The Education Review Office (ERO) reviews Teen Parent Units (TPUs) on a three‑year cycle. During March and April, 2017 ERO investigated the quality of education provided by TPUs and the extent to which they supported positive outcomes for TPU students and their children. As part of the review, ERO undertook semi‑structured interviews with host school leaders, TPU leaders and teachers, and students. The overall performance of TPUs has improved since ERO’s review in 2013. Just over three‑quarters (19) of the 24 TPUs reviewed were performing well and demonstrated practices that led to better educational, social, health and wellbeing outcomes for the students and their children. 

Overall findings

Almost half of the TPUs (11) in this evaluation demonstrated highly effective practices that promoted positive outcomes for the students across a variety of domains. Leaders and teachers fostered a culture of success and wellbeing that permeated through every aspect of these TPUs: from the quality of the student induction process, to the level of commitment and resource allocation to support students’ transition into further study and work. These TPUs provided an effective intervention service for young parents who might otherwise struggle to improve their outcomes.

A key feature of the highly effective TPUs was the pedagogical leadership and expertise of the leaders and teachers in the host schools and TPUs. The range and depth of curriculum knowledge, the partnerships formed to extend the curriculum and the teachers’ pedagogical knowledge supported the students to achieve their goals. The development of the Ministry of Education’s (the Ministry) TPU Operational Guidelines and Outcomes Framework provided the host schools and highly effective TPUs with guidance about their respective roles and responsibilities, and resource allocations.

Eight TPUs were judged as mostly effective and displayed similar characteristics to the highly effective TPUs. However, they had some issues that fell broadly into three areas: limited curriculum options, planning approaches that lacked a careers focus, and partnerships that lacked a shared understanding. In some of these TPUs, there was a lack of clarity and shared understanding about roles and responsibilities, for example, determining the amount and use of administration fees paid by TPUs to host schools. These TPUs would benefit from formalising the roles and responsibilities through reviewing and implementing their Memorandums of Understanding (MoU). This issue was highlighted in previous ERO national TPU reports.

Five TPUs were not performing well overall. Three of these TPUs were considered as poorly performing in previous ERO evaluations. Māori and Pacific students in these TPUs need more opportunities to draw on their interests, strengths, and aspirations across the curriculum. Three TPUs had limited effectiveness in engaging the students to achieve and succeed, and while they had some strengths, there were also significant weaknesses. Some students were achieving and going on to positive destinations, however, the overall quality of leadership at these TPUs potentially limited the extent to which the students could achieve and the ability of these TPUs to improve their practices.

The performance of the remaining two not effective TPUs is of serious concern. The majority of students at these TPUs did not achieve well. ERO found low quality teaching and poor relationships within the TPU, between the TPU and host school and, with some external partners. Other challenges included: poor data collection, the lack of an up‑to‑date MoU, and the lack of knowledge about, and how to use, the Ministry of Education’s Teen Parent Unit Operational Guidelines and Outcome Framework. ERO also reported some quality concerns in the institutional reviews of the host schools of these TPUs.

Areas of development   

This report identifies development areas for all TPUs and host schools. ERO found instances where TPUs and host schools were not managing their respective roles well. TPUs need to ensure their curricula actively supports the students’ strengths, interests, aspirations and learning priorities. It is also important for all TPUs to understand and respond to the reasons some students enrol but subsequently fail to engage with their learning. Host schools need to ensure appropriate resources are allocated to support TPU teachers’ professional learning and development (PLD), and students’ learning priorities.   

ERO also identified several development areas for the Ministry. In most TPUs, ERO found disparities in the number of leavers recorded by the individual unit and the numbers reported by the Ministry. Accurate recording of attendance, retention and destination are issues for all the TPUs. A centralised process for collecting such data by TPUs would help identify national patterns, and inform opportunities to improve outcomes for the students and their children.

As recommended in the Families Commission 2011 report, a whole‑of‑government strategy addressing teen pregnancy[1] could complement the Ministry’s Teen Parent Unit Operational Guidelines and Outcome Framework. The Ministry’s TPU guidelines identify effective management and governance practices, as well as strategies to raise student achievement. The Commission noted that a “sharper focus” could be taken on:

  • relationship education and ongoing contraceptive advice for two years after the birth
  • support for transitions to education, training or sustainable employment
  • access to coordinated social services that respond to students’ complex needs
  • connected local networks focused on teenage pregnancy and parenthood that can be replicated throughout New Zealand
  • valuing and understanding cultural needs of Māori teenage parents
  • inclusive and responsive services aimed at the needs of teenage fathers.

The strategy would include a focus on improving the education, wellbeing and health of all young parents and their children. It would also assist those host schools establishing new TPUs to focus on the holistic development of young parents and their children. 

Next steps

ERO recommends that the Ministries of Education, Social Development, Health and Oranga Tamariki:

  • work together, and with, appropriate government agencies and community representatives to develop a national strategy addressing teen pregnancy; including a focus on improving the education, wellbeing and health of all young parents and their children
  • develop cross‑agency plans to better respond to the wide‑ranging challenges identified by leaders and teachers working in teen parent education 
  • develop a set of data‑collection tools to promote consistency and enable TPUs, their host schools and government agencies to effectively monitor educational, health, social and wellbeing outcomes of all students and their children.

ERO recommends that the Ministry of Education:

  • work with the host schools of the six TPUs identified as having limited or no effectiveness to address the issues identified in this evaluation. Some of these TPUs performed poorly in ERO’s previous TPU national evaluations (2011 and 2013) 
  • develop guidance on the level of administration fees paid by TPUs to host schools; including a transparent process for determining the amount and use of the administration fee paid to the host school by the TPU
  • actively promote the use of the Teen Parent Unit Operational Guidelines and Outcomes Framework with all TPUs and host schools to ensure shared understanding of expectations
  • develop comprehensive policy guidelines for assessing the capability and capacity of schools to host programs to support young parents.

ERO recommends that all TPUs:

  • use the findings from this report and the Ministry of Education’s Teen Parent Unit Operational Guidelines and Outcomes Framework to improve their provision of education and support for students and their children’s wellbeing
  • continue to investigate and respond to the issues affecting student engagement in TPUs, in particular retaining those students who initially enrol but do not attend regularly and achieve positive outcomes
  • ensure the breadth and depth of their curriculum provides students with a broad range of courses, activities, and opportunities in line with The New Zealand Curriculum. Key priorities include the development of engaging educational activities that reflect students’ strengths, interests, and learning priorities; careers and vocational opportunities; and education that is relevant to the students’ health and wellbeing.

[1] ERO also gathered information from leaders, teachers and students about the sexuality education curriculum. The findings from this part of the evaluation will be reported with ERO’s main evaluative findings on supporting and promoting wellbeing through sexuality education. These findings support the need for a teen pregnancy strategy.