The Treaty Claim Explained

Two leading Māori educators, Sir Toby Curtis and Dame Iritana Tawhiwhirangi, have lodged an application to the Waitangi Tribunal alleging that the Crown’s actions in closing partnership schools will have a disproportionately detrimental effect on Māori and calling for a halt to the closures.

View the Treaty claim here

Partnership Schools (or Kura Hourua) are schools that are focused on delivering improved educational outcomes for priority learners (Maori, Pasifika, decile 1-3, and Special Needs). The ‘sponsors’ of these schools have entered into a contract with the Crown for an initial six year term, with two further rights of renewal for six years each. This contract also specifies performance targets relating to student attendance, student success, and financial management.  

These schools are privately owned but fully funded by Government.

Operating alongside other types of schools, Partnership Schools provide an opportunity for private and community education providers, including iwi, to establish schools and contribute directly to the educational success of young New Zealanders, many of whom have not had their needs met by traditional state-run public schools.

Partnership schools charge no fees, enrol students on a ‘first come first served basis, and are required to have at least 75% of their students classified as ‘priority learners’. That means they currently serve some of the most educationally disadvantaged young people in New Zealand. 

No they are not. The funding formula for Charter Schools was designed by the Ministry of Education and they confirm that partnership schools are funded comparably to state schools.

Despite being a young sector, three of the five partnerships schools with published National Standards results in 2017, and greater than 75% of their student roll as priority learners, are achieving results that exceed the national average for all schools.

Te Kapehu Whetu–Terenga Paraoa and Vanguard Military School (two of the three Kura Hourua with published NCEA results), are out-performing comparable state schools. Vanguard UE results are 3rd best in Auckland for Deciles 1-3, and Te Kapehu Whetu–Terenga Paraoa UE results are 2nd best in All Northland for Deciles 1-10.

The Minister of Education, Chris Hipkins on behalf of the Crown has instructed his officials to terminate the contracts of the 13 contracted partnership schools and to close the 11 operational partnership schools by the end of the 2018 school year. Minister Hipkins has given these schools the choice of applying to him to re-establish themselves as state schools, either Designated Character Schools or State Integrated Schools, by December 2018.

Key background documents, such as Minister Hipkin’s Cabinet paper and the Ministry of Education’s regulatory Impact Statement, concede that no consideration has been given to available evidence of these schools succeeding nor was consideration given to a consultation process with those most affected by this closure, such as the parents of students who have chosen to enrol their children at a partnership school.   

The Treaty of Waitangi Claim filed by Sir Toby Curtis and Dame Iritana Tawhiwhirangi seeks redress for the Crown breaching key principles of the Treaty in closing partnership schools. The Claim alleges that the early termination of Kura Hourua contracts is unjust, unprincipled and prejudicial to the 1500 students enrolled in these PSKH and their communities, in particular Māori. Six of the 11 partnership schools are owned by Maori interests and these schools comprise between 87% and 100% Maori students.

The large majority of the students at the schools being shut down are Māori, many of whom enrolled there to get a fresh start in education and to get their lives back on track.

The Claim alleges that the government by its acts and omissions in failing to consult with Māori prior to issuing notices of termination, and in closing partnership schools more generally, is acting contrary to its obligations of good faith partnership under the Treaty of Waitangi and to the detriment of Māori.

The key principles breached are:

  • Partnership: the Crown and Māori, being Treaty partners, must act reasonably and in good faith towards each other.
  • Active Protection: the Crown has a duty to actively protect the interests of Māori as specified in te Tiriti.
  • Reciprocity: the Crown must respect tino rangatiratanga in exercising kāwanatanga and this should be reflected in its decision making.
  • Equity: the Crown has a duty to treat Māori and non-Māori equally.

Firstly, the Crown’s actions will have a disproportionate affect on Māori.

