Pacific student achievement 2009 and 2010

All students have the right to a high quality education regardless of their cultural, linguistic or socio-economic backgrounds. Students with varying identities, language, backgrounds, abilities and talents need to be recognised and affirmed and have their learning needs addressed in an inclusive school environment. (ERO’s Evaluation Indicators for School Reviews 2011: The diversity of students and their education). [2]

ERO is committed to building schools’ capability to review and improve educational outcomes for all students. Results from international and national assessments, [3]indicate that students most at risk of not succeeding are Pacific. In particular, the 2010 NEMP report identifies worsening disparities for Years 4 and 8 Pacific learners in reading (English) and similarly across other curriculum areas. Consequently, ERO has prioritised evaluating schools’ performance in improving and accelerating learning for Pacific students.

In 2009 and 2010 ERO published two national reports that evaluated the progress of schools in promoting the achievement, engagement and presence of Pacific students. These reports found that, although some schools were promoting success for Pacific students, not all schools were making a conscious effort to raise the achievement levels of these students. Therefore, overall progress across the education sector was minimal. While some positive trends in achievement were evident, the urgency to accelerate progress had not been a serious consideration for school leaders. Consequently, the state of Pacific student achievement in New Zealand remained a concern.

The 2009 report was a pilot evaluation of 32 schools in the Auckland area. The 2010 report evaluated the performance of 233 schools across the country. In these reports ERO wanted to know what initiatives schools had put in place since their previous review.

The 2010 evaluation found that schools were reducing the number of Pacific students involved in disciplinary actions. Schools were taking action earlier if problems arose and this resulted in more stand-downs but fewer suspensions and exclusions for Pacific students. Despite this positive result for keeping students at school when problems did occur, ERO found that 40 percent of schools either did not monitor, or could not demonstrate, any improvement in Pacific students’ attendance.

A minority of schools had initiated programmes aimed explicitly at improving Pacific student engagement and learning outcomes. These included increasing teacher and/or trustees’ knowledge of Pacific cultures, setting high achievement expectations, reinforcing effective teaching strategies, and extra provision for English and/or Pacific languages programmes. Initiatives had been developed by schools to integrate elements of Pacific cultures and languages in school and classroom programmes.

Most schools did not know what impact their initiatives were having on Pacific students’ achievement. For example, ERO found that more than half the schools did not know whether Pacific students had improved their literacy and numeracy. The challenges in monitoring Pacific student achievement included little use of data before and after an initiative, and the lack of analysis about individual students. Schools were also reluctant to identify underachievement as an issue for the board’s attention when there were small numbers of Pacific students on the roll.

Schools that had succeeded in raising Pacific student achievement typically had close links with parents, families and communities. Some of these schools had a Pacific liaison person who assisted with engaging parents in students’ learning and in the life of the school. Effective schools also had a variety of ways to create and maintain a climate that was inclusive and welcoming for Pacific students and their families.

The recommendations of the 2010 report were that school leaders:

  • improve how they collect, analyse and use Pacific students’ achievement information
  • improve school processes to enable students to know about their progress and achievement and how to manage their learning
  • build teachers’ and boards’ knowledge of the strengths and needs of Pacific students, and how to use this knowledge to benefit these students
  • strengthen links with Pacific parents and communities to facilitate communication and build mutual understanding about the best ways to support their children’s learning
  • use the contextual flexibility inherent in The New Zealand Curriculum [4] to design and implement teaching and learning programmes that reflect Pacific students’ voices and aspects of cultures and languages relevant to their learning.

ERO also recommended that the Ministry of Education:

  • work with schools to increase school leaders’ and teachers’ understanding of the importance of partnership with Pacific communities
  • consider ways to increase school leaders’ knowledge of how to review and report Pacific students’ achievement and progress, particularly when the numbers are small.

ERO’s 2012 report is based on information gathered from 302 schools from a range of deciles, roll sizes and locations across the country. Despite findings that are disappointing overall, ERO also aims to highlight what some schools are doing well. The report discusses what steps need to be taken to improve how all schools can support Pacific students to reach their potential. To help schools identify and develop effective practices, this report describes some of the good practices ERO identified as working well for Pacific students and the wider school community.

The Pasifika Education Plan 2009-2012

The Pasifika Education Plan 2009-2012 (PEP) sets out the Government’s objectives for Pacific students across the education system. The plan underlines the diversity of Pacific students and links their success to the way the education system responds to this diversity.

Pasifika is a collective term used to refer to people of Pacific heritage or ancestry who have migrated or been born in Aotearoa New Zealand. Pasifika include recent migrants or first, second and subsequent generations of New Zealand born Pasifika men, women and children of single or mixed heritages. They identify themselves with their indigenous Pacific countries of origin because of family and cultural connections with Samoa, Cook Islands, Tonga, Niue, Tokelau, Fiji, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu and other Pacific countries. Pasifika people are not homogenous and Pasifika does not refer to a single ethnicity, nationality, gender, language or culture.


Success in education is about positively harnessing Pasifika diversity and multiple world views within an enabling education system that works for young people, their families and communities.

The Pasifika Education Plan’s 2011 mid-term report noted that there had been good progress across many of the plan’s goals. It also forecast that this progress would continue across most of its goals in 2012. The outcomes for compulsory education and the Ministry of Education’s 2012 forecast outcomes for these are set out in the table below. Note that while the NCEA achievement of Pacific students is tracking upwards, there continues to be a gap between Pacific students and the overall average rates of achievement for New Zealand secondary students. The numbers of Pacific teachers and parent involvement on schools’ boards are currently below the plan’s targets.

Table 1: Progress towards meeting the Pasifika Education Plan target – compulsory education

Position up until May 2011

Ministry Forecast for 2012

86 percent of all 2009 Pasifika school leavers achieved the NCEA level 1 literacy and numeracy requirements.

The target of 93 percent will be met.

66 percent of all 2009 Pasifika school leavers achieved NCEA level 2 or above.

The target of 75 percent will be met.

28 percent of all 2009 Pasifika school leavers achieved a university entrance standard.

The target of 30 percent will be met.

There were 1,368 Pasifika teachers in 2010, an 88 percent increase from 2000.

The target of 1,520 registered Pasifika teachers in 2012 will be met.

Age-standardised suspension rates for Pasifika students increased by 11 percent from 7.2 to 8.0 per 1000 between 2008 and 2009 after previous years of decrease.

The target for a Pasifika age standardised suspension rate of 5.0 per 1,000 students by 2012 will now not be achieved without further intervention.

The age-standardised expulsion rate for Pasifika students in 2009 was 4.7 per 1000 students, a decrease of 8 percent since 2008.

It is unlikely the target of 1 per 1,000 Pasifika student expulsions will be achieved without additional intervention.

In 2009, 30 percent of schools in which Pasifika representation on the school’s board of trustees would be expected had such representation.

It is unlikely the target of 100 percent of these schools having such representation will be met without suitable intervention.

Source: Ministry of Education, (2009). Pasifika Education Plan Monitoring Report: 2009. Wellington: Ministry of Education. Available at