The members of the Independent Task Force to Review Tomorrow’s Schools were given a hospital pass by the Government. They were asked to do the impossible.

They were asked to review compulsory schooling in Aotearoa New Zealand with a focus on achieving a system that promotes equity and excellence for all children and young people … (and to give) active expression to Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

What is of concern is the assumption that changing the structure of the education system will somehow promote equity and excellence. This has in fact been the focus of many policies and projects since the 1960s.

However, equity of outcomes did not occur under the old Education Board model (which is essentially what is being promoted in this report) and remains so under the current Tomorrow’s Schools model. So why look back to something that did not work for solutions for today?

It is simply that there are no clear links between administrative systems and improvements in Māori students’ achievement, which is what is needed to promote equity.

Something else is needed other than this pendulum-swinging process of governance reform from political left to the right, then back again.

The problem is that there is no clear overarching educational theory in this report that can guide how educators should operate so as to promote equity, let alone give expression to Te Tiriti.

However, the report does suggest that relationships are important.

As columnist Deborah Hill-Cone observed last October, as social creatures we are wired to connect, and our very well-being and mental health rely upon our developing positive and effective relationships, something few Māori students report experiencing in our schools.

However, this report does not give a clear steer as to what is meant by relationships. It can just mean singing Kumbaya and holding hands or feeding hungry students.

Whereas, positive relationships are fundamental to teachers and leaders being able to do their job as educators, a major part of which is to reduce educational disparities thereby promoting equity.

What is needed is an explicit theory of positive relationships that promotes care and commitment, high expectations, and improved and sustained educational outcomes.

What makes up such a foundational theory of relationships? Research has shown that developing schools and classrooms as if they were (extended) families provides educators with settings where Māori students’ belonging, participation and individual learning is supported and developed.

This sense of family-ness, for example, promotes a relationship-based education that has much to offer teachers and school leaders currently trying to support those marginalised from the benefits of education.

However, family-like relationships are not enough in themselves to promote improved learning.

Classrooms also need to be places of interaction and dialogue where students of different cultures can bring who they are, what they know and above all, how they understand and make sense of the world to the conversations that generate learning.

The progress that learners are making can then be monitored and practices modified appropriately.

In this way, further progress is ensured and sustained so that learners are able to take responsibility for their own learning; the foundations for further and ongoing learning.

Research has shown it is this type of approach that improves educational outcomes for Māori students, not changing the ways that schools are organised.

It also gives active expression to Te Tiriti o Waitangi because it promotes the idea of partners in education (Article 1), acknowledging Māori students’ distinctive differences (Article 2), in ways that promotes benefits for Māori and all students (Article 3).

A relationship-based approach means that teachers and other school leaders can focus on improving learning.

That Māori students are not provided with this type of education is the root cause of the lack of equity in our system, not the type of administration.

Learning is the essential core of education (including learning of knowledge), and is where educational disparities must necessarily first be addressed.

The danger of education reform focussing on administration and governance is that the focus on promoting equity will get lost in the hurly-burly of everyday activities and administration.

Governance issues need to be subsumed within a wider educational reform that poses reducing educational disparities as its primary focus.

This is not only important for individual learners, it is also vital for the health of democracy that all its citizens are able to be responsible, critical thinkers and questioners of power.

Russell Bishop is Emeritus Professor of Māori Education at the University of Waikato.

Source: NZ Herald


  1. Some Generic Considerations (From my own published paper)
    Finding a better way to facilitate the improved achievement of Maori students in Science.
    Some arguments and evidence – a qualitative research study.
    Graham Foster, Director of Science, Epsom Girls Grammar School

    It is important that we return to the studies
    of Bishop and Glynn who suggest that teachers shall make a significant difference if they facilitate
    • More effective home-school relationship that helps parents and students to value their education.
    • Reduced influence of societal values that label Maori students as failures before they start learning.
    • Genuine and sincere efforts to be welcoming, present themselves as real people, and discuss problems quietly, rather than yelling at students.
    • Learning through use of a variety of interesting and engaging strategies. These might include story telling and reciprocal learning.
    • Structural strategies such as allowing students
    to sit with friends, being well prepared for lessons,
    setting up and maintaining secure class routines,
    and use of group work in more mixed ability classes.

