The 'Education matters to me' report released today shows Māori students experience racism and negative stereotyping at school and that they want more than a tokenistic approach when it comes to their culture.
One child said his school was like a zoo and he was surrounded by snakes, while others said they felt teachers treated them differently and they were being set up to fail because they were Māori.
Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft says these were the experiences of children at the coalface.
"We just asked open ended questions; and one of the experiences in their words is racism and another one was bullying and those things were recurring themes that I guess troubled us and they ought to rightly challenge us."
Becroft says some of the experiences were "confronting" especially those from Māori in mainstream schools.
"One said, 'I'm sure for the best of motives, the principal always came in and gave the stats about Māori under-achieving and it made them feel really bad.' The student said that "really p****d him off". There was also a sense that [students] were destined to fail before they had even started.
“Another said ‘it's obvious she is treated differently as the brown girl compared with the white girls in maths, that whatever the teacher says there is a feeling, un-communicated, in the sense that she’s not going to do as well because she is Māori."
The report showed Māori students had high aspirations to succeed and responded well to "good" teachers they felt they could connect with but most felt unsupported, misunderstood and, in one case, ignored.
"One key message for us was 'understand my culture, understand who I am, understand my family, understand my background'. Now they're big pleas but they're not impossible jobs for teachers.
Becroft hopes these children's voices have an impact on the Ministerial education review happening this year.
Minister for Māori Education Kelvin Davis says some of the comments in the report were "heartbreaking" but the government's upcoming education summits were an opportunity for Māori to have a voice in education reform discussions.
He says work being undertaken by government to lift Māori achievement includes a refresh of Ka Hikitia (the Māori Education Strategy); strengthening the Māori-medium education pathway; providing long term solutions for the supply of te reo teachers; and improving the transition of students from school to further education and training or work.
Nearly a quarter of more than 1,600 primary and secondary school students surveyed by the Office of the Children's Commissioner and the School Trustees Association were Māori.