Part 1: Introduction

Education for Māori: Relationships between schools and whānau.

In this Part, we:

Why we audited relationships between schools and whānau

In 2012, we began a programme of work to answer the question:

How well does the education system currently support Māori students to achieve their full potential and contribute to the future prosperity of New Zealand?

We set out our programme of work in our report Education for Māori: Context for our proposed audit work until 2017. This is our second performance audit in that programme. Our first performance audit in the programme examined how effectively the Ministry of Education (the Ministry) and schools were carrying out Ka Hikitia – Managing for Success: 2008-2012 (Ka Hikitia).1 Despite some problems, we were optimistic that Ka Hikitia would be successfully implemented.

For this audit, we were going to examine partnerships between schools and whānau. Ka Hikitia was updated in 2013. The updated policy gave greater focus to “educationally powerful” partnerships. These are partnerships where a school’s governors, teachers, students, and families work together to improve a student’s overall performance. Teachers and parents working together can have strong beneficial effects on learning.2

Some research shows that schools and families should have effective relationships before taking on “educationally powerful” partnerships.3 Therefore, instead of examining partnerships between schools and whānau, we decided to look at the strength of relationships between schools and whānau.

In this report, an effective relationship means that whānau are generally satisfied with their relationship with their school and that we have confidence in basic interactions between schools and whānau.

How we carried out our audit

We looked for guidance that helps schools understand the maturity of their relationships with whānau and that suggests how schools go from a basic level of relationship towards “educationally powerful” partnerships. We could not find any such guidance. However, the Ministry has a self-review tool to help schools understand their current relationship with Māori, which includes guidance about what an “educationally powerful” relationship looks like (including examples).4

We surveyed whānau and schools about whether they thought their relationships were effective. We also asked them other questions to identify how well aspects of their relationships were working. Some of our questions were based on research about parental involvement in education.5

To carry out our survey, we selected a sample of 600 primary and secondary schools. We ensured that the sample represented schools by location, socio-economic status, and school type.6 Private schools are not audited by the Auditor-General, but we offered some of them an opportunity to take part in our survey, which most declined.

We relied on the 600 schools to distribute 13,500 survey forms to Māori students and whānau. For reasons of economy, we asked each school to send the survey to up to 30 whānau.

We took this approach to sampling whānau and students because we did not have a list of Māori students and whānau from which to take our own sample. Sampling in this way has advantages and disadvantages. It can be less precise than random sampling, but it is often the only feasible approach and is usually more economical.

As in all surveys, respondents choosing whether to participate can lead to selection bias. We looked at the profile of those who responded to our surveys, and the school and whānau respondents closely matched our sample profile. Appendix 1 shows the survey we sent to students and whānau. Appendix 2 shows the survey we sent to schools.

We got replies from 376 schools (a 62.7% response rate to our school survey) and from 1954 students/whānau (a 14.5% response rate to our student and whānau survey). The schools that responded closely matched the characteristics of our original sample of 600 schools in terms of location, socio-economic status, and school type. Not all whānau answered all questions, but we got more than 1859 responses from whānau to each question. We left the blank responses out of our analysis. Responses to survey questions that we report might not add up to 100% because of rounding.

We invited schools to send us any documents or other information about the work they were doing to build relationships with whānau, and 229 schools did so. We analysed these documents, as well as schools’ annual reports, school charters, and Education Review Office (ERO) reports to find out what they say about building relationships between schools and whānau. We also examined data the Ministry uses to monitor Ka Hikitia’s implementation to see whether we could find any association between our analysis and student outcomes, such as retention and academic achievement.

We picked 15 schools to visit (from our original sample of 600 schools) that were a representative sample by location, socio-economic status, and school type. We met with principals and other senior staff, teachers, kaumātua, and members of boards of trustees in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Hamilton, Rotorua, Tokoroa, and Masterton. We held focus groups with whānau in Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch. We completed all of our fieldwork in early 2014.

We designed the audit so we could match and compare responses from students and whānau with responses from their schools, the relevant ERO report, school charters, and annual reports.

What we did not look at

We did not:

  • survey the Correspondence School, special schools, or teen parent units; or
  • ask schools about their relationships with individual whānau.

The structure of our report

In Part 2, we discuss what people told us in our surveys, focus groups, and school visits about what helped make relationships between students, whānau, and schools more effective.

In Part 3, we discuss the results of our survey of students and whānau.

In Part 4, we discuss the results of our survey of schools.

1: Both reports are available on our website at

2: Ministry of Education (2003), The complexity of community and family influences on children’s achievement in New Zealand: Best Evidence Synthesis, pages 143-172, available at

3: Berryman M & Ford T (2014), Connecting with Māori Communities: Whānau, Hapu, and Iwi (Module 8), pages 4 and 17-21, unpublished draft (see

4: See “Reviewing your school-whānau partnerships” available from

5: Whetsel, Darlene, Hoover-Dempsy, Kathleen V, Sandler, Howard M, Walker, Joan M (June 2002), Parental involvement project: Parent and teacher questionnaires (study 1), available at

6: Schools are sorted into types, which are mainly defined by the years of schooling offered at the school. We sent surveys to a sample of area schools, composite schools (that is, those that can provide primary and secondary education), intermediate schools, primary schools, secondary schools, middle schools, and kura kaupapa Māori.

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