Ao Tawhiti Unlimited Discovery - 22/08/2018

School Context

Ao Tawhiti Unlimited Discovery is an area school for students from Years 1 to 15. It has a roll of 486 students. Both schools shifted to sites outside of the central city after the 2011 earthquakes. In 2014 they were merged into one school but remained on two sites. The school will move into new purpose-built, inner-city premises in mid-2019.

The school is a special character, state-integrated school with a fundamental tenet that the student is central in directing their own learning, so that enthusiasm and a love of learning are retained. Underpinning the school’s core values are the guiding principles that:

  • learners are central in directing their learning

  • learners are encouraged to be creative, innovative and take risks

  • diverse and flexible individual learning pathways are supported

  • learning is a partnership

  • everyone is a learner and everyone is a teacher.

The valued outcomes, expressed through the vision, values and guiding principles, are at the centre of each learner’s programme.

The school’s annual learning goals focus on literacy and numeracy, supporting Māori students and raising the number of students attaining NCEA or University Entrance. The school has also set a strategic goal around the move back to the central city and the new environment for the whole school.

Leaders and teachers regularly report to the board schoolwide information about outcomes for students in the following areas:

  • attendance, engagement and achievement

  • achievement within the New Zealand Qualifications Authority framework

  • achievement for Years 7 to 10

  • progress against the school’s annual goals.

The school has recently been reorganised into three learning areas, and the composition and roles of the senior leadership team have been redefined. The school includes a French bilingual unit based at the Discovery site. Since the last ERO report in 2016, significant progress has been made with strategic and annual goal setting, planning and assessment, and consistency of processes.

The school plays an active part in a cluster of inner city schools. It is also involved with a Grow Waitaha initiative to develop a wellbeing programme.

Evaluation Findings

1 Equity and excellence – achievement of valued outcomes for students

1.1 How well is the school achieving equitable and excellent outcomes for all its students?

The school is making good progress in achieving equitable and excellent outcomes for all students. Achievement is seen as a highly individual concept. Each learner sets their own goals with their Home-Based Learning Advisor, parents and any other appropriate people. These goals are based on passions, interests and needs and are achieved through an individually-tailored programme. All students are effectively supported to achieve personal equity and excellence.

The majority of children in Years 1 to 8 have performed at or above the school’s expectations consistently over time, achieving well in reading and mathematics, in particular. A very high percentage of those students enrolled in NCEA achieve Level two, and the majority achieve Level three.

The school has identified groups of students who are not meeting their goals or achieving at the expected levels in junior mathematics, and junior and senior writing. NCEA outcomes for Māori students in the senior school need to be improved. Leaders and teachers have analysed the possible causes for all underperforming groups and have put in place a range of strategies, including close monitoring and mentoring, to improve outcomes for these students. The use of group and individual-based strategies in this regard is likely to help ensure equity of opportunity and improved outcomes for all students.

The school is proactive in addressing barriers to learning. Any student is supported to attempt any subject at any stage. Students are well supported to make decisions about their learning and wellbeing. Every student in Years 7 to 13 has a weekly, structured one-to-one meeting with their Home-Based Learning Advisor to discuss their learning.

Learners achieve a wide range of external qualifications, including NCEA, university papers and industry-related certificates.

1.2 How well is the school accelerating learning for those Māori and other students who need this?

The school has highly effective systems and processes to respond to those students whose learning and achievement need acceleration.

The school is highly inclusive and welcoming of all students. Students’ learning needs are identified early through robust enrolment and individual programme planning procedures. Interventions are personalised and closely monitored, and most students identified make good progress against their goals.

Comprehensive processes are in place to ensure students with additional learning needs are well catered for. A more structured, tailored programme is available for students for whom self-directed learning would be a challenge.

2 School conditions for equity and excellence – processes and practices

2.1 What school processes and practices are effective in enabling achievement of equity and excellence, and acceleration of learning?

The school has been through a period of change and uncertainty with both Unlimited and Discovery located in areas that did not reflect the urban-based foundation for their vision. Effective leadership has ensured that a strongly-shared commitment to the school’s special character, vision, values and guiding principles has been at the heart of decision making and practices.

Students and staff have a very clear understanding of the special character and what it means. The guiding principle of ako, where everyone is both a teacher and learner, is evident throughout the school. Strong relationships, based on trust and respect, are highly valued and transcend barriers of age, ability or status.

The unrelenting focus on the individual learner’s passions, interests and needs ensures a curriculum that is highly responsive. Responsibility for learning lies with the learner. There are no compulsory elements to the programmes. The regular one-to-one meetings and close monitoring by learning advisors ensure learners are guided and coached to develop the skills and knowledge necessary to achieve their goals. Student needs and interests generate deliberate acts of teaching and these complement self-directed learning.

