Standards of education

Many participants noted that standards of education were high in New Zealand. National qualifications were well regarded. A number of groups considered the accountability of educational institutions important. In the current legislative environment, funding to all education sectors depends on the ability of education providers to meet set standards.

The recent change to assessment structures in secondary school through the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) caused concern for a number of participants, who thought that it might have negative effects on the quality of New Zealand qualifications. Some called for the Ministry of Education to abolish NCEA.

NCEA was introduced in 2002 with the aim of challenging gifted and talented students and also of providing a meaningful and worthwhile assessment for students who in the past had left school with nothing to show for their achievements (Mallard, 2002). Nevertheless, its introduction caused much debate among educationalists, parents and communities. Apprehension about the potential lowering of educational standards has led a number of New Zealand schools to augment NCEA with alternative assessment such as the United Kingdom-based Cambridge exams. After two years of NCEA, educationalists, parents and students also note that NCEA has been beneficial for students at all levels of academic achievement.

The disability sector registered concern about the lack of national standards and consistent and appropriate assessment tools for disabled students. The Deaf education sector, for example, pointed out a lack of national coordination of services and a lack of national standards and criteria for adequate service provision. [18]

Some participants expressed concern over the inconsistency of educational standards. They suggested that schools in geographically isolated areas and those from within poorer communities were most at risk of providing inadequate opportunities to students. Lack of access to specialist teaching services, inability to pay education-related costs and high staff turnover disadvantaged some schools, in particular those in isolated areas and poor communities.

Many participants considered it important for parents to have a say in education. Some parents were satisfied that they had opportunities to air their views, or to challenge the education system if they believed it was failing their children. Some felt that schools valued whanau input and accepted parents as active participants in their children's school life.

The Education Review Office (ERO) reported in 2003 that, through various forms of student representation, schools provide students with opportunities to participate in school decision-making at an organisational and classroom level. The ERO also established that participation in decision-making was inequitable, and said that schools needed to ensure that decision-making opportunities exist for all students, regardless of ethnicity, sexual identity, disability, religious belief or gender. This concern was also reflected by the shadow report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child (ACYA, 2003a).

Student unions in the tertiary sector also provide a mechanism for students to have a voice about their education.

Concerns were expressed about the rights and responsibilities of parents regarding their children's education. Many felt that parents should be more involved in education. Parents of disabled children said they are often needed to act as advocates, constantly complaining and battling to ensure that barriers were lowered and rights were realised. [19] A specific point was that parent participation in school management was not representative of the parent population. Some participants considered that there was not enough involvement in boards of trustees by Maori and Pacific parents.

Strong representation was made by several groups about the rights of families to ensure that their children have an education of their choice. [20] Parents and guardians in New Zealand have a choice of schooling options including state schools (which are entirely provided for by the State); integrated schools (which are part-funded by the State); and private schools, (which are registered with, but not funded by, the State). The Private Schools Conditional Integration Act 1975, which allows for the integration of private schools into the State system, mandates that the special philosophical or religious character of the schools be 'preserved and safeguarded'. Th e submitting groups were concerned that their right to raise their children according to their own values and to choose how they are educated was affected to a great extent by Government funding and policy direction.

Educational environments


Both UNCROC and ISESCR state that education shall be directed toward the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and that education experiences shall be offered in situations that are consistent with human dignity. Katarina Toma s evski argues that children learn through observation rather than exhortation, and that the recognition of their rights in education will greatly facilitate human rights education (2003a).

Compared to other OECD countries, New Zealand has one of the highest indices of school psychological safety (PISA:The NZ Context, MoE, 2002a).[21]

Alternative sources, however, present a different picture. The What's Up Telephone Counselling Service, [22] for example, in January 2004 reported an increase in calls from students who were depressed and anxious about returning to school for fear of bullying. Bullying, the service found, is the leading problem for 5-12-year-olds, generating 31 percent of the counselling calls from this age group.

The MoE reported that the most common reasons for students to be stood down from school were continual disobedience (26 percent) and physical assault on other students (22 percent) (2003c). This statistic is substantiated by a study of the effects of violence at school that was undertaken by the Office of the Commissioner for Children in 1997. The Office reports that there are high levels of both physical and emotional bullying in New Zealand schools, suggesting that within any particular year it is likely that between 50 and 75 percent of children are bullied and that 10 percent are being bullied weekly (Maxwell & Caroll-Lind, 1997). The Children's Rights Sector Group for the Action Plan consultation found that discrimination is a problem that continues to affect young people in New Zealand and overlaps significantly with issues of bullying (Biddulph, 2004).

Consultation participants also reported harassment and discrimination based on race, disability and sexual orientation. [23]

Working conditions for educators

Participants were concerned about the negative effect on teachers of workload, inadequate rates of pay and obligations to take on extra roles such as social worker, parent and police. They considered that teachers are not valued and respected, paid adequately or given enough access to administrative support.

The MoE, however, reports that among OECD countries New Zealand has among the highest levels of student perception of teacher support, highest teacher morale and teacher commitment to their schools (MoE, 2002a).

