ERO asked the following evaluative questions:

  • To what extent is the presence of the five key factors related to positive achievement for Pacific learners?
  • What other features are characteristic of those schools that demonstrate success in achieving positive academic outcomes for Pacific learners?

The findings, in response to these questions, are presented under these headings:

  • presence of the five key factors previously identified in ERO reports
  • other features for success
  • successful initiatives for Pacific students.

Presence of the five key factors previously identified in ERO reports

In the five most successful 1 of the 25 schools with large numbers of Pacific students, the key factors were strongly evident.

Pacific learners are mentored and have access to learning support

In the report Secondary schools: Pathways to future education, training and employment, 2 ERO found that schools focusing on the individual needs and progress of Pacific students provided organised additional tutoring, and support to set goals and develop their career pathways. Such interactions help students to develop self‑awareness and the capacity to make decisions about their learning and future careers. These in turn have been shown to increase students’ motivation to learn.

Schools in this study that offered high quality mentoring and targeted learning support also had high levels of achievement for Pacific learners. Eighteen of the schools had mentoring and support programmes for their Pacific learners. The extent of mentoring varied between schools, from meeting with form teachers to discuss goals and pathways, to working with mentors from the community or external providers.

One co-educational school, where many Pacific students achieved success, had a partnership with a university provider that involved university students mentoring senior Pacific students. These senior students also had opportunities to develop their leadership skills as they went on to mentor Year 8 students from selected schools. Students involved in the Health Science Academy (HSA), operating in three schools, were provided with effective mentoring through the Pasifika Medical Association (PMA) which supported students in their career pathways. More detail about this initiative is provided later in this report.

ERO identified the Starpath 3 programme as another strong positive initiative in 11 of the schools. Involvement in Starpath assisted schools to develop the confidence to mentor students using achievement data to inform the process. This programme is also discussed in more depth later.

When learning support for Pacific learners was specified in individual school’s ERO review reports it was clear that a variety of approaches were used. Examples of initiatives in place included:

  • Pacific learners supported through a Focused Learning Department 4
  • a school 5 with a strong emphasis on teaching literacy and numeracy skills in Years 7-10
  • a dedicated Literacy Centre to bolster achievements
  • a learning support home-room and the use of teacher aides.

Once again it can be seen that a single approach is rarely sufficient, and that often several strategies are needed to best support learners at particular risk of not achieving success.

ERO identified the provision of targeted learning support as an area for development in the ERO review reports of three of the schools. These schools were also generally those where Pacific students were not achieving well. Little mention was evident in the ERO review reports or these schools’ files about extension and enhancement opportunities being offered in schools, either for all students or for Pacific learners. Extension and enhancement opportunities should feature as part of the provision to meet the needs of Pacific learners.

Partnerships with parents and communities are promoted to improve the achievement of Pacific learners and ensure sound subject/strategic plans.

Research evidence 6 highlights that effective partnerships between schools and parents, whānau and communities can result in better outcomes for students. The better the relationship and engagement, the more positive the impact on students’ learning.

ERO also found in its report, Promoting Pacific Student Achievement Schools, 7 that the schools that succeeded in raising Pacific student achievement generally had close links with parents, families and communities. Where partnerships were strong, parents were engaged in their child’s learning, and students had a clear learning pathway, a sense of purpose and were motivated.

ERO’s review reports referred to partnerships with Pacific parents in 20 of the schools in this study. All schools identified that establishing good relationships between school, home and students was important to improve achievement levels for all students. The role that relationships play is clearly seen in this comment from one of the school’s ERO review report.

The school’s progress and effectiveness are further underpinned by open, strong relationships with students, parents and whānau, the community and educational providers and researchers.

(Co-educational school, mid-decile, less than one-quarter Pacific roll)

The influence of Starpath in schools encouraged academic counselling to occur with Pacific parents. ERO acknowledged that Starpath had a profound effect in terms of strengthening the partnerships that support and motivate the learner as noted in this school’s ERO review report.

The academic counselling programme effectively supports transition into learning at secondary school and features:

  • a highly valued parent-teacher meeting attended by 75 percent of parents (including high numbers of Māori and Pacific parents) where students’ progress and goals are discussed in depth
  • academic target setting, based on longitudinal achievement data, to set specific individual targets to motivate students to achieve more highly.

(Co-educational school, mid-decile, with less than one-quarter Pacific roll)

Many different forms of community partnerships were referred to in 12 of the schools’ ERO review reports. The range included partnerships with the universities, health providers, local churches, Pasifika School Community Parent Liaison, workplaces and board representation. It is clear that where these were part of a purposeful school initiative they contributed to raising achievement.

