes for the students who are referred to them. While there is still variability in practice across the country most of the activity centres we had concerns for last time are now on a trajectory of improvement.

Several centres reported increased demand for their services and the different nature of students needing those services. There was general agreement that an increasing number of students referred were presenting with mental health problems. Often the students came from complex home situations that contributed negatively to their wellbeing.

Most centres provide considerable support for students. They have regular access to health nurses, and some to dental care. There are examples of different ways that activity centres have effectively established interagency support. However, access to support varies across the country and six of the centres reported difficulties in accessing the services they needed for their students. Of particular concern is the access to mental health services, especially given the reported rise in demand for such support.

Management and governance practices in place are generally sound with appropriate planning and resource allocation for the centres. Leaders work with teachers to build their professional capacity. Boards of trustees of managing schools are clear about their responsibilities regarding the activity centre and receive reasonable reporting about the achievements of students attending the centre. The reports do not generally provide sufficient information to enable evaluation for improvement in practice.

Teachers at the centres generally obtain sufficient and useful information about the needs of each student referred to them. These are used to develop individual learning programmes (ILPs), as required by the MoU, but these ILPs are variable in both quality and usefulness. Although the curriculum in most centres engages students, it is not always tailored as well as it could be. This is sometimes attributable to constraints posed by the duration of a student’s time in the centre or the availability of suitable curriculum resources to select from or develop. The main focus of curriculum for most students has appropriately common threads in socialising their behaviour, developing self‑regulatory skills and equipping them with strategies to learn. Students generally leave with an improved sense of worth and attitude to learning, ready and keen to re‑engage with mainstream schooling. Many students also work to improve their literacy and numeracy and most centres can demonstrate students’ achievement in these areas. However, few centres can demonstrate acceleration. This is not surprising given the short duration of most of the interventions.  The general lack of ongoing monitoring means it is difficult to ascertain if gains made at the centre are sustained, or if students have experienced educational success by the time they leave school.

Importantly, most students attending the centres clearly benefit from the intervention and are effectively supported to successful transitions out of the centre. These short‑term outcomes are clear, but longer‑term outcomes are not. Students attending the activity centres are those identified at risk of low educational, social and vocational outcomes. The enrolling schools could usefully consider continuation of the strategies that worked for these students in the activity centres to help sustain improvements on their return to school. Monitoring at a system level is needed to determine these longer‑term outcomes, the overall effectiveness of activity centres and subsequent schooling in removing students from that risk.