Ao Tawhiti

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Ao Tawhiti
Unlimited Campus.jpg
Unlimited campus in June 2015
Dovedale Campus, University of Canterbury,
Christchurch, New Zealand
Coordinates43°31′22.01″S 172°34′2.81″E / 43.5227806°S 172.5674472°E / -43.5227806; 172.5674472Coordinates: 43°31′22.01″S 172°34′2.81″E / 43.5227806°S 172.5674472°E / -43.5227806; 172.5674472
TypeState Co-educational Secondary, years 0-13, Designated Special Character school
Ministry of Education Institution no.683
DirectorSteven Mustor
School roll478[1] (August 2018)
Socio-economic decile7O[2]

Ao Tawhiti or Ao Tawhiti Unlimited Discovery sometimes abbreviated to "ATUD", is a state area school in Christchurch, New Zealand. It was established by the merging of two separate Christchurch inner city schools; a primary school known as Discovery (or officially Discovery 1) and a secondary school named Unlimited Paenga Tawhiti (better known as Unlimited or UPT for short).

The school is one of eleven schools running under the "Designated Special Character" criteria of the Education Act 1989.[3]

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.


Ao Tawhiti was formed in 2014, by the merger of two schools which were each established by the Learning Discovery Trust. Originally they existed as two separate entities, known as Discovery 1 (primary) and Unlimited Paenga Tawhiti (secondary).

Early origins[edit]

Under the direction and leadership of John Clough, the Alpha Learning Programme explored innovative and progressive learning theory in education for two years from 1993 onwards. In late 1998 (following the creation of a trial 'Learning Lab' at Elmwood School) an application to construct a new school based on this education theory was lodged before the then Minister of Education Wyatt Creech. The Ministry acknowledged the special character and granted it a special character designation.[4]

Discovery and Unlimited[edit]

Discovery 1 was established in 2001, followed by Unlimited in 2003. Both had been formed by Christchurch-based Learning Discovery Trust.

Unlimited 2003–2011[edit]

Hallensteins Building, September 2008.

Unlimited started with just 40 students (dubbed the "foundation forty") as well as 7 staff. It opened in January 2003 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, the construction of the Hallensteins Building (known as "Northern Tower" by those at the school) was established across from Unlimited's 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.[4]

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

Discovery 2001–2011[edit]

Unlimited 'Southern Star' building to the mid-left and Northern Tower to the right, a thoroughfare for students, intersecting on High Street and Cashel (2010)

Discovery was first based above a restaurant named 'The Loaded Hog' on Manchester Street. It began its first term with thirty students and eight staff. The following year the school increased by fifty new students.[4]

During the later years of the schools operation, Discovery 1 was based on the upper levels of The Crossing on the corner of Colombo Street and Cashel Street. It was accessible through the bus exchange and an adjacent multi-level car park. Although located on the same streets, students had no contact and were largely separated from Unlimited students due to the location of Discovery within the building, and limited accessibility.

February 2011 Christchurch earthquake[edit]

Students in the Southern Star building during orientation week in 2011, pre-earthquake.

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 Hallensteins 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]

The school 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 and Discovery 1 were relocated to the Halswell Residential College campus in Aidanfield. Unlimited remained there throughout 2011 and 2012, while Discovery 1 continued to operate from the site.

In April 2011, singer-songwriter Imogen Heap visited Christchurch to play a benefit show for the school. It was her only performance in the country that year, and all proceeds went towards the future costs of rebuilding the school.[6]

In January 2013, Unlimited relocated to the premises of the former Christchurch Teachers' College in Parkstone Avenue, Ilam, which is now part of the University of Canterbury.[7] They are located at the Wairarapa Block of the Dovedale Campus.

2014 Ao Tawhiti 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" consultation.[8]

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. An elected board governed the school within three months after the process was completed.[8]

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".[9] On 15 April 2014, the Ministry of Education confirmed the name of the school as "Ao Tawhiti Unlimited Discovery".[10] As of 2015, the school is split into two campuses bearing the names of each former school respectively.

