Te Pā o Rākaihautū in Otautahi Christchurch is funded as a Section 156 designated character school. In practise it is anything but a ‘school’. It is a learning village, where there are no walls separating the different stages of learning – from ECE to ACE; where increasingly there are no walls or barriers between all the services and informal learning that are needed to grow whānau wellbeing.

It’s only been open for four years so it’s very much a work in process.

Rangimarie Parata Takurua
Rangimarie Parata Takurua

Rangimarie Parata Takurua, chair of the board of trustees, explains Te Pā philosophy, how the whānau learning works in practice, and the way Te Pā changes lives.

Whānau engagement

“Our philosophy is very much grounded in the the whakatauki, Tamaiti akona I te pā, tū ana ki te ao – a child raised in the village, strong in their culture and identity, will stand confident in the world. We know from our own experience of growing up in the mainstream education system that a lot of Māori parents did not have a good time at school and so don’t engage with their children’s school. They drop the kids at the gate and run. At Te Pā we are engaging the whole whānau because we know that parents are the key to their children’s success. We are aiming to break the negative cycle.

“We have a multitude of ways to engage whānau. We don’t call it a school, we call it a pā wānanga. We are re-languaging. Students are called pononga, which means to be true to and serve the community we are a part of and we are teaching them to be true to who they are – to their kaupapa and values – to make high levels of commitment to be who they need to be. Our teachers are called kaiārahi. They are guides, coaches and mentors.

“This re-languaging plays a big part in shifting the paradigms about what we think and feel a school and education looks like.

“We are restoring and reinventing Māori learning environments for the 21st century. We have whānau friendly spaces. People of all ages can come into our central whānau room and make a cup of tea or sit in our learning spaces alongside their tamariki all day if they want. We are currently located in an old school in Linwood, (it is our second disused school location as we have grown so quickly). It is not an ideal environment for a pā wānanga but we have no closed doors and the students move seamlessly from their ECE environment into year one. Each pupil has an individual learning plan which they and their whānau design. And they are able to celebrate their Māori identity all day long.

“Relationships are a big part of engaging whānau. Kaiārahi welcome whānau in the morning and parents have multiple ways they can participate. For example we have two big gardens. We feed our pononga breakfast and lunch, getting as much of our food as we can from our gardens. It is the parents who drive the gardening project. They also come in (and so do the pononga) and help in the kitchen; work in the gardens; make kapahaka uniforms, coach sports and support their tamariki where they can.

Adult classes

“Over the last few years we have had adult classes, responding to what parents are asking for. To date demand has been primarily for te reo. At first our classes were run by Te Wānanga Aotearoa, now one of our own kaiārahi takes the classes.

“Parents also asked for financial literacy. We were running a financial literacy class for our senior students and they were going home and telling their parents about it – and they asked us, can we have that too? It is taught by one of our whānau who have been on their own financial literacy journey and they teach them how you can become your own generator of wealth – not just helping to get a job – but how to save and invest. We are still in the early stages of that programme but it is already having a significant impact on shifting mindsets.

“Last year we also ran a workshop for parents of kids struggling with their reading. We wanted to give these parents the skills to help their children. It was an emotional journey for most of these parents because we found for some of them, they and their parents before them, had suffered from the same learning challenges. Reading had become a negative experience. We know that some of them are undiagnosed dyslexics who have often been written off by the system as bad kids. We have helped one of our students who was 11 years in the school system and never diagnosed. Now we are looking at ways to help the parents.

Informal whānau learning

“The informal learning goes on all the time as parents become active partners in their children’s education.

“With the gardens and kai preparation they also learn about healthy food. We know that many of our whānau are eating too much of the wrong kai and not looking after themselves. If we thought Māori education statistics were dire, our health statistics are even worse. Health and nutrition are core to our curriculum. We are in Linwood and surrounded by every kind of fast food outlet. At Te Pā we have a strict policy on no fast foods, fizzy drinks, lollies and chips 24/7 including weekends and holidays and including all visitors. It is possibly the one place in the world that these foods are not an option. More importantly we want them to experience what wholesome, healthy kai tastes like – the vegetables grown in our own gardens by them. There is nothing like watching a five year old pulling a new carrot out of the garden, thanking papatuanuku for the kai, brushing off the dirt and eating it like it was the sweetest thing they had ever tasted.

“And we have a Whānau Ora Navigator working with us all the time, so when we become aware that a whānau needs help we can work with them to address a lot of the underlying housing, health, social and financial challenges they face and in the process help build stronger resilient whānau. We are in the early stages of supporting their learning journey towards wellbeing – taking down the walls across sectors, breaking down the silos between housing, health and social services. All these things have a big impact on education and we need to undo those silos.


“When we remove walls our students can learn at their own pace in their own way. As a result they experience success a lot earlier. They have no anxiety about being moved between classes. We look after the whole child, mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually the whole way through. They start with te reo immersion and by the time they get the senior school level they are taught in both languages. Parents tell us that they want their children to be proficient in both languages.

“Last year was the first year we had classes to year 13. We make sure that all our students have clear pathways when they leave and all nine of them who finished last year planned to go on to university. That is pretty amazing when you look at their back stories.

“For our parents I think the biggest change is finding hope. Often when a whānau arrives for their enrolment session, they are already wary of schools. Te Pā inspires them to seek more for their tamariki and their whānau. As they see their tamariki start to blossom we see a shift in their participation and an excitement about where their kids are going.

“While we are very much in our early days in terms of gathering evidence around social impact, anecdotally we know that it is not only our students but also their parents, grandparents and siblings that have started on a learning journey themselves. They are learning about their identity, their whakapapa, their place, who their whānau are. We are now starting to work with researchers to find out how Te Pā is changing the lives of whānau.

Becoming a learning village

“Last year we finally, after a long battle, were approved to build a new pā wānanga and in January we had a staff retreat to start planning what it will look like. We are looking for a site that suits a pā rather than a school because we need to build a village with all the services on site – education, health, cultural, social and community services – all on one site. A full learning village.

“At the moment our role sits at 255 and we plan to double that, but not to become too large. Our growth strategy is to support other communities to build more pa wānanga. With the changes in regulations and the curriculum any school can now do what we are doing.”