Ao Tawhiti Unlimited Discovery

Education institution number:
School type:
School gender:
Designated Character School
Total roll:

5 Mollett St, Christchurch

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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

Ao Tawhiti Unlimited Discovery - 14/06/2016

1 Introduction

A New School Assurance Review is a review of particular areas of school performance and is undertaken to specific terms of reference.

New School Assurance Reviews are generally undertaken within the first year of the school’s opening.

Terms of Reference

This review is based on an evaluation of the performance of The terms of reference for the review are to provide assurance:Ao Tawhiti Unlimited Discovery School.

that the school is operating in accordance with the vision articulated by the board of trustees

to the elected board and community that the school is well placed to provide for students.

2 Context

Ao Tawhiti Unlimited Discovery School is a special character state integrated school. It is the result of the merger of two schools, Discovery 1, a Years 1 to 8 school and Unlimited Paenga Tawhiti, a secondary school, to create a new composite school in 2014. Both inner city schools lost the use of their facilities during the 2011 Christchurch earthquakes. Being positioned on one site, in the city, is a large aspect of the special character of the school.

Since the merger, Ao Tawhiti Unlimited Discovery School has operated on two separate sites some distance apart. Both sites are leased, one on an annual basis. One part of the school is operating in a semi-rural setting and the other at the University of Canterbury. The school has had several moves during this time.

Both schools’ communities welcomed the merger. They had many fundamental beliefs in common, including strong commitment to the active role of parents and students in education. While this provided a good basis from which to build, the schools had some very different ways of thinking and implementing their core beliefs.

A Readiness to Open Report commissioned by the Ministry of Education (MoE) showed that work to ensure the school was ready to operate as a new school, while being managed well, had been challenging. Development of a new special character, a joint vision and building new school facilities were areas for development.

3 Background

Ao Tawhiti Unlimited Discovery School provides for students from Years 1 to 15. The roll has decreased, with 452 students currently enrolled. These students reflect diverse backgrounds, ethnicities, learning needs and abilities.

The school has moved from a Ministry of Education appointed establishment board to a parent elected board. Trustees work collaboratively with the school’s director. A new senior leadership team and community of learners structure is in place. Systems and processes important to the running of a new school have been prioritised and developed. A collaborative process is being undertaken to develop a seamless Year 1 to 13 curriculum.

The board’s vision is strongly based on students directing their own learning. A significant feature of the school is the equal relationship between students, teachers and other adults. Extended family-like relationships with parents, whānau and members of the wider community enable and enhance students’ learning. They are heavily involved in school life and curriculum delivery.

The length of time that the school has been in make-shift leased premises, is making decisions about the use of the school’s resources difficult. Forward planning is becoming increasingly frustrating for the board and director and school community as uncertainty about facilities is impacting on the school’s ability to:

  • plan in a strategic, considered and prudent manner
  • provide consistency and continuity of learning as students move through the school
  • enable enough suitable spaces to support students’ learning and wellbeing
  • maintain levels of optimism amongst staff, students and the parent community about the future of the school
  • truly embrace the special character ‘one school’ intent signified by the merger.

There is an urgent need for the Ministry of Education to provide greater clarity and confirmed timelines about the future placement of the school so trustees can plan effectively.

During the on-site stage of this review, students and staff were being relocated from their modern learning environment to another building as the lease had expired.

4 Findings

Students are at the centre of teaching and learning. Personalised planning enables them to follow their passions, interests, needs and strengths. They take the lead in directing their learning. This is well supported by the:

  • high value placed on students’ ideas and opinions
  • many opportunities for ‘real life, hands on’ learning
  • board’s commitment to ensuring students have very good, equitable access to digital technology.

Student learning is regularly shared and celebrated with the school community.

Interactions between students and staff are supportive and respectful. Student choice is the basis for these relationships and decision making. Teachers have a ‘can do’ attitude in assisting students to follow their goals. Students of varying ages and abilities are welcomed in classes that reflect their interests and learning goals.

Senior leaders have established useful systems to monitor curriculum coverage. Processes to help develop students’ self-management skills are in place. In younger classes there is a strong emphasis on supporting students to understand themselves as a learner.

