A Hawke's Bay school that's made changes to address systemic racism in its classrooms has been named a finalist in the Prime Minister's Education Excellence Awards.
Hastings Girls' High School is one of three in Hawke's Bay to make the finals, in the Excellence in Leading category, for showing what judges said was "transformative and courageous leadership to address systemic racism".
Henry Hill School is a finalist in the Excellence in Health and Wellbeing category and Frimley Primary School is a finalist in both the Excellence in Engaging and Excellence in Teaching and Learning categories.
Hastings Girls' principal Catherine Bentley said one of the most recent changes made is getting rid of streaming - where students are sorted into classes based on their academic ability assessed through "narrow" testing.
This was based on research which found streaming has negative long-term effects, particularly on Māori and Pasifika students, as it "locks them into a pathway that narrows opportunities beyond school".
"The damage that [streaming] has is dreadful.
"Depending on which group of students you end up teaching, that then creates the teacher's framework of expectation."
Students now decide their own pathway based on their interests and skills. Learning outcomes, particularly for Māori and Pasifika students, have been enhanced, she said.
Unit standards have also been largely done away with, aside from those that have specific pathways such as into the police academy, with students now doing achievement standards.
In the wake of Covid-19, listening to whānau, they also changed how the school day was structured so there are fewer bells and senior students are able to manage their own learning more, not having a timetable at all on Friday.
The number of Māori and Pasifika staff and board of trustee members has also increased as "it's really important for Māori and Pasifika rangatahi to be able to see themselves in their surroundings." The board has its first Pasifika student representative this year.
Frimley School principal Tim White says being a finalist "recognises the amazing work that our teachers have done" in both their teaching and learning.
It also recognises the place that whānau, hapū and iwi have played in sharing knowledge with the school in their partnership.
Their school has worked to create a place-based curriculum, centred in Frimley and Heretaunga, where they can learn about the people, whenua and history of their place.
They've engaged with school whānau and iwi to develop this curriculum and te reo and Tikanga Māori have also been woven in.
"For us it's all about our children being strong in their language, culture and identity."
Henry Hill School has been praised for its trauma-informed approach to education.
Principal Jason Williams said the change in strategy began when in 2016-2017 were seeing high academic success, but wanted to see why there were some students who weren't achieving.
They found there were attendance and behavioural barriers and these stemmed from trauma.
Knowledge of the neurosequential approach, which is based around the effects of trauma, has informed school leaders and teachers and how they approach, teach and talk with children.
"It's not really something you see visible in a classroom, it's the feeling and the way we approach things now. It's quite a holistic approach."
There have also been changes such as developing a sensory garden, starting the day with yoga, 'brain breaks' in class time and a quiet space.
"The result is a generally pretty calm and peaceful school - the environment lots of our kids come from is the direct opposite of that."
The independent judging panel will visit finalists between June and August and the winners will be announced at the awards ceremony in September.