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Education success in NZ is directly related to your wealth, ethnicity and gender



MMike Evansike Evans completed a six year term on Aotea College Board of Trustees, as Board Chair in June 2013. This article is based on a speech he delivered to a Mana Labour Education forum on a ‘lifetime of opportunities’ in March.

New Zealand was founded on ideals of equality and opportunity, values that we all share. We know that success in secondary and tertiary education opens up a lifetime of better opportunities. But those opportunities are not equally shared at the moment and this has a lifetime of implications for NZ as a society. What needs to be done in our lifetimes so that education success in NZ is no longer directly related to your wealth, ethnicity or gender?

Firstly let’s consider the local situation, with Porirua’s largest local secondary school Aotea College - where it is, and where it is heading. Then I will expand on national education inequality issues.

The Board’s vision for Aotea College is to be:

  • the school of choice in its enrolment zone  
  • a school that reflects all that is good about our diverse NZ society
  • recognised as a school where students learn and achieve holistically - in academic, sporting and cultural areas, developing as people and citizens.

Aotea College has the ethnic mix of NZ in 20 years time and aims to be a leading example of successful multi-cultural education and a source of pride for Porirua. It is critical for NZ’s future that schools like Aotea College succeed.

As you may know many students from Porirua city go outside the area for their education – I bet I am not the only one frustrated to see some of our finest leaving Porirua on buses and trains every morning to go to college. As a result of this Aotea College has around 40% of its students coming from outside its enrolment zone and this has a flow on effect to the numbers at other colleges in the area. Porirua parents need to put their faith and their energy into their local colleges, they are fantastic places for academic and social learning.

Can the Ministry of Education and politicians help with this issue also?

Aotea College is on the up in 2013. Kate Gainsford started as Principal last year and is leading the way with tremendous energy, skill and insight. The school has a wonderful spirit – accepting, caring, proud. It has dedicated and capable teachers – as good as anywhere. Students can do as well academically at Aotea College, as at any college.

However the overall NCEA results have remained below the national average for some time. The college aim is to lift them to that average over the next three years with targeted initiatives, setting higher standards and focusing on student and community engagement. Check out the college’s new website if you want to see its bold and comprehensive Strategic Plan.

Aotea College has had a number of successes. Last year it saw an improvement in the number of NCEA merit and excellence passes and students in the junior school improving in literacy and numeracy at a faster rate than the national average. Unfortunately they generally start at the college well behind. Many do catch up - a high number of students stay to year 13 and around 90% of those students leave with NCEA level 2.

Aotea College has a national reputation for its Gateway programme which helps students transition into the workforce by gaining work experience in years 12 and 13, while also achieving NCEA credits. College staff have done a great job establishing the partnerships with employers and training institutes that are the foundations for the programmes success.

Aotea College has had a very successful Performing Arts Academy for several years now. The Academy takes Year 12 and 13 students that show strengths in the performing arts but who may be struggling academically or behaviourally. It is a mentoring programme led by a specialist teacher in a home group environment with a focus on Dance and English.

I have seen the wonderful standards of performance they produce and heard their personal stories about the difference the Academy has made in their lives.

Aotea College is nationally renowned for their success in Barbershop. The girls' chorus has been first or second in New Zealand for the last 5 years and our internationally successful quartet the Fource (the face of Porirua on State Highway 1 for some time) has been followed by the very talented Rookies. Over 100 students take part each year and the wonderful thing is that all students are welcome if they are committed, there are no auditions. It is a multi-cultural group and the sound of the Aotea College Barbershop is special because of that. It generates great pride and unity.

Barbershop helps to enhance academic achievement through the focus required, the skills learned and the strong sense of connection with the college.

A key initiative for the last 3-4 years has been on improving engagement with Maori and Pasifika students and their communities. This part of a drive to lift the academic achievement of those groups which is a national issue with a strong Ministry of Education focus. The school is lucky to have a capable and multi-cultural Board and it has co-opted members in the past to ensure that is the case. The school’s 2013 Annual plan has key actions based on the Ministry’s Ka Hikitea and Pasifika Education programmes, to develop more culturally responsive teaching, increase the use of Te Reo and consult regularly with the Whanau and Fono groups.

A Whanau Advisory Group has been growing in activity and influence. Initiatives and successes so far have been:

-       A Maori student survey on how they can be supported better

-       Celebration of Maori students’ achievements – incl. annual awards nights

-       Creation of Waiata and Haka specifically for the school (it is fantastic to see the1st XV Rugby team and school leaders performing that haka with pride).

-       Increase in number of junior students taking Te Reo Maori

-       Y9 and senior students having a Marae experience to learn Marae protocol

-       forging closer relationships with Ngati Toa

-       Adopting the motto (‘taku mana taku manawa’ – my prestige, my heart)

-       evenings for whanau to better understand NCEA and pathways to tertiary education.

