Part 11: Our audit role in Māori immersion schools

Central government: Results of the 2008/09 audits.

In this Part, we describe the settings in which Māori immersion schools operate in the New Zealand school sector. We discuss some of the common issues that have arisen in recent years during our annual audits of these schools.

What are Māori immersion schools?

Māori education programmes involve students being taught either all or some curriculum subjects in the Māori language, either in immersion (Māori language only) or bilingual (Māori and English) programmes. The current policy framework sets out four levels of immersion, which are used for planning, resourcing, and monitoring purposes.

The focus of this Part is on Māori immersion schools, in which the principal language of instruction is te reo Māori (the Māori language). These schools operate at level 1 of the immersion framework described above – 81-100% of class time is in Māori. Māori immersion schools fall into two broad categories: kura kaupapa Māori and kura-ā-iwi.1

Kura kaupapa Māori are state schools established under section 155 of the Education Act 1989. Schools designated as kura kaupapa Māori adhere to a particular philosophy known as Te Aho Matua, which sets out an approach to teaching and learning. The philosophy of Te Aho Matua is underpinned by Māori values, beliefs, and customs.2 Within the kura kaupapa Māori group of schools, there is often a distinction applied – the term kura refers to primary schools teaching students in years 1 to 8, and wharekura are schools that teach students in years above year 8.3

Māori immersion schools can also be established under section 156 of the Education Act 1989, which allows for the establishment of a school with a special designated character.4

The first Māori immersion school opened in 1985. It operated as a private school until 1989, when the Education Act was amended to permit the establishment of kura kaupapa Māori state schools. As at 1 July 2009, there were 84 Māori immersion schools.5

Māori immersion schools tend to be small, with an average roll of 75 students. Some Māori immersion schools have smaller rolls, sometimes because of their geographic isolation.

In 2007, 164,020 domestic school learners were recorded as of Māori ethnicity – almost 22% of the total New Zealand school population.6 A relatively small proportion of Māori school students receive their education through Māori immersion schools. As at 1 July 2009, 6,195 students received their education through Māori immersion schools.7

The 2007/08 report on Māori education by the Ministry of Education (the Ministry) states that the Māori education sector has made a major contribution to the education system as a whole by giving learners a new means through which to achieve education success, and has enhanced the ability of the system to deliver for and with Māori.8

The latest achievement results for students learning in Māori immersion schools are favourable. For example, the 2007/08 report notes that year 11 candidates at schools teaching in Māori were more likely to meet both the NCEA literacy and numeracy requirements than other Māori candidates.9

Te Marautanga, released in 2008, is the Government's curriculum for Māori immersion schools.10 The curriculum is based on Māori values, philosophies, principles, and practices. The Ministry reports that it is intended that kura kaupapa Māori use Te Marautanga to develop their learning programmes, in partnership with boards, teachers, whānau, and local communities.11

Accountability and funding arrangements

The Education Act 1989 prescribes the process for establishing Māori immersion schools.12 Māori immersion schools are governed by Boards of Trustees (Boards) and managed by principals, in the same way as other state schools. In addition, each Māori immersion school has its own governance mechanisms and board constitutions that are intended to ensure that the community is fully involved in the governance and operation of the kura kaupapa Māori. This inclusive approach to governance has led to some of the common audit issues we list in paragraph 11.25.

Māori immersion schools are subject to the same accountability requirements that govern all other state schools. For example, they are required to prepare a school charter and also to prepare and have audited a set of annual financial statements. The Auditor-General is the auditor of all Māori immersion schools.

Māori immersion schools are funded in the same way as all other state schools, according to a range of Government policies, such as roll numbers and the school's decile rating. Māori immersion schools also receive additional funding to take account of the higher costs for teaching in Māori caused by a general lack of expertise in te reo Māori to provide what are considered to be the necessary capabilities and capacity to run an effective system of schools (for example, professional development, teaching resources, and teacher relief) and to develop and maintain their te reo Māori immersion environment.

Other entities with an interest in Māori immersion schools

Ministry of Education

As the Government's lead education policy advisor, the Ministry provides advice to the Government on the Māori education sector and other education policy issues that affect Māori immersion schools.

The Ministry is also responsible for monitoring and supporting all state school boards in their governance role. We have previously reported on the Ministry's performance in monitoring and supporting all school boards of trustees, including Māori immersion schools.13 This role covers general training and support for school boards, as well as support for school boards at risk of poor performance (including statutory intervention14under the Education Act 1989).

Education Review Office

The Education Review Office (ERO) reviews and reports on the performance of all schools, including Māori immersion schools. ERO has a dedicated group of staff who evaluate the quality of Māori immersion school services.15

Te Rūnanga-nui o Ngā Kura Kaupapa Māori o Aotearoa

Te Rūnanga-nui o Ngā Kura Kaupapa Māori o Aotearoa was established in 1993. Although not a public entity, it is the national collective body of all kura kaupapa Māori operating under the Te Aho Matua philosophy. Te Rūnanga-nui o Ngā Kura Kaupapa Māori o Aotearoa is designated in the Education Act 1989 as the kaitiaki (guardian) of the Te Aho Matua approach to teaching and learning.

