Fourteen Activity Centres[4] in New Zealand provide alternative schooling for students in Years 9, 10 and 11 who have difficulties succeeding in mainstream education. Students are referred because their behaviour impedes their own learning outcomes, or that of others, and a specialised programme is the most effective way of meeting their needs. A Ministry of Education (the Ministry) expectation is that each Activity Centre has 20 students in the centre at any one time. These students must have been enrolled at the host school or one of the other schools in the cluster.

At the time of the reviews, 211 students were enrolled across the 14 Activity Centres. Twenty-five percent of these students were New Zealand European; 61 percent were Māori; 12 percent were of Pacific heritage and one percent Asian or other ethnicities.

The main role of Activity Centres is to support students who are not experiencing success at secondary school and transitioning them back to some form of education. Activity Centres do not sit apart from mainstream schools, but sit alongside them as part of a team or process that supports students to build a positive future in learning. In particular, effective Activity Centres require the support of their host school as well as the support of the schools that place students in Activity Centres (the enrolling schools).

Once placed at an Activity Centre, students attend for periods that may vary between two weeks and two years. The length of time a student may stay depends on the policy of the cluster, as well as the identified needs of the student. Most students stay for approximately two terms, after which they are expected to return to school or some other form of education or training.

Governance of the centre is usually delegated to a management committee. In some cases the management committee comprises representatives of all or some of the enrolling schools. In other cases it may include members of the host school’s board and staff.

Each Activity Centre has a director, teacher and support staff. Day-to-day management is the responsibility of the director who also liaises with parents and whānau, the management committee, key people from external agencies, and community members.[5]

While programmes in each Activity Centre can vary, the daily schedule typically consists of a morning session focusing on numeracy and literacy, often supported by learning materials from Te Aho o Te Kura Pounamu (Te Kura). This is followed by an afternoon session where a broader range of curriculum activities is provided, for example in technology, the arts, physical education and health.

In June 2011, the Ministry released, through their regional offices, the Activity Centre Policy Toolkit (The Toolkit). The Toolkit was produced as a result of a 2010 Ministry review of the funding models for Activity Centres and Alternative Education. It is intended to guide Centres with respect to their policies and procedures, and inform cluster personnel about their roles and responsibilities.

The Toolkit outlines how funding for students is managed by the board of trustees of the host school. The host school’s board is also responsible for the physical and emotional safety of the students attending the Centre, and for ensuring the Activity Centre complies with relevant legislative requirements. The Toolkit sets out clear programme responsibilities and the expectations for how Activity Centres will work with individual students.

ERO reviews Activity Centres every three years. All of the Activity Centres were reviewed in Term 4, 2012. ERO collected data by talking with students, teachers and directors at Activity Centres, host and enrolling school principals and trustees; reading Centre documents; and observing the programme in action. See Appendix 3 for the evaluation framework and indicators used in these reviews.