Young parents are a diverse student group who face challenges additional to those experienced by other young people in secondary education. The most obvious challenges are those associated with pregnancy and parenting, including having dedicated time for pregnancy, birthing, the care of infants and costs associated with family living.

They are less likely than their peers to gain qualifications that give them good employment prospects. Consequently, they are likely to have a low income, an increased dependency on welfare and the risk of subsequent poor outcomes for their children (Boden, 2008).

The options for young parents to continue their secondary education include mainstream schooling, alternative education, Te Aho o Te Kura Pounamu (Te Kura) or enrolling in a Teen Parent Unit (TPU). The education that young parents receive in a TPU is the focus of this report.

Ministry of Social Development report

The 2017 Ministry of Social Development (MSD) working paper: Impact of School-Based Support on Educational Outcomes of Teen-Mothers quantified how well young mothers in TPUs achieved academically. They identified three clusters of students, based on their enrolment in school when they fell pregnant:

  • Cluster A: the mothers attending the high school hosting the TPU
  • Cluster B: the mothers attending another high school and are transferring to the TPU
  • Cluster C: the mothers previously disengaged from school and now enrolled in a TPU.

The study found significant differences in the achievement of students between clusters, and the achievement of these students was better than a carefully‑selected control group in a TPU host school. Young mothers in Cluster A were more likely to enrol in the TPU and attain NCEA Level 1 and 2 qualifications.2 Those young mothers without qualifications in all the clusters were more likely to attain a NCEA Level 1 qualification than those who enrolled in a non‑TPU school.

These findings highlight that TPUs are generally effective for young mothers with lower propensities to complete school qualifications.

TPUs promotion of positive outcomes for teen parents can reduce the school enrolment gap between young mothers and young women who do not give birth, and improve the NCEA achievement levels of enrolled young mothers.

Teenage pregnancy rates in New Zealand

The 2015 Ministry of Health report on maternity notes that despite New Zealand’s teen pregnancy rates halving since 2008, the rate remains consistently higher for women in low socio‑economic areas. Birth rates for young women residing in the most deprived neighbourhoods were statistically significantly higher than those for women in the least deprived neighbourhoods. Only three percent of teen mothers lived in the most affluent suburbs, compared to 53 percent in the most deprived (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: percentage of women under 20 years giving birth, by neighbourhood deprivation quintile, 2015

graph showing rates of teen pregnancy by most/least deprived neighbourhoods

The vast majority, 82% of women aged under 20 years, gave birth for the first time. Babies of women aged under 20 years and of women from more deprived neighbourhoods had a lower weight average. Māori and Pacific women were more likely to reside in more deprived neighbourhoods.

In 2013, 26 in every 1000 births in New Zealand were to teenagers.3 While the global trend was dropping, New Zealand still had the second highest teen pregnancy rate across OECD countries. There is little New Zealand research about the factors contributing to the decline in teen pregnancy since 2008. However, there is data about the differences in teenage birth and pregnancy rates for ethnic groups and regions in New Zealand.

Figure 2 shows the fertility rates per 1000 births for women under 20 years in 2013 by region.4 The rates in Gisborne and Northland were significantly higher than the national average. The predominantly rural regions of Hawke’s Bay, Bay of Plenty, and West Coast also had relatively high teen birth rates.

Figure 2: Fertility rates, by region, for women under 20 years old in New Zealand

teen pregnancy rates by lowest socioeconomic region

The data above raises questions about the availability and effectiveness of teen parent units (TPUs) in these regions to promote equitable outcomes for the young parents (students) and their children.

Research shows young parents with strong, reliable, caring and responsive support systems are more resilient and satisfied with their lives (DeJong, 2003).

It is vital for the future wellbeing of TPU students and their children, and the national economy, that they achieve academically and develop clear pathways to future education, training or employment.

To address these requirements, TPUs are charged with meeting the individual learning priorities of students, engaging them in education and putting them on the path to success. The students’ priorities are often complex, requiring support to develop personally and socially as well as academically, and to establish meaningful future pathways.


A teen parent unit (TPU) is an educational unit, governed by and usually situated within a mainstream secondary school (host school) or in a nearby offsite location. The establishment of a TPU is driven by the interest of the host school and is subject to the school having:

  • links with an early learning service preferably onsite or adjacent to the school
  • the space available (on or offsite) to accommodate a TPU
  • identified the local need for a TPU
  • demonstrated ability to sustain the TPU roll.