Not only are the partnerships important in themselves, but good community links also provided school leaders with opportunities to gauge the aspirations of the community for its young people. The importance of asking students and their parents questions to inform decisions about culturally appropriate curriculum cannot be underestimated. The discussion strengthens the parents’ relationship with the school and, if a culturally responsive curriculum is developed, this can enhance the relevance and efficacy of learning for students.

Ann Milne, in her report Colouring in the White Spaces: Cultural Identity and Learning in School, 8 makes a strong case that ‘secure self knowledge and [cultural] identity might be a prerequisite for self esteem and self efficacy. Self efficacy might in turn lead to higher engagement in learning’.

Schools working in partnership with their communities can help establish a strong cultural identity for students as a foundation for their learning.

Teachers receive professional development enabling them to engage culturally with Pacific students

ERO’s findings in its 2012 report, Improving Education Outcomes for Pacific Learners, emphasised the importance of engaging Pacific students. Schools that include Pacific perspectives in the curriculum provided opportunities for Pacific learners to draw on their own knowledge of the world. This enabled students to succeed by building on activities and experiences with which they were familiar or confident.

Research demonstrates that by directly experiencing the culture of many of their students, teachers can be challenged to examine their existing beliefs and attitudes towards that culture, and to reflect on how those attitudes and beliefs might positively or negatively impact on their effectiveness as teachers. 9 The cultural efficacy of teachers is enhanced through such learning. Having professional development that can similarly challenge teachers and then support them to develop appropriate classroom practices would be advantageous to engage culturally with Pacific learners. 10

Twelve schools in this study had focused professional development that enabled them to engage culturally with Pacific students. One school, with four-fifths of the roll made up of Pacific students, had teacher development to strengthen culturally responsive teaching and learning practices. Three schools had professional development to build teacher capacity in developing contextualised learning programmes and in meeting individual students’ needs. Seven schools, including the five schools with most successful student achievement, all identified effective teaching as the focus for their professional development. Effective teaching includes engaging with diverse learners.

Ten of the schools had professional learning related to Te Kotahitanga. While this is a programme focused on improving Māori student achievement, the strategies involved are of direct benefit to Pacific learners. This benefit is evident in the following comment from one of the school’s ERO review report.

Te Kotahitanga is used as the framework for ongoing school reform to improve student-teacher relationships, raise expectations for student achievement, and improve classroom teaching strategies.

(Low decile, single sex school, with over half Pacific learners who are achieving at or above PEP targets)

ERO found examples of other sound professional development in many schools that could lead to improved outcomes for Pacific learners. Five schools had professional development focused on raising literacy levels (which are recognised as a precursor to success). Three of these schools had literacy and numeracy achievement levels above the national norm for Pacific students, and all five were above or close to the target for NCEA Level 2 achievement. 11 Another key area identified for professional development in five of the schools related to using assessment data to inform teaching and learning including ‘Teaching as Inquiry’. 12

The ERO reports for two of the five schools with high success rates demonstrated the strength of a multi-faceted approach to professional learning. This is shown in the following example:

All teachers are involved in professional development designed to promote high standards of teaching. Teachers have increased their knowledge about formative assessment, including the use of student achievement data to inform planning. Targeted professional development for middle managers, and an emphasis on improving techniques for teaching literacy and numeracy, is helping the whole school to address the recommendations of the 2007 ERO report. As a result, teachers are positive about further developing their skills in implementing programmes that meet individual students’ needs.

(Successful, low decile, single sex school, with a majority of Pacific learners)

Schools with high achievement levels for their Pacific learners often had a curriculum that reflected the aspirations of their communities, and valued and respected the culture, language and identity of their Pacific learners. These successful schools were then evaluating the impact of the interventions. The development of contextualised learning and/or the provision of language classes or Pacific studies programmes was identified as a positive feature in at least six of the 25 schools.

Pacific students’ performance is monitored and there is a focus on improvement

In the report The Collection and Use of Assessment Information: Good Practice in Secondary Schools, 13 ERO found that, unless teachers are knowledgeable about their students’ achievements and interests, they cannot be confident that their teaching is targeting students’ needs or helping them to reach their potential. Effective assessment systems are about far more than monitoring success. Assessment data collected must be used in a planned and thoughtful manner, enabling school leaders to:

  • develop effective learning programmes
  • determine if these programmes are achieving the desired results
  • make informed decisions about the best achievement targets to set
  • allocate resources to maximise results.

