Unlimited Paenga Tawhiti

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Ao Tawhiti
Dovedale Campus, University of Canterbury,
Christchurch, New Zealand

Type State Co-educational Secondary, years 0-13, Designated Special Character school
Motto Safety first; Respect always
Established 2003
Ministry of Education Institution no. 483
Director Steven Mustor
School roll [1] (July 2014)
Socio-economic decile 6

Ao Tawhiti (previously known as Unlimited Paenga Tawhiti, Unlimited or UPT) is a state secondary school in Christchurch, New Zealand. Prior to the 2011 Christchurch earthquake, Unlimited was the only secondary school within the central city.

The school is one of eleven schools running under the "Designated Special Character" criteria of the Education Act 1989.[2]

Students are given the flexibility to pick from a variety of interchangeable classes and subjects to design their own customized learning programme, including working on individual projects as an alternative to total classroom learning. They also have the option to learn subjects which are not traditionally taught in New Zealand secondary schools, such as philosophy, video game design, as well as DJ performance and music production.

Unlimited is subject to a merger in early 2014 with Discovery 1, an associated primary school also founded by the Learning Discovery Trust.


Hallenstines Building, September 2008.

Unlimited was established in 2003 by the Christchurch-based Learning Discovery Trust,[3] which had earlier set up the primary Discovery 1 School. The school started with just 40 students (dubbed the "foundation forty") as well as 7 staff. It opened in January of that year at its site on Cashel Street.[4] Unlimited was originally based on the first floor of the Southern Star House building (which housed shops on the ground floor) and later occupied the second floor as well.

In 2004, students watched the construction of the Hallenstines Building (known as "Northern Tower" by those at the school) which was situated across from their original premises on the corner of Cashel Street and High Street. It was built to help facilitate the growing number of students, which was upwards of 200 at the time.[4] Students and staff moved into the building in 2005. Unlimited also expanded into the basement of The Crossing building that year, next door to the Southern Star Building.

Unlimited reached a roll of 400 students by 2008.[4]

February 2011 Christchurch earthquake[edit]

Some students, staff and visitors were present in the Unlimited buildings during the 6.3 magnitude earthquake on 22 February 2011. A number of people, particularly students, were not present that day or had left the school the hour before the quake, due to many staff attending a paid union meeting in the Christchurch Town Hall.

The Hallenstines Building (dubbed the "Northern Tower") had already suffered minor damaged in the 2010 Canterbury earthquake but was safe to use through to February 2011. After the 2011 Christchurch earthquake, the building was said to be structurally safe, but was demolished in 2012 allegedly at the will of the owners.[5]

The Southern Star Building was severely damaged, losing some of its front facade, as well as having a partially collapsed ceiling on the second floor. The building was demolished by 2013.[5]

Unlimited also occupied a basement area below The Crossing food court building. The building still remains in late 2013, but is not accessible to the public. It is unknown if it will be demolished. Surrounding buildings, which were connected to The Crossing, have already been de-constructed to basement level.

Before demolition work began on the Unlimited buildings, John Mather (then the school director) announced that the school Board of Trustees had decided the school would not return to the site. Mather announced the school would consider rebuilding in the city in the future.

Unlimited's presence in the city center was a main factor in the development of the school's identity, and the Hallenstines Building (despite its later demolition due to earthquake damage) remains an iconic representation of the culture and philosophy the community developed.


Unlimited was relocated to the Halswell Residential College campus in Aidanfield, where the closely associated Discovery 1 School also moved to. It remained there throughout 2011 and 2012.

In January 2013, Unlimited Paenga Tawhiti relocated to the premises of the former Christchurch Teachers' College in Parkstone Avenue, Ilam, which is now part of the University of Canterbury.[6] They are located at the Wairarapa Block of the Dovedale Campus. Discovery 1 has remained in Aidanfield.

After the Discovery 1 merger, the school intends to rebuild and relocate to the city center by 2016.[7]

2014 Discovery 1 Merger[edit]

On 26 March 2013, Minister of Education Hekia Parata wrote to Unlimited and Discovery 1 with confirmation of a proposed merger between the schools. The decision was made as an outcome of the Ministry of Education's "Shaping Education" consulation.[7]

By January 2014, both schools would be merged into a single school for years 1 to 13 students. The school was temporarily named Unlimited Discovery Merged School until such time a permanent name had been confirmed. An elected board governed the school within three months after the process was completed.[7]

2014 Name Change[edit]

In early March 2014 it was announced that the Board of Trustees had settled on a new name for the school, Ao Tawhiti, with the motto "Unlimited discovery".[8] On 15 April 2014, the Ministry of Education confirmed the name of the school as "Ao Tawhiti Unlimited Discovery".[9]

Key People[edit]


The three original co-directors of Unlimited as it launched in 2003.