Much has been achieved by teacher unions to protect and enhance employment conditions for teachers. New Zealand teachers enjoy the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining, there is a high level of union membership, and most collective agreements are national rather than enterprise-based.

The ability to attract good teachers by recognising their rights as workers is of direct benefit to students. Research undertaken in early childcare centres shows that centres that pay staff adequately and provide good working conditions also provide a better environment for children's development (Smith, 1995).



The success of education is often measured by the achievement of high marks in school subjects. However, the purpose of education must extend far wider than academic achievement. It must not only support achievement but also promote life long learning, respect, and a commitment to our nation's future, which we wish our children to build and be part of (Hattie, 2003).

Education is at the heart of society. It is the ultimate engine of fairness and constitutes the most potent means of liberating human beings from servitude and underdevelopment. Learning and experience are the sources of the intangible capital the world needs to bring about justice and equity for all human beings (Lynch, 2002).

New Zealand has yet to develop agreed indices to measure the effectiveness of education in terms of equitable outcomes in this broad sense. [24]

Student academic achievement

Academic achievement levels for New Zealand primary and secondary students are high by international comparisons, but some groups of students are achieving less adequately. According to statistics from the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), [25] the top 80 percent of New Zealand students are performing well by international standards in reading, mathematics and science literacy. [26]

However, New Zealand also shows one of the largest gaps (second lowest in the OECD) between the lowest achieving students (at the fifth percentile) and those achieving at the middle (50 percent). As the 20 percent of students with the lowest achievement levels fall far behind the average New Zealand student, we are doing poorly in containing educational inequality. This wide gap in educational performance is commonly referred to as 'the tail' and reflects the failure of our country in preparing its bottom 20 percent of young people for life and work in the 21st century (Hattie, 2003).

Groups that are disproportionately represented at low levels of achievement are Maori, Pacific and male students. (While disabled students may also feature in low achievement statistics, the lack of data gathered about this group, particularly in the compulsory sector, makes it impossible to draw sound conclusions.)

Maori students are over-represented among students who leave school with no qualifications (comprising 16 to 18 percent of all school leavers, but between 36 and 39 percent of all school leavers with no qualifications). Pacific students are also over-represented among students who leave school with no qualifications (comprising six to seven percent of all school leavers, but between nine and ten percent of all school leavers with no qualifications). Although total numbers of school leavers are evenly matched in terms of gender, Statistics New Zealand reports that males regularly comprise 56 to 58 percent of school leavers with no qualifications (NZ Census 2001).

A comparison between ethnicities and gender in the NCEA Level 1 results for 2003 shows the disparities in NCEA achievement. Males are, on the whole, achieving less than females, and Māori and Pacific students are achieving less than 'NZ European' and Asian students (Table 2).

Table 2: Attainment of National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) Level One, 2003 by gender and ethnicity (MoE, 2004c)

This graph shows statistics of NCEA results by ethnicity and gender. Link to detailed description of graph showing statistics of NCEA results by ethnicity and gender.

The disparity between Maori and non- Maori achievement in education has been recognised by Governments since the early 1960s. Early initiatives to address the disparity included scholarships and financial incentives. In the 1970s, 'closing the gaps' became central to the development of initiatives to improve educational achievement. More recent initiatives have included the development of kohanga reo, kura kaupapa Maori and w a nanga, and the formation of relationships with Māori through iwi and Maori organisations.

The influence of family background [27] on reading and literacy is larger for New Zealand than the OECD average on the PISA reading literacy scale (MoE, 2003f). Similarly, measuring NCEA results against the decile [28] rating of a school shows a relationship between PISA 's socio-economic rating of a school and the academic achievement of its students. Lower-decile rated schools produce lower achievement levels (Table 3).

Table 3: Attainment of National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) Level One (2002 & 2003) by school decile rating (MoE, 2004c)

This graph shows statistics of NCEA results by school decile rating. Link to detailed description of graph showing statistics of NCEA results by school decile rating.

In 2004 the Ministry of Education initiated the Making a bigger difference for all students: a Schooling Strategy project, which aims to continue to encourage the achievement of top students while lifting the achievement of students who are not reaching their potential (MoE, 2004d).

Educational experiences

The ERO states that one of the aims of schooling is that young people will learn to engage positively in, and contribute to, the economic and social life of the community. Schools therefore are expected to be active in developing and nurturing students' personal and social development ( ERO Annual Report , 2003).

Key United Nations conventions state that education shall be directed to developing children to their fullest potential (UNCROC, Article 29(1a)) and preparing them for effective participation in society (UNCROC, Article 29(1d); ICESCR Article 13(1)).

Mason Durie (2001a) identifies three goals for education for Māori. Goal One involves enabling Maori to live as Maori, which means having access to te ao Maori, the Maori world; that is, to language, culture, marae, and resources such as land, tikanga, whanau, kaimoana. Goal Two involves enabling Maori to participate actively as citizens of the world. E ducation should open doors for Maori to technology, to the economy, to the arts and sciences, to the knowledge wave, to understanding others, and to making a contribution to a greater good. Goal Three involves enabling Maori to enjoy good health and a high standard of living. Education al achievement correlates directly with employment, income levels, standards of health, and quality of life. Therefore, Durie argues, education should be able to make a major contribution to health, well-being and a decent standard of living for Maori (Hui Taumata Matauranga, Feb 2001b; MoE, 2001b).