In this study, ERO found that Pacific learners generally achieved good results when school leaders made sound use of high quality data.

All but one of the 25 schools specifically stated that Pacific learner achievement was monitored and that, for most, improved outcomes were a focus. Reporting to the board of trustees was frequently confined to achievement in Years 11-13, after external examination results were known. Senior leaders rarely monitored progress during the year, especially for Years 9 and 10.

ERO found the absence of monitoring the progress and achievement of students in Years 9 and 10 to be common in many schools and was not lacking just for Pacific students. 14 Without data about Years 9 and 10 achievement it is not possible for school leaders to judge how much difference they are making for students. Monitoring the effectiveness of interventions, especially for priority groups, is necessary to enable staff to fine tune interventions and initiatives as necessary.

All of the 25 schools had collected achievement data. However, it was what they did with that information that made a difference. The use of data was an area for development identified in 11 of the schools’ ERO reports. Four other schools had self review as a focus for development which is an aspect that also requires good use of data.

Often schools that were not achieving high levels of success for their Pacific learners were the ones that made poor use of their data. For example, ERO identified that some poorly performing schools in the study were not using data to evaluate the impact of teaching and interventions in Years 9 and 10. Others did not use data to inform specific, measurable targets for achievement in literacy and numeracy.

In contrast, in one of the schools with high achievement for Pacific learners, the board of trustees, through the principal and staff, made good use of student achievement information to set annual targets and so continually lift student achievement.

School management set specific targets to improve Pacific learner achievement

In its report, Improving Outcomes for Pacific Learners, 15 ERO found that, in the most effective schools, senior leaders used the PEP to provide a focus for discussing student achievement with the school’s community and to provide the framework for the school target setting. Leaders also analysed student achievement data for all year levels and used this information to set targets and make resourcing decisions responsive to their Pacific learners’ needs. ERO also 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.

Sixteen of the 25 schools in this study had specific targets for Pacific learners. However, these were of variable quality. The ‘conscious effort’ and focus on Pacific achievement was evident in the five schools with the highest achievement levels for Pacific learners. These schools took action to improve a range of aspects, including attendance, retention, and disciplinary interventions for Pacific learners, in order to support the achievement of the academic targets.

Few schools referred to the PEP or its targets. Only nine (36 percent) made any reference to the PEP in their charters, target setting or professional learning and development. ERO did not ask questions in each school specifically relating to the PEP, so this figure may be under-reporting schools’ familiarity with or use of the document. However, 36 percent is in keeping with the findings in ERO’s 2012 report,Improving Education Outcomes for Pacific Learners, where approximately 35 percent of the 52 secondary schools sampled were aware of, or using, the PEP to some degree.

Five of the schools had broad targets that referred to Māori and Pacific students together. Māori and Pacific students are disparate groups that should have separately defined targets and actions, tailored to their specific needs and aspirations.

Other features for success

Several other features were noted as affecting the success of Pacific students. These included:

  • high levels of literacy and numeracy
  • the time taken to achieve NCEA Level 2 and University Entrance
  • differences between boys’ and girls’ achievement
  • the impact of the school’s decile rating.

High levels of literacy and numeracy 

The Ministry stated in its 2008 Annual Report 16 that students who develop strong foundations in literacy, numeracy and key competencies are more likely to stay engaged for longer in education and to achieve good qualifications.

All of the five most successful schools in this study had high levels of NCEA Level 1 literacy and numeracy attainment. Twelve of the schools exceeded national rates of success for both Pacific students and all students. Three schools had improved their achievement rates by between 11 percent and 19 percent over the three years that data was reviewed (2009-2011). The trends for improvement in literacy and numeracy are reflected in the general raising of achievement levels for Pacific students across NCEA Level 1 literacy and numeracy, NCEA Level 2 and University Entrance.

There is increasing research evidence 17 that reading is perceived by many boys as a feminine thing to do. This presents a challenge for teachers to develop a learning culture where literate masculinity is fostered, especially as literacy is such an important precursor to achievement. As is demonstrated later, Pacific boys, as a group, are at particular risk of not achieving.

Retention and discipline

Students’ educational success is dependent on their presence and engagement. 18 Thus healthy figures for retention and discipline can be regarded as strong indicators of student engagement. 19 Students who are engaged are more likely to learn and achieve and, in turn, students who achieve well are more likely to want to continue to succeed. This motivation promotes further engagement, and raised self esteem and achievement. Both achievement and engagement are strongly influenced by effective teaching. High levels of student achievement are linked to a positive learning environment with high expectations, high levels of motivation and positive relationships.

