The research was part of an international study that compared physical education programs in Norway, Sweden and New Zealand.

Associate professor Wayne Smith and Dr Rod Philpot from the university’s Faculty of Education and Social Work conducted the study, claiming that New Zealand children are not living in an equitable and inclusive society - with the way they are being educated exacerbating the problem.

“Since Tomorrow’s Schools was introduced in the mid-1980s, New Zealand and its education system has become incredibly unequal,” Smith said on the University of Auckland's website

“Our schooling is divided into rich and poor schools, with the private schools and those in socially advantaged communities concentrating privilege, facilities and resources, meaning they can afford to do what they want to do.”

By contrast, the research indicates the governing policies of Norway and Sweden are providing fairer foundations for social justice and equitable outcomes from schooling.

“In Sweden for example, the radical ‘Du’ reforms of the 1960s introduced an underpinning non-hierarchical system of mutual respect of all involved in the schools, including the teacher-student relationship,” Smith said.

“This creates non-hierarchical socially-just expectations of teachers and students, and it works.

“Every child has a school lunch provided, teachers included, and teachers sit and eat with students; girls and boys of different ages from pre-school to high school all eat together and socialise."

The researchers claim that PE and health educators in New Zealand could make a difference to contribute to equal education outcomes. 

“There are three factors we’ve identified that teachers in any school can do to make a difference,” Philpot said.

“Building teacher/student relationships, in other words, creating caring connections; focusing on social cohesion, understanding where their students are coming from culturally and socio-economically, and explicitly addressing issues of social justice; so if someone can’t participate or progress for some reason, finding out why and trying to remove the barrier.”

According to Smith, there is no "gender divide" in Sweden and Norway, with their PE program inclusive of all students. 

“Despite the fact that 300,000 Syrian and other refugees have arrived in Sweden in the last few years, they provide facilities for all,” Smith said.

“New Zealand has much to learn from these two countries in terms of creating equitable school outcomes, but it will require radical reforms at the structural or institutional level.”