Ngata Memorial College: fulfilling a legacy

Issue: Volume 100, Number 13

Posted: 14 October 2021
Reference #: 1HAQSK

Rural area school Ngata Memorial College was established in 1959, taking its name from Sir Āpirana Ngata, who expressed a vision for providing rich educational opportunities for the rangatahi of Ngāti Porou. Fast forward 62 years, and the school is working with its community to fulfil these ambitions, providing a range of academic and vocational opportunities to meet the needs of ākonga.

Ngata Memorial College is named after leader and visionary Sir Āpirana Ngata.

Ngata Memorial College is named after leader and visionary Sir Āpirana Ngata.

Education Gazette had hoped to visit Ngata Memorial College, but plans went the way of many during Alert Level 4 in August 2021, and a Zoom call with principal Peter Heron had to suffice.

Peter has just finished a Zoom meeting with staff. “Oh, it’s all good,” he says of how his school is coping with lockdown so far.

“Everyone seems much more relaxed this time around, because they’ve all been through it once. We’re lucky in that we have laptops all the way through from Year 1 onwards – and we’ve got all sorts of software packages up. We’ve got families putting pictures on Facebook, students out in fields, their feet up.”

Area school life

Peter paints a good picture of life at Ngata Memorial College. It’s an area school, with just under 100 students in Years 1 to 13 from around the greater Ruatoria region. Unlike most area schools, it’s secondary-heavy with approximately 20 primary students and 80 secondary ākonga. All learners, with the exception of some staff children, are Ngāti Porou.

Peter says the school has a strong family feeling, echoing the whānau connection within their community.

“When I first came here, I think I was the only one who wasn’t related,” he jokes, reflecting on his arrival at the school in July last year.

The connectedness is definitely a strength of the community.

“It’s good because you’ve got that whole East Coast support network, where everyone helps each other and there’s a lot of whānau care. But it’s also a challenge for our children because when they go out of the area, they can get a little bit nervous.”

Peter’s keen to give his students the chance to explore opportunities beyond the East Coast, should they want to. He wants to see rangatahi given choices to pursue a range of pathways, both vocational and academic.

Principal, Peter Heron.

Principal, Peter Heron.

Giving students options

The school has had real success with its students pursuing vocational pathways. However, the school community voiced a desire to see this balanced with more academic options for students. It has been seven years since the school last had a University Entrance (UE) student.

“Our students can get employment in vocational industries if they want to work, which is a great thing. But there will be some students who could have gone a UE route but didn’t. It’s not about getting the students to university, it’s been giving them the choice,” says Peter.

“For a lot of our families, they come back into education when they’re slightly older. And if they’ve got UE already, it just takes away some of those hurdles.”

The drive for a more balanced approach to curriculum and learning came from the community itself, says Peter.

The school has held well-attended community hui. With an old-fashioned sand timer and school bell, they took a speed-dating approach in which a board member and teacher would spend three minutes with each of six tables of 10 whānau.

“We got a lot of feedback from the community. They told us they wanted local curriculum, and they also wanted academic aspiration. They wanted the children to have the ability to be whatever they want to be. And they want the route to get there.”

Sir Āpirana’s vision

It’s not a new aspiration for this community.

Current Board of Trustees chair Timoti Maru attended Ngata Memorial College in the 1960s. He reflects that most of his cohort have achieved really well in their chosen pathways since school and puts it down to the strong academic base and range of options the college provided when it was formed.

“Taking on the name and vision of Sir Āpirana Ngata created a new pathway for our community,” says Timoti of the school’s origins.

Ngata Memorial College’s history – detailed on the school’s website – outlines how the people of Ngāti Porou met in Uepohatu Hall in August 1958 and expressed to the Department of Education their wish for a college in Ruatoria offering full opportunities for the advancement of Ngāti Porou.

“For many years Sir Āpirana Ngata, his tribal elders, and the parents, had sought full post-primary education for their children, offering full professional courses leading to the highest realms of scholarship, agricultural, industrial, commercial and home science courses leading to the highest positions in all spheres of vocation and in all walks of life,” states the school’s website.

Bright future

Sir Āpirana Ngata was a Ngāti Porou leader and devoted to the education and progress of Māori youth. The school’s motto, ‘E tipu, e rea, mo nga ra o tou ao!’, which means ‘Grow up in the days destined to you!’, is embedded in the identity of Ngāti Porou and consequently Ngata Memorial College.

 Timoti says the school had lost sight of this pathway and academic options were not visible in the school’s curriculum or valued in the school community.

 “Like any school, we’ve had our ups and downs and we went through a particularly difficult patch.”

Following a lengthy period of statutory management, the new board has now been at the helm for two years. They’ve taken innovative measures and redirected resourcing into areas of teaching and learning that will provide both academic and vocational pathways for students.