    The Ministry of Education web site (2) provides the report
    “Toward making Achieving Cool (AIMHI)”
    • Suggests use the of Ipsative assessment practices in which achievement is measured against previous personal achievement levels, rather than against those of other students.
    • Identifies barriers to achievement such as family, relative maturation age, language development, and the need to model high achievement.
    • Identifies the need to assist students to make long term plans, discourage the occurrence of ‘put-downs’ and ridicule.
    • Encourages teachers to create a climate of achievement in the school, while trying to minimize the effects of the different ‘worlds’ of the student.
    • Encourages teachers to give emphasis to literacy and numeracy.

    “Making A Difference in the Classroom”
    Hill and Hawk (2000) (15)
    Identifies the factors that are most important to making a difference with Maori and Pasifika students:
    • Teacher attitudes and philosophy
    • Importance of the group.
    • Teacher student relationship (and this is pivotal if the student is vulnerable to lower attainment)
    • pedagogical knowledge and skills (effective preparation, structuring lessons, differentiated learning, and effective formative assessment).
    • Behavior management that includes effective routines, high expectations, avoids confrontation, and personal responsibility.
    • Classroom environment that is clean, organized, includes stimulating displays and good seating.
    • The need to educate for life including integrated learning, being aware of the teachable moment and effective examination preparation.
    • Increasing the locus of control to mutually negotiate the transfer of the responsibility for learning from the teacher to the student.

    Kay Hawk maintains that modeling by teachers is perhaps the most important factor to support improved engagement and motivation.

    These are useful ideas that apply to not only Maori students, but to all students.

    Quality Teaching for Diverse Students in Schooling – Best Evidence Synthesis

    After all this discussion we must also consider the most recent research from the Ministry of Education.
    The June 2003 research paper (12) published by the Ministry of Education, is “intended to contribute to the development of evidence-based and evolving dialogue about pedagogy amongst policy makers, educators and researchers that can inform development and optimize outcomes for students in New Zealand schooling.” It seems that evidence reveals that up to 59% of variance in student performance is attributable to differences between teachers and classes, while up to almost 21%, but generally less, is attributable to school level variables.

    The “Best Evidence Synthesis” has produced ten characteristics of quality teaching derived from a synthesis of research findings of evidence linked to student outcomes.

    Evidence shows that teaching that is responsive to student diversity can have very positive impacts on low and high achievers at the same time. The ten characteristics are interdependent and draw upon evidence-based approaches that assist teachers to meet this challenge.

    The Ten Characteristics

    1. Quality Teaching is focused on student achievement (including social outcomes) and facilitates high standards of student outcomes for heterogeneous groups of students.

    2. Pedagogical Practices enable classes and other learning groupings to work as caring, inclusive and cohesive learning communities.

    3. Effective links are created between school and
    other cultural contexts in which students are
    socialized to facilitate learning.

    4. Quality teaching is responsive to student learning processes.

    5. Opportunity to learn is effective and sufficient.

    6. Multiple task contexts support learning cycles.

    7. Curriculum goals, resources including ICT usage, task design, teaching and school practices are effectively aligned.

    8. Pedagogy scaffolds and provides appropriate feedback on students’ task engagement.

    9. Pedagogy promotes learning orientation, student self-regulation, metacognitive strategies and thoughtful student discourse.

    10. Teachers and students engage constructively in goal-oriented assessment.

    The CBA Resource (14) suggests many simple but effective strategies to improve the achievement of Maori (and other) students. These include:
    • Effective consultation with Maori groups
    • Providing special involvement of iwi kaumatua in
    welcome of Year 9 students and new staff.
    • Having a staff waiata.
    In Science (and other subjects) these ideas extend to
    • Providing study support for students.
    • Giving encouragement and feedback to students.
    • Not accepting mediocrity.
    • Publishing student work as recognition.
    • Provision for student voice in decision making.

    Rather than discuss these fully it may be sufficient to refer Science teachers to these documents and suggest that Science programs need to focus on excellent teaching and learning. Structured literacy and numeracy programs are essential. Teaching and assessment practices need to be supportive and provide positive feedback that scaffolds improved achievement. Teachers must use methods to identify best strategies and should respond to learning difficulties identified by assessment.

    In several parts of this paper it has been identified that the most effective way to improve Maori (and other students’) achievement in Science is to provide effective and responsive teaching that is engaging, supportive and develops student understandings about themselves and the way they learn. Pauline Waiti of NZCER confirmed this during the consultation process for this paper. She firmly believes effective teaching matters most.

