Getting started: building a collective sense of responsibility

Making the decision to form a learning community required shifts in thinking and practice on the part of the institutions involved. Deciding what the Kāhui Ako wanted to achieve was the most important factor since this gave clear direction to participants. Building a sense of collective responsibility for the success and progress of all children and young people in the community was paramount. The challenge for all those involved was to move beyond focusing on ‘my school’ or ‘my early learning service’ to ‘our schools and early learning services’.

Examples and stories from the three Kāhui Ako referred to in this report show the progress made in meeting this challenge.


A strong commitment to work together to address a common set of issues drove the formation of the Northcote Kāhui Ako. While there was some previous history of collaborative work in the Northcote area, it was limited to one or two schools or early learning services working together on a common area of interest, including:

  • transitions from early childhood to school between Northcote Community Baptist Pre‑school and Willow Park School
  • the My Learning Transition Project between Willow Park School, Northcote Intermediate School and Northcote College
  • the Maths Learning Exchange between Northcote Intermediate School and Northcote College.

There was no history of collaboration involving all education institutions in the area as expressed in the principles of Kāhui Ako.

Who was involved?

The principal of Northcote College organised a meeting of all principals in the area. The discussions that followed indicated a strong preference for working towards strengthening education pathways for learners and their families. Initially, three schools and two early learning services (ELS) came together to form the Kāhui Ako. Over the next 12 months, another two primary schools joined. The ELS’ timely engagement is noteworthy and well aligned with the Kāhui Ako aspirations to strengthen the education pathway, and contributed significantly to building strong relationships between members of the Kāhui Ako . The boards of trustees were invited to guide the appointment process for the Kāhui& Ako lead, and for the across‑school teacher (AST) roles.


Making the decision to form the Ōtūmoetai Kāhui Ako was based on the desire to collaborate for the benefit of children and young people across the community. For this Kāhui Ako, the decision to come together as a Community of Learning was reasonably straightforward and seen as a natural progression from working together as the Ōtūmoetai cluster of schools. Previously, the principals had cooperated as a sub‑group of Tauranga Principals Association, and had also collaborated on a number of Ministry of Education initiatives, including for example, Extending High Standards Across Schools (EHSAS) (from 2008‑2010), and shared professional learning and development (PLD) activities. These earlier collaborations established relationships at senior leadership and board levels across schools, and paved the way for the schools to come together to collaborate around the achievement challenges they identified as the Kāhui Ako.

In spite of their established relationships, the conversation between the tumuaki of the wharekura and other principals during the formative stages of the Kāhui Ako is worth noting. The tumuaki saw the value of being part of the Ōtūmoetai Kāhui Ako, and set expectations for authentic collaboration. They identified two conditions (placed before the other principals) that might have impeded collaboration: they ‘did not want to do all the giving’ (‘dial a pōwhiri’), and they did not want to be the ‘salad dressing’. 

Who was involved?

At the start, the principals were the prime movers in establishing this Kāhui Ako and led discussions with Ministry lead advisors about the formation and focus of the Kāhui Ako. Subsequently each school’s senior leadership team and board representatives contributed to this early Ministry engagement, and, as engagement broadened, engaged with union and iwi representatives.

Following the endorsement of the Kāhui Ako, each school led its own process for involving staff and the wider community. All stakeholders interviewed remarked that the process used to deepen engagement at the Kāhui Ako level was thoughtful and respectful of the different contexts of the school communities.

Efforts were made to deepen the Ōtūmoetai Kāhui Ako partnership with iwi (beyond representation in governance structures), and aligning Kāhui Ako aspirations with iwi aspirations and strategies. The Ministry timelines for setting up Kāhui Ako were identified as impeding Ōtūmoetai Kāhui Ako aspirations for more authentic engagement with iwi during the early stages, leading to frustrations on all sides. However, at the time this case study was undertaken, these issues were gradually being worked through.


In 2015, the chairperson of the Waimate High School board of trustees (BOT) attended a New Zealand School Trustees Association (NZSTA) conference and heard the government’s Investing in Educational Success policy announcement. The board chairperson and the principal of Waimate High School set up discussions with other principals and boards of trustees in the district. With support from Ministry regional staff and NZSTA, a coalition was formed. At the start, the secondary and three primary schools came together. Principals and board chairs acknowledged there was early resistance from some. A general suspicion around the underlying intent of the policy, including the Ministry’s initial messaging suggesting Kāhui Ako were compulsory.  However, this changed with a further three primary schools joining and another school expressing an interest in being part of the Waimate Kāhui Ako. This growth in membership was a positive development for the Waimate community of learners.

