In the terminology of reproduction theory, educational (and hence social) success are awarded to those with 'cultural capital' - which Bourdieu (1973) understands as the means of appropriating that symbolic wealth socially designated as worthy of being sought and possessed - and the component of 'cultural capital' that has achieved a paramount importance in modern industrial societies is educational qualifications. There exist a great many analyses of 'class' based social systems which show that schools are not neutral 'arbiters' of natural 'talent', but 'classed' institutions that work to preserve social and economic hierarchies. Sociologists abandoned classical family deficit theory a couple of decades ago and the position we have outlined has become almost an orthodoxy. But, as Harker (1990:202-3) argues: “There is no qualitative advance in switching from a theory which blames everything on home background and culture, to a theory which blames everything on the school.” The point is that we are dealing with an interaction effect between particular family cultures and a particular structure of schooling. We believe that the best way to investigate the interaction is, in the first instance, at the level of the families. In this paper we wish to address the issue of education and ethnic culture with reference to the development of Kura Kaupapa Maori schools. Our discussion is structured by an important conceptual distinction (the scholastic necessary and the cultural arbitrary) and presented within the context of an analysis of empirical data from a large scale survey conducted by the authors.