Can we have the best school system in the world?

Educational achievement among our young people is critical to New Zealand’s future, not only for those young people but for the generations to come. Research shows that the single best predictor of a person’s educational success is the level of educational achievement of his or her mother. Failure to address the intergenerational cycle of under-achievement that exists in parts of our country therefore comes at a cost to us all: the extraordinary waste of talent among our young people with major impacts for employers and for our society as a whole.

For students from advantaged communities, our school system is as good as anywhere in the world. Many students go on to leading universities in New Zealand and around the world. However, many others who ought to succeed do not. For example, every year about 3,800 fewer students from low decile schools achieve University Entrance than would be the case if they had the same rates of success as students from more affluent communities. These students are disproportionately Māori and Pasifika, but the issue is not simply one of ethnicity: Māori and Pasifika students in high decile schools are just as likely as their fellow students to progress to university study. Rather, the problem is due to a complex mix of socio-economic factors that often begin early in life and, as recent evidence suggests, are best tackled by high quality teaching and strong educational leadership.

Achieving equality of opportunity and increasing educational attainment are the keys to breaking inter-generational cycles of poverty.

Professor Cynthia Kiro, Starpath Director, Faculty Of Education And Social Work

Educational researchers at the University of Auckland have been exploring ways in which to raise academic results in schools in lower socio-economic areas.

Professor Stuart McNaughton at the University’s Woolf Fisher Research Centre is developing research-based interventions which have shifted the educational achievement of students in low decile primary and intermediate schools from well below the national average to above the national average.

The Starpath Project is working with 39 partner secondary schools to transform educational and economic results for students under-represented in higher education. Schools in the project are beginning to show improvements in Levels 1, 2 and 3 NCEA and University Entrance. Tamaki College Principal, Soana Pamaka, has seen student achievement improve in Level 1 NCEA from 23 percent to 50 percent in just one year. If Starpath was able to be taken up by all 150 decile 1 to 3 secondary schools, then each year the futures of approximately 60,000 students could be transformed.

Programmes such as these could bring huge improvements in educational achievement to the advantage of all young New Zealanders.

The challenge for us now is to ensure they can be delivered uniformly across the school sector.

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Help us to improve the quality and understanding of education in New Zealand and internationally, through our teaching and research.

For more information, contact:

Karen Miller, Development Manager, Education and Social Work