According to The Toolkit, effective Activity Centres have:

  • effective governance and support from the cluster
  • clearly understood induction processes for students transitioning into the Centre
  • individual education plans, detailing how each student is to be supported to make social and academic progress
  • curricula that responds to the individual strengths, aspirations and needs of each student
  • connections with parents and whānau that support student learning
  • links to social agencies that help manage social and health issues
  • transition processes that effectively support students to move to further education.

ERO found that the performance of the 14 Activity Centres was highly variable. All of the Activity Centres were safe and welcoming and typically had good relationships between staff and students. They were all focused on improving the educational and social outcomes for students, although that they had different levels of success for this. The variability was mostly evident in the quality of governance and education programmes, and the success of transition processes for students moving to and from the Activity Centre.

Highly Effective Activity Centres

Two Activity Centres were highly effective across the range of indicators which ERO uses (see Appendix 3 for these indicators). These Centres improved students’ learning and supported them to successfully transition to further education or training. Students were supported through day-to-day teaching, with good behaviour being reinforced through appropriate reward systems.

One of the key features of these Activity Centres was the quality of their governance and management. Both had strong management committees that involved the host school and the enrolling schools. In one Activity Centre, all the cluster schools were part of the management committee. In the other Centre, with more schools in the cluster, the management committee was made up of the previous host school, the current host school and the next host school. Schools in this cluster operated as the host school for three years. This meant that each school spent a total of nine years on the management committee, enabling greater continuity in planning and decision-making.

Both Activity Centres had good transition processes for students moving into the centres. Directors and teachers received good information about students from their enrolling schools, which served as a basis for setting up tailored plans for students. Families were included in the transition processes and were kept well informed about the progress of their child throughout their placement in the Centre.

The two highly effective Activity Centres had a clear focus on their role as a ‘transition service’. One service had a goal that students should return to school after two terms. The other had a more flexible decision-making process whereby each student, their parents and Activity Centre staff would jointly determine readiness to return to either their school or move to further education and training. Both Activity Centres had a high rate of students returning or moving to some type of education programme. In 2011, one of these Activity Centres had 21of their 25 students transition to further education, while the other had 25 of their 26 students successfully transition back to school or to another education programme.

Improvements in student learning were identified and well documented at these Activity Centres. Staff closely monitored numeracy and literacy achievement and could demonstrate the significant extent to which most students had progressed while at the Centre. In one of the Centres, six of the seven Year 11 students gained an average of 61 credits in National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA), with four achieving NCEA Level 1 in 2011.

Central to this success were the efforts put into developing and meeting each student’s individual goals. At one Centre, the IEPs had clear objectives and had an achievement focus. Many different personnel were involved in the IEP development process including students, their families, staff from a student’s enrolling school and staff from the Activity Centre. The IEPs included a strong focus on self management and the other key competencies of The New Zealand Curriculum.

Students at these highly effective Activity Centres took increasing responsibility for their learning and confidently discussed their academic and social goals. They also set and monitored their targets for the completion of materials from Te Kura. Students at one Centre took responsibility for structuring their individual learning days, while at the other, students achieved high attendance rates despite some having a considerable distance to travel to get to the Centre.

Families of the students in these Centres received regular updates about their child’s progress, either through specific reporting (three-weekly in the case of one Centre) or through regular updates of the IEP. Staff used community resources well and accessed social services on a needs basis for students and their families. One of the Activity Centres had an especially strong relationship with Te Kura which ensured students had learning materials suited to their abilities and interests.

Māori students were supported through the whānau culture of the Activity Centres. This also included daily karakia and the use of te reo me tikanga Māori. At one Centre, Māori youth workers placed a high value on Te Ao Māori and worked to increase staff and students’ awareness in this area.

Career education and guidance was a feature in one of these Activity Centres. Students developed career management competencies within the curriculum. As part of their learning, students identified their individual strengths and interests and were encouraged to explore future options and build these into their transition planning. Such planning helped make learning relevant and gave students an understanding of how their overall learning programme was linked to their futures.

Partially Effective Activity Centres

Six of the 14 Activity Centres were judged as partially effective. Students typically made progress during their time at these Centres. A focus on helping students gain the skills necessary to achieve success beyond the Centre meant that the majority of students transitioned back to school or on to some other form of education. Warm, welcoming and attractive environments meant students enjoyed their time at their Centre. Good links with families and whānau were common. Reports about each student’s progress were regularly sent home and parents and whānau were involved in the development of their child’s IEP.

Most of these Activity Centres had established broad guidelines for how long students should attend. Generally, students were enrolled for between six to 20 weeks. In some Centres students continued to enjoy cultural and sporting links with their enrolling schools, which was likely to have helped with their transition back to that school.

Some of these Activity Centres had many of the characteristics of the highly effective Centres, however not all aspects were evident. In some cases the enrolling schools of these Activity Centres were not as involved in aspects such as governance and the development of student IEPs. This lack of involvement affected the quality of the initial information an Activity Centre received about a student. It also affected the likelihood of each student’s successful return to their previous school as staff at the enrolling school lacked the understanding of the gains made by students in their time at the Activity Centre.

