Evaluation of Te Kotahitanga Phase 5 (2010-2012)

Publication Details

This report analyses the impact of Te Kotahitanga Phase 5 on Māori student achievement and wellbeing and explores the design and implementation features that enabled such accelerated improvement.

It has implications for policy makers, teachers, middle and senior leaders, principals, providers of professional learning, communities, Boards of Trustees, Ministry of Education staff and other government agencies.

"[An] excellent  report", "as New Zealand moves forward with Ka Hikitia, I would hope that ... the data reported in Effectiveness of Te Kotahitanga Phase 5, 2010-12 will be considered  carefully" - Quality Assurance by Christine Sleeter, California State University.

Author(s): Adrienne Alton-Lee, PhD, Iterative Best Evidence Synthesis (BES) Programme, Ministry of Education.

Date Published: August 2015

Executive Summary

Ka Hikitia–Accelerating Success 2013–2017 is the Government's strategy "to rapidly change how education performs so that all Māori students gain the skills, qualifications and knowledge they need to succeed and to be proud in knowing who they are as Māori."2 The Auditor-General has called for more attention to be paid to effective implementation of this strategy and is reviewing progress annually for four years.

Concern for the future of te reo Māori and dissatisfaction with how the system was performing for Māori culminated in Māori setting up kura kaupapa Māori in the 80s and 90s. Despite the difficulties, these new schools, created by Māori for Māori, succeeded in establishing educational environments where to be Māori was the norm and where Māori cultural values and practices were visible, valid and legitimate, particularly te reo and tikanga. NCEA results provide evidence that such environments are conducive to Māori educational success. By 2012 the percentage of Māori exiting kura with level 2 or better was virtually the same as for "all students" and almost 19% higher than for Māori nationally.

This is good news, but not for the great majority of Māori students who are learning – and all too often not succeeding – in English-medium environments. This is the challenge that Te Kotahitanga took on: how to reshape "mainstream" environments so that they are conducive to Māori educational success.Progressively implemented in 54 secondary schools, Te Kotahitanga was a cross-curricular intervention designed by indigenous leaders Professor Russell Bishop and Associate Professor Mere Berryman to raise the achievement of Māori students in "mainstream" New Zealand secondary schools.

Beginning in 2001, this intervention was developed from the ground up and refined iteratively through five phases by means of a rigorous research and development (R & D) process. The fifth phase involving 16 schools and 9.4%ii of Māori secondary and composite school enrolments began in 2010 and concluded in 2013. By this stage a considerable body of evidence was confirming just how effective the intervention had become.

The report focuses on Phase 5, which was informed by the earlier phases and by new knowledge about leadership, school–whānau connections, implementation, scaling up, autonomy, accountability, momentum, and sustainability. The analysis contained in the report relates to the first three years – the years for which data were available at the time of writing.

  • the achievement of Māori students (as measured by NCEA levels 1–3) in Phase 5 schools improved at around three times the rate of Māori in the comparison schools
  • while the achievement of the comparison group deteriorated following the realignment of NCEA achievement standards, the achievement of Māori students in Phase 5 schools improved
  • by 2012 the achievement of year 12 Māori in the Phase 5 schools (mean decile = 3) was on a par with the achievement of year 12 Māori compared across all deciles
  • the proportion of Māori students returning/enrolling in year 13 (in 2012, equivalent to two-thirds of the 2011 year 12 cohort) increased markedly in Phase 5 schoolsiii
  • by 2012 the number of year 13 students achieving NCEA level 3 in Phase 5 schools was nearly three times what it had been four years earlier
  • the proportion of Māori students from Phase 5 schools who were at least 17 at the point of leaving increased at twice the rate for Māori nationally
  • a very high proportion of year 9 and 10 Māori in Phase 5 schools (87%) reported that it felt good to be Māori in their school ("always" or "mostly"), and over 60% reported that their teachers ("always" or "mostly") knew how to help them learn.

The following table summarises the impact of Phase 5 on NCEA achievement.

Impact of Phase 5 on NCEA Achievement Achievement as % Difference
as % 
2009 2012
NCEA Level 1
Te Kotahitanga Phase 5 41.6 52.4 10.8
Comparison Group 42.1 46.1 4.0
NCEA Level 2
Te Kotahitanga Phase 5 44.9 59.6 14.7
Comparison Group 44.1 48.9 4.8
NCEA Level 3
Te Kotahitanga Phase 5 32.3 42.3 10.0
Comparison Group 30.0 33.4 3.4
University Entrance
Te Kotahitanga Phase 5 22.9 26.0 3.1
Comparison Group 21.2 23.9 2.7


Impacts of this magnitude are rare in large-scale education reforms, so Section 4 explores the interwoven elements that made the intervention so effective. Most of these come back to the understanding that teaching and learning is a culturally situated activity so it is only through deep-seated cultural and pedagogical change that a teacher, leader, institution or system can enable substantive change for Māori.

Following an overview of the various elements of Te Kotahitanga, including the underlying theory, the Effective Teaching Profile (ETP) and the professional development and ongoing system improvement models, Section 4 goes on to examine them from a Best Evidence Synthesis (BES) Programme perspective, and to explain seven factors that were critical to the success of the intervention:

  • Indigenous educational expertise driving culturally responsive provision for Māori
  • Whakawhanaungatanga driving the "how" of improvement
  • Effective teaching: developing culturally responsive pedagogy
  • Effective professional development: building school-based expertise
  • Transformative educational leadership: institutionalising deep change
  • Educationally powerful connections based on a cultural pedagogy of relations
  • Collaborative R & D cycles driving accelerated improvement to scale.

These seven factors align with the BES findings about system improvement and capability building in which leadership, relationships, pedagogy, and professional development, focus resolutely on Māori succeeding as Māori and valued outcomes for diverse (all) learners.

High-impact R & D is discussed in some detail because R & D was so crucial to the development of Te Kotahitanga through its five phases and to system improvement internationally. When focused on valued student outcomes, educational R & D enables disciplined innovation, ensures that time, energy and goodwill are not wasted on reinventing the wheel, and provides the best guarantee that value for money is obtained from educational investment (the report highlights the potential for systematic evaluation of education interventions in terms of their impact on valued student outcomes).Most importantly, R & D is a means of ensuring that what is working is spread and that what is not is confronted and changed.

The report identifies the significance of Te Kotahitanga Phase 5 and the expertise that underpinned it for accelerating educational improvement for Māori and sustaining momentum. We now have new knowledge and expertise about effective implementation - what needs to be done and, perhaps even more importantly, how to do it to advance the vision of Ka Hikitia as a reality.

Contact BES

If you have any questions about BES,
please contact us at:

Iterative Best Evidence Synthesis Programme
Ministry of Education
P O Box 1666
Thorndon, Wellington 6140
New Zealand

Phone:   +64 4 463-1542
Email:     Best Evidence Mailbox