The host school signs a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Ministry confirming its responsibilities. A teacher in charge manages the TPU and reports to the host school’s principal and board of trustees, often with the support of a management committee. TPUs enrol teenagers who are pregnant or already teen parents. Students are taught by registered teachers according to their individual learning priorities. Students may also enrol at Te Kura to ensure access to a wide range of curriculum areas. Apart from a teaching and learning programme based on The New Zealand Curriculum, students receive wrap‑around support, pastoral care, mentoring and additional courses (such as life skills). Collectively TPUs also provide access to early childhood education for children, transport, links to health and other social services, and guidance and mentoring.

The first TPU was established in Porirua in 1994 and was initially funded by the Ministry of Justice. Since then, the Ministry of Education has developed policies for establishing, managing and resourcing TPUs and now funds 25 education facilities around New Zealand for pregnant and parenting young people.

Teen Parent Units development since October 2013

Since ERO’s review in 2013, four more TPUs have opened in Levin, Kaikohe, Flaxmere, and Whakatane. There are now 25 TPUs across the country. ERO visited 24 TPUs, excluding Whakatane, which had only recently opened in 2017.

In 2014, the Ministry of Education recognised the need to provide individualised support for students to continue their education in mainstream schools. In this light, the Ministry introduced a pilot support programme: Teen Parents in the Mainstream that is currently being evaluated.

The introduction of the Young Parent Payment (YPP) in 2012 was considered an incentive for young parents to attend a TPU or undertake studies leading to NCEA Level 2. Anecdotal evidence suggests that some young parents enrolled at a TPU as a condition for receiving the YPP but did not attend regularly.

TPU Operational Guidelines and Outcome Framework

In response to ERO’s 2013 recommendations, and after wide consultation with host schools, TPUs, the Ministry’s education partners and support agencies, the Ministry developed the Operational Guidelines for Teen Parent Units and the Teen Parents Unit Outcome Framework in 2015.

The operational guidelines outline the Ministry’s operational policies related to TPUs and serve as a practical information resource for all parties involved in running a TPU. The outcome framework has two key components: outcomes and indicators, and is supported by a set of reporting measures. The indicators are arranged with Mason Durie’s Te Whare Tapa Whā model that recognises for teen parents to be successful we need to engage with the whole student: spiritual, emotional, physical, and whānau.

TPUs have a particular role in nourishing the student to grow and achieve in the context of being a parent, learner and member of a wider whānau. This involves a holistic and collaborative approach to education and wellbeing. It requires putting the student, their child and whānau at the centre and supporting a personalised educational journey.

Teacher characteristics also make a difference. Relationships built on trust and respect can lead to positive learning outcomes. Teaching practices need to reflect those of the Te Kotahitanga effective teaching profile (see Figure 3).

Figure 3: Key points of Te Kotahitanga Effective Teaching Profile

  • relationships and interactions between teacher and students are key to effective teaching
  • effective teachers take a positive, non‑deficit view of students, and see themselves as capable of making a difference for them
  • effective interactions rely on:
    Ø manaakitanga (caring for students and acknowledging their mana)
    Ø mana motuhake (having high expectations)
    Ø ngā whakapiringatanga (managing the classroom to learn)
    Ø wānanga and ako (using a range of dynamic and interactive teaching styles)
    Ø kotahitanga (teachers and students reflecting together on student achievement in order to move forward collaboratively).

Partnerships for learning with other providers have become a strong aspect of TPUs and are intended to provide for the students’ learning priorities and pastoral care. It is common for TPU staff to have professional relationships with social workers, school guidance counsellors, public health nurses, early childhood professionals, advocates, and budgeting and careers advisers.


This evaluation focused on the processes by, and the extent to which, the interests, strengths and learning priorities of TPU students are met.

Using a four‑point scale, ERO review teams made an overall judgement about the TPUs in relation to the main evaluative question.

How effective are TPUs in supporting and promoting positive outcomes for students?

Supporting Evaluative Questions:

Evaluative questions

Review teams undertook semi‑structured interviews and analysis of documents, including planning and assessment, ILPs, and internal evaluation. Where possible, and depending on any emerging inquiry, this included student reflective journals and any teacher inquiry material. Appendix 1 lists the potential questions and prompts used by reviewers

[2] National Certificate of Educational Achievement

[3] These statistics are for teen mothers aged 15‑19 years of age. There is no account taken for those girls aged less than 15 when they gave birth.

[4] ERO did not have access 2016 New Zealand Statistics for teen pregnancy rates.