This report is based on the findings of ERO’s reviews of 14 Activity Centres[1] in Term 4, 2012. Activity Centres provide alternative schooling for secondary students. Most students attending Activity Centres are in Years 9 and 10, although some Year 11 students also attend from time to time.[2] Students are referred to Activity Centres by their enrolling schools because they are likely to benefit from a specialist programme that will meet their social and academic needs. Many of the students who attend Activity Centres have long histories of disengagement in school.

Overall ERO found a wide variation in the effectiveness of the Activity Centres. All Activity Centres had secure, caring and supportive environments where staff fostered good relationships with students and their families. Most had given some thought about reintegrating students back into their enrolling schools. The most useful processes began with early planning, involved collaborative decision-making about when and how the transition would happen, and involved the support of the enrolling school.

In the two most effective Centres, the focus was on improving students’ academic progress. Teachers actively supported students to gain credits in the New Zealand Qualifications Framework through personalising their learning and incorporating meaningful contexts into programmes. These Centres had good systems for monitoring students’ social and academic progress and identifying their strengths and needs.

In the three least effective Activity Centres, teachers had less understanding about how to plan and implement a high quality programme. While staff cared about students, they did not demonstrate the same high expectations for students to make the necessary progress to successfully transition back to school or on to further education.

Limited use of the Ministry of Education’s Activity Centre Policy Toolkit (The Toolkit) is one of the factors contributing to the variable quality of Activity Centres. The Toolkit sets out the key responsibilities for Activity Centres, including those of host and enrolling schools. It also outlines the reporting requirements between the host school and the Ministry of Education. At the time of this evaluation, only one of the 14 Centres was using The Toolkit.

Undertaking robust self review that informs strategic planning and development is a key next step for most of the Activity Centre clusters.

In many of the Centres, the quality of Individual Education Plans (IEPs) and the provision of professional development and learning for staff needed improvement. Few students had high quality IEPs outlining suitable goals and actions for how they would be supported to reach their goals. Staff in the Activity Centres identified the need for more tailored professional development related to:

  • developing IEPs and transition plans
  • increasing their knowledge of the career management competencies[3]
  • supporting students to make accelerated progress in literacy and mathematics.

Most Activity Centres used learning materials provided by Te Aho o Te Kura Pounamu - The Correspondence School (Te Kura) to provide some of the individual learning programmes for their students. One Centre had established a strong relationship with Te Kura and used high quality assessment information to help it meet the diverse learning needs of students. ERO found that the development of consistently positive working relationships between Activity Centres and Te Kura was dependent on both parties having a good understanding of what each student required and being responsive to their specific learning strengths, aspirations and needs.

Activity Centres had inconsistent approaches to drug and sexuality education and the involvement of social workers and health practitioners to support students. A more coordinated approach could help all students manage some significant social or health issues currently compromising their ability to succeed in further education.