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Alwyn Poole calls for families of decile one to three children to rise up and demand better from an education system that is failing them badly and getting worse. It is a deepening tragedy for Maori and Pacifika children

Alwyn Poole calls for families of decile one to three children to rise up and demand better from an education system that is failing them badly and getting worse. It is a deepening tragedy for Maori and Pacifika children

Take it as read; Maori and Pasifika young people have a lower IQ than Asian or European children.

Take it as read; children growing up in homes in lower socio-economic areas of NZ have a lower IQ than decile 3 – 10 students.

I would not reach that conclusion if the Labour/Green/NZ First government, the teacher unions, and educators generally were out on the street marching for improved education – as opposed to fattened wallets for underperforming employees. Do the Greens even have a current spokesperson for Education? We are currently accepting the status quo as the natural lie (pun intended) of the land.

I have just gone through the NZQA Annual release of the “NCEA, University Entrance and NZ Scholarship Data and Statistics”. A lovely red covered book with the gloss of my tiny Renault.

The denoted conclusions.

  • Girls are way brighter than boys (my wife has known and exploited that for the last 31 years).
  • Asians are way brighter that other ethnicities.
  • Europeans are way brighter than Maori and Pasifika – and those two ethnicities chop and change from year to year.

I, of course – along with brain & developmental science - believe none of the above statements to be true. That is the case even after being a teacher since 1991 and observing these stats every year. However, it becomes very hard to argue that NZ society, the Ministry of Education and successive Ministers of Education don’t believe that this is the norm. I consider it appropriate to add that they could not care less about this in comparison to the priority of being re-elected.

Hekia Parata was a disaster as Minister of Education. She oversaw a national standards regime that never quite got that progressions are at least as important as final outcomes each year (despite me offering her a perfect model). She placed all eggs in the 85% getting NCEA Level 2 – through whatever means – when it changes nothing and gives no one a ticket to tertiary education. Schools manipulated the data and met her requirements but nothing really improved.

Chris Hipkins has come in with no ideas at all. He commissioned a NCEA review that produced an interim report that seemed broad based and positive – and then a final report that could have been written by a team from AGS, CBHS, St Cuthbert’s College and Kings High School of Dunedin. Without a replacement strategy Hipkins ditched National Standards. He then hammered a few families by throwing out the Aspire Scholarships programme, and appeared to kill off significant innovation by transitioning all Partnership Schools into the State System. The latter is not a bad thing if he and the Prime Minister keep their promise to develop the Designated Character Model. It has not happened so far.

The results? Terrifying!

Page 13 of the NZQA report looks like a hydroslide as the NCEA Level 1 results plunge by 1% for Asian students, 3% for European. Nearly 5% for Maori and over 4% for Pasifika. In one year! I would hate to think what our next PISA results might show.

In terms of decile: If you grow up in decile 1 – 3 homes (like I did) only 27.6% of Year 13 enrolled students (not to count those who had already checked out of the system) got University Entrance. If you were a decile 4- 7 school nearly 48% qualified for the wonderful free fees Year 1 tertiary education. Approximately 65% of those in the higher deciles got that free ride.

One of the huge issues is that at NCEA Level 3 Maori and Pasifika are not that far behind. What becomes very clear when you dig a little bit is that it is obvious, to meet the external goals, that schools are channeling brown and poor kids into courses that are not accredited for UE. You could not set up such long-term disenfranchisement and social inequity even if you had an evil master plan devised by Blackadder himself.

The NCEA review will make this divide massively worse.

The draft Haque report was such a waffle piece that two of the “researchers” could not stand ion a stage together and present a consistent and coherent argument. The recent collective contract agreements have locked and loaded the myth that all qualified teachers are of the same quality and Principals should be given no trust and opportunity to bring about genuine change through incentivising teaching in Decile 1- 3 schools.

There is currently no party or politician in NZ who has the insight or energy to change the system for the children who need it.

The families themselves must rise-up and ask for the very best for their children.

Alwyn Poole is a board member at the Villa Education Trust, an Academic Manager at Mt Hobson Middle School, and an Academic Adviser at both the South Auckland Middle School and Middle School West Auckland. This article was originally publsihed in Education Central, and is here with permission.

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Education for what?

It depends on what parents want there children to achieve: sporting excellance, self-confident happiness or pieces of paper that can be traded for better paid jobs?

Our society via its tax payers provide an investment in children which we call education. It can be a sound investment and a modern developed country needs many computer programmers and accountants and it needs fewer labourers and farm hands than it did in the past. However the whole system has been hijacked by academics. We need a minister of education who does not have a tertiary qualification or at least one who is embarassed by how meaningless his/her degree is.

