A Whanganui primary school principal says Education Minister Chris Hipkins needs to put his money where his mouth is.

Carlton School principal Gaye O'Connor was left frustrated when her school was denied resources to aid with their integrated Māori curriculum.

The school hired Robin Ohia in 2016 to develop the curriculum and he has been paid by the board of trustees for the duration of his time there using operational funding.

O'Connor said the denial of funding completely contradicted the Labour Party's pre-election manifesto.


"I pointed this out in one of my letters to Hipkins, that our school has been doing exactly what the manifesto says and we've been doing it without support," O'Connor said.

Carlton School students enjoy creating their Māori-influenced artwork. Photo / Supplied
Carlton School students enjoy creating their Māori-influenced artwork. Photo / Supplied

"They've come back and said that the ministry doesn't specifically resource something like this and that the school might like to try and link up with associated schools."

O'Connor is referring specifically to the Māori development section of the manifesto.

One such statement reads: "Labour will create more opportunities for the learning of te reo Māori for everyone and will be the first major party to make te reo an integral part of all student's education.

"This will mean the fundamentals of the language are integrated throughout learning, so that children have the foundation to confidently learn te reo to a fluent level and be supported to do so."

O'Connor said Ardern had essentially repeated this on Monday to start Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori/Māori Language Week.

"One of their excuses for not helping the school was that in a primary school, the ministry does not pay for a teacher to teach a specific language," she said.

"Which is interesting when they're having these discussions around compulsion."


In response to a follow up letter O'Connor sent him in June, Hipkins acknowledged that manager of education in the Ministry of Education's Whanganui office, Dianne Wilson, was impressed with what the school was doing.

He suggested they work with neighbouring schools to share expertise and resources, an approach he said was successful in Communities of Learning.

However, that was a National policy which Labour discussed scrapping last year.

O'Connor has been at the school for 14 years, she has been the principal for five and was shocked when she opened her eyes and saw they had no Māori protocol.

She said what she saw was the children living in two different worlds.

"On the weekend they'd go to the marae and be totally immersed in a Māori world and then on Monday we'd expect them to be totally immersed in a predominantly European world.

"It was sad, it was realising that we knew what was in the curriculum and realising that we were being very tokenist and personally, that's not something I could live with."

Since the curriculum was introduced, classrooms have received te reo Māori names, kapa haka has started up and students say a karakia in class every morning.

O'Connor said the school made no big announcement about the change to avoid inciting people's pre-conceived ideas about what the curriculum might be.

"At the end of the day, that attitude is exactly what we're trying to avoid for these children by having them growing up understanding Māori culture.

"Schools do worry about white flight, but I was of the opinion that if people were going to go, they were going to go and that wasn't going to change what we're doing here."

Only two parents spoke out about not wanting their son's learning or hearing te reo Māori when the move was made, but both decided to keep them at Carlton.

O'Connor said that a lot of people forget that there is a nationwide curriculum available called Te Aho Arataki Marau mō te Ako i Te Reo Māori - Kura Auraki.

"It makes the children realise there's more than one way of viewing your world.

"That's how we're going to get on as a society, is empathising with other points of view and understanding that other people and cultures have different ways of expressing themselves."

An Education Review Office report of the school and two researchers from the New Zealand Council for Educational Research both reflected positively on the curriculum.

O'Connor would like to see te reo Māori become normalised, not compulsory in schools and hoped that others in Whanganui would adapt a similar curriculum.

"The national curriculum for this country talks about wanting the children to be innovative, to have vision and to be forward thinking.

"And yet we have ministry officials who can't do that themselves."