NCEA pass rates for Maori and Pasifika students have shown encouraging lifts but lag behind other ethnic groups. In the third of a four-part series, Vaimoana Tapaleao talks to people running programmes to improve outcomes.
More Pacific and Maori students are doing better in the classroom - leaving high school with higher qualifications and better options in life.
But there is still work to be done to further improve those results.
Figures released by the Ministry of Education over the past eight years - looking at the number of pupils gaining at least an NCEA level 2 qualification - show an encouraging trend among students from all ethnic backgrounds.
In 2005, the percentage of all students walking out the school gates with level 2 NCEA or higher was 53.5 per cent.
Fast-forward to 2013 and the number is much higher - 76.8 per cent of high school students now gain that qualification.
European-Pakeha and Asian students, in particular, continue to have a majority pass rate, with almost 80 per cent of Pakeha gaining level 2 or higher.
Asian students had the highest pass rate of all ethnic groups in 2012, with 87 per cent of pupils gaining their level 2 qualification or higher.
For Maori and Pasifika, the figures are lower. However, they are an improvement on several years ago when the majority of students from both groups were failing.
Only 28.8 per cent of Maori school-leavers achieved level 2 or higher in 2005 - for Pacific Island students the figure was 39.9 per cent.
Results today show that 58.6 per cent of Maori pupils are now leaving school with at least a level 2 qualification. A total of 71.8 per cent of Pacific students achieved that last year.
A number of initiatives introduced in schools, targeting Maori and Pasifika student achievement, have been credited with helping boost success rates among those groups.
Mentoring programmes and homework centres provided after school are well-known initiatives, but there have also been partnership programmes with tertiary providers.
One such initiative is the Starpath Project. Launched by the University of Auckland in 2005, the research-based programme aims to help high school students from low to mid socio-economic backgrounds achieve.
Starpath's ultimate aim is to get these pupils - predominantly Maori and Pasifika youngsters - into tertiary education.
Director Dr Liz McKinley said Starpath had come about because of the low number of Pacific and Maori students qualifying to enter a university, let alone attending.
"This is targeting individual kids while they're at school and setting goals with them as early as possible. We talk about what subjects they need to be taking to get where they want to be later," she said.
"We monitor their progress and encourage schools to keep good sets of data about their students' progress and to share that data."
Starpath - which involved only a small group of schools when first set up - now includes 39 secondary schools between South Auckland and Northland.
Last year, the Government announced Starpath would receive a portion of $3.15 million over two years, to help expand the programme to include more students.
As part of the initiative, mentors carry out workshops with students and teachers throughout the year.
Schools are provided with templates to help in their engagement with pupils and parents - everything from how to converse over the phone with a disgruntled parent to personalising letters being sent home.
Only 26.7 per cent of Maori school-leavers gained University Entrance (UE) in 2012 - but that was a big jump from 1993, when the figure was only 7.5 per cent. For Pasifika, just 9.1 per cent gained UE in 1993, compared to 33.2 per cent in 2012.
Again, European-Pakeha and Asian pupils continue to have a higher entrance rate, the latter group seeing 70.3 per cent of students achieving UE.
"It's encouraging for everyone and we're getting the results," Dr McKinley said.
Another new programme, initiated by the Ministry of Education last year, has also proved to reel in good results.
The Pasifika Power Up programme is an eight-week mentoring initiative aimed at helping secondary students studying towards their exams at the end of the year.
Mentors and teachers in specialist subjects offer their services to students at Power Up stations around Auckland and Wellington free of charge.
The programme is uniquely Pacific in that the homework centre-like stations invite parents and families to come in and act as support figures for their children.
The stations are held in places that are familiar to Pacific families - in churches and community halls - and a meal is provided afterwards.
Special workshops are also held for parents to better understand the NCEA process and what exactly their children need to be studying in order to get into their chosen career.
Last year's stations attracted almost 2000 students and this year a three-week initiative was introduced last month targeting not only senior students, but also those in Year 9 and 10.
The new Minister of Pacific Island Affairs, Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga, acknowledged that a number of Government initiatives had been pushing hard for better Pasifika achievement.
He said the Government's Pasifika Education Plan 2013-2017 was an indication they were aiming for better participation and achievement rates among Pasifika, at early childhood, primary, secondary and tertiary level.
"Education is the key to creating opportunities for Pacific people.
"It will help us to build our own enterprises, be more independent from the state and our families and communities to prosper in New Zealand."
But Labour's MP for Mangere, Su'a William Sio - a well-respected figure particularly in the South Auckland Pacific community - said the improved results had more to do with schools and wider communities, including churches, introducing new initiatives of their own.
"I think the Government is trying to take credit for the improvement, but for a long time our schools and parents have been working hard to get these results up and to get their kids up to university or polytech," he said.
"A lot of churches have also taken it upon themselves to bring in people from the different universities and polytechs to talk to their youth groups and parents about future career options."
Dr McKinley acknowledged there was still a lot more that Maori communities could be doing to help their young people, such as better accessing marae to set up homework centres and focus groups for parents.
Mr Sio pointed out that Pacific and Maori NCEA pass rates were still below the average pass rate of all ethnic groups (74.3 per cent).
"There is still a lot more that we can do as communities and a Government. There are still other areas that we can tap into," he said.
Preschool milestone in sight
For the first time, more than 90 per cent of primary school entrants from all four main ethnic groups are this year likely to have attended preschool.
A drive by successive governments to lift early childhood education (ECE) participation by Maori and Pacific children has already pushed Maori school entrants over the 90 per cent line since 2011, up from 83.1 per cent in 2000 to 92.6 per cent last year.
Pasifika participation rates have increased even more quickly, from 75.8 per cent of primary school entrants in 2000 to 89.3 per cent last year - looking likely to pass 90 per cent this year.
Auckland Kindergarten Association chief executive Tanya Harvey points to a series of Education Ministry initiatives aimed at lifting participation to reach an overall national target of 98 per cent of school entrants having attended ECE by the end of 2016.
"That's where the ministry is putting a lot of effort with participation initiatives such as play groups and mobile vans to go around to events and increase the awareness of ECE," she said.
The Kindergarten Association opens its own play group today at Kelston Girls' College, initially for teenage parents at the school but open to the whole community.
The group will cater for about 30 children at no cost, Ms Harvey said.
"It's primarily led by the community. It's not qualified teachers like kindergartens. It's co-ordinators supporting the families and helping them interact with each other.
"For some of those families, you build the social relationships and then they will start coming to ECE in a more formal setting."
Maori and Pasifika ECE participation rates still lag behind European children (98.2 per cent) and Asian children (96.8 per cent). But the Maori and Pasifika rates are growing faster and should catch up with the European rate in 11 to 13 years at their current rate of increase.
However, the national ECE participation rate for new school entrants grew last year by only 0.5 per cent, to 95.7 per cent. The ministry says this needs to rise to 0.8 per cent growth a year to hit the 98 per cent target by 2016.
The national target does not include an ethnic breakdown.