Why not copy Switzerland with half the number of kids per capita going to university and many more doing apprenticeships. This would echo through our schools and stop the message that condemns half our school children: 'you are a failure without tertiary education'.

The sad thing is how few graduates actually read books; their education was just a temporary matter soon forgotten not a deep desire to learn.


Hi Alwyn
I had over 40 years in secondary education. In my early years - while overseas on OE - I accepted a position in a Decile 1 secondary school over an offer from a Decile 9 school for altruistic reasons. In subsequent years I taught at a range of schools, have been involved in national examinations and qualification developments. I think I can therefore pass comment with a little insight on the issues.
The underlying issue to academic achievement has less to do with education systems and funding but rather the wider socio-economic issues.
Do not think that tinkering with either delivery in lower decile schools, or funding, or changes to qualifications are going to change the outcomes for different socio-economic or ethnic groups. Moves in any of these areas are simply just that - tinkering and not addressing the core issues.
There is a need to seriously addressing the wider issues in our society, and while education has a role to play in that, it is never going to be a solution to the issues you raise.
I am disappointed by the Labour coalition government who claimed transformation. Unfortunately, their record so far has been abysmal. This is typified by their reaction to the recent report on Maori health; they just threw $20 million dollars at it with no detail and you can be assured that nothing will change.
For an answer to improving education achievement of different ethnic groups, gender and socio-economic decile schools, one needs to look well wider than schools and qualification systems.


Totally agree. I've no experience of teaching but its common sense. When I went to Uni there was a small majority of boys and in my BSc subjects a massive majority of boys. Now we have 3 girls for every 2 boys going to university so did girls get cleverer? Or did the education system spend more on girls education? Or have attitudes in society changed?


I strongly object to seeing this matter written as ""It is a deepening tragedy for Maori and Pacifika children"". If decile 1 to 3 schools are terrible (and maybe they are) they are terrible for each and every child. Once you start targetting education to achieve equal results by gender and ethnicity you end up with blatant racism. It is present in some American Ivy league schools with their attempt to keep the numbers of Chinese and Indian students down. A famous case is one of the greatest scientists of the 20th century: from wikipedia: ""Richard Feynman applied to Columbia University but was not accepted because of their quota for the number of Jews admitted "" - he was lucky someone spoke up for him and got him into MIT. He remained angry about it for the rest of his life.


Great to see emphasis on improving results from working-class schools. What is badly wrong but continually repeated by the media is changing the issue to one of ethnicity.
I have four grown up pacifika children - two with degrees two without. Being told their ethnicity under-performs gives them an excuse to stop trying. This has been proven many times by scientists. There needs to be far more emphasis on those who have conquered adversity to achieve success. All these statistics about NCEA results and incarceration rates should generally be kept out of the media and just left to private discussion by researchers. Hasn't anyone noticed the more it is discussed in newspapers the worse it gets whether it is education or crime or suicide or drugs. There was once a time when the Maori's stats were not much different from Pakeha.


1) NZ needs to completely change the education system if it is to be the best.

2) The teachers performance must be determined by the students. They are the ones receiving the service and have the absolute right to determine whether that service is up to scratch. Teachers that perform poorly need to get further training, those that completely fail student assessment & don't improve with training have to leave the industry. As a previous student, & with my daughters currently students, its very clear who and who are not good teachers.

3) The basic courses that everyone has to take needs to be limited to reading, writing and maths. Beyond that students should be free to follow their passion & take whatever course they want. Its fundamental that people will excel at what they are more interested in than being forced to sit for hours through boring material that they have no interest it.

4) With the advent of the internet much of the educational material needed is available via the internet. Teachers dont have a monopoly on it and shouldnt. A teacher standing in front of a class & writing on a blackboard does not suit the way everyone learns. The numerous online educational videos provide a multitude of approaches of looking at issues.

5) Teachers need to become mentors. Bright students should be able to progress at their own pace, which means teachers have more time for those that are slower.

6) All subjects should be set down as absolute national standards. Its the only way to measure real progress. Each testable course section should only be only 1 month long. This means that students could redo course parts much more easily than having to do a whole years work again.

7) There needs to be a centralised government marketplace app/website where employers (& universities for degrees & polytechs for other courses, & for apprentiships) clearly set out the courses they want the students to have & to what level, & what wage is being paid. This then clearly allows students to consider what courses they should consider taking.


For those with school age kids and above...everything the need to learn is explained clearly and simply on the following site. One could base an entire curriculum on it. Mention it to your average NZ teacher and they don't even know it exists - probably because it's a threat. A fantastic free resource which I cannot understand why is not being used within NZ Ed -