Gisborne Boys’ High School, East Coast


Gisborne Boys’ High School (GBHS) is a secondary school, decile 3, located in the provincial city of Gisborne. The roll of 750 boys, including 63 percent of students of Māori descent.

Tū Tāne and learning initiatives

Tū tāne – Stand a man

Senior leaders decided that one way to improve the overall performance of students at GBHS was to increase the boys’ engagement both in the school and in their learning. They wanted to achieve this by improving the boys’ sense of self worth, their ability to actively contribute to the community and develop their sense of responsibility for it. They decided to do this through a values education approach, actively promoting perseverance, loyalty, respect, courage and honesty. These values are supported by the school’s involvement in Te Kotahitanga and Restorative Practices professional learning.

Senior leaders identified Year 10 students as being at particular risk of not succeeding in school. They noted this was the year when many boys seemed to have poor self esteem, exhibit challenging behaviours and disengage from learning. The boys are often exposed to negative media images of teenagers andit is a time when they will test the limits of authority. ‘Fourteen year old boys will argue with a road sign,’said one leader.

The Tū Tāne programme was developed to instil the school values and help a boy develop into a responsible young man with a strong sense of himself and his place in the community. The programme is designed1 to be a series of rites of passage into manhood and includes:

  • seven key stages,2 each with its own ceremony
  • practical and theoretical lessons
  • strong links with the community, including support from the Gisborne Police who provide mentors for the Year 10 classes
  • Tāne Uetika, the mentor ceremony3 where each boy has a ‘good man’ to stand for him.

Work with the students in Tū Tāne complements the work with teachers in Te Kotahitanga; providing both groups with tools to establish mutually respectful and productive relationships throughout the school.

ERO spoke with a student about his experience of being suspended. He said the principal ‘listened to me’ and that after he returned to school support was put in place to reintegrate him into learning. He described ‘getting on well’ with four teachers, including the one he had defied.

Senior students are now ‘the upholders of the values’ established in the school leading younger students as mentors and by example. The first group of students to participate in Tū Tāne were in Year 13 in 2013. They were described by the principal as the most connected, most respectful and best prefect group he had experienced in his time at the school. Stand-down and suspension statistics have dropped dramatically since the introduction of the programme in 2009.

Learning initiatives

Senior leaders have introduced several key initiatives that clearly support each boy’s engagement and success in their learning. The main ones are:

  • The Schools of Learning:4 The establishment of four schools of learning has meant students stay on at school as fully engaged members of the learning community. The range of opportunities meets students’ learning strengths and needs onsite.
  • The whakairo class:5 This class operates as a multi-level class, catering for students in Years 11 to 13. Students can work toward achieving a National Certificate in Whakairo. Students are engaged in their carving, learning in an emotionally and culturally secure environment.

The Head of Māori Studies is critical to the success of the whakairo class, and indeed for significant increases in student numbers studying te reo Māori. He designed a programme that builds on students’ strengths, celebrates achievements and enables academic successes.

Occasionally a Year 9 or Year 10 student may join the class for a short period. This is used as a ‘time out’ from other classes, allowing tuakana-teina relationships to develop where the senior students help to settle the junior students back on track and also gives the younger students something to aspire to in Year 11.

  • Achievement across the curriculum: The Head of Māori Studies recognises the learning occurring in the whakairo class and sees opportunities to transfer that learning into other curriculum areas where students can gain NCEA credits. For example: students’ descriptions of their work can be extended to gain NCEA credits in Literacy; design work completed can be used towards achievement standards in Graphics and Visual Arts, and skills learnt are directly transferrable to the School of Construction.