Towards making achieving cool: Achievement in multi-cultural high schools (AIMHI)

Publication Details

Eight decile one schools with high ratios of Pacific Island students were selected to be part of a developmental project called AIMHI.

Author(s): Kay Hawk and Jan Hill, Educational Research and Development Centre (ERDC) and Massey University. Report prepared for the Ministry of Education.

Date Published: December 1996

Executive Summary

These schools also have significant numbers of Māori students. AIMHI is a Ministry of Education project which has the following goals - to increase the market share of students attending the participating schools; to raise the levels of performance of the schools and students in the areas of high student achievement, strong college governance and management, strong school/community relationships, integrated social services support policy (The schools will set their own targets - individually, at a cluster level or project level); achieving sustainable self-managing schools.

As part of this project, in the 1996 year, a research programme took part with the aim of learning about the effects of school organisation and governance, parental and community involvement, and any other issues relevant to student achievement in these schools.

Achievement initiative in multi cultural high schools

Eight decile one schools with high ratios of Pacific Island students were selected to be part of a developmental project called AIMHI. These schools also have significant numbers of Māori students. AIMHI is a Ministry of Education project which has the following goals:

  • To increase the market share of students attending the participating schools
  • To raise the levels of performance of the schools and students in the areas of:
    • high student achievement
    • strong college governance and management
    • strong school/community relationships
    • integrated social services support policy
      (The schools will set their own targets - individually, at a cluster level or project level)
  • Achieving sustainable self-managing schools


As part of this project, in the 1996 year, a research programme took place with the aim of learning about the effects of school organisation and governance, parental and community involvement, and any other issues relevant to student achievement in these schools. A baseline is described of the situation the students and schools are experiencing in 1996. Over a six month period a broad range of data was collected from school documents and principals, members of the senior management teams, teachers, support staff, students from years nine to fourteen, trustees and both Māori and Pacific parents. National data on achievement were also analysed. The full report contains substantial data to support statements made in this executive summary.

What is considered to be valid achievement for secondary students is a value laden issue and the effective measurement of student `achievement' is complex. At this point in time, although the schools are trying to expand and improve their assessment practice, the main criteria being used by the Ministry of Education and by parents in evaluating the effectiveness of the schools with respect to achievement, are School Certificate and Bursary results and retention data. This research considers achievement both from the viewpoints of the stakeholder groups as well as in its widest context including every type of progress made by students as part of their learning experience.

Student achievement is influenced, both directly and indirectly, by a number of variables that are external to and not under the influence of schools. The impact of poverty, health, dysfunctional families, and dysfunctional and violent communities, must not be underestimated. Data from the schools show they are finding it increasingly difficult, sometimes impossible, to access the level of support they need in the areas of health and welfare. Children are powerless to influence most of these things that directly affect their day to day existence. As well as the stresses for students, these external factors place increasing demands on the low decile schools which they are not resourced to meet.

Education policies such as school self management, dezoning and contestable funding; and Ministry of Education decisions such as allowing some schools to recapitate or change status; have combined with demographics and poverty to produce outcomes such as more rapidly falling rolls, increased competition between schools and competition for funding. These influences have disproportionately disadvantaged the AIMHI schools and the services they are able to provide to their students. The students and families in these schools are seldom able to exercise educational "choice" and in the few instances when they do have a choice, they are often reliant on information given to them by schools that are ruthlessly competing for students in order to maintain their own rolls.

Of the eight schools, it is not coincidental that the five that have a sad history including factors such as conflict, poor leadership, lack of resourcing and poor reputation, are the five lowest decile schools and at the bottom of the parental preference order. They have fallen into a spiral of decline that has become self-fulfilling as their rolls drop dramatically with dezoning; their staffing numbers decline as a result of the falling roll and the publicity from unfavourable ERO reviews; the senior programme able to be offered is adversely affected by the reduction in the number of staff and the difficulty in attracting skilled staff; and the demands on the existing staff continue to increase because smaller schools do not benefit from the economies of scale available to larger schools.

Also outside of the control of the schools are the influences of parent beliefs and attitudes, cultural values, the practices and demands of the churches, physical and sexual abuse, substance abuse, and peer culture. Because each of these impacts directly on the attitudes, behaviours and needs of the students, they also place demands on the schools that have little to do with the teaching and learning role of a school. Many students arrive at these schools late (if at all), hungry, unwell, unable to see or hear properly, tired, stressed, abused, influenced by alcohol and/or drugs; or a combination of any of these. It reduces their ability to access, and for teachers to provide, teaching and learning experiences that most students in other schools take for granted. For most of these students, English is not the language spoken in their home. While they can socially converse in English, they lack the formal language required by school programmes and external exams. All teachers in these schools, therefore, need to be teachers of language as well as of their specialist subjects.