  • Richard Belton -- Belton left in 2004, during Unlimited's second year of operation.[7]
  • Gill Heald -- Heald resigned from her position in 2007, but remained for a few years to assist staff development.[7]
  • Vince Dobbs -- Dobbs became the full-time director in 2007. He left the school in 2008.

Later Directors[edit]

  • John Mather -- Director of the school from 2009 to end of 2011.
  • Tanja Grzeta -- Co-director from start of 2012 to closure and merge with Discovery1 at start of 2014. Grzeta had been employed since 2007 and had been a member of the leadership team since that time.
  • Alastair Wells -- Co-director from start of 2012 to closure and merge with Discovery1 at start of 2014.
  • Steven Mustor -- Director of school post-merge from late-January 2014.[10] Mustor was also a learning advisor at the school, prior to 2011.

Distinctive elements[edit]

  • Students can follow their own pathways of learning. The school uses the term "independent, collaborative learning" to distinguish between learning taking place in a class and learning driven or directed by the student outside of a classroom setting. Often called inquiry learning, this means that students can opt to work outside of classes and courses on their own passions and interests. In practice the amount of time given over to this individual, and often independent, style of learning varies according to the interests and maturity of each student. An example of a long-term group ICL is the Audiodreams project—an event management company being run by students during school hours.
  • Teachers at the school are known as "learning advisors". They are responsible for running classes as well as running individual homebases, where they support each student. Each year, students are allowed to select their preferred homebase, which is distinguished largely by the learning advisor who runs it.
  • The school year at Unlimited is divided into seven or eight half-term blocks of four to six weeks. Students take courses in subjects for the duration of these half-term blocks, or can enroll for longer periods up to a full academic year.
  • Students are vertically grouped in homebases (similar to form classes). The homebases have up to 15 students in them.
  • Up until 2011 students were allocated 30 minutes each per week to meet with their Learning Advisor to discuss and progress their learning. In 2011 the school board reassessed the value of this level of individualized support and reallocated staff hours back towards classroom teaching, thus effecting a significant change in the school's model. Students were allocated 15 minutes each per week to meet with their Learning Advisor until 2012, when they reverted to a longer allocation. In 2013 the time allocated to these individualized meetings was reassigned to a full homebase day. This day, held on Wednesdays, allows students to spend time outside of the classroom working, with support from their Learning Advisor, on individual projects or study. During the homebase day students can meet individually with their Learning Advisor if they wish, however they can also meet in small groups. Learning Advisors often run full homebase activities on this day. The homebase day also gives students the opportunity to meet with subject specialist teaching staff.
  • The school is resourced with high-end information and communications technology (ICT), all students have the opportunity to gain qualifications in the New Zealand National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA). There are a range of secondary school subjects on offer including English, Mathematics, Science, Social Sciences, Computing, Drama, Dance, and Physical and Outdoor education. In addition to these subjects, UPT offers a range of courses that are not normally provided at secondary schools. These include DJ performance and music production, Entrepreneurship, Holistic programmes, Philosophy, Psychology and Videogame design.
  • Courses provided by outside providers are also offered, for example Unlimited offers students the ability to participate in courses taught by Natcoll Design Technology, the Christchurch Polytechnic and The University of Canterbury. They also offer a Cisco networking course with the ability to gain a Cisco Certified Network Associate qualification taught by Aranui High School


  1. ^ "Directory of Schools - as at 30 July 2014". New Zealand Ministry of Education. Retrieved 2014-08-02. 
  2. ^ Ministry of Education. "Becoming a section 156 designated character school". 
  3. ^ Discovery Learning Trust. "Discovery Learning Trust". 
  4. ^ a b c "Unlimited History". unlimited.school.nz. 
  5. ^ a b "Another one bites the dust". The Press. 22 June 2012. Retrieved 15 November 2012. 
  6. ^ Mann, Charley (14 November 2012). "Unlimited to move to uni campus". The Press. Retrieved 15 November 2012. 
  7. ^ a b c d e "D1 & UPT Merger Information". D1UPT Merger. 
  8. ^ "Naming the Merged School", Ao Tawhiti Board Meeting Minutes, 13th December 2013. Retrieved 5th April 2014.
  9. ^ "School Mergers, Closures and New Schools - 2014 publisher= Ministry of Education". Retrieved 28 May 2014. 
  10. ^ O'CALLAGHAN, JODY. "Principal appointed to school with no name". Stuff.co.nz. 

External links[edit]