The success of Māori students at school is a matter of national interest and priority. The Education Review Office (ERO) has been asking schools questions about Māori student achievement for over a decade, and has made many recommendations to improve practice in individual school reports. In addition, ERO has published five national evaluation reports on this topic since 2001. These have identified system-wide issues and recommended steps to be taken by schools and by the Ministry of Education to promote success for Māori in education. ERO has also provided examples of good practice.
Over this time, although many Māori students have been successful in education, research and national and international testing data continue to show significant disparity in the achievement of Māori and non-Māori students. Improved Māori student achievement has been a key government priority in education over the decade. For Māori to achieve greater success in education it is crucial that all educators in New Zealand recognise, support and develop the inherent capabilities and skills that Māori students bring to their learning. These principles are recognised in the Ministry of Education’s strategy for Māori education: Ka Hikitia – Managing for Success. 
It is of concern that this 2010 ERO national evaluation indicates that not all educators have yet recognised their professional responsibility to provide a learning environment that promotes success for Māori students. Despite the widespread information and support available, a substantial proportion of schools do not review their own performance in relation to Māori student achievement. These schools do not make effective use of data to improve classroom programmes and school-wide systems to promote success for Māori. Nor do they use research about Māori students’ learning to guide their curriculum review and pedagogical development. Although schools’ engagement with the Māori community has improved overall, in a sizeable minority of schools consultation with Māori parents and whānau is limited, and Māori parents’ engagement in their children’s education is not valued.
This 2010 report evaluates how schools have promoted success for Māori students since ERO’s previous national report in 2006. ERO collected information from 60 secondary schools and 227 primary schools that had education reviews during Terms 2 and 3, 2009. ERO wanted to know about improvements in Māori student achievement in these schools since their previous ERO review. The report focuses on three critical dimensions for success: presence (being at school), engagement (engaging with learning), and achievement. As part of this evaluation, ERO was also interested in the extent to which schools had discussed and used Ka Hikitia – Managing for Success in their planning for Māori success.
In approximately a third of both primary and secondary schools, ERO found that Māori student achievement had either remained at high levels or substantially improved. These schools demonstrated consistently good presence and engagement of Māori students. There were several common characteristics in these schools, but most of all they were inclusive of students and their parents and whānau. This was reflected in school leaders’ and teachers’ understanding of the centrality of te reo me ngā tikanga in the curriculum, responsive teaching, positive student-teacher relationships, and the inclusion of parents’ views and aspirations in working with Māori learners.
In a further 32 percent of primary schools and 45 percent of secondary schools there was evidence of some improvement in Māori student achievement. In the remaining schools ERO found no improvement.
Although the collection of individual student achievement information had improved overall in primary and secondary schools, the majority still lacked robust data in relation to Māori student achievement. Most schools, for example, could not compare current achievement with that of 2006 because they did not have the baseline information to do this. Many schools did not systematically analyse achievement information specifically for Māori students. They therefore did not know the extent to which Māori students were succeeding, or if there was a need for targeted interventions and changes to teaching practice. Where improvement programmes were put in place these were often for all students, and separate data for Māori not collected or analysed. As a result there was no way of demonstrating the impact of these programmes on Māori students, or that disparities in achievement had been addressed.
Māori students’ presence at school had improved or remained at a high level in over two-thirds of secondary and primary schools since ERO’s last report. Schools’ monitoring of this through separate data analysis was a key factor in the improvements. Nevertheless, about 10 percent of schools showed no improvement, and a further 20 percent of schools did not gather and analyse attendance data for Māori as a group and, consequently, did not know about student trends and patterns in this area.
Most secondary and primary schools in this investigation had made some progress with student and whānau engagement. Many schools had put in place specific initiatives to improve Māori engagement. Improving the quality of teaching, and increasing connections with whānau were important factors underpinning this. Effective schools had a climate in which te ao Māori was recognised, respected and valued.
In other schools ERO found that initiatives to engage students were frequently aimed at all students rather than being targeted specifically at Māori. Although some approaches had some specific consideration of the needs of Māori students and whānau, most were school‑wide projects through which Māori students were expected to benefit along with other students. In contrast, schools that had developed initiatives in response to what they knew about Māori students and whānau tended to be more effective in building better relationships and enhancing achievement.
Schools’ use of Ka Hikitia – Managing for Success had supported the strategies of some schools to improve Māori student achievement. Two-thirds of the primary schools and almost half of the secondary schools in this study were familiar with Ka Hikitia – Managing for Success and had made some changes to their practice in the light of their discussions.
ERO’s role in lifting school performance
Despite clear expectations from the government, the Ministry and ERO, and the compelling information on Māori achievement outcomes, for a significant group of New Zealand schools Māori success is not yet given sufficiently high priority.
ERO accepts that it has a central role to play in influencing schools to review and improve their performance. For this reason, schools’ capacity to promote success for Māori is a key focus in ERO’s methodology for school reviews. The impact of school practice on improving Māori success will now be a critical factor in deciding the timing of each school’s future review. ERO does not consider any school can claim to be high performing unless the school can demonstrate that the majority of Māori learners are progressing well and succeeding as Māori.
ERO recommends that school leaders:
- evaluate the impact of their initiatives to improve Māori students’ presence, engagement and achievement, and use this information in their self review
- provide leadership, support, encouragement and professional development for trustees, senior managers and teachers to build their capability in implementing policies and practices that promote success for Māori students
- familarise themselves with Ka Hikitia – Managing for Success and use it in their thinking, planning and action for Māori learners
- support teachers to implement effective pedagogical practices for Māori
- continue to review their school curricula to ensure that these reflect the aspirations and needs of Māori students and are inclusive of principles of The New Zealand Curriculum
- improve school practices for assessment for learning, including rigorous analysis of student achievement data for school planning and reporting purposes
- use a variety of ways to engage parents and whānau regularly and involve them in students’ learning.
ERO recommends that the Ministry of Education:
- continue to work with schools to increase leaders’ and teachers’ understanding of how to use Ka Hikitia – Managing for Success as a basis for promoting success for Māori students.