At the centre of this evaluation is the importance of individual student needs. Effective senior secondary pathways and curricula are linked to how well schools have responded to the individual learning and career pathways of their students.

This evaluation identifies the need for schools to be more innovative to meet the needs of all their students. It signals that the future success for secondary school students is dependent on schools identifying and responding to the aspirations, strengths, culture and needs of their students. The most responsive schools put considerable effort into ensuring teachers understood the goals for each student and designed programmes that encouraged students to increase their own self awareness and self management to monitor progress towards achieving their goals. The question that remains is – how can such leadership and self managing skills be developed in all schools, to help students find out about their future opportunities and what they need to do to achieve them?

The innovation required in secondary schools should be supported by robust self review that can determine whether new approaches are making the intended improvements for students. Many of the schools ERO identified as responsive to the individual pathways and strengths of students are relentless in the development of their curricula, careers and pastoral systems. When new approaches are developed they are examined in terms of how they support individual students, and changes are made to ensure that they can respond as necessary.

The pattern of underachievement across the schools in this evaluation reflects the central focus on designing a school curriculum and having systems that work for each student enrolled at the school. However, while responsive schools had systems that tended to work for individuals, most of these schools did not have high numbers of students with challenging social needs. Many of the schools that had limited responsiveness tended to have significant areas to develop in their curricula, careers or pastoral care systems. They also had higher proportions of students who were already well behind when they started in Year 9 and brought with them challenges associated with their socio‑economic status.

An increasing response to the individual pathways of students necessitates the need for greater coordination between the educational, social and business programmes available for students and their families. Almost all schools in this evaluation had students who did not achieve national qualifications. Improvements cannot be achieved by schools working in isolation. Schools need to have families, iwi, and community businesses, along with other government agencies and education providers, working together with them to support the diverse interests of each student.

To achieve greater numbers of students succeeding across the education system more coordinated social support is needed for some students to complement the curriculum improvements that are required in some secondary schools. Further work is needed to highlight and introduce good practice related to how schools with high numbers of priority learners, in particular, can work with families, outside agencies and other educational institutions to meet the educational and social needs of learners.