Who was involved?

The Waimate High School principal and board chair played a critical role in establishing this Kāhui Ako. Despite not yet having an official role, their passion and drive was instrumental. Initially, the leadership demonstrated by the secondary was seen by some as a ‘takeover’; however, these sentiments were put to rest as implementation progressed.

The schools in this Kāhui Ako had already worked together on a number of professional, cultural, and sporting initiatives over the years. Prior relationships helped overcome a competitive mind‑set and gave focus to raising student achievement across the schools.  The formation of the Kāhui Ako cemented what was to become a legacy of cooperation, and acted as a catalyst to formalise systems and processes aimed at strengthening working practices as a Kāhui Ako. The Kāhui Ako was formally launched in the community through a shared lunch, and was followed by a joint teacher only day at the start of Term 1, 2017.

The ERO publication Communities of Learning | Kāhui Ako: Collaboration to Improve Learner Outcomes identifies key components important for building collective capacity for improvement. The framework (see Figure 1) brings together research findings about effective collaboration in education communities both in New Zealand and internationally. The case studies provide an important opportunity for ERO to contribute to the evidence base by examining collaboration in action. 

Figure 1: Building collective capacity for improvement

This images is of increasing circles with Learner Outcomes at the centre. The next circle outwards is called Professional Practice with an arrow tracing its way around the circle.  The next circle is called Communication and Relational trust.  This also has the arrow tracing its way around the circle but it has four circles placed at intervals on the arrow.  They are from right top, Purpose and focus, Collective theory of change and plan of action, Collaborative joint inquiry work that challenges thinking and practice and Monitoring and evaluation for improvement.  The last circle which encompass all other circles is titled Leadership for Equity and Excellence.

The framework in Figure 1 identifies leadership, infrastructure, and resourcing as key enablers that promote effective collaboration. Effective leaders make sure resources are used appropriately, and supportive and inclusive structures are in place to allow members to work together. By facilitating collaboration, effective leaders build relational trust at every level of the community – critical to improving professional practice as well as implementing collaborative practices centred on learner outcomes.

ERO evaluators undertook case study interviews at each of the Kāhui Ako schools, or at a nominated host school. Evaluators initially met with the lead principal of each Kāhui Ako to discuss purpose and scope.

In addition, ERO spoke to:

  • iwi representatives
  • across‑school teachers
  • learning mentors
  • within‑school teachers
  • teachers from across the Kāhui Ako, including those from particular learning areas
  • regional Ministry of Education lead advisors
  • learning support trial coordinators
  • early learning services representatives on stewardship groups
  • representatives of agencies other than education
  • expert partners

Interviews focused on these key areas:

  • decision‑making processes in setting up the Kāhui Ako
  • purpose and focus of the Kāhui Ako
  • description of collaborative processes
  • perceived value of policy and service supports
  • monitoring and evaluation
  • leadership
  • new teaching and leadership roles.

An interview guide provided focus for all interviews, with evaluators inviting respondents to share their reflections and observations about Kāhui Ako performance and operations.

Case studies from three Kāhui Ako are included in this report:

  • Northcote
  • Ōtūmoetai
  • Waimate 

Northcote Kāhui Ako

The Northcote Kāhui Ako, approved to establish in November 2016, is a collaboration amongst five schools (three primary, one intermediate, and one secondary school) and two early learning services that are philosophically aligned and close to each other geographically. The priorities for this Kāhui Ako are to build a community that inspires learning, and to create a cohesive educational pathway that delivers success for all learners from early childhood, through to schools, and beyond. In building consensus about valued outcomes that define and identify what ‘success’ looks like in the Northcote context, this Kāhui AkoERO School Evaluation Indicators, The New Zealand Curriculum, Te Whāriki, Pasifika Education Plan 2013‑2017, Tātaiako and the aspirations of their learners, parents, and whānau.

This image is a of six strips three are black and three are grey they are interlocked in a basket weave pattern. The very centre reads Akonga Learners.  The three black strips read: Schools, Whanau/Family and Teachers.  The three grey strips read: Across school leaders, Leadership team and Within school leaders.

Ahakoa he tino rerekē te ao o te kura ki te ao o te hau kāinga, ka tupu tonu ngā ākonga mehemea he maha ngā arawhata i waenganui i a rātau kia whakawhiti ai ki ngā huarahi wāia, ōtira ki ngā whenua o tauiwi

Viviane Robinson 2011, translated by John Marsden

Although the worlds of school and home may differ greatly, students will thrive if there are enough bridges between them to make the crossing a walk into familiar, rather than foreign territory.

