Calls for change as Māori children are zoned out of iwi, hapū land

Source: Radio New Zealand

Some Māori educators want an overhaul of school zoning rules, saying the system ignored local iwi connections to the land that schools were built on.

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By John Gerritsen of

They say Māori children should have free access to all the schools within the rohe of their iwi or hapū and the Education Ministry must prioritise mana whenua when it consults communities about zone changes.

School zones give local children first dibs on attending their neighbourhood school while students from further afield can enrol only if there is room for them, and often they have to apply through a ballot.

The ministry has been introducing more zones in recent years as a means of coping with rapid growth in areas including Auckland, Tauranga, Hamilton and Christchurch and is in the third year of a scheme aimed at altering and introducing zones in 135 Auckland schools.

Te Akatea Māori Principals Association president Bruce Jepsen said the system ignored local iwi connections to the land that schools were built on.

He said considering Māori children out-of-zone in places that once belonged to their tupuna was offensive.

"Our land has been confiscated, it has been stolen, and it has been gifted by Māori in some circumstances for the purpose of education and here we are saying that essentially mana whenua on their own whenua may not be able to attend a school within their own tribal boundaries.

"It's ridiculous," he said.

Jepsen said the ministry also needed to consult directly with mana whenua before it drew up or altered school zones.

The ministry said it does that when it consults schools' communities.

"The school community must be consulted as part of implementing or amending a scheme. Community is defined in legislation and includes the Māori community associated with the school. Mana whenua are therefore consulted as part of our schooling changes, including developing or amending enrolment schemes," it said.

But Jepsen said talking to families was not the same as talking to iwi and hapū leaders.

He said when the ministry overhauled enrolment schemes at all 10 schools in Mount Maunganui and Pāpāmoa last year, the ministry consulted local iwi only after he suggested it.

"We've got traditional tribal grounds and whenua and in the decision-making we are then putting new markers in place.

"The Crown is now dividing our land up once again to serve the purpose of education yet not with us. That's not okay," he said.

"The current system we've got is a one-size-fits-all but Māori aren't in that sizing."

The education spokesperson for one of the Tauranga iwi, Ngā Pōtiki, Ngākohu Pāpuni said the ministry should talk to local iwi and hapū because zones could create complicated relationships for schools and local Māori.

"What they should consider doing is reaching out to iwi, hapū, mana whenua in those areas. It doesn't really take long to find out who the appropriate people are," he said.

"Here we have a Crown agency overlapping our traditional areas with their lines. I'll give you an example, Arataki Primary School sits on our historical lands and they are zoned towards another neighbouring iwi and hapū."

Pāpuni said Māori children should not be considered out-of-zone for schools within their iwi or hapū area.

"There is an opportunity here to really give effect to Te Tiriti o Waitangi - if there is mana whenua and they want to attend a school that's sitting on their traditional lands, then they should be encouraged and given a complete right to choose which school that is," he said.

The ministry said it consulted on the rules for out-of-zone enrolments as part of the Tomorrow's Schools review in 2019 but made no changes and had no plans to conduct another review.