Executive summary

The vision in the New Zealand Government’s Pasifika Education Plan 2009 – 2012 is that “the education system must work for Pasifika so they gain the knowledge and skills necessary to do well for themselves, their communities, Aotearoa New Zealand, the Pacific region and the world.” [1]

As part of a young, diverse and growing population, Pacific students’ progress, engagement and achievement at school, and the conditions that promote their success, are matters of national economic and social importance.

Results from national and international assessments show that the learners most at risk of not achieving in New Zealand schools are Pacific students. Since 2009 the Government has called for a much more active and urgent focus on lifting school performance. Schools have been urged to tailor their programmes to meet the varying needs of the different Pasifika groups, their different identities, languages and cultures, and to recognise the cultural assets these students bring to their learning.

This is ERO’s third national evaluation report focusing on how schools engage with Pacific learners and act to improve their achievement outcomes. The report is based on information gathered from 302 schools from a range of deciles, roll sizes and locations across the country. It considers:

  • schools’ achievement and assessment practices for Pacific students
  • schools’ awareness and use of the Pasifika Education Plan (PEP)
  • school initiatives to promote Pacific student engagement in learning
  • boards of trustees’ knowledge about Pacific students
  • schools’ work with parents and families.

The findings of this 2012 evaluation are disappointingly consistent with those found by ERO in its 2009 and 2010 national evaluation reports. Although ERO found positive practices in some schools, there were no significant system-wide changes evident in the way schools were responding to Pacific students, despite the widely recognised disparities in education outcomes for these students.

ERO found that school leaders and teachers in most schools in this study were not recognising and actively responding to this achievement disparity. Most of the schools studied did not carefully analyse Pacific learners’ assessment results to determine actions they could take to accelerate their progress. Only about a quarter of secondary schools specifically looked into how Pacific students achieved in mathematics and reading, with less than 20 percent investigating Pacific students’ writing achievement and progress.

Approximately half of the primary schools collected high quality information on Pacific student achievement in mathematics and reading. Only a third of primary schools also collated data on Pacific students’ writing.

Pacific learners are far from homogeneous. However, as yet, there is little evidence of primary and secondary schools responding to the diversity, identity, language and cultures of Pacific learners, as envisaged in the Pasifika Education Plan. While some Pacific students may be born in New Zealand, others may be new arrivals. Hence, although a useful first step, it is not enough for schools to analyse and respond to achievement information of a notional Pacific ‘cohort’. Schools must also promote the learning of individual Pacific students, based on evidence they have collected and analysed about these learners’ cultural assets, interests, achievement and next steps for learning.

As schools develop their curriculum they should take into account the cultures, interests and potential of all their students, including those from Pacific cultures. Most primary and secondary schools in this evaluation had not drawn upon contexts and themes that were relevant to Pacific learners. Indeed, while references to Pacific students might appear in the overarching statements of a school’s curriculum, classroom planning and practice frequently missed opportunities to reflect the culture, knowledge and understanding of these learners. When a school’s curriculum fails to connect learners with their wider lives it can limit their opportunities to respond to a particular context or to engage with and understand the material they are expected to learn.

Similarly, schools demonstrated variable levels of engagement with Pacific families. Many schools used the same approaches to engaging with Pacific parents as they used with other parents. ERO found some examples of schools that had taken a more innovative approach, for example involving the use of community leaders and translators to communicate with parents, and to ensure the school was culturally effective in its engagement practices.

This evaluation indicates that a greater commitment is required from boards of trustees and school leaders to recognise the potential of, and any achievement disparities for, their Pacific students. To improve national education outcomes, schools must closely monitor their own performance, and undertake improved planning, curriculum implementation and reporting to better respond to the diverse learning needs and aspirations of all learners.