A liberal Auckland high school says its students' top marks in national tests are partly because the school refuses to stream them into top, middle and bottom classes.
Official data out today shows that 77 per cent of Year 13 students at the decile 8 school, Western Springs College, gained University Entrance (UE) at the end of last year, compared with an average of 66 per cent across all decile 8 to 10 schools.
And 71 per cent of both Māori and Pacific students at Western Springs achieved UE, compared with only 56 per cent of Māori and 55 per cent of Pasifika students across all schools in those top three deciles.
Asked to explain, deputy principal Ruth Roberts said: "One of the most important things is no streaming. We haven't had it for 30 years.
"We are not pre-judging: 'You are a brilliant child,' 'You are a child that struggles.' They can shine in some areas and they can struggle in others."
Education Professor John Hattie last year blamed streaming for New Zealand's decline in the Programme for International Students Assessment (Pisa). Our maths scores dropped by more than any other developed nation from 2000 to 2015, and our reading and science scores also fell more than most countries.
He said too many schools took the easy road of shunting weaker students out of the "hard" subjects.
"We are brilliant in New Zealand at getting kids out of science and maths," he said.
At Western Springs, Roberts said almost all courses led to UE, which is awarded based on Level 3 credits in the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) in a restricted list of academic subjects, including credits in literacy and numeracy.
Another deputy principal Paul Alford said: "That doesn't mean we expect every student to go to university. It's about making sure they leave here with as many options open to them as possible."
Roberts said all students in Years 11 to 13 were entered in NCEA, and even students with autism and other learning differences were included in unstreamed classes.
"The classroom teacher is expected, with advice and with the assistance of a teacher aide when necessary, to provide a programme that includes those students in the activities," she said.
"We have a lot of teacher aides. The school does invest heavily in meeting student needs, and that includes going a long way above our staffing entitlement. We pay for that with international students."
The college's international students more than quadrupled from 23 in 2010 to 110 last year.
Roberts said the school's above-average results for Māori students were partly due to a unique "co-governance" structure, with about 240 of the total 320 Māori students enrolled in a Māori-language "school within a school", Ngā Puna o Waiōrea, which draws students from all over Auckland.
Ngā Puna o Waiōrea principal Chris Selwyn said the school worked with each student to create an "individualised pathway" and tried to make learning relevant to students' lives.
"In an English writing standard, one of the portfolio tasks could be a news article on Polyfest for that year, rather than a generic assessment test that is downloaded," he said.
Although the school's UE and Level 3 NCEA results were again well above average, its 2017 results show sharp drops at Levels 1 and 2 to slightly below the national averages for schools in the top three deciles.
Roberts said this was partly due to the rising numbers of international students, who often score badly in their early years because of poor English language.
"A lot of schools don't enter them [in NCEA] at all. We enter them, we think it motivates them for the next year," she said.
But pass rates also dropped below the top-three-decile national average for Māori students at Level 2, and slipped to just above-average for their ethnic groups for Māori at Level 1 and for NZ European students in Levels 1 and 2.
Pass rates for Pacific students, who make up only 7 per cent of the total roll of 1458, fluctuate because of the small number of students and show no clear trend.