Kōkirihia: Ending Streaming in Schools

Streaming – the widespread practice of grouping students by perceived ability – has long been criticised as inequitable and stigmatising; today, a plan to destream schools is being launched in Christchurch.

A new plan to remove the practice of streaming from Aotearoa New Zealand’s schools was launched in Christchurch on Monday by Kōkirihia, a collaboration of key education agencies.  

Research done in New Zealand and internationally shows that streaming can both create and reinforce inequity. by broadening divides in achievement and self-confidence between streams. The evidence also shows this divide widens class and racial divisions. In New Zealand, Māori and Pasifika ākonga disproportionately bear the brunt of this inequity.  

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Studies have shown that streaming reinforces stereotypes. In New Zealand, Māori students are underestimated, and Pākehā children are overestimated in all levels of schooling. This low estimation of Māori students causes them to be disproportionately represented in lower streams, despite their actual achievement. Once in a lower stream, coursework is more basic and less challenging, leading to disengagement and essentially creating a self-fulfilling prophecy as students in lower streams had no clear pathways to higher achievement. 

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In the report “Kōkirihia – The plan for removing streaming from our schools”, evidence was collated about the effect of streaming on our ākonga. The report states that streaming happens as early as Primary school, creating “harmful fixed-ability groups for subjects such as maths and reading. One in these groups, whether it be the top or bottom group, this is where they are likely to stay for the remainder of their primary and secondary education.” The report states that tamariki may be streamed, and therefore have their futures fixed, from as young as six years old. In addition to the harms caused to those in lower streams, ability grouping has little positive effect – even the benefits for top achievers are minor.  

In October 2022, PPTA Te Wehengarua unanimously voted to end streaming in Aotearoa by 2030. In New Zealand, streaming is still widespread, and has one of the highest rates of ability grouping in the OECD despite the growing evidence of its harms.  

Kōkirihia is a project designed to show the whakapapa of streaming, generate awareness of the issue, showcase alternatives and set out key action points to achieve the goal of de-streaming by 2030. 

The project is led by Tokona te Raki with support by the Ministry of Education and is endorsed by the Mātauranga Iwi Chairs Group (MILG).  

The programme’s design team came together in 2021, and includes the expertise of key agencies such as the Education Review Office, CORE Education, PLANZ, NZEI Te Riu Roa, PPTA Te Wehengarua, NZQA, Cantebury University, the University of Auckland and school principals and rangatahi. 

“Streaming or ability grouping is so ingrained in our teaching practice that it has becoming largely invisible and widely accepted,” said Piripi Prendergast, Project Lead for Tokona te Raki.  

“Māori and Pacific students are more likely to be incorrectly placed in bottom groups and classes, and it damages self-esteem and confidence and limits career pathways,” added Dr Hana O’Regan, Lead technician, Mātauranga Iwi Chairs Group/CEO CORE Education Tātai Aho Rau.  

“Access to the best possible education outcomes is the birthright of every child in Aotearoa but this is currently not the reality for many… The launch of Kōkirihia provides hope that we are padding our way toward a fair and equitable Aotearoa come the 200 year anniversary of Te Tiriti O Waitangi,” said Dr Eruera Tarena, Executive Director of Tokona te Raki.  

Naomii Seah

Naomii Seah is a writer and journalist from Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland, Aotearoa New Zealand. She enjoys crochet, painting, and a coffee or two at the beach. Her work can be found at The Spinoff, The Pantograph Punch, Stuff, and of course, School News NZ.
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