-       Wananga involving, whanau, teachers and students

-       Exploration of a new school marae as part of an expansion and refurbishment of our hall Te Manawa.

The Pasifika Fono has also grown in influence. It has:

-       Provided important input to our strategic planning

-       shared information on Pasifika achievement

-       facilitated actions to raise achievement, focusing on numeracy and literacy

-       supported key activities like Celebrating Language Day, the Study Homework Centre and the Pasifika Awards evening

Those of you who are readers of Kapi-Mana and our newsletter Te Karere will attest that Aotea College regularly has students achieve at a regional and sometimes national level in a wide variety of sports.

Building on that Aotea College has been selected for a three-year Sport in Education project set up by Sport New Zealand, involving eight participating secondary schools.

Sport in Education is about using the power of sport to improve academic and social outcomes for students and schools. It draws upon the success of a similar project in the UK that includes over 550 schools. Initiatives this year include:

  • developing teaching resources in Maths, English and PE that use sport as a context to engage students in learning
  • resourcing a dedicated PE leader to introduce new teaching practices
  • a student leadership programme utilising these leaders as coaches in primary schools
  • incorporating the values of sport into the school environment – teamwork, rules, respect and leadership

That was a snapshot of some of the successful initiatives at Aotea but I want to take you back to some of the underlying issues of education inequality that we see in New Zealand.

Academic achievement here is clearly related to wealth – NCEA level 1 pass rates for Decile 1-3 colleges are 25 points lower than decile 8-10 colleges. Also 46% of decile 1-3 students qualify for University compared to 77% for decile 8-10.

Nationally Maori achieve 15-20% lower NCEA pass rates than Europeans and Pasifika are 20-25% lower. I have outlined some of our initiatives at Aotea College to improve Maori and Pasifika achievement but they are yet to see significant results – there has been a slight improvement at Level 2 and some good improvement at level 3. I am confident we will see further improvement there in the next few years however.

There is another major national education issue, one that seems to be largely ignored by the Ministry of Education - the underachievement of boys compared to girls.

The last time the Ministry reviewed the issue was 2007 and although they found that boys NCEA pass rates were typically 10 percentage points lower than girls, there is currently no Ministry focus on this issue. They found that ‘females tend to stay at school longer and are more likely than males to leave school with University Entrance or higher qualifications’. 

In 2010 and 2011 boys were 9% behind girls in qualifying for University Entrance.

Females are also more likely to participate in and attain tertiary education qualifications. 

Across all levels females were 22 percentage points more likely to attain a qualification.  New Zealand is one of only four OECD countries where there is a significant gender difference in attainment rate.

This isn’t a new issue it has been around for 20 years or more and it is not getting better.

We know that there is a clearly established link between higher levels of study and a student’s job potential and future wealth. What are the implications for our future society if half of the population are consistently achieving at a lower level and what is the resulting impact on their job possibilities and self-esteem?

How many of you have sons? – this is an issue for you. Actually it is an issue for our daughters also.

What are the causes of this?

A key issue the Ministry of Education identified is ‘the literacy gender gap that persists throughout the education system’. They reported that:

‘There is converging evidence that girls perform better than boys, across all ethnic groupings, on all measures of reading and writing at all levels of schooling’. 

Current education methods place a tremendous emphasis on reading and writing across all subjects, accentuating the impacts on boys. Also changes towards continuous assessment throughout the year, such as with NCEA, do not favour boys natural approach.

What are some of the solutions? As a first step to improve boys’ achievement we need to understand how boys see themselves as learners and to ensure that they are excited by their learning. Some approaches that suit boys are:

  • giving boys responsibility for their learning and letting them make choices
  • the use of goals and targets and competition in the classroom
  • providing high levels of structure and teacher-led activities;
  • positive reinforcement;
  • practical, hands-on activities
  • incorporating physical activity and outdoor education into learning;
  • mentoring and peer support programmes;
  • developing relevant learning activities and contexts;
  • daily silent reading times
  • using computers and other electronic media to support writing
  • making school fun for boys and avoiding repetitive learning.

A wider issue to consider is that we need more male teachers and more male perspectives in education policy decision-making. Only 25% of teachers are male and they, naturally, find it easier to bring a male perspective to teaching. Also 2008 figures show that around 80% of Ministry of Education employees are women. Do these statistics need to change if the issue of boy’s achievement is going to be successfully addressed? I believe they do. What is the government prepared to do about it?

So what needs to be done in our lifetimes so that there is equal access to a lifetime of better opportunities?


Education success in NZ is directly related to your wealth, ethnicity and gender

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