Māori values are well reflected in the school’s values and special character. Tuakana teina and ako are evident in the way students interact. The establishment of a whānau group is an appropriate step towards increased cultural responsiveness.

The director has prioritised the development of school-wide systems to effectively manage information about students’ learning and wellbeing. Students’ progress and achievement towards set goals is tracked and monitored, as is attendance. Goal setting for students is a regular, collaborative and ongoing, reflective process. Teachers, students and parents have good access to this learning information.

Senior leaders have recently adapted the school timetable to enable students to make the most of personalised mentoring opportunities. It is too early to tell the effectiveness of this process. Developing indicators of success will help staff to evaluate the outcome of the mentoring programme.

Considerable emphasis is being placed on strengthening assessment practices. National Certificates of Educational Achievement (NCEA) results are improving. While respecting student choice, learning conversations are increasingly focused on encouraging students to set achievement goals.

Teachers in Years 1 to 8 use a good range of assessment tools and techniques. They are exploring approaches that support effective moderation of teachers’ National Standards judgements. Some interventions to raise student achievement are particularly effective, for example junior school writing for targeted students. Ensuring students have good literacy and mathematics skills, so they are more able to follow their dreams and passions, is highlighted in the Years 4 to 6 learning community.

The board has a clear vision for the special character of the school. Trustees’ commitment to this can be seen in the agreed criteria they use for decision making.

Trustees are taking a careful, considered and strategic approach to school governance. The board actively seeks and responds to the school community’s views and feedback. It is effectively setting priorities towards a one school culture, and making good progress, within the restrictions of its current circumstances.

Professional learning and development has appropriately supported the development of senior school leaders in their new roles. This is now extending to middle management. School-wide professional learning is contributing to:

  • increasing shared understanding of the school’s special character within a merged school environment
  • challenging thinking about the provision of an innovative curriculum
  • considering what a personalised learner profile might look like as students’ journey through the school.

Staff value senior leaders’ openness to new ideas. While struggling with the ongoing nature of temporary facilities and the stress this places on some, they appreciate the approachability and flexibility of senior leaders in the provision of learning opportunities for students.

Key agreed next steps for the school are to:

  • increase the consistency of the newly introduced teachers’ appraisal system and extend appraisal to include leadership roles
  • develop action plans, with set timeframes, for curriculum development and policy review
  • increase the evaluative component in school reviews
  • continue to strengthen Te ao Māori and culturally responsive practices, particularly in the development of the school’s localised curriculum
  • make further links between the charter’s strategic goals and annual aims
  • be more specific when setting annual student achievement targets
  • provide increased student choice and decision making in the afternoon programme for some younger students.

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:

  • school management and reporting
  • curriculum
  • management of health, safety and welfare
  • personnel management
  • financial management
  • asset management.

During the review, ERO checked the following items because they have a potentially high impact on students' achievement:

  • emotional safety of students (including prevention of bullying and sexual harassment)
  • physical safety of students
  • teacher registration
  • processes for appointing staff
  • stand-downs, suspensions, expulsions and exclusions
  • attendance.

The school has attested that it is unsure about aspects relating to Health, Safety and Welfare and Personnel. The board is seeking to address this through policy review.

The board has developed a useful charter and strategic and annual plans. These documents centred on expectations to be actively building new facilitates that better support its special character. As the MOE has not yet been able to acquire a suitable site, the board believes its documents need further review. The level of uncertainty makes this process challenging. For this reason the board had not submitted these key documents to the MOE by the on-site date stage of this review. These documents have now been submitted.


The board and director have made good progress towards developing a merged composite school learning framework and culture. The structure of the school has been established with clarity around roles and responsibilities. Many new and useful systems have been developed to support students’ learning and wellbeing.

ERO has confidence in the board and director to further develop the school within its special character. ERO recommends that some finite decisions are made, or timelines formally reviewed, by the Ministry of Education to better enable the board and director to carry out their responsibilities to the school and its community.

Lesley Patterson

Deputy Chief Review Officer Southern Region

About the School



Ministry of Education profile number


School type

Composite (Years 1 to 15)

School roll


Gender composition

Boys 52%; Girls 48%

Ethnic composition





Other ethnicities






Review team on site

April 2016

Date of this report

14 June 2016