Throughout Years 1 to 6 there is close monitoring to ensure a broad curriculum coverage, and in particular, literacy and numeracy skills. In the senior school, students can access a wide range of expertise beyond the school to support authentic learning pathways.

As the move to the unified city site approaches, the school is developing increasingly coherent and consistent approaches to assessment, the monitoring of attendance, engagement and achievement, and the sharing of information and data. This, along with an improvement-focused culture, results in shared understandings of processes and positive outcomes for learners. Whole school inquiry projects and some of the staff’s individual inquiry topics demonstrate high level internal evaluation.

The Board of Trustees at Ao Tawhiti Unlimited Discovery is well informed and capable. Its decision making and resourcing are strongly aligned to the school’s special character.

2.2 What further developments are needed in school processes and practices for achievement of equity and excellence, and acceleration of learning?

The school works closely with many external partners. There are three areas in which partnerships could be further developed:

  1. Parents are well informed about their child’s learning through direct contact and useful online information. As part of the school’s special character they are encouraged to be actively involved and this is particularly evident in Years 1 to 6. The school has identified, and ERO agrees, that there is a need to further develop parent partnerships in learning across the whole school.

  2. The school has identified, and ERO agrees, that with the move into the city, the school will need to build partnerships with inner city communities.

  3. The school would benefit from continuing to develop closer partnerships with local iwi to strengthen bicultural understandings and provide opportunities for learning.

While the school has built some cohesion across its teaching and learning practices, particularly in Years 1 to 6, there is a need to continue this to ensure school-wide explicit, consistent and monitored systems to guide best practice. A more consistent and rigorous approach to appraisal and teaching as inquiry would benefit teaching and learning outcomes.

Useful and comprehensive data is gathered about each student’s learning, but in order for the board to evaluate how effectively the school is achieving against its valued outcomes, leavers’ data needs to be more consistently tracked and analysed.

The school has supported the growth of te reo and understanding of te ao Māori. This development needs to continue in order to fully embed bicultural perspectives and practices throughout the school.

3 Board assurance on legal requirements

Before the review, the board and principal of the school completed the ERO board assurance statement and self-audit checklists. In these documents they attested that they had taken all reasonable steps to meet their legislative obligations related to the following:

  • board administration

  • curriculum

  • management of health, safety and welfare

  • personnel management

  • finance

  • asset management.

During the review, ERO checked the following items because they have a potentially high impact on student safety and wellbeing:

  • emotional safety of students (including prevention of bullying and sexual harassment)

  • physical safety of students

  • teacher registration and certification

  • processes for appointing staff

  • stand down, suspension, expulsion and exclusion of students

  • attendance

  • school policies in relation to meeting the requirements of the Vulnerable Children Act 2014.

Appraisal audit

While the school has systems guiding appraisal, the implementation of these by staff is highly inconsistent and as such does not meet Education Council requirements.

Actions for compliance

ERO identified non-compliance in relation to:

Health and Safety - Physical restraint

In order to address this, the Board of Trustees must:

1. Ensure there is a policy and guidelines relating to the physical restraint of students

2. Ensure that staff are appropriately supported and trained.
(Clause 11, Education [Physical Restraint] Rules 2017)

Areas for improved compliance practice

To improve current practice, the Board of Trustees should:

  • ensure matters relating to teaching registration and certification, appraisal, attestation and induction are reported to the board.

4 Going forward

Key strengths of the school

For sustained improvement and future learner success, the school can draw on existing strengths in:

  • alignment of its special character with school practices

  • commitment to an individualised approach and responsive curriculum, based on student passions, interests and needs

  • increased consistency and cohesion across the school.

Next steps

For sustained improvement and future learner success, priorities for further development are in:

  • explicit, cohesive and consistent teaching and learning practices

  • evaluating the school’s effectiveness in achieving its valued outcomes

  • building bicultural understandings and practices.

ERO’s next external evaluation process and timing

ERO is likely to carry out the next external evaluation in three years.

Dr Lesley Patterson

Deputy Chief Review Officer Southern

Te Waipounamu - Southern Region

22 August 2018

About the school



Ministry of Education profile number


School type

Composite Years 1 – 15, State Integrated

School roll


Gender composition

Girls: 51%

Boys: 49%

Ethnic composition

Māori 13%

Pākehā 78%

Other ethnicities 9%

Students with Ongoing Resourcing Funding (ORS)


Provision of Māori medium education


Review team on site

June /July 2018

Date of this report

22 August 2018

Most recent ERO report

Assurance Review June 2016