  • It is a requirement that Kura Hourua enrol Priority Learners, with a focus on Māori students who are not succeeding in mainstream education. The school roll across the existing Kura Hourua is 75% Māori/Pacific.  Some individual schools exceed that 75% threshold in terms of Māori enrolment.  Any changes to the operation of Kura Hourua resulting from the actions of the Crown to terminate Partnership Agreements will disproportionately affect Māori students.
  • The majority of the Sponsors are Māori trusts/incorporations, which have entered into Partnership Agreements with the Crown and have now invested time and money into developing Kura Hourua for the purpose of advancing Māori educational and future employment outcomes.
  • The termination of Partnership Agreements by the Crown will also have an impact on those trust/incorporations and their capacity to provide education services to Māori. The Tribunal has found, in the context of the delivery of social services such as education, that the Crown owes duties to Māori entities under the Treaty. 
  • The breaches of Te Tiriti by the Crown described above have caused or are causing significant and irreversible prejudice to Māori students of Kura Hourua, Māori Sponsors of Kura Hourua, and to Māori generally.

Secondly, eroding Māori rangatiratanga by exercising kāwanatanga (the authority of Government):

  • without regard to the disproportionate effect the decision to abolish Kura Hourua will have on Māori;
  • without regard to the views and aspirations of Māori in respect of education and Kura Hourua in particular;
  • without seeking to inform itself of the views and aspirations of Māori in respect of education and Kura Hourua in particular;
  • without evidence to justify the termination of Kura Hourua
  • without providing adequate alternative options for Māori students;
  • compromising the valuable role played by Kura Hourua in advancing Māori achievement in primary and secondary education;
  • causing harm and loss to current and prospective Māori students of Kura Hourua by refusing to maintain or develop an educational framework that reduces inequities suffered by Māori in primary and secondary education; and

dislocating Māori students currently enrolled at Kura Hourua.

The right of Māori to improved educational outcomes and the ability of Māori to provide education solutions for themselves. This has all been stripped away by the Minister and the Crown without any prior consultation.

The decision to close Partnership Schools is irrational (takes no account of Partnership School success) and prejudices all students, Māori in particular.

6 of 11 schools are owned by Māori entities and have predominantly Māori students:

  1. Te Kapehu Whetu – Teina 100% Māori students
  2. Te Kapehu Whetu – Terenga Paraoa 100% Māori students
  3. Te Aratika Academy 98% Māori students
  4. Te Kopuku High 98% Māori students
  5. Te Kura Māori o Waatea 87% Māori students
  6. Te Rangihakahaka 100% Māori students

The Cabinet Paper and the Ministry of Education Regulatory Impact Statement regarding the closures noted:

  1. The Ministry of Education acknowledge the constraint of time, the lack of consultation and the absence of evidence;
  2. An absence of evidence for the Minister’s claims;
  3. The Minister makes unsubstantiated claims;
  4. No consultation has been undertaken with affected parties;
  5. No alternatives to closing PSKH were considered by Minister Hipkins;
  6. A lack of equity.

Sir Toby Curtis and Dame Iritana Tawhiwhirangi, on behalf of Māori.

  • Sir Toby Curtis (Te Arawa, Ngati Rongamai and Ngati Pikiao) was knighted in 2013 for 45 years of service to education. A former teacher, he held senior roles at Hato Petera College, Auckland Teacher’s College, Auckland Institute of Technology and Auckland University of Technology. He chaired the Iwi Education Authority for tribal immersion schools, was instrumental in establishing Māori broadcasting and served on Te Wananga o Aotearoa Council and the Partnership Schools/Kura Hourua Authorisation Board.


  • Dame Iritana Tawhiwhirangi (Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Kahungungu and Ngāpuhi). A former teacher and a leading advocate for the Kohanga Reo movement, Māori language education and Māori development, she was awarded the DCNZ for services to Māori education in 2009. Dame Iritana was a member of the Partnership Schools/Kura Hourua Authorisation Board from its inception.

Sir Toby:

  • “The rights of these students to make that choice and the rights of parents and whanau to choose and support what’s best for their children are being taken away from them.”
  • “The Government’s plans to offer Kura Hourua the chance to re-establish themselves as regular state schools will merely strip the schools of the key flexibilities that were allowing them to succeed. Students would be left with no choice but to either leave school or return to a state system that wasn’t working for them in the first place.”
  • “Yes, we have a good state education system, but it doesn’t serve all students’ needs equally well. Results across the country clearly show that one size does not fit all.”
  • “The Treaty of Waitangi provides a principled framework that is easy to understand and that we can all respect. The principles of partnership, reciprocity, active protection and equity are derived from the Treaty, and provide a good foundation for us all to work from.”

