3. Primary and Secondary Education


Why this is a focus area

The largest numbers of Māori students in formal education are in primary and secondary school.  Māori students in English medium schools are more likely to have lower levels of achievement in literacy, numeracy and science than non-Māori students.  If not addressed early, students are likely to fall behind and will be at risk of disengaging in the early years of their education.

Ninety percent (183,079 students) of Māori in primary and secondary education are in English-medium schools, thus lifting the performance of the education system for these students is vital to realising the Ka Hikitia vision of Māori achieving and enjoying academic success as Māori.

The literacy and numeracy skills gained at primary school during Years 1-8 are essential skills upon which all other learning is based. Students who achieve the National Standards for these essential skills have the ability to gain the necessary prerequisites to move on with more challenging areas of education. 

The success of an education system is manifested in, among other things, the success of individuals in finding sustainable employment. A formal senior school qualification is a measure of the extent to which young adults have completed a basic prerequisite for higher education and training or for many entry-level jobs.

Despite recent improvements, many Māori students are leaving education early and without the skills and qualifications they need to reach their potential.

Where we want to go: Ka Hikitia Goals and Actions


  1. All Māori students are engaged in quality teaching and learning experiences.
  2. All stakeholders with a role to play in Māori education success:
    • Have high expectations for all Māori students.
    • Are sharing and growing knowledge and evidence of what works.
    • Are collaborating to achieve excellent education and Māori language outcomes.
  3. All Māori students have access to learning pathways of their choice that lead to excellent education and Māori language outcomes.


By the end of 2017:

  • 85% of Māori students will be achieving their appropriate National Standard in literacy and numeracy.
  • 85% of the Māori who turn 18 in 2017 will achieve a minimum of NCEA Level 2.
  • Māori school leavers will achieve NCEA Level 3 on par with non-Māori school leavers.

National Standards

The National Standards are descriptions of what students should know and be able to do in reading, writing and mathematics in years one to eight of their education. They set clear, consistent expectations for learning and are designed to support students in developing key competencies and strong foundations for achievement in all learning areas. They are designed so that students who achieve the standards will be on track to achieve at least NCEA Level 2 in Year 12 at secondary school.

National Standards achievement data was first collected in 2011, but, as this year was the transition into data collection for National Standard, data from this transition year has been excluded from this report. Māori students' progress against National Standards has improved for each subject since 2012, with the largest improvement occurring in writing.  Current achievement levels show 68.8% are at or above the expected level in reading, 65.4% are at or above the expected level in mathematics and 61.6% are at or above the expected level in writing.  In 2015, Māori are still achieving the standard at a lower rate than non-Māori in each subject, ranging from 12% points lower for reading to 13.1% points lower for mathematics.

Despite displaying positive increases to date, a faster rate of improvement is necessary to reach the outcome measure that 85% of Māori students achieve the National Standard in literacy and numeracy in 2017.

Figure 3.1: Proportion of learners in years 1-8 achieving at or above the National Standards, by subject and ethnicity (2012-2015)

Engagement in School: Attendance, Stand-downs and Suspensions

A student's engagement, their 'opportunity to learn', is an essential part of helping students to reach their educational potential and obtain the prerequisites for higher education and training or for many entry-level jobs. Poor attendance, stand-downs and suspensions are indicators that this pre-requisite engagement is not occurring. A decreasing rate of these indicators for Māori will be an indication of progress toward the Ka Hikitia vision for Māori educational success.

Although these indicators of engagement still occurred at higher rates for Māori in 2015, the gap between Māori and non-Māori continues to narrow.

In 2015, 56.7% of Māori students were attending regularly (more than 90% of Term 2). This is an increase of 0.6 percentage points on 2014, but is still the lowest proportion of students attending regularly of any ethnic group, and is lower than non-Māori in every year level. The regular attendance rate for non-Māori was 73.3%.  Since 2011, Māori have a similar proportion of students attending 90-95% of the time to non-Māori, but a much smaller proportion of students attending 95-100% of the time.

Regular attendance (90-100% of the time) is negatively correlated with age, and was lowest for all ethnicities in years 10-13 (typically 14-18 years old). For both Māori and non-Māori, the proportion of students attending regularly drops sharply at the start of secondary school (by 9.2% points and 4.2% points respectively) and continues to decrease through secondary school until in year 13 33.4% of Māori, and 55.6% of non-Māori are attending regularly.

In 2015, 35.7 Māori students per 1,000 were stood down. This is the smallest proportion of Māori stood –down in the past decade, and continues the downward trend since 2006 (57.1 Māori students per 1000).  However schools are still standing down more Māori students than students from any other ethnic group; 2.5 times higher than the rate for non-Māori and 1.5 times higher than the rate for Pasifika students (24.4 per 1,000).

