Raising Māori student achievement in the New Zealand primary sector: Principals perceptions and strategies for effective leadership
The role of the New Zealand primary school principal is fundamental in shaping the learning experiences of primary school students and the environments in which they take place. The decisions these educational leaders make can influence students’ opportunities for achievement and success directly, and indirectly. The Ministry of Education reports nearly one in five Māori children will not have achieved the basic literacy and numeracy standards by the time they leave primary school, and more Māori students are likely to disengage from education at year seven (MOE, 2013a). Improving the educational outcomes of Māori students is an ongoing government priority and numerous resources, initiatives and strategies are available to assist educators in raising Māori student achievement. The Ministry documents also demonstrate that school leaders greatly influence the effectiveness of school-wide practices and strategies aimed at improving the educational outcomes of their Māori students. This qualitative study explores the perceptions that shape the decisions and practices of primary school principals when aiming to raise Māori student achievement in their school environment. It also seeks to understand how these perceptions manifest themselves within the school organisation and the connection they have to the success of Māori students. This study explores the perspectives and leadership practices of five state primary school principals in Wellington, New Zealand. An online survey via Qualtrics and semi-structured interviews were completed and analysed alongside school charters and recent Education of Review Office evaluations from 2013 and 2014. Through framing the research within a grounded theory methodology, three significant overarching effective leadership themes emerged from the data: KO AU [ME] (Leadership of the individual), KO MĀTOU [US] (Leadership within the school), and KO TĀTOU [ALL OF US] (Leadership within the wider community). These themes provide indicators for effective leadership practices that could assist principals to raise the achievement of their Māori learners and align directly to the research findings. Some of the major findings include leading schools to raise Māori student achievement requires principals to have a personal and professional commitment to Te Ao Māori as this enhances the likelihood that the learning environment will reflect these values. Effective principals’ align learning experiences within Te Ao Māori to a shared strategic plan for raising Māori student achievement with a clear focus on both students and staff as the success of each is inter-related. In addition, there is favour for a shift in current assessment measures in the primary sector to include a broader sense of what constitutes educational achievement, as this will enable principals and schools to focus on developing well-rounded students in an inclusive education system. This study encourages all educators to reflect on these findings as they have the potential to inform school curriculum and policy, and enhance principals’ educational leadership practice to influence, transform, and raise Māori student achievement in the New Zealand primary sector.