Dame Iritana:

  • “There has been no consultation with the schools or their student’s families and whanau. This Government has ridden roughshod over the futures of these young people in spite of claiming that they are placing a priority on helping our most vulnerable children.
  • “The evidence shows that Kura Hourua have been delivering very positive results for Māori students who for decades have been falling through the gaps.
  • “Despite years of trying, the state education system has failed to close the gap between Māori and Pasifika learning success and that of all other New Zealanders. Yet here we have eleven schools that have been open for less than four years making the difference we have been looking for, and here the Government is closing them down. It just makes no sense at all.”

Students, their parents and whānau, are distressed at the Crown’s failure to meet and consult with them prior to announcing the closure of their schools. Along with a wide array of business, education and community leaders, they are aghast at the Governments single-minded and arbitrary decision to close their schools or force existing Kura Hourua to convert to a state-model. Sir Toby Curtis, in addressing the Education and Workforce Select Committee pointed out that state education system has failed to address Maori educational under-achievement ‘historically and inter-generationally for the last 178’. John Shewan speaking in support of Sir Toby’s submission suggested the Government’s approach amounted to ‘bullying’.  

Take a look at these videos from some of the partnership schools and their students.

Read our media release here.

There have been mixed and misleading messages from MPs and Senior Government Minsters including Kelvin Davis (Labour Deputy Leader & Māori Electorate MP), who before the last Election committed to resigning if partnership schools were closed by his Government. Labour MPs like Willie Jackson also said they were committed to partnerships schools and believed in the model.

On the one hand, Prime Minister Ardern and Minister Hipkins have stated publicly in a number of forums that no Partnership School that is comparably funded (to state schools), that is teaching the NZ Curriculum and that uses registered teachers, will be closed.

Yet they are closing all of them.

  • Mainstream education is failing Māori – Māori have not been equitably served by mainstream education for at least the last 50 years.
  • Māori attendance at school is poor and trending down.
  • More Māori are being suspended from school than any other ethnicity.
  • Māori (and Pasifika) learning success measured by National Standards (Y1 – Y8) compares poorly with other ethnicities.
  • Published National Standards data demonstrates that Māori success is lagging behind all other ethnicities.
  • National Certificate in Educational Achievement (NCEA) results show that Māori students are continuing to lag significantly behind all other ethnicities and are below the national averages.
  • Mainstream education has not succeeded in improving the literacy and numeracy competencies of New Zealand students, as measured by global metrics, for at least the last decade. Despite growing success rates in NCEA qualifications, the downward trend in the literacy and numeracy capability of all New Zealand students is evidence of the flaws in NCEA. Anecdotal evidence and reports say:

    ‘New Zealand schools are doing a great job, but not for all their students’.

    ‘The New Zealand education system is world-leading in many respects. However, there are groups of students who are not reaching their potential in education’

    ‘Too many young New Zealanders are not achieving their potential in education and are leaving the education system without the skills and qualifications to succeed in the workforce. Student achievement levels are too low, particularly for Māori and Pasifika learners.’

  • National social and economic benchmarks confirm Māori disadvantage.

    ‘While many Māori have successfully navigated the second great migration (from rural settings to urban), they remain a generation behind Pakeha in social and economic advancement’.

Following the application to the Waitangi Tribunal on 3 July 2018, the tribunal will consider the matter and either agree or decline to hear the Claim.

Keep visiting our website for regular updates and information on the Claim and follow/share on social media.

In the meantime, Sir Toby and Dame Iritana encourage New Zealanders from all walks of life and all ethnicities to discuss the issue of partnership school closures, to contact their local media outlets and Members of Parliament to raise their concerns, and to share information & updates with friends and whānau on social media in support of the Treaty Claim.

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