Te Rūnanga-nui o Ngā Kura Kaupapa Māori o Aotearoa works with the Ministry to discharge its responsibilities in the Māori immersion school sector.

Common challenges for Māori immersion schools

Some of the challenges that affect the operation and performance of Māori immersion schools are the same challenges that affect other schools that share some similar characteristics, such as small rolls, geographic isolation, and low decile status. Māori immersion schools also face some challenges unique to them because te reo Māori is the principal language of instruction.16

For example, while the pool of resources available to support the implementation of the curriculum in te reo Māori is growing, it is sparse by comparison with the number of resources available to support the implementation of the curriculum in schools that teach in English. Māori immersion schools also have a much smaller skilled workforce to draw their teaching staff from than other schools. Many of these issues have been previously considered and reported on by both the Ministry and ERO.

In June 2002, ERO reported on the performance of kura kaupapa Māori and concluded that many kura kaupapa Māori need support to improve their practice in several areas, including their teaching practices.17 Similarly, the Ministry reported to the Māori Affairs Committee in March 2008 on some of the governance issues in kura kaupapa Māori that were causing the unusually high number of statutory interventions in kura kaupapa Māori. There are currently statutory interventions in 15 Māori immersion schools.18

Although the range of reasons for these statutory interventions varies, as they do for other state schools subject to statutory intervention, the main issues leading to these statutory interventions are Board organisation and management and Board systems and processes.

Common issues identified in our audits of Māori immersion schools

As for all state schools, we audit the annual financial statements of every Māori immersion school. In recent years, we have identified some common issues in our audits of this group of schools. If these issues were addressed, we consider that this would enhance the accountability for the use of public funds by Māori immersion schools.

The common issues we have identified include the need for:

  • development of greater financial management expertise at both governance and management levels;
  • timely preparation of annual financial statements for audit;
  • maintenance of adequate accounting records;
  • adequate disclosure of related party transactions in financial statements;
  • effective identification and management of conflicts of interest;
  • development and implementation of sound governance and operating policies that ensure the probity of decision-making and public expenditure; and
  • approval of any additional remuneration for principals and teaching staff.

Improving the accountability of Māori immersion schools

We have met with Ministry officials during 2008/09 to discuss some of the themes that have emerged in our audit work in Māori immersion schools. The Ministry acknowledges that some of the audit issues we have identified diminish the level and timeliness of these schools' accountability for their use of public funds.

The Ministry has various streams of work in place to address many of the issues that have previously been reported about the performance and accountability of Māori immersion schools. For example, the Ministry is now delivering tailored training and support to Boards of Māori immersion schools. It is also establishing a pool of appropriately skilled people to perform the statutory intervention roles in Māori immersion schools. The Ministry told us that it is developing options for a more flexible resourcing model for Māori immersion schools that reflects their unique circumstances.

In our discussions, we have encouraged the Ministry to ensure that its work programme is well co-ordinated and helps to address the common audit issues in Māori immersion schools.

We are currently completing our 2009 annual audits of all schools, including Māori immersion schools. As this audit work draws to a close, we will be considering what further work we might carry out to address the common themes discussed in this Part.

1: Iwi and hapū have established kura-ā-iwi, which cater to local iwi and hapū education needs and usually teach the local Māori dialect and tikanga.

2: Section 155, Education Act 1989.

3: Wharekura can apply to schools teaching years 1-10, years 1-13, years 7-13, and years 9-13.

4: See, accessed on 10 February 2010.

5: See This figure includes kura teina. Kura teina are fledgling schools not yet fully established and recognised as kura kaupapa Māori schools under the Education Act 1989. The establishment process for kura kaupapa Māori was revised in 2009. More detail can be found at

6: See, accessed on 10 February 2010.

7: Defined as being all students involved in Level 1 Māori medium education for 20 1/4 to 25 hours per week. See, accessed on 18 January 2010.

8: See, accessed on 10 February 2010.

9: See, accessed on 10 February 2010.

10: For more detail on the curriculum, see, accessed on 15 January 2010.

11: See, accessed on 10 February 2010.

12: For more background, refer to sections 155 and 156 of the Education Act.

13: Ministry of Education: Monitoring and supporting school boards of trustees (June 2008), available on our website (

14: The six types of statutory intervention in schools are specified in Part 7A of the Education Act 1989. They can range from requiring a school board to provide specified information to the Secretary for Education to dissolution of the school board and appointment of a commissioner to govern the school.

15: For more information on ERO's role, see

16: English instruction can be provided as well.

17: See Kaupapa%20Maori, accessed on 10 February 2010.

18: Data provided by the Ministry of Education in February 2010.

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