ERO observed high expectations for students to achieve, along with positive routines and good levels of academic improvement. However, the quality and usefulness of each student’s IEP was variable. Students at some of these Activity Centres were not aware of their specific IEP goals. In one Centre, students’ IEPs related only to the numeracy and literacy programme.

Overall, the learning programmes in these Activity Centres were sound, with clear links to The New Zealand Curriculum, including the key competencies. Career education was not as evident. Students could be better supported to develop a greater self awareness and an ability to explore potential options for the future if Activity Centres staff increased their understanding of the career management competencies. [6]

Some effective approaches supported Māori students, including increasing teachers’ awareness and knowledge of students’ whakapapa and the use of te reo me tikanga Māori. A focus on Te Ao Māori in the arts programme and daily karakia showed that students’ culture was valued. Teachers at one of the Activity Centres were involved in the Te Kotahitanga professional development programme through their host school.

These Activity Centres were still developing a strategic approach to increasing the involvement of their enrolling schools to improve current practice. Cluster-wide plans were not in place outlining necessary improvement actions or clear roles and responsibilities. Activity Centre clusters need to use robust self-review processes to evaluate the effectiveness of their programmes in terms of outcomes for students.

Minimally Effective Activity Centres

Three of the Activity Centres were judged as minimally effective. These Centres had appropriate environments and staff had good relationships with students, including Māori students. Te Ao Māori was valued through practices such as daily karakia and use of te reo Māori, as well as through connections with whānau. Governance and resourcing was well managed through good working relationships with the host school. ERO found evidence that some students made progress during their time at these Activity Centres. However, literacy and mathematics data was not well managed and IEPs did not establish specific enough goals and strategies to support each student’s academic progress and social development.

The focus on transitioning students was not as evident. These Centres tended to have fewer guidelines about how long students should stay and less urgency about moving students back to school or on to other education. The data available suggested that, at these Centres, fewer students returned to their schools or on to further education. In one Centre in 2011, only 14 of their 36 students transitioned back to school or on to some other form of education.

In two of the three Activity Centres, cluster schools were far less involved in transition processes and in the overall running of the Centre. For example, enrolling schools were not active participants in induction processes that guided the transition of a student into the Centre. In some cases, enrolling schools provided a limited amount of achievement information about a student placed in an Activity Centre.

Across all three Activity Centres, the governance relationship was typically limited to one with the host school without a collective response from all the cluster schools to achieving the best outcomes for these students. These Activity Centres had limited evidence of a strong strategic focus on reviewing how teaching, learning and transitions could continue to be improved.

Not Effective Activity Centres

Three of the Activity Centres were judged as not effective. These Centres had respectful and caring environments with good relationships between staff and students. Despite this, they did not have a consistent focus on students improving their behaviour and academic results or on their return to some form of education. Dated reading materials and poor information and communication technology (ICT) resources contributed to environments that were not sufficiently engaging for students.

Overall, the quality of the learning programmes in these three Centres was poor. IEPs were either not evident or had little use for promoting high achievement expectations for students. Students would benefit from their teachers having greater knowledge of a range of numeracy and literacy assessment tools they could use to gain information about students’ strengths and needs and use it to plan a tailored and meaningful curriculum. Staff also need to extend their knowledge of the key competencies of The New Zealand Curriculum to help them recognise and focus on improving students’ social skills. Professional development in the career management competencies would further assist staff in these Centres to understand the importance of students developing self awareness of their strengths, exploring options for the future and taking action to meet their goals.

In these Centres, students’ attendance patterns, and engagement and achievement levels were inconsistent and not well monitored. ERO found limited evidence of the students successfully transitioning to further education in 2011. These Centres were not actively preparing students with the skills necessary to move back to their school or on to further education.

These Activity Centres had not, in recent times, been well-supported by their cluster schools, and management committees had not overseen their work. A lack of strategic planning to improve student outcomes meant that staff had little guidance and support. Staff and students in these Centres had too often been ‘out of sight and out of mind’ from the schools in the cluster. Two of three Activity Centre clusters were actively attempting to remedy their performance in this area. Both host and enrolling schools were working to develop plans to lift the quality of their Activity Centre.

Links to Te Aho o Te Kura Pounamu – The Correspondence School (Te Kura)

Most Activity Centres used Te Kura programmes as the basis of their literacy and mathematics programmes. Other learning areas supported by Te Kura programmes included social studies and science. The extent to which Activity Centres and Te Kura worked well together appeared to be linked to the quality of the liaison between them, as well as the overall readiness of the Activity Centre to use Te Kura materials as part of an individualised programme for each student.

One of the highly effective Activity Centres had an excellent relationship with their liaison person from Te Kura. This effective liaison with Te Kura meant the types of learning materials provided were tailored for each student’s strengths, needs and interests.

ERO observed Te Kura lessons in some Centres that engaged some students, while in others students were less interested and needed redirection by staff to do the tasks. When Activity Centre staff did not have good information about students’ achievement and progress, and where the liaison was not as strong, Te Kura materials were more likely to have been used as activities to keep the students busy rather than as a programme to accelerate their progress. In these Centres, students did not have a clear set of goals to work towards and hence the materials from Te Kura were not well linked to students’ interests, strengths and needs.

