The Principal Health and Wellbeing Survey, launched by NZEI Te Riu Roa president Lynda Smith, featured the responses of 89 Māori and Pasifika participants.

Of those, 27 per cent reported that their ethnicity had been a source of relationship tension over the past 12 months, while 25.8 per cent reported discrimination at work on the basis of their ethnicity.

In comparison, 8.5 per cent to 8.9 per cent of non-Māori leaders reported facing tension or discrimination.

The most commonly experienced form of discrimination was “comments made referring to Māori that cause offence”.

These may have been informal and away from the public arena, but were still felt by respondents to be significant. 

NZEI Matua Takawaenga Laures Park said the results, while disappointing, were not a surprise because they confirmed what Māori and Pasifika educators had known for a long time.

Perpetrators of discrimination were identified in the survey as other employees or principals of the same school or kura; employees of other schools or kura in leadership or management positions; business contractors; representatives of community organisations; members of the school community such as parents and whānau; and members of the wider community.

Associate Professor Phil Riley of the Australian Catholic University, who led the research, said in presenting the findings to senior school leaders he was told that some of the experiences of discrimination were from interactions with government agencies, including the Ministry of Education and the Education Review Office.

In a statement, Iona Holsted, Secretary for Education, said the Ministry of Education was pleased that the research had been made public.

“It is an important issue to talk about and backs up findings by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner of children’s experiences of racism at school.

“We look forward to working with the NZEI on addressing issues of discrimination in the education workforce,” she said.


NZEI, in consultation with Te Akatea, the association of Māori principals and the New Zealand Principals Federation, has recommended the following actions:

  • End systemic racism in agencies, actions and resourcing and instead build a system that is culturally sustaining both for Māori educators and tamariki Māori
  • Provide funded professional support for educators to ensure the mauri of educators and tamariki Māori is upheld so that all Māori can achieve their potential without compromising who they are. Providing professional learning and development in terms of cultural responsiveness would also provide the wider education community with a strengthening of cultural awareness
  • Provide a clear information campaign to the sector that highlights what behaviour is not appropriate
  • Provide a mechanism that allows for the immediate reporting of discrimination within the system that allows for the protection of whistle-blowers
  • Require school Boards of Trustees, school leaders, MOE and ERO staff to complete an approved course on racial equality or cultural competency provided by NZSTA, Education Council or an approved professional learning and development provider every three years
  • Require NZSTA to ensure that all Boards of Trustees have systems that identify discrimination as early as possible and have the resources to immediately address the situation.
  • Ensure our own organisations regularly review our practices in order to end discrimination and strengthen cultural awareness
  • Provide culturally appropriate professional supports/mentoring for all Maori leaders to ensure they are nurtured, supported and retained in the workforce.