Poor quality education is being blamed for south Auckland high schools' low pakeha enrolments, but some community leaders say the issue is complicated and numbers are misleading.
Some schools have no pakeha students, though white New Zealanders make up a fifth of the population in the region and a little under 5 percent of school-aged children in Mangere Otahuhu.
Brittany Jamieson, who grew up in the south Auckland suburb of Conifer Grove, went out of zone to Mt Albert Grammar School (MAGS) because she said it offered more opportunities.
"MAGS is a public school and so is my local school, so it's not like I was trying to get into that whole private school scene, but it's just that I couldn't even imagine my local school having sports like underwater hockey, or things like that.
"They don't have their own pool to use and MAGS has its own pool facility and two gyms and more science labs."
But community leaders say fear not facts is driving some students away - and not just those from pakeha families.
Otara-Papatoetoe Community Board chairman Efeso Collins said the move was based on the idea that students would get a better education out of south Auckland.
"So that's a mixture of white flight, but its also a mixture of the upwardly mobile Pacific and Māori families, who have the level of resource, to be able to send their kids into the city, or out of zone."
He said some schools needed to lift their performance, but the issue was much more complicated.
"No one wants to address the issue of going to school hungry, of kids not having the ability to get their uniforms right on time, and that makes kids feel inadequate when they're going to school and they're wearing, during the winter time, they're still wearing their summer uniform because their parents can't afford the winter uniform."
Schools' success 'not recognised'
Auckland University Pacific Studies associate professor Damon Salesa is a board member of Sir Edmund Hillary Collegiate and Tamaki College.
He said the problem started in the early 1990s and nothing had changed, with many south Auckland high schools not recognised for their successes.
"The big thing is to protect the reputations of these schools because they're so fragile. People are looking for any reason, any justification for not sending their children to these schools.
"Whereas a school like Auckland Grammar is immune to what its students do."
Otahuhu College principal Neil Watson said white flight was not an issue, and the statistics were misleading.
His own school, which has a roll of more than 1000 students, has around 80 pakeha students.
"The makeup of the Mangere Otahuhu population is around 19.5 percent European, but if you actually break it down by the age levels you'll find it's not 19.5 percent school age children, and it's ridiculous to say it is."
Statistics New Zealand said of the roughly 19,000 children in Mangere Otahuhu aged from five to 19, about 4.6 percent were pakeha.
Mr Watson said his school had many sporting and academic achievements and worked hard to be part of the community.
Pakeha student at low decile schools decline
The low pakeha enrolment in some south Auckland schools is against the background of a fall in the number of pakeha students overall, and a steep drop at low decile schools.
Education Minister figures show the number of pakeha students attending low-decile schools has about halved since 2000.
Last year there were 30,792 in decile 1-3 schools, down from 60,431 in 2000. That means they have gone from providing 32 percent of the students in low-decile schools to just 18 percent.
The drop happened at the same time as a fall in the number of pakeha students overall, from about 470,000, or 65 percent of the school population, to about 412,000 or 52 percent. However, during that time the number of pakeha students in deciles 8-10 schools increased.
Mayoral candidates call for more quality education
At last week's Auckland mayoral debate on Morning Report, the city's four main candidates blamed 'white flight' on a divided society and poor schooling.
Mark Thomas said the council's role was to provide more affordable housing and better facilities.
John Palino said it reflected Auckland's changing society.
"I mean as far as schools, why pakeha go to different schools is because parents want their children to go to better schools."
Phil Goff also blamed poor education at many of the south Auckland schools.
"My kids went to one of those south Auckland schools, it's a decile one school, Papakura. I don't think that it does its duty by the students that go there. I think we are not getting the quality that we need in some of those schools."
Vic Crone said Māori and Pacific communities were experiencing increasing alienation.
"I think that the Mayor of Auckland has a role to play in championing a city that is more inclusive and more compassionate."