On 24 August 2016, Nikki Kaye, Associate Minister of Education announced that the new site for Ao Tawhiti Unlimited Discovery will be 177 St Asaph Street. Building work on the new, Ao Tawhiti Unlimited Discovery school is planned to start in 2017, with the new facilities expected to be in use by early 2019.

2018 Ao Tawhiti fire[edit]

On 10 March 2018, during the early hours of a morning a fire was discovered in the Hard Materials room in the unlimited campus.[11]

Distinctive elements[edit]

  • Students can follow their own pathways of learning. The school uses the term "self directed 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, drawing on resources and experts as needed. 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.
  • 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 Ao Tawhiti 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). Years 7-13 homebases have up to 16 students in them and Years 1-6 homebases have up to 21 students.
  • Teacher facilitated courses are offered for Year 1 – 6 children in all of the main subject domains. In addition, children are encouraged to carry out their own inquiries and to lead or opt into workshops or projects that are either initiated by themselves, other children, parents or teachers. From year 7 to year 13 a number of structured courses are offered and facilitated by teachers, and many of the courses contribute to achievement on the New Zealand Qualifications Framework such as NCEA. Classes are open to students of any age and students can work at whichever level of the curriculum that best serves their needs. Each student has their allocated weekly one-to-one time with their Learning Advisor. Mentoring is offered on some days in the morning and again in the afternoon. This time allows students to meet with subject teachers to get support on course based learning, independent based learning, and other curriculum opportunities not currently available in classes.
  • 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, Unlimited offers a range of courses that are not normally provided at secondary schools. These include DJ performance and music production, 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 Yoobee School of Design, ARA and The University of Canterbury. The school also runs a programme in cooperation with the Canterbury Ballet School.


2007 Stewart Fountain protests[edit]

On 13 August 2007, thirteen students from Unlimited were arrested for trespassing, after staging multiple protests on the 'Stewart Fountain', a public water feature dedicated to Sir Robertson Stewart situated near the school. The students criticized the council for moving in to demolish the fountain after Stewart had died earlier that day.[12]

Police reportedly decided to forcibly remove protesters, who attempted to stay the night staging a "noisy" protest and refusing to leave. Throughout the day, as many as thirty students at any one time had occupied the area.[12]

Of the thirteen who were arrested, nine were released for being under seventeen and were dealt with by Youth Aid.[12]

Vince Dobbs, who was the Unlimited director at the time, said the protest during school hours was safe and sensible, and that the students who were arrested during the later protests were "outside of school hours, and there as individuals."[12]


  1. ^ "Directory of Schools - as at 13 September 2018". New Zealand Ministry of Education. Retrieved 22 September 2018.
  2. ^ "Decile Change 2014 to 2015 for State & State Integrated Schools". Ministry of Education. Retrieved 12 February 2015.
  3. ^ Ministry of Education. "Becoming a section 156 designated character school".
  4. ^ a b c d e f "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 8 November 2014. Retrieved 19 November 2014.
  5. ^ a b "Another one bites the dust". The Press. 22 June 2012. Retrieved 15 November 2012.
  6. ^ ANDERSON, VICKI. "Lesson in acoustic generosity". Retrieved 17 December 2015.
  7. ^ Mann, Charley (14 November 2012). "Unlimited to move to uni campus". The Press. Retrieved 15 November 2012.
  8. ^ a b "D1 & UPT Merger Information". D1UPT Merger. Archived from the original on 31 December 2013.
  9. ^ "Naming the Merged School" Archived 7 April 2014 at the Wayback Machine., Ao Tawhiti Board Meeting Minutes, 13 December 2013. Retrieved 5 April 2014.
  10. ^ "School Mergers, Closures and New Schools - 2014". Ministry of Education. Retrieved 28 May 2014.[permanent dead link]
  11. ^ Official statement from the school regarding the fire
  12. ^ a b c d

External links[edit]