Health and social support for students in Activity Centres

Each of the Activity Centres is tasked with managing the pastoral care of students, as well as their educational development. Pastoral care focused on issues associated with smoking, sexual and reproductive health, and drug and alcohol use. For many students these issues had contributed to their previous lack of engagement and success in education.

ERO observed some effective practices across the Activity Centres in dealing with health and social issues. Staff often had good connections with health and social agencies to support students. However, ERO observed considerable variation in how social and health issues were managed. For example, some Centres allowed students to smoke in designated areas while others expected and maintained a smoke-free environment.

Smoking is just one of many issues affecting student health and wellbeing. ERO suggests that a more coordinated approach is needed to support students with social and health issues. There is potential for a targeted investment from health and welfare agencies to further improve outcomes for students in these Centres.

Ministry of Education Support

Activity Centre Policy Toolkit (The Toolkit)

ERO found that only one of the 14 Activity Centres was using The Toolkit released by the Ministry in July 2011. Twelve centres were not using The Toolkit, and one had a copy in draft form and was not sure of its status as a policy document.

The Toolkit has the potential to support Activity Centres to serve students more effectively. It has a clear focus on improving outcomes for students, making the service available to as many students as possible (through the enrolment expectations), and ensuring that the relationships between host and enrolling schools work in the interests of students.

The Ministry of Education should increase awareness of The Toolkit and the expectations described in this document. Centres’ lack of familiarity with this document has meant that most of them are not currently meeting expectations relating to stakeholder roles and responsibilities (particularly host and enrolling schools), reporting accountabilities, performance outcomes measures, and enrolment numbers. The Toolkit should also provide the clusters with clearer guidelines as to how Activity Centre resources are to be distributed by the host school.

The Toolkit outlines an expectation that the Activity Centres will regularly report a wide range of outcomes to the Ministry. ERO found variation in the extent to which the reports were being completed and in the reliability of the information included in the reports. Some of the reports were compliance focused with little emphasis on improvements. Centres should be supported to use the Ministry’s self-reporting processes as a regular part of their self review. The Ministry should also consolidate any systems for monitoring and responding to reporting from each of the Activity Centres.

Students with special needs

One Centre reported an instance where the Ministry of Education’s special education staff removed their support for a student because the student was now in an Activity Centre. More information is needed to determine the extent of this practice. Ideally students with special needs, who are placed in an Activity Centre, should receive intensive support to make the most of their time in the Centre and have the best possible chance to make a positive transition back to school or on to further education.

Curriculum development and assessment support

Most Activity Centre staff felt that they would benefit from some tailored professional development. This view was also supported by host school staff and management committees. While staff in some Centres had taken up opportunities to participate in professional development with host school teachers, this did not always meet their specific needs. They also expressed a keen desire to meet with staff at other Activity Centres to talk about their work. It may be useful for staff in Activity Centres to be able to work with colleagues who work in Alternative Education, given the similarities in their contexts. Staff also noted that a lack of access to relieving staff was a barrier to their participation in professional development.

ERO’s previous findings [7] about professional development suggest that high quality professional learning and development for Activity Centre staff should be closely tied to the contexts in which they work, so that what they learn will be applied to classroom learning. Such development should also:

  • be coordinated, well led and able to be sustained
  • challenge teachers’ assumptions about their practice
  • be informed by analyses of student achievement and relevant educational research
  • be engaging for teachers and coordinated with Centre-wide support for teachers and learners.

It is less likely that one-off courses will be effective in helping staff in Activity Centres to transform the quality of their teaching and learning. Instead, high quality professional learning and development based within each Centre should target the specific development needs of the staff and be linked to the overall development plan for each Activity Centre.

Improving practice in activity centres

ERO has identified the areas where practices in Activity Centres could be improved. Often it is about minimising some practices and maximising others. Table 2 describes some of the practices that Centres could do less of and what they could do to improve.

Table 2: Improving practice in Activity Centres

Less of this

More of this

Accepting poor quality or no information from enrolling schools.

Requiring enrolling schools to provide good quality and useful information about students’ achievement in literacy and mathematics.

Accepting deficit thinking about students’ capabilities, and their capacity to improve.

Believing that students can improve and helping them to plan for improvement through high quality IEPs.

Activity centre programmes sit apart from those in enrolling schools.

Programmes that have links back to what students are doing in their enrolling schools so that students can seamlessly move back to their schools. Enrolling school teachers are involved in the IEP and helping to co-construct learning pathways for students.

Expecting students to make all the changes necessary to return to school.

Expecting students and enrolling school staff to make changes that support students’ successful transition back into school.

Expecting students to make a successful transition back into school without planning for the transition.

Preparing for the transition through involving students, teachers, parents and whānau, Activity Centre staff and external agencies.

Activity Centre staff working in isolation.

Activity Centre staff networking with other Activity Centre staff and are involved in host school professional learning and development.

Making assumptions about the effectiveness of the Centre.

Using frameworks and indicators to carry out robust Centre self review.