Almost a third of Māori/Pasifika primary school leaders are experiencing discrimination, a 2017 New Zealand Education Institute survey has found.

The Principal Health and Wellbeing survey reported that 27 per cent of Māori and Pasifika school leaders identify their ethnicity as a source of relationship tension.

Twenty-five per cent reported they had experienced discrimination at work on the basis of their ethnicity compared with about 9 per cent of non-Māori leaders experiencing tension or discrimination due to their ethnicity.

Of the 89 leaders surveyed, about 15 per cent identified as Māori or Pasifika.

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The survey identified that respondents experienced one of several offensive behaviours which included bullying, threats of violence, and actual physical violence.

The type of discrimination which participants most often experienced was comments made referring to Māori that caused offence.

The survey found people most responsible for having caused offence by discrimination included other employees or principals of the same school and employees of other schools in leadership or management positions.

Hawke's Bay Primary Principals Association president and Irongate principal Maurice Rehu said he was not surprised by the findings.

"As a principal myself I have experienced forms of what the findings are saying in different contexts."

He said an unconscious bias from members of the education community was why some leaders had experienced discrimination.

Hawke's Bay had the third-highest number of Māori/Pasifika primary school students relative to total number as of July 2017 behind only Northland and Gisborne.

Rehu said with students witnessing acts of discrimination, it could be dangerous to their frame of mind.

"Whether it be a simple thing such as your name being constantly mispronounced for your whole schooling time. And it's deemed okay because nobody has changed it," he said.

"It must get into your psyche, 'what is the right way to say my name, I don't like my name anymore, why don't I just get a name like John?' Imagine what that does to a young person."

Ministry of Education secretary Iona Holsted said she was pleased the public was informed of the research.

"It is an important issue to talk about and backs up findings by the Office of the Children's Commissioner of children's experiences of racism at school."

Holsted said she looked forward to addressing issues of discrimination that exist in schools.

"Regrettably discrimination still occurs in all walks of life. In schools, it has particularly harmful impacts adversely affecting a child's sense of self and their learning outcomes."