Māori are tangata whenua and as a foundation culture of Aotearoa, parents want to be supported by our education system. There has been a clear call from these parents for a return of their children to Māori cultural values and beliefs in order to provide a base to rebuild self esteem, self image, confidence, pride, and ethnic and personal identity. Individualism has to be replaced by group and whanau kinship (whanaungatanga). Parents are clear that there has to be an emphasis on stronger programmes of teaching and learning Māori language, knowledge, traditions, values, and beliefs. Substantial and on-going support for these kinds of Māori initiatives in terms of appropriate leadership, staffing, professional development, funding, resources and equipment are needed.

Pacific parents, many of whom were born in the Islands, have minimal understanding of the New Zealand education system. They do not understand the recent changes to the curriculum and qualifications structures, or the ways the schools organise themselves. This impacts directly on the way they perceive their role and responsibilities as parents of students attending these schools. It also impacts on the expectations they have of the schools. The parents' own experiences with school and schooling and their knowledge of what schools are like is based on schools in the Islands and is therefore outdated and redundant. Although it no longer applies to what is happening in our New Zealand schools, parents still make decisions about their child's education based on these understandings. They are not sure how to help their children with their education, or how to interact with the school. There is an urgent need for a Pacific parent education programme.

Within the control of the schools, to some extent, are the responsibilities of governance, leadership, management and organisation. There have been examples of weak leadership in the past, and a lack of willingness and/or ability to achieve consistently high quality teaching throughout some of the schools, although the ERO reports did not identify these issues at the time they were evident to the schools. There have also been instances of ethnic conflict and politicking both within the schools and in the school communities, which have interfered with the cooperative running of some of the schools. There are different governance needs in schools where most Trustees do not speak English well and lack expertise and experience in administrative, organisational, and financial management. This currently places a significant extra burden on the Principals. Most of these Trustees are extremely able policy and decision makers, however, it is strongly recommended on the basis of the evidence gathered that these schools be provided with the administrative support they need rather than take away their right to govern the schools for their children.

Students and parents need to be more actively involved in assessment for better learning and students need to be provided with experiences outside of their immediate worlds in order to gain the confidence and motivation to succeed. They need to be taught skills that will help them communicate, study, manage their time, manage conflict, deal with peer pressure and become interactive rather than passive learners. Because being in a healthy and teachable state is a prerequisite for effective learning, they need health education, access to health screening programmes, and ongoing access to student appropriate health services. Students need their parents to be more knowledgable about the conflicting worlds they live in and parents need help and advice in order to know how to support their children's education. Schools need extra staffing to enable them to liaise and work with these parents.

In order to improve the potential for achievement of these students, the challenge is to find ways of measuring and rewarding achievement that are appropriate to them; to find ways to attract the right types of teachers and leaders to the schools; to support them to the level they need in order to deliver effective programmes; to resource the schools equitably so that the inability of a poor community to fundraise does not educationally disadvantage its students; to provide for the health, welfare and pastoral care needs of the students so that teachers can spend most of their time teaching rather than being truancy officers, counsellors, taxi drivers, and health workers; providing administrative support and in-school training for Trustees; and developing review processes that will provide an accurate and balanced assessment of their performance without perpetuating or accelerating any existing difficulties.

National data show that there is a disproportionate and significant difference in the current ability of students in decile one schools to "achieve" using School Certificate and Bursary as measures of achievement. Within the decile one group of schools, the lowest on the socioeconomic ladder are the ones with the greatest difficulties. There will always be schools in this "lowest" position in any society, and in order for them to provide for their students appropriately, they need differing levels and types of support. Once a decile one secondary school's roll begins to drop, given current education policy and resourcing, the impact of reduced staffing alone will make it almost impossible to reverse the trend, regardless of the quality of leadership and governance. The reputation of these very poor areas makes them less than desirable places for schooling, in the eyes of parents, and unless the schools have the support they need to educate, communicate with, and work alongside parents, they will continue to be judged to be poor regardless of the quality of the programme they provide.

Recent Ministry of Education initiatives through the School Support Project and AIMHI have the potential to provide conditions in these schools through which student achievement can be enhanced providing the necessary resourcing is available for the schools to manage, at least to some extent, the external pressures and demands that are part of the every day life of a school in a low socioeconomic area. Our data suggest that the Qualifications Framework will provide a more appropriate means of gaining qualifications. New and appropriate assessment tools and techniques need to be available to schools so that the real gains made by students in these multicultural schools can be recognised. It is clear from the study data that School Certificate has a profoundly detrimental effect on the students and on these schools. The very low rate of School Certificate passes achieved at most of the decile one schools constantly reinforces the idea that the schools and their students are "failures" while the evidence is that there are a whole range of areas in which they are achieving. Other more valid ways of evaluating student achievement and the success of schools need to be used by parents and by the education community.

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