Ngāti Whakaue iwi members have asked education representatives to consider how the iwi can be involved in Rotorua's only partnership school if it becomes a designated character school.
Te Taumata o Ngāti Whakaue Iho-Ake Trust general manager Roana Bennett and pou ahurea Bryce Murray spoke at the Education and Workforce Select Committee meeting on Tuesday on behalf of Ngāti Whakaue.
The iwi currently runs Te Rangihakahaka Centre for Science and Technology, Rotorua's only partnership school.
The Government is in the process of removing partnership schools from the Education Act but Bennett said the iwi still wanted to play a part in educating Ngāti Whakaue children.
"We laid down a challenge to the Government for system change that would enable iwi to participate in education as equal partners," Bennett said.
"Evidence shows that students will do better in schools where their identity, language and culture is acknowledged, embraced, embedded and reflected back to them. And that takes more than just having 'a bit of Māori' in the daily programme.
"Iwi can make the difference."
Bennett said partnership schools addressed a "chronic system failure" at the ground level.
"Kura hourua, partnership schools are part of a legacy enabling iwi to sit at the table alongside Government. By removing it there's really no other mechanism for iwi to do that."
The Ministry of Education's deputy secretary of early learning student achievement, Ellen MacGregor-Reid, said all existing partnership schools had applied to become either a designated character school or integrated school.
Te Rangihakahaka applied to become the former, MacGregor-Reid said.
"If the school is approved as a designated character school, the establishment board of trustees would have discretion to decide how iwi would be involved and their customs and practices reflected within the school," she said.
Bennett said removing partnership schools was a backwards step and the Government needed to look at better ways of helping iwi fully participate in their children's education.
Murray said tamariki were thriving at Te Rangihakahaka.
"Whānau are engaged and learning alongside their tamariki. It would be a great shame for changes in Government policy to have a negative impact on that," he said.
"The mana of the school is with iwi and not the Government. This enables iwi to be integral to the systems and structure of the school."
MacGregor-Reid said the Government was focused on a "quality, comprehensive state school system that gives every student the opportunity to succeed".
She said the Ministry of Education had completed consultation about partnership school applications and would report to education minister Chris Hipkins by the end of June.
"The minister will then consider each application and is expected to make decisions by the end of July."
Bennett said the students and whānau at the school weren't nervous about the potential result of the decision but iwi were.
"Te Rangihakahaka is a realisation of hopes and aspirations we've held for a while - over 15 years.
"There's nervousness as to how it might roll out in 2019 but we are confident the minister can see the value in the school. The progress is positive."