Suspensions for Māori follow a similar trend. In 2015 the age standardised suspension rate for Māori students (7.3 suspensions per 1,000) was 1.7 times as high as for Pasifika students (4.2 suspensions per 1,000) and over three times as high as for non-Māori students (2.4 suspensions per 1,000).  Although this is still the highest rate of any ethnic group, it is a small decrease from the 2014 rate (7.7 stand-downs per 1000 students) and continues the downward trend since 2009 (14.0 standdowns-1000 students).

Thus, the measures of engagement show a small improvement in attendance for Māori students, and a pattern of decreasing stand-downs and suspensions for Māori.  Faster improvement is needed to reach equity and ensure that Māori have the same 'opportunity to learn' as non-Māori.

Figure 3.2: Age-standardised rate of stand-downs and suspensions per 1,000 students, by ethnicity (2005-2015)

Figure 3.3: Percentage of students in each attendance band, by ethnicity (Term 2, 2011-2015)

NCEA Level 1 literacy and numeracy

A good level of literacy and numeracy obtained from schooling is vital for establishing foundations needed for lifelong learning.

The percentage of Māori school leavers in 2015 who achieved NCEA Level 1 literacy and numeracy was 80.1%; an increase of 3 percentage points since 2014 and an increase from 70.0% in 2009. 

As a result the gap between the proportion of Māori and non-Māori school leavers with this literacy and numeracy qualification has decreased by 4.6 percentage points between 2009 and 2015. However there is still a 13.2 percentage point gap between Māori and non-Māori.

The target for 2017 is to have 95% of all Māori school leavers achieving NCEA Level one literacy and numeracy requirements. Even with the positive increases to date, action still needs to be taken to achieve this.

Figure 3.4: Proportion of school leavers with NCEA Level 1 literacy and numeracy requirements, by ethnic group (2009-2015)

NCEA Level 3 or University Entrance (UE)

This indicator is a measure of those students who successfully achieve a full senior secondary school education. Success is measured by the attainment of NCEA Level 3 (the qualification typical of Year 13) or above (this includes university entrance, which is not a qualification per se but still a useful measure of success and future opportunity.).

In 2014, the University Entrance criteria were strengthened and as a result the increase on previous year's achievement slowed for all ethnicities from 2013 to 2014.  In 2015, there was an increase for Māori of 3.2 percentage points, 0.9 percentage points greater than the increase for non-Māori.

From 2009 to 2015, the proportion of Māori school leavers achieving NCEA Level 3 or above has increased from 19.1% in 2009 to 31.1% in 2015, an increase of 12 percentage points. During this same period, the proportion of non-Māori school leavers achieving NCEA Level 3 or above has increased from 47.5% to 58.8%, an 11.3 percentage point increase.

Although there has been a significant increase in the proportion of Māori school leavers achieving NCEA Level 3 or above, the gap between Māori and non-Māori achievement has narrowed only slightly (0.7 percentage points) since 2009. It is unlikely that the goal of parity will be achieved in 2017.

Figure 3.5: Proportion of school leavers gaining NCEA Level 3 or university entrance award, by ethnic group (2009-2015)

18-year-olds with NCEA Level 2 or above

An NCEA Level 2 qualification gives people opportunities in terms of further education and employment, contributes to better health outcomes and to a better quality of life.

Since 2011, there has been a 14.0 percentage point increase in the proportion of Māori 18-year-olds achieving NCEA Level 2 or above, to 71.1% in 2015. As a result of this increase, the gap in achievement between Māori and non-Māori has narrowed 6.2 percentage points since 2011.

Despite the positive increases to date, action still needs to be taken if the target of 85% of Māori 18-year-olds achieving NCEA Level 2 or equivalent in 2017 is to be met.

Figure 3.6: Proportion of 18-year-olds with at least NCEA Level 2 or equivalent, (2011-2015)

Māori representation of Schools' Board of Trustees

To be successful in realising the Ka Hikitia vision of all Māori achieving academic success, all stakeholders with a role to play in Māori education success must have high expectations for Māori students and collaborate to realise them.

School boards of trustees are responsible for the governance of the school or kura. Promoting the value of board membership to Māori parents, whānau, hapū, iwi and communities is identified as an important way to ensure governance decisions support strong outcomes for Māori students. The extent to which a school's Board of Trustees is representative of the proportion of Māori students attending the school is indicative of how successful this promotion has been.

In 2014, there were 1,910 schools with sufficient numbers of Māori students that, for the students to be fairly represented, we would expect to have at least one Māori parent on the school board of trustees. This expectation is based both on the number of Māori students and the number of positions on the board.

The proportion of schools with fair Māori representation has fluctuated, but trended upward since 1997, from 33.5% in 1997 to 39.7% in 2014. The number of Māori parent representatives in the remaining 60.3% (1,152 schools) does not reflect the number of Māori students in these schools.

Demographics such as family size may contribute to this under-representation. Based on the 2013 Population Census, for every 10 school aged Māori children (5-19 years old) there are 12 Māori adults aged 25 to 49. In comparison there are 16 non-Māori adults for every 10 non-Māori children.

Figure 3.7: Proportion of schools with fair Māori representation on their Board of Trustees (2000-2014)