Viviane Robinson 2011

Ōtūmoetai Kāhui Ako

The evolution of the Ōtūmoetai Community of Learning I Kāhui Ako maintained a strong focus on cross‑cultural collaboration for educational transformation, innovation and developing strong pathways for learners.

The Ōtūmoetai Kāhui Ako is made up of six primary schools, one intermediate school, one secondary school and one wharekura. In 2017, 5,641 students were enrolled in these schools. Of these approximately 1,300 were Māori students, and 65 were Pacific students. Students from the six contributing primary schools have an established pathway to the local intermediate school (88 percent of the students go on to the intermediate) and on to the local secondary (92 percent). There is also an established pathway from rūmaki classes at two schools to Te Wharekura o Mauao.

The inclusion of Te Wharekura o Mauao in this Kāhui Ako is noteworthy. This was helped by the existing relationships between the principals as members of the Tauranga Principals Association sub‑group. The wharekura is located in the Ōtūmoetai geographic area and this was seen as an added advantage.

This is an image of a maori symbol. It's shape is of an elongated tear drop. The symbol is divided into four equal sections. They are from the top down: section 1: <span lang=

Ko te ara poutama this section teaches us of the organic process of the learning and the adaptations that occur within teachers and the students whilst negotiating both the lessons and the learnings involved in the reciprocation, receiving and dissemination of information and knowledge. Section 2: Ko te matata o te atua : this section is dedicated to the kaupapa and its participants. The use of the ara moana pattern highlights the importance of the journey of learning and the preparations that must occur before we set out to achieve our goals. Section 3: Ko te mana o te whānau: this section is dedicated to each and every participant who comes in contact with the kaupapa. This magopare reflects the collective strength of schools, teachers, students and their families working towards mutal and shared goals. Section 4: Ko te pitomata o te tauira: this region of the logo represents the untapped potential of students within our schools. It is our primary role as education providers to aim and assist at helping individuals to reach their fullest potential." 

Homai ngā ture kia wetewetea!

Homai ngā tauira kia whakanuia!

Show me the obstacles so I may tear them down, empower our children and praise them

Waimate Kāhui Ako

In 2015, the chairperson of the Waimate High School board of trustees (board) attended a New Zealand School Trustees Association (NZSTA) conference and heard the government’s Investing in Educational Success policy announcement. Together with the principal of Waimate High School, the chair set up discussions with other principals and boards of trustees in the district. This resulted in a coalition amongst local schools: at the start, the high school and three primary schools came together. Subsequently, a further three primary schools joined and another school expressed interest in being part of the Kāhui Ako. This growth in membership was a positive development for the Waimate community of learners.

The Waimate Kāhui Ako includes a range of deciles reflecting the mix of socioeconomic backgrounds learners come from. The district is characterised by:

  • high transience (28 per 1000 in Waimate district compared to the national average of 4.7 per 1000)[1]
  • inadequate internet access in rural areas
  • seasonal work and therefore seasonal workers
  • a high proportion of students who travel by bus to their schools
  • an ageing population
  • an increase in Māori families
  • an increase in migrant families.

This is the school picture of the reed.  The words surrounding it are Waimate Kahui Aho Collaboration for success. Surrounding this is the Maori saying When the reed stands, alone they are vlunerable, but bound together they are unbreakable.

Ki to kohahi te Kaakaho ka whati

Ke te kaapuia, e kore e whati

When reeds stand alone, they are vulnerable, but bound together they are unbreakable

The case studies exemplify successes and challenges in early stages

These case studies show how it was possible to make significant progress in establishing the principles and direction of Kāhui Ako in the early stages of implementation. Each Kāhui Ako shared their successes and how they responded to the challenges encountered in their different contexts.

This report outlines key common factors of success. It also details aspects of individual Kāhui Ako that show specific models of practice. The thinking and actions described by these three Kāhui Ako give examples for others to consider, as they develop their approaches and structures.

The report addresses aspects of the Kāhui Ako that relate to the framework of effective collaboration in action:

  • Getting started
  • Establishing purpose and focus ‑ using data to set achievement targets
  • Leading collaboration
  • Understanding what needs to change and making this happen
  • Resourcing and infrastructure
  • Monitoring and evaluating for improvement.
Examples of relevant practice from different Kāhui Ako are identified under each heading of the report. This approach highlights the relevance of different experience and learning that Kāhui had while setting up a new community of learning.

[1] Data from 2013 census.