Consultation participants described the New Zealand curriculum as transparent, accountable and diverse. Many valued the extent of the choices of subjects and courses that were available (including increased options for people who leave school early).

They also suggested that schools should broaden their curricula to include spiritual or Christian values, morals, a sense of national identity, health, parenting, sex and drugs, human rights and education for pregnant teenage girls.

Although there is a lack of data relating to participation and achievement for disabled students, there is current debate about the most effective educational experiences for disabled students. Parents of fifteen children with special education needs have challenged Government decisions to introduce Special Education 2000 (SE 2000).[29] In this case , Daniels v Attorney-General (2003), the court held that aspects of the Government policy of closing special education units was unlawful. A number of submissions to the Right to Education discussion document proposed a choice of mainstreaming, special units within mainstreamed schools, and special schools. [30]

Issues specific to the early childhood education sector


The 10-year strategic plan for early childhood education in New Zealand, Pathways to the Future: Nga Huarahi Arataki 2002-2012 outlines three goals - increased participation in high-quality early childhood education (ECE) services, improved quality of ECE services, and promotion of collaborative relationships (MoE, 2002b). The plan includes specific strategies for building an ECE sector responsive to the needs of Maori and Pacific peoples.

Budget 2004 included new funding for ECE as the first instalment in realising the ECE strategy to make high-quality early childhood education more accessible and affordable for families. The new funding will allow 20 hours of free education each week for three and four-year-old children who attend teacher-led community-based early childhood education services. This is a key development in the progressive realisation of accessible early childhood education.

Many participants made specific mention of kohanga, kindergartens and playcentres, stating that New Zealand is doing well in early childhood education. They noted the importance of 'parents as first teachers' in educating children. A Pacific peoples' group affirmed moves to include Pacific languages and cultures in early childhood education.

Nevertheless, participants also identified early childhood education as an area in which New Zealand could do better. Specific concerns were that kindergartens have been slow to employ Maori educators, more trained Pacific early childhood teachers are needed, and the costs of accessing early childhood education need to be reduced.

Issues specific to the tertiary education sector


Government initiatives to strengthen the tertiary education sector include the establishment of the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) in 2002. The TEC funds all post-compulsory education and training offered in New Zealand and has instigated a plan comprising six strategies, to: strengthen the capability and quality of the education system, contribute to achieving Maori development aspirations, raise foundation skills so that all people can participate in society, further develop skills, educate for Pacific peoples' development, and strengthen research.

A study into Maori tertiary education in 2003 showed that although there has been a growth in the number of Maori participating in formal tertiary education over recent years, the majority of Maori students are studying at lower (certificate) levels, at wananga, and taking specific subjects (such as tikanga and te reo Maori, employment and other generic skills, and management and commerce). Just over half were studying full-time in July 2003 (MoE, 2004e). The study also indicated that the increase in numbers of Maori participating in tertiary education has begun to level off.

As with Maori adults, Pacific adults are much less likely than NZ European and other ethnic groups to hold tertiary qualifications. However, unlike NZ European and other ethnic groups, adult Pacific males are more likely to hold tertiary qualifications than adult Pacific females (Ministry of Social Development, 2003).

Disabled people are under-represented in tertiary education institutions. A total of 39 percent of disabled adults have no educational qualification, compared with 24 percent of non-disabled adults (ACHIEVE, 2004).

The quality of tertiary education was criticised by some participants, who commented about the profit orientation of private tertiary education, the erosion of the 'higher purpose of learning for the sake of learning', the increased focus on business and commercial applications, and the lack of quality assurance in tertiary education.

The large number of public and private tertiary institutions in New Zealand has created an environment where institutions compete against each other for students. While it may be argued that competition results in cheaper tertiary education, submissions to the TEC warned that its quality is under threat.

Participants were positive about the choices available in tertiary education, including the polytechnics focus on vocational training, the increase in whare wananga, and opportunities to study full-time, part-time and on the Internet.

Issues specific to lifelong learning, adult and community education


Participants commented positively on the range of opportunities in New Zealand for lifelong learning and second-chance education for adults. Specific mention was made of evening classes, on-the-job training and tertiary institutions that provided adults with wider choices. Others noted the lack of opportunities for adults to acquire new skills or improve existing ones, stating that it was difficult for those who had not achieved school qualifications in the past to catch up.

Via the TEC, the Government is currently working towards reforming adult and community education in line with the wider reforms in the tertiary sector (with implementation planned for January 2005). Its priorities, delivered through TEC, include enhancing lifelong learning, expanding opportunities for adults to develop their literacy skills, and promoting both job-specific training and training in general skills so as to support people into employment.

Various non-governmental organisations provide life-long learning and adult and community education, either privately or by a contract with the Government. These include national organisations such as the Workers' Education Association, Literacy Aotearoa and the Rural Activities Education Programme.