    Conclusion for Educators
    These findings still leave teachers with quite a large challenge to understand the scope of the National Education Priority to “increase the achievement of Maori students.” It requires
    • Re-consideration of Maori values and fundamental principles so that teaching and learning provides best experience learning contexts and integration of cultural perspectives.
    • The translation of these values and principles into the educational context and practice to make the learning inclusive of these cultural values.
    • Comparisons between indigenous knowledge and empirical science so that students may see the true nature of science while noticing the extent of similarity.
    • The possible implication that we do not try to assimilate mataraunga Maori into our Science teaching, but that we provide strong advocacy for it as a part of the culture of Aoteoroa New Zealand and recognize it as a valid and legitimate knowledge system.
    • Consideration of school values and social expectations in and beyond the school.
    • Implementation of quality teaching and learning through excellent pedagogy and genuine efforts by teachers to make a difference through strategies that recognize student learning styles rather than the teacher’s preferred teaching style.
    • Implementation of effective strategies that engage and scaffold learning and provide feedback.
    • Teachers need to very clearly and continuously express that they will not accept mediocrity from any student, no matter what their ethnic origin might be.
    Conclusions for Science Education and Assessment
    A broad, culturally inclusive science program should be developed to include a wide range of learning and assessment procedures.
    If the achievement level of Maori, (and other), students is to be improved then teachers must be encouraged to use a variety of teaching strategies that encourage engagement; teachers need to provide strong advocacy for matauranga Maori and to show that this is accepted as a legitimate knowledge system.. Teachers should put aside their preferred teaching strategy to recognize student needs and learning styles; they need to implement strategies that provide attention to and recognition of individual students; strategies of feed forward are practiced; there is a greater emphasis on co-construction, metacognitive strategies and formative assessment. The introduction of NCEA should provide greater opportunity to develop, implement and apply strategies that lead to engagement providing teachers and school policies limit the amount of assessment required and allow for the development and use of several forms of assessment. Whether Maori students need to have the scaffolding of assessment at every level is yet to be determined. Perhaps more emphasis on formative assessment and feed-forward may result in a gain of time for more effective teaching and learning, leading to improved achievement. Teachers should try to use a variety of assessment modes rather than only external examination mode Achievement Standards. This will require development of skills to ensure valid, fair assessment.

    It challenges the Ministry of Education and NZQA to provide more assessment modes in Science Achievement Standards. Professional development programs similar to those provided for NCEA may be needed to address issues of metacognition, effectiveness and responsive teaching and assessment.

    The National Education Priority to “improve attainment of Maori students” has brought major issues of effective teaching, learning and assessment that all Science teachers need to work through. It is extremely important that the Ministry of Education and NZQA recognize these issues. There need to be sufficient and satisfactory professional development opportunities for teachers to process the issues, together with the hard copy resources required for scaffolding the implementation of this priority.


    My thanks to Kay Hawk, Margaret Bendall of EGGS, Pauline Waiti of NZCER and John Buckeridge of Auckland University of Technology for their time and consultative advice. Special thanks to Mere Roberts of the University of Auckland who was a wonderful mentor for development of ideas.

    It is interesting to note that all the recent educational
    research simply reinforces the statement made by McKinley in 1997.

    Final Comment:
    As a Pakeha New Zealander it has been a challenge to come to terms with many of these issues. I hope that this paper has generated ideas that are useful to support other teachers in their pathway to consider and understand the issue. The list of strategies has been taken from experience; it has taken considerable time to take this journey. I hope that the ideas will provide enrichment and a way forward for Science teachers in our efforts to support and extend the attainment of Maori and Pasifika students, indeed all students.

  2. An interesting article, a few questions though:
    Is there an example in modern human history where we have successfully achieved “equity in outcomes” across groups? If equality of opportunity is provided, then the outcome is determined by an individuals ability and work ethic. A staggering amount of social engineering would be required to provide equal outcomes in education, to the point where it would have a detrimental effect on the more productive members of society. This has been seen in numerous countries which had tried to achieve equality of outcomes in the 20th century.

    Also, why should schools resemble an extended family structure? Not many institutions that Maaori will encounter after compulsory schooling will have these characteristics; certainly not universities, the work place or society in general. We need to provide Maaori with the skills to work in the euro-centric world while providing the opportunities to explore, develop and enhance their understanding of tikanga and te reo. Trying to emulate the Maaori family structure in schools is a form of deficit thinking. Children of other cultures (for instance Indians and Chinese) do not need their cultures replicated in our schools, they do fine. Even if we could achieve the extended family structure in schools, we would not be preparing Maaori for success after school; this policy would merely be kicking the can of failure further down the road.


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