Team Solutions

Mangere College - Using Polyfest as a learning context

Mangere College teachers tied their students' studies to the popular Polyfest cultural festival.

Since 2014 Mangere College has been involved in an active professional learning and development programme with Team Solutions facilitators, finding ways to integrate its students' academic learning with their participation in the popular Polyfest annual cultural festival.

The results for students has been an inspiring lesson in what's possible when teachers are able to build on the cultural and linguistic abilities of their students to strengthen academic achievement. 

A series of three videos outlining student reactions to the Polyfest programme was created at the Ministry of Education's request and can be viewed at the links below:

Polyfest as a learning content - Dance.

Polyfest as a learning content - Creating the Polyfest backdrop (Arts).

Polyfest as a learning content - Creating a visual text (English).


Turning Polyfest into a learning context

Polyfest stage
Mangere College year 10, 11 and 12 art students worked together to create the 32-metre wide backdrop to the Polyfest stage.

Every teacher understands the pressure of time to deliver the curriculum. Adding to that pressure is the fact that academic study time must compete for students' attention with a wide array of sports, cultural activities and recreational pursuits.

Teachers in Mangere College are very familiar with this tension, having watched for years as three quarters of the school's roughly 700 students poured valuable time and energy into preparing their performances and speeches for the annual Polyfest festival.

A major cultural festival for schools across the Auckland region, Polyfest runs across four days during term-one as a showcase of traditional Māori and Pacific Island music, dance, costume and speeches.

Many teachers were concerned at the amount of time Polyfest preparations and performances took from students’ academic studies, worrying that the festival dominated and interrupted the first term. 

A Mangere College student painting the background for the Samoan stage.

However, Mangere College’s student body, which is made up of 78 per cent Pasifika and 19 per cent Māori students, were clearly passionate about Polyfest.  

"When you see something that a school's student body is clearly so engaged with, what you're seeing is energy, interest and enthusiasm. Those are the prime resources for effective learning outcomes so it's really a question of how you can tap into that engagement and use it to improve academic outcomes," Team Solutions lead facilitator Siliva Gaugatao said. 

As part of the Secondary Student Achievement programme, in 2014 and 2015 a team of nine Team Solutions specialist subject facilitators worked with middle leaders in Mangere College to redesign their core programmes and use Polyfest as an opportunity for deep learning across the curriculum, ensuring that at least one achievement standard in each subject was linked to Polyfest across the senior school.

For example, in geography year 13 students working on standard 3.3 (analyse a significant contemporary event from a geographic perspective) outlined the nature of Polyfest and researched the planning and decision-making that contributed to the event as well as evaluating the social, environmental and economic impacts of this large-scale event.

“When designing a professional learning and development (PLD) programme for a school, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Every school is different, so each PLD is co-constructed with the school to be tailored to their specific needs and circumstances,” Siliva said. 

“In this circumstance, many students at Mangere College had historically struggled academically and some teachers were worried that the time and energy students poured into Polyfest was contributing to that. The key to success came not from trying to redirect attention away from Polyfest, but instead from finding ways to harness that energy and give credit to students' learning in this context."


Individual subjects

How Polyfest was applied as a learning context varied by subject, with teachers linking a particular aspect of their subject to an activity at Polyfest. A series of three videos outlining student reactions to the Polyfest programme was created at the Ministry of Education's request and can be viewed at the links below:

Polyfest as a learning content - Dance.

Polyfest as a learning content - Creating the Polyfest backdrop (Arts).

Polyfest as a learning content - Creating a visual text (English).


Art: Creating the Polyfest stage backdrop 

In visual art, students in years 10, 11 and 12 worked collaboratively on a 32-metre-long backdrop for the Samoan stage. In addition, students at different year and ability levels also worked cooperatively on designing, researching, painting and workshopping solutions to various problems encountered during the project.

For more information on how this subject was integrated into Polyfest, click here.


Science: Carrying out a practical investigation in a biological context

In science students focused their learning on investigations in term one and term two, applying their transferable investigation skills to chemistry, physics and biology contexts. The biology investigation was focused on pulse rates during exercise, with students encouraged to choose their exercise so that it connected to physical activity they were already involved in. In this way they were able to use Polyfest performance or sports training or in class trials, whichever they were most interested in. Over 90 per cent of students gained these 12 investigation credits in 2015.

For more information, click here.


Learning languages (Cook Islands Maori, Samoan, Tongan & Te Reo Maori): 

In languages (Cook Island Māori, Samoan, Tongan and Te Reo Māori), students used the Polyfest's theme of ‘Enlightenment through Education’ (‘Ka mārama i te aho o Mātauranga’ )  as well as the main topic of rheumatic fever for their presentations across NCEA levels one to three. In addition, one piece of writing or interaction was completed as part of the students’ portfolio. 

For more information on how Polyfest was integrated into this subject, click here.


English: Create a visual text 

Students focused on discussing and developing an idea about their own cultural identity in relation to the texts they were studying and using photos taken at Polyfest as resources for their visual text.

For more information, click here.


An outstanding result

A graph displaying Mangere College's year 11 Data - May 2014 vs May 2015

Mangere College has traditionally struggled with low academic achievement rates. In 2013, the level one (year 11) pass rate was 30 per cent, while in level two it was 52 per cent and at level three the pass rate was 20 per cent.

However, within two years of engaging with the Polyfest-based PLD programme, positive trends in achievement rates were easily visible in the students’ academic results. The mean number of credits gained by the middle 50 per cent of students at NCEA level 1 almost doubled between May 2014 and May 2015. In 2014, the overall achievement rate at NCEA level 1 increased by 80 per cent (to 54 per cent), while level two improved by nine per cent (to 56 per cent) and level three increased by 114 per cent (to 42 per cent).

In 2015, Mangere College achieved its best NCEA achievement rates to date with pass rates for years 11, 12 and 13 being 64 per cent, 66 per cent and 54 per cent respectively. The school has continued to explore other ways of creating a coherent and engaging curriculum that builds and strengthens their students’ prior learning and experiences, identities, languages and cultures.

For more information on Mangere College's results, click here.


Setting the stage for future growth

A core element of Team Solutions’ work with Mangere College has been focused on cultivating a set of core beliefs among Mangere College staff centred on collective responsibility, with facilitators focusing on working with middle leaders as a group rather than one-on-one. Mangere middle leaders met for regular group professional learning development around the most recent updates on student achievement data, critically examining the results, identifying students at risk of not achieving and collaborating on an action plan to meet their students' learning needs.

This had a big impact on how Mangere staff felt about the situation, with one middle-leader saying, "I really feel now that we own the PD initiative. It’s not coming from outside or even from up top. So my whole relationship with the priority students has shifted."

Lead facilitator Siliva Gaugatao says Team Solutions' goal has always been to be a critical partner with schools, challenging existing beliefs, assumptions and structures then support school leaders in implementing sustainable, self-reinforcing positive processes to develop positive educational outcomes for their learners. This enables staff to continue the reflective process of improvement they've been engaging with after the Team Solutions facilitators have left.


Get started at your own school

If you’d like more information on Team Solutions’ activities around the Secondary Student Achievement programme or would like to know how Team Solutions could work with your school to help boost academic outcomes, email us at