The Jubilee History of Nelson: From 1842 to 1892.
The Nelson Education System
The Nelson Education System.
Upon the establishment of the Provinces in 1854, one of the first subjects that engaged the earnest attention of the first elected Superintendent of Nelson (Mr., now Sir E. W. Stafford, G.C.M.G.) and the Provincial Council, was that of primary education. At its second session in January, 1855, the Provincial Council passed an Ordinance authorizing the Superintendent to appoint a Commission to enquire into and consider what system of primary education would be the best for the Province to adopt.
The Commission was duly appointed, and consisted of Dr. Greenwood, Dr. Monro, Mr. Chas. Elliott, Mr. Wells, and Mr. F. A. Weld (the late Sir F. A. Weld, G.C.M.G.) At the first meeting, Dr. Greenwood was appointed Chairman, and the first business considered was, On what basis should the Educational Scheme be built? There were protracted discussions, but eventually it was agreed: "That as every settler was to be called upon to pay for its support, whatever his religious opinions might be, the basis on which the scheme ought to rest, must in equity be a secular one." This resolution was carried, Mr. Weld dissenting on the ground that the denomination to which he belonged considered it dangerous to impart secular education to page 161children, unless accompanied by religious instruction; and much to the regret of all the others Mr. Weld retired, and declined to act further on the Commission.
Before doing so, however, he stated his view to be: "That Government should give assistance to all well-conducted schools that give a certain amount of secular instruction to the satisfaction of a Government Inspector, the Government not to interfere in any way in the religious instruction given in the schools."
The religious aspect of the question was also fully considered and discussed, and the remaining Commissioners finally agreed that it would be expedient, and would secure a better attendance at school, if a permissive clause was introduced in the report allowing a Bible lesson to be read in school at a special hour, with the proviso, that any parent objecting might withdraw his child during the reading of the lesson.
A Bill, based upon the report of the Commission, was introduced into the third session of the Council, and the Nelson Education System was by its means established in 1856. It was not, however, until 1858 that the peculiar feature in the Nelson system was introduced which enabled it to work smoothly and satisfactorily.
Up to this time the introduction of religious instruction into the schools was at the discretion of the local Committees, subject to this provision:—"Any religious instruction given in such schools shall be free from all controversial character, and shall be imparted at such hours that any parents objecting thereto may be able to withdraw their children from school at the time when it is given."
In 1858 a very important amendment was introduced by Dr. Monro in these words:—"Whenever any school shall have been established in any educational district, and any number of ratepayers resident in such district contributing not less than £50 per annum to the rates levied under the authority of this Act in such district shall have appointed a Committee of five persons for the management of such school, and provided a sufficient school-room to the satisfaction of the Central Board, and shall signify in writing to the Central Board their desire to be constituted into a separate body for educational purposes; it shall be the duty of the Central Board from time to time to pay over to the Committee for the time being the amount to be thereafter contributed by such ratepayers in such district, after deducting the expenses incurred in collecting the same; and it shall be lawful for the Central Board to grant such additional aid in books, school apparatus, and money as to the Central Board shall seem expedient: Provided always that every such school shall be open to all children between the ages of 5 and 14 years without fee or payment, and to inspection In the same manner as other schools established under this Act; and any religious in-page 162struction given in such school shall be imparted at such hours that parents objecting thereto may be able to withdraw their children from the school at the time when it is given; and no such rates or grants shall be paid over to the Committee as aforesaid unless secular instruction shall be imparted in such school to the satisfaction of the Central Board."
The spirit of this amendment was adopted freely by the Central Board, and the Catholics, who alone took advantage of it, received head-money periodically from the Board for each boy and girl educated at the separated schools, based on the ascertained cost of educating the other boys in the schools of the town: and this fair and ready way of applying the new principle remained in satisfactory operation till the establishment of the New Zealand System of Education in 1877. The separatist schools were left to themselves by the Education Board, except that the Board's Inspector ascertained that the secular instruction required, was duly imparted. There was a further amendment, introduced in 1867 by Mr. Oswald Curtis, then Superintendent, which extended the privilege hitherto claimable by a body of ratepayers to the amount of £50 per annum, to any separated ratepayers paying only £25 per annum. The Nelson system, thus amended, worked admirably. All denominations were fairly satisfied Theoretically it was not perfect, but it was administered in such a just and liberal spirit, chat in practice there was nothing left for anyone to complain about. It solved the religious difficulty, by giving to the Catholics a fair share of the taxes they had to pay for educational purposes, according to the secular results they could show in their schools; it gave full scope to those who desired the Sacred Scriptures read in schools; and it provided ample safeguards for those parents who did not wish their children to receive anything but a secular education.
The Nelson system merged into the Colonial system upon the Education Act, 1877, coming into operation, and there were then 3839 scholars on the roll. The Catholic schools in the Province were separated schools, under the inspection of the Board, and were attended by 590 boys and girls, with a staff of twelve teachers.
The first Inspector was Mr. J. D. Greenwood, who held office until 1863, when he was succeeded by the present Inspector, Mr. W. C. Hodgson, who has discharged the difficult, and often delicate duties, of his responsible office with such impartial fairness, discriminating tact, and ability, as have gained for him the hearty approbation of the Central Board; the confidence of the teachers; and the respect and esteem of those to whom a less just man might have rendered the benevolent intentions of the Act almost nugatory.
Under the Nelson system, the Province was divided into page 163Education Districts; each district had its own Local Committee; and each Local Committee returned a member to the Central Board. The Board was composed of heterogenous elements, but their actions were, as a rule, directed by a spirit of fairness and justice. The Anglican Bishop, the Catholic Priest, the Wesleyan Clergyman, and the Freethinker, all found places on the Board; which included, indeed, persons of all shades of religious opinions, and of no such opinions at all; and several men of liberal education, and broad and liberal culture; together with plain farmers and sturdy mechanics who, without much book-learning, were gifted with strong common sense. There was very little friction, for the spirit which animated the Board, as a whole, was a determination to administer the Act as benevolently as possible.
The successive Chairmen of the Nelson Central Board of Education from its establishment, to its demise in 1878 were Mr. Donald Sinclair, Captain David Rough, the Hon. J. W. Barnicoat, M.L.C., the Bishop of Nelson, and Mr. H. A. Tarrant.
The Nelson system was abolished by the Colonial enactmeat, known as "The Education Act, 1877," which came into operation on 1st January, 1878.
There are few things that such of the Nelson settlers as have reached middle age regard with more pride than the Nelson Education scheme. Nor is this feeling altogether without justification. It was no small achievement that a few thousand colonists, thinly scattered over a vast extent of country, should, without any extraneous help or guidance of any kind, have devised a system that, owing to its admirable simplicity and liberality, fully satisfied the needs of the community for which it was intended, during nearly a quarter of a century.
The New Zealand Education Act was professedly based on the Nelson Act, but local partiality still holds that wherever the child differs from its parent, it differs for the worse. Those who have been brought up under the older system still regret the simple and elastic provisions that have been superseded by the complex and rigid regulations that now "encumber by their help" the cause of primary education.
At the close of 1891, the number of schools under the control of the Nelson Education Board was 94; the number of scholars on the roll 5839; the number of teachers, including pupil teachers, 164, of whom 55 were males, and 109 females. The number of town schools was 6, with 1237 scholars; and there were 88 country schools, with 4602 scholars.