The five most successful schools in this study consistently had better rates of retention of students to age 17, and lower stand down and suspension numbers than the national figures. Schools exhibiting better rates of retention and disciplinary statistics also had good outcomes for Pacific students in one or all of the PEP target measures.

In contrast, a school with approximately five times the expected number 20 of stand downs, double the suspensions and double the expulsions was one of the least effective schools in terms of Pacific learner achievement. This school also had the poorest retention rate of the group, nearly 20 percent below national figures for Pacific students.

Example A successful, single sex, decile 1 school

The school’s ERO report noted that:

Among the school’s many outstanding features are the strong three-way student‑parent-teacher partnerships that support student learning and achievement. Parents are active partners in their children’s education.

Good use is made of information about student achievement and information provided by the community, to develop a school curriculum that acknowledges student talents and parent aspirations. Students are able to achieve in Samoan, Tongan and te reo Māori.

This school had already exceeded the Ministry’s 2017 literacy and numeracy targets, together with the other targets for achievement as set out in the PEP. ERO noted that success does not rely on the presence of a single feature, but rather the collective impact of many. This school had:

  • the five key factors present
  • a board of trustees and teachers with high expectations for students’ learning
  • an active Polynesian performing group
  • strong links with their community
  • programmes tailored to suit the students’ needs
  • high retention levels
  • a supportive learning environment
  • stand downs, suspensions and exclusion rates well below national rates.

Time taken to achieve NCEA Level 2 and University Entrance

It is evident from NZQA data 21 for the schools in this study that more Pacific learners take two years to achieve NCEA Level 2 than non-Pacific learners.

Generally, 10 percent fewer Pacific learners than their European counterparts attained NCEA Level 2 in Year 12, gaining this instead in Year 13. Approximately 22 percent of Pacific students gained University Entrance in Year 13, compared with approximately 47 percent of European students. This may be a consequence of the Pacific students still working to gain NCEA Level 2 in Year 13 and so not completing the requirements for University Entrance.

However, this data is for two different year groups of learners, and for accurate trends, schools should review their longitudinal data 22 for each group as they progress through the school. It is also unclear what proportion, if any, of Pacific learners stay on for a Year 14 and so achieve the University Entrance requirements. These are all aspects that individual schools could usefully explore to better understand patterns of achievement for Pacific learners and so inform their choice of interventions or initiatives to improve achievement outcomes for this group.

Differences between boys’ and girls’ achievement

ERO’s findings in this study show that Pacific boys are at particular risk of not achieving relevant qualifications. Pacific girls, in all but four of the co-educational schools, achieved at a rate that was up to 20 percent ahead of the Pacific boys. This gender disparity occured for all students achieving NCEA Level 2 or above, although the differential between girls and boys was generally less in a school’s total student population than in the Pacific student group.

Pacific learners in the 25 schools in this study performed better in single-sex environments. Four of the most successful schools, as determined by NCEA Level 2 and University Entrance results for leavers, were single-sex schools. Three of these were girls’ schools.

Some schools may not be adequately promoting academic pathways for Pacific learners. In its July 2013 report, 23 ERO found that some schools were using vocational programmes mainly as a way to increase qualifications for Pacific (and Māori) students, particularly for boys. While this is certainly of benefit to many students, very few schools were developing academic courses specifically to increase the numbers of Pacific students who are able to enter university. This is a potential risk and one that schools should take into account when designing their curriculum. Schools need to focus on the quality of credits offered and their relevance to students’ interests and aspirations.

Impact of the school’s decile rating

The five most successful schools in this study were mid to low decile. Pacific learner performance nationally appears to be comparatively unaffected by socio-economic pressures. Three of the five next most successful schools were decile 1 schools.

The Ministry has previously identified that a decile rating of between 1-6 has less impact on the performance of Pacific students than for Māori or Pākehā students. 24

In decile 1-2 schools, Pacific students achieved considerably better than Māori and at approximately the same level as Pākehā students in the low decile schools. However, 2011 NCEA national data shows that in decile 5-6 schools, the number of Pacific learners achieving success increased by four percent, whereas the number of Māori and Pākehā students achieving success increased by approximately 12 percent.

This is a feature that could be investigated by schools to better understand what influences Pacific learners’ achievement levels and so inform strategies to lift their achievement, especially in the mid to high decile schools.

