ERO found that the quality of 14 Activity Centres varied across the country. While each of the Activity Centres had good relationships with students and their families, and had created warm and supportive environments, there were differences in how well they supported students to make progress, achieve success, and return to their school or transition to some form of education.

The highly effective Activity Centres had the following characteristics:

  • effective management committees with supportive enrolling schools
  • a strong focus on students making social and academic progress while at the Centre, and successful transition when they leave
  • high quality IEPs
  • responsive staff, curricula and support systems.

An important factor was the poor implementation of The Toolkit. Most Activity Centres were not using The Toolkit. The Ministry had also not prioritised the use of The Toolkit and, at the time of this evaluation, had not taken steps to remedy this situation.

ERO found considerable variability in the support provided to Activity Centres by cluster schools. A greater focus from the Ministry on the implementation of The Toolkit would emphasise the different roles that schools in each cluster should take to support their Centre.

Further initiatives are needed to improve the effectiveness of many of the Activity Centres. Tailored professional development is needed for many staff in Activity Centres to support them to develop high quality IEPs and implement a meaningful curriculum that assists students to make necessary gains in literacy and mathematics and develop their social skills. A professional development strategy should be developed that supports staff to improve the quality of transition plans for students. Staff also need to use the career management competencies as part of an overall approach to careers education in these Centres. Activity Centres should undertake robust self review to identify priorities for improvement that are incorporated into cluster strategic plans.

It would be worthwhile for Activity Centres to work with Te Kura to review how well Te Kura programmes serve their students. They could also review, through analysis of pre and post test results, the extent to which Te Kura programmes accelerate the progress of students in literacy and mathematics, and whether this acceleration might be better achieved through a more personalised approach. Te Kura staff could usefully support teachers in this evaluation process by providing information about the achievement of students undertaking their programmes. Consistently positive working relationships between Activity Centres and Te Kura depend on both parties having a good understanding of what each student requires and being responsive to their specific learning strengths, aspirations and needs.

Some students in Activity Centres have significant social or health issues that could compromise their ability to succeed in further education. Potentially, the support for students in Activity Centres extends beyond the scope of education and may also require specific strategies from other government agencies. Students would benefit from a more consistent and coordinated approach to drug and sexuality education that includes the involvement of social workers and health practitioners.