Timoti is excited about the future of the college.

“The future’s getting brighter by the day,” he says. “There are a whole lot of good things happening, not just in the school, but in our wider community.”

Ngata Memorial College senior students were pleased to return to school after lockdown.

Ngata Memorial College senior students were pleased to return to school after lockdown.

Local curriculum

The school is working closely with its community to implement a strong local curriculum, one that supports Māori students to achieve as Māori in their chosen pathways.

In recent years, in response to a shrinking roll, the school had placed an emphasis on external providers, including sending half its secondary students to Eastern Institute of Technology (EIT) – a four-hour round trip to Gisborne and back.

While this was a good option for some students, the school recognised that many would benefit from remaining at school to pursue a variety of relevant, high-quality courses. So they reduced the number of students attending courses at EIT to around 10, and in the process freed up more resource to be spent on staffing and offering more subjects at school.

Diverse staff

This has allowed them to recruit additional staff, including teachers who have returned from overseas and international staff, complementing local Ngāti Porou staff.

Timoti speaks highly of the staff they have in place.

“When I went to school, teachers had to complete two years of rural service. We had a constant stream of new blood and new ideas. In more recent years the school has lost some of that diversity I think.”

Therefore, the focus has been on employing staff who share in the vision for the school and add to the diverse range of skills. Just 15 percent of the original staff remain, with the new staff including Ngāti Porou teachers, Kiwi teachers returning from overseas, and international teachers.

“We currently have teachers with doctorates in sciences and maths from the Philippines,” says Timoti.

Current Board of Trustees chair, Timoti Maru.

Current Board of Trustees chair, Timoti Maru.

He says some students who were not engaged in their learning previously, are flourishing. “I’m thrilled to bits with what’s happening in those departments,” he says.

Teachers who aren’t Ngāti Porou have been supported with learning about the area’s local history and kaupapa.

“This has seen our Filipino science teacher running a Matariki project and our maths teacher from London joining in the kapa haka group.

“The East Coast has an historical richness, from Sir Āpirana Ngata to Victoria Cross recipients, to members of the Māori Battalion. We can engage with that. It is more relevant to teach our students the dynamics of Te Tiriti and Māori land law at Year 9 than history they can’t connect to,” says Peter.

Similarly, in hard technology, Year 9 students are benefitting from the sculpting expertise of their teacher and renovating gates of local marae and urapā. In food tech, a qualified marae caterer is helping students prepare kai for hangi.

It’s about making lessons engaging and relevant, says Peter. As most staff are bilingual, te reo Māori is embedded in day-to-day lessons and school life.

Boosting attendance and engagement

And it’s having a positive impact on roll growth, with student numbers increasing in the past year from 80 to 97.

“Even though these are small numbers in terms of overall, that’s an increase of 25 percent. Attendance has gone up from 64 percent to 84 percent over the year,” says Peter.

The board has released money to upgrade school furniture so the learning environments are flexible and fit-for-purpose.

Peter also points to increasing engagement from whānau with the school’s Facebook page as another indicator.

“Our community really wants to engage. They need to know that they’re listened to.

“A big thing people remark on is that our students are happy. As teachers, we get very much focused on academic achievement, but a parent’s focus is on students being happy. And we find happy students are the ones who are going to succeed anyway. You’re not going to do well at school if you’re not enjoying it.”

Expanding horizons

A student’s enjoyment of school can be enhanced by new experiences, something Ngata Memorial College is working hard to provide for its students.

After a long period without competitive sport, the school has invested in sports equipment and is working with local schools to start sports competitions up again.

It is also engaging with the Spirit of Adventure Trust and Outward Bound about scholarships for their students.

Prior to lockdown, Peter took six boys down to Dunedin for the National Area School Sports Tournament.

“Along with the sports, we also visited some of the Māori memorials down there and tourist sites; they got to see university life in action. It’s just an opportunity to see that it’s something they could do.”

The school’s NCEA students were also set to visit Wellington as part of an experience provided by Nōna Te Ao Charitable Trust. The week-long visit, which was to include visiting Parliament, universities and Weta Workshop, was initially postponed because of Wellington’s earlier lockdown this year.

“It was postponed to this week, but now we’re in lockdown, so they’ve unfortunately missed that opportunity. But the Trust is going to provide mentoring going forward.”

Recently 19 final-year medical students visited the school as part of the Tairāwhiti Interprofessional Education Programme, which brings senior pre-registration students from different health disciplines together to gain experience in rural New Zealand.

Year 10 students Rupuha Maihi and Te Rarua Morrell reported that the visit “really opened a door into the future for us, giving us an idea of the careers we can follow if we work hard”.

Waikato University and Rural Health Careers are also supportive of the school and helping to show students from Year 9, and sometimes those in the primary years, what options are available to them.

