Te Irimana Hatu Edmonds Huriwai looks forward to every Friday.

That's because it's Te Ao Māori (the Māori world) day at Te Rangihakahaka Centre for Science and Technology, and he is speaking more te reo than ever.

Since starting at the centre last year, the keen 10-year-old has learned enough to have basic, fluent conversations with his koro.

"I tell him what I've been learning about at school, and he tells me about my whakapapa."

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Te Irimana Hatu Edmonds Huriwai, 10. Photo / Samantha Olley
Te Irimana Hatu Edmonds Huriwai, 10. Photo / Samantha Olley

His classmate, Tairesse Epapara, 11, has found his feet through kapa haka and waiata.

"It gets my energy up."

His favourite waiata are Me timata and E noho ana rā.

Tairesse Epapara, 11. Photo / Samantha Olley
Tairesse Epapara, 11. Photo / Samantha Olley

When asked if he gets whakamā (shy) about performing, Epapara gives a one-word answer.

"No."

Te Rangihakahaka Centre for Science and Technology's roll was already at capacity when it opened just over a year ago.

2018 results.
2018 results.

Ngāti Whakaue had been working towards that day for 12 years, but the new Labour Government's opposition to charter schools was a last-minute hurdle.

The centre had to become a special character school last year, in order to stay open, and its maximum roll was cut to 100 students, down from 200, as a result.

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That school rule has been a frustrating one for pou matangirua (principal) Renee Gillies.

"This has been the biggest disappointment for all of our whānau, hapū, iwi. We have a wait-list that grows each week. Siblings of current students want to ensure they have a place, our Ngāti Whakaue early childhood centres, Te Puna Manawa and Te Puna Akoranga, have whānau wanting to transition their tamariki here.

"We are also contacted by many whānau of tamariki that are desperate to find an educational option that suits their tamariki. We are adamant to continue this discussion with the Ministry of Education."

From left, Renee Gillies, Bella Wharekura, 9, Mercia Wharerau, 10, and Kevin Hay, 13 at Te Rangihakahaka Centre for Science and Technology. Photo / Samantha Olley
From left, Renee Gillies, Bella Wharekura, 9, Mercia Wharerau, 10, and Kevin Hay, 13 at Te Rangihakahaka Centre for Science and Technology. Photo / Samantha Olley

Māori education leader and Ngāti Whakaue kaumatua Sir Toby Curtis has told the Government, loud and clear, that in his opinion, the end to Kura Hourua Partnership schools is hurting Māori education.

He submitted to the Education and Workforce Committee and co-led a Treaty of Waitangi claim last year.

Sir Toby Curtis. Photo / File
Sir Toby Curtis. Photo / File

It stated "mainstream education has been routinely failing and neglecting the groups of students the kura hourua have been set up to serve, namely Māori, Pasifika, and the poor working class... We believe that Kura Hourua have been and can continue to be a circuit breaker for this cycle, an agent of desperately needed change."

"The whānau of this land should be the ultimate arbiter of their own educational futures and destiny."

Despite the politics, Renee Gillies said the school's first year was wonderful, and the tamariki made amazing progress.

"It is now time to lift the bar even higher."

Te Rangihakahaka Centre for Science and Technology on Dinsdale St. Photo / File
Te Rangihakahaka Centre for Science and Technology on Dinsdale St. Photo / File

Gillies said the process to open, and stay open, was mammoth and tiring, and the change of Government policy has been especially hard for the centre, because it was new, as opposed to charter schools that opened before the 2017 election.

"So even though we were making huge progress with our tamariki [last year], many of our whānau became worried. The biggest worry for them was not wanting to send their tamariki back to wherever they were prior."

She said the process of establishing a new kura, such as moving from a charter school to a special character school, would normally take 12 to 18 months, but had to happen much faster, in 4 to 6 months.

Roana Bennett, general manager of Te Taumata o Ngāti Whakaue Iho Ake Trust, who led the establishment of the school, said the ordeal was unfair on the leadership team.

Roana Bennett, Stevie Kiel, 6, and Te Ari Peri, 7 at Te Rangihakahaka Centre for Science and Technology. Photo / File
Roana Bennett, Stevie Kiel, 6, and Te Ari Peri, 7 at Te Rangihakahaka Centre for Science and Technology. Photo / File

"Given the effort to set up a new [Kura Hourua] model, there was a solid business case to let them run for the first contracted period of six years and then to assess their efficacy. A significant amount of time, money and stress has been wasted on changing the schools back to state schools."

A Ministry of Education spokeswoman said it had worked closely with the new school's establishment board to ensure Te Rangihakahaka would be able to open in 2019 as a designated character school.

"We're conscious that this involved tight timeframes and required goodwill on all sides."

The spokeswoman said Minister of Education Chris Hipkins based his decisions on special character schools, on factors including both property capacity and the local schooling network.

She said the centre's roll cap would lift to 110 in 2020 and 120 in 2021.