Bruce Jepsen is the principal of one of the top achieving primary schools in the country.

But 12 years ago, Te Akau ki Papamoa Primary School was anything but.

"Ninety per cent of the Māori students, whether they were boy or girl, irrespective of which iwi they were from, couldn't read, couldn't write and couldn't do maths," Jepson said.

But when he became principal in 2007, things started changing.


Twleve years later, 90 per cent of students perform at levels at or above expectation, with Māori among the highest achieving students.

"As a Māori myself, I took issue with the results for my people. For Māori people, I took ownership of it," he said. "I had to say, 'well these are results we are projecting'."

There are 720 students at the decile six school, with 35 per cent Māori.

Over the years, Jepson has worked hard to make connections with local iwi and the wider community.

Māori identity, language and culture have become a key focus of the school, and one of the reasons behind its academic success.

"The importance of identity, te reo Māori and culture is undeniable," he said. "You take that away from a Māori person? They're not going to be their best self. They're orphaned in their own country."

"You feel comfortable saying all your Māori things because a lot more people can relate to you and a lot more people know Māori, not just us Māori people", said pupil, Patience Pokaia.

One of the ways the school is normalising te reo is by digitising Māori.


The school's radio station broadcasts almost entirely in te reo Māori, a way for all students to learn and interact with the language.

"I can learn Māori and it's really fun and then I can teach my dad and my sister" pupil, Jemma James said.

In 2014, Te Akau ki Papamoa Primary School won a nationwide award for its innovative and daily integration of te reo Māori.

It's also one of the few Apple Distinguished Schools in the country, leading the way digitally.

"Since colonisation, Māori have alway filled the negative indices," Jepson said.

"We have been the biggest failure in the system. If we're getting the absolute opposite types of results for our Māori students, why is that?"


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