Successful initiatives for Pacific learners

Two initiatives stand out as making a significant difference for Pacific learners - a Health Science Academy and the Starpath project.

Health Science Academy 25 - Otahuhu College (Auckland)

The Health Science Academy (HSA) at Otahuhu College has had a positive impact on the achievement of a group of Pacific learners. This academy targets Pacific learners with the specific aim to ‘deliver an excellent academic focused programme to prepare Pacific students for tertiary study and entry into health science career pathways.’ 26

The substantial improvement in achievement outcomes for the 25 learners who started in the HSA in 2011 can be seen clearly, 27 especially when compared to the national trends for the same year group. This table shows the first group of students moving through the academy from NCEA Level 1 in 2011 to Level 2 in 2012.

Health Science Academy result only

Otahuhu College Health Science Academy

Decile 1

Pasifika students

(National figure)

All Pasifika(National figure)

All students(National figure)

NCEA 2011 L1





NCEA 2012 L2





Some features of the HSA that contributed to its success in motivating and supporting student achievement included:

  • one teacher had overall responsibility for the academy
  • teachers were committed to making the academy succeed
  • teachers involved in the academy collaborated to develop best practice
  • students were selected based on science achievement to date and their interest in a health-related career
  • resources, including netbooks for students and medical models, were provided to support learning
  • the school timetable was flexible, allowing students to:

- develop exam and study skills through a targeted workshop

- take double the regular science course (40 credits in total)

- work together as a cohort

- attend a wide range of field trips, including visits to Middlemore Hospital, the Liggins Institute, and The University of Auckland to see the health sector in action and experience tertiary-level laboratory work and lectures

  • students were supported to develop a clear understanding of the career pathways available to them in the health sector through:

- daily mentoring by the HSA teacher and mentoring by Pacific Healthcare Heroes, the mentors provided by the Pasifika Medical Association

- parental involvement in information evenings

- field trips which enabled them to talk with health professionals

  • academy members had a sense of belonging, being in the same tutor group and having their own uniform.

The HSA is an excellent model of what can be achieved with the commitment from the school, the health sector and community trusts working in partnership. Flexibility in the school’s curriculum and timetabling enabled students to learn both on-site and through real connections with the Pacific healthcare community and workplaces.

Although HSA has been resourced by external providers, the features outlined are still applicable to creating successful school-based interventions that fully utilise community partnerships.

Starpath Project – Massey High School (Auckland)

This project is a ‘partnership for excellence’ programme developed by The University of Auckland and the New Zealand Government and has the explicit aim to improve tertiary participation and success. The project does not specifically target Pacific learners but they are a group identified in Targets and Talk: Evaluation of an evidence-based academic counselling 28 as having significantly improved outcomes.

Massey High School has been working with the Starpath Project team since 2004 and in response to their findings decided to trial an intervention in 2007. The intervention placed more scrutiny on student achievement data, individual student NCEA subject choices, and student aspirations and pathways. The Academic Counselling and Target Setting programme was instigated and comprised three main focus areas, each informed by the analysis of sound achievement data, both quantitative and qualitative. The three areas of focus were:

  • improving parent-student-teacher interviews to allow for an in-depth overview of progress with the student’s form teacher
  • academic counselling with the dean, at least twice a year to discuss progress, aims and plans
  • school-wide target setting and individual target setting for Year 11 students in mathematics and English.

The University of Auckland evaluation identified statistically significant gains across a number of areas. Academic gains were made for Pacific students and boys, relative to the national figures for the whole student body. Feedback from parents, students, deans and teachers confirmed the value of the relationships built up and the resulting increased motivation and commitment from the students.

ERO confirmed that gains made by Pacific learners, particularly the boys, were closely related to the positive relationships described and further enhanced by the introduction of visiting ‘rockstars’. These are former pupils returning to tell their success stories, to link successes to curriculum areas, showing the relevance of learning, and providing realistic positive role models for current students.

Recommendations from The University of Auckland evaluation align with ERO’s six dimensions of good practice described in Evaluation Indicators for School Reviews. 29 Here, student learning, as defined by engagement, progress and achievement, is shown to be dependent on effective teaching, good leadership and governance of the school, a safe and inclusive school culture, and engaging parents, whānau and communities. Developing professional capacity ‘to be able to use data to drive improved academic performance of students and schools…’lay at the heart of the recommendations made in The University of Auckland report and recognised that ‘...schools’ staff will need increased levels of skills in the identification, collection, management, analysis and use of data.’