Authorities focusing on making te reo available for all students.

Only 4 per cent of non-Maori secondary school students are learning te reo Maori, the latest figures show.

The place of the Maori language in schools has been a hot topic in the lead-up to September's election, with some calling for it to be compulsory.

And new figures provided to the Herald show that 4 per cent of the non-Maori student population in Year 9 or above learned te reo last year.

That is up slightly on the 3 per cent recorded in the previous three years, and compares with the 26 per cent of Maori students who learned te reo last year.

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The Minister for Maori Affairs, Pita Sharples, this month called for it to be compulsory for te reo Maori to be available as a subject to students in all schools, but not compulsory for students to learn the language.

Asked for his opinion on that proposal, Secondary Principals' Association president Tom Parsons told the Herald that the progress being made showed the current rules were working.

"I think we are terrible at looking at progress, we just turn around and look at lack of progress."

Mr Parsons spoke in te reo during the interview, and said that was an example of how much had changed in the past 10 years. School leaders were learning and recognising the language and culture, and many schools ensured all students could give a waiata, for example.

On Sunday the Labour Party launched its te reo campaign.

It says its policy will encourage the use and learning of Maori in schools, but that it won't be made com-pulsory.

Under the Education Act all schools must provide Maori language programmes to students if parents request it.

Te reo being taught in schools is a key plank of the Ministry of Education's strategy to boost the achievement of Maori, and it also recognises the importance of learning the language for non-Maori.

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Such a status has not always been the case. In the early 1900s children fluent in Maori were often forced to leave their language at the school gate, and could be punished for speaking te reo.

Each successive generation saw a larger proportion speaking English as their first language, and fluency was in decline by the mid to late 1900s.

Gaining fluency
Percentage of students in Year 9 and above learning te reo Maori:

2010
Maori27%
Non-Maori 3%

2011
Maori 26%
Non-Maori 3%

2012
Maori 27%
Non-Maori 3%

2013
Maori 26%
Non-Maori 4%

Information is based on a sample of students, but the Ministry of Education says the percentages are a reliable reflection of the total student population.