“It’s about lifting aspirations. It’s about normalising the different pathways students can take,” says Peter.

“Our children may well choose to stay in local jobs, but it’s about giving them different opportunities.” 

Anahera’s pathway

Head prefect Anahera Palmer.

Head prefect Anahera Palmer.

Head prefect Anahera Palmer is relishing the chance to pursue an academic pathway. She is working towards achieving University Entrance and has her sights set on a career in business and finance. She is young for her year and is considering taking a gap year between school and university, using the year to study a finance course at EIT before embarking on a degree.

“We’re lucky to have so many opportunities in such a rural setting,” she says. “You’d think that there would be fewer options available because we’re so rural but I’ve had heaps of contact from universities with information and scholarship opportunities.”

Anahera is pleased things are changing for the school and community.

“I think sometimes it’s hard to break away from what has been the norm for so long, from what has happened before you, but it’s good that there are now opportunities to let us do that.”

She’s aware that she and her peers are paving the way for those coming behind her.

“It’s a big responsibility to be in an area school, and have younger students look up to you.”

Anahera says she’s been keeping up with her schoolwork during Alert Level 4, making the most of Zoom lessons, but she’s looking forward to getting back to school. “Face to face is so much better.”

Realities of lockdown

Peter says it is a challenge keeping children connected with school and learning during lockdown. He says many parts of the student body are engaged, including UE students like Anahera, and particularly the primary students. However, paid work beckons for some of the secondary students.

He admires the resilience of the students and their whānau; it’s a value that is particularly evident at a testing time like lockdown.

“You see the pictures online and on the news of students working at home. The reality of a rural Decile 1 community is that some of our families live up a valley without reception or power. Some of our families don’t have mains electricity.

“That said, we keep putting stuff out there. We’re doing daily Zoom lessons for our students. And we connect through Messenger, email, Facebook. It’s about keeping them connected. So, excluding the NCEA students, if students are doing an hour or two a day of learning, that’s fine. As long as they feel they’re still a part of school and as long as their families can also feel that there’s opportunity for their children to keep on succeeding, then that’s great.”

Timoti says the board and wider community are very appreciative of the efforts of the staff and leadership.

“I wish there was more we could do to show just how grateful we are, especially at challenging times like Covid.”

Timoti and Peter agree the school goes hand in hand with its community.

“We need to find people with the skillsets and the drive across the community to better engage students and parents in daily life and education. Most are supportive but there’s an element of needing a lot of care, love and support. Education is the answer and getting our community on board is key,” says Timoti.


Snapshot of the past

Before Ngata Memorial College was established in 1959, many students from the Ruatoria area attended Manutahi School. This short film, produced in 1947, gives a glimpse of school life back then.Snapshot

Reference: Ross Calman, ‘Māori education – mātauranga - The native schools system, 1867 to 1969’, Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, link)t (accessed 11 October 2021).


Whakawhanaungatanga during lockdown

As the people of Ngāti Porou demonstrate, the collective strength and resilience of Māori communities gives their schools and kura an advantage that all can learn from. There are many other great examples across Aotearoa, but here are a small handful:

LockdownAt Tāneatua School(external link), principal Marama Stewart says the Ngai Tūhoe community was amazing during the Covid period last year and rallied to make sure all whānau were supported. “We must have been one of the best-fed communities in the country during Covid,” she reflects.

In Taranaki(external link), a week prior to lockdown in 2020, the tumuaki of all the Kura Kaupapa Māori, Te Aho Matua ki Taranaki, came together to discuss and share ideas of how they could help and support each other, their tamariki and their whānau whānui.

Ngapera Moeahu, tumuaki of Te Kura ō Ngaruahinerangi, shares how they surveyed their whānau to gauge their needs, including devices and connectivity. They organised wellness packs, and set up daily karakia sessions and learning opportunities.

Ngapera says they are totally committed to ensuring the wellbeing of the kura whānau. “Manaakitanga is what we as Māori do well. This was our main priority before anything else. If it is anything we know, we know our whānau well.”

Parents agree. One said: “Our kura is at the top of the ball game as we are delivering kai and looking after the whānau. Our kaiako go over and above their professional duties. I want to say ‘thank you’ to our kura for our parcels that arrived this morning. We really needed it. We were so thankful.”

Meanwhile in Tāmaki Makaurau(external link), whānau benefitted from the support of Ngāti Whātua Ōrakei, who reached out to their 5,500 hapū members across Aotearoa, and around the world, during lockdown last year. They provided devices and support as needed.

Rangimarie Hunia, chief executive of Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei Whai Māia, explains: “Our response was a hapū effort. We all figured out how we were going to support our families during one of the most unprecedented times of our generation.”

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 9:20 AM, 14 October 2021

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