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Settler Kaponga 1881–1914 — A Frontier Fragment of the Western World

The Role of Schools

The Role of Schools

Each year the Education Department's annual report provided a detailed list of the staffing of all the public schools in the previous December. We will use Table 9.1, showing the staff of the schools serving the Kaponga area as reported in December 1897, as our starting point. They belong to two education board districts, as the Wanganui board's boundaries took in the Hawera County. We will then see how senior pupils made their way into the teaching profession, follow this with a discussion of what making a living in teaching was like for head and sole teachers, and then look at some important new educational developments of the early years of the new century.

When we relate the attendance figures of Table 9.1 to its expenditure columns we find that under the capitation system (explained in Chapter 6) all of these schools were running at a loss. With an average attendance of 71, Kaponga school would have earned £266 5s for the year, but the expenditure columns add up to £300 11s. In the 1897 year Kaponga school had earned rather less than 90 per cent of its costs, Kapuni a little less than 80 per cent, and Rowan Road only around 59 per cent. Not only were all these schools steadily losing money but the district was continually asking the boards for more school space to cope with its growing population.

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TABLE 9.1: Schools of the Kaponga District, end of 1897
Schools Teachers Position Salary Attend * Capitation Maintenance Expenditure Buildings, &c Salaries Other
Wanganui Board £ £ £ £ £
Kaponga Charles MacLean HM 193 71 266.25 262.6 16.8 21.2
Johanna King FP 40
Frank Raikes MP 39
Kapuni Frances J. Davis HF 143.75 66 247.5 203.9 14.3 92.2
Una W. Powle FP
Taranaki Board
Palmer Rd W.M. Saunders M 111.5 27 101.25 119.25 12.8 ….
(i.e Mahoe) Mrs Denham S 10
Rowan Rd R.E. Dowling M 108.5 21 78.75 121.9 11.3 ….
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The boards' problem of getting adequate staffing for as little money as possible was solved largely by their manipulation of the pupil-teacher system. This was the practice, inherited from England, of recruiting most of the teaching staff from the upper primary school via pupil-teacher apprenticeships, to be trained on the job by the head teacher, and prepared for teacher's certificate exams run by the department. Since they were paid only apprentice wages, pupil-teachers represented cheap labour, so the boards loaded their systems with far more pupil-teachers than could possibly find positions as trained teachers. They could do this because the takers were mainly girls, for whom few other ‘professional’ callings were available, and most of whom were looking for a short-term career before marriage. The result was a steady ‘feminisation’ of the teaching profession. There were only 64 women teachers to every 100 men in 1878, but numbers were equal by the mid-1890s and had moved up to 173 per 100 men by 1914. The small number of boys taking pupil-teacherships were less exploited. Their apprentice pay was somewhat more generous, and if they qualified the profession's top positions were reserved for them by popular prejudice.

To keep its schools well manned probably no board in the country manipulated the social and economic realities more ruthlessly than Wanganui. Table 9.1 fails to indicate one of its shrewdest strategies, the use of unpaid cadets who taught half-time in the hope of eventual appointments as pupil-teachers. The practice was begun in the later 1880s and by 1897 the board reported that it had 40 such positions. Cadets were being appointed at 14, with some younger pupils working as monitresses to establish a claim to a cadetship. Cadets remained on the roll and so earned capitation payments for the board. Using the 1897 staff lists as a starting point, and adding information gleaned elsewhere on cadetships, let us see how some of the local youth made their way into teaching.43 Johanna King, daughter of Rowan Road settler Andrew King, was well established as Charles MacLean's right-hand support in wrestling with his school of around 100 pupils.44 There are indications that she had been a cadet before appointment as a pupil-teacher back in 1894. Another pupil teacher, Fred Gabites, from a Palmer Road farming family, joined the staff at the beginning of 1897. In May the board informed him there was no Hawera vacancy for him, but in August they sent him there.45 Gabites was replaced by Frederick Raikes, cadet at Okaiawa, now beginning his pupil-teachership. He was probably the son of one of the two Okaiawa farmers with that surname. He was still listed at the school in December 1898 and at Kapuni in December 1899, and seems to have gone on to a successful teaching career.

At its meeting of 14 June 1897 the board made two cadetship appointments that were to affect Kaponga School. Thomas Farr was appointed to Kaponga, but apparently did not cope as he failed in the examination a few months later and disappears from the record. Mabel Hilles, probably the daughter of Manaia settler W.M. Hilles, was appointed cadet at Manaia. By 1898 she had begun a pupil-teachership there and in September 1900 she was page 264 transferred to Kaponga. The Star (7/2/02) reported that at their end-of-year concert in 1901 the scholars and parents presented her with a handsome gold brooch. She must have been leaving for the assistant's position at Riverlea, where she is recorded for the next two Decembers. She was better treated than Johanna King had been a year or two earlier. The December 1898 returns show Johanna to have gained her teacher's certificate, but she was still on a pupil teacher's salary of £52 10s in December 1899. She had written to the board and been informed ‘that there is no vacancy for a junior assistant’. This employment of fully qualified staff as ‘ex-pupil-teachers’ was another way that the board exploited young women to the benefit of its school system. Fortunately for Johanna she had by 1900 won an assistant's position at Eltham. From 1902–05 the returns show her at Mangatoki on a salary of £100. She was back as an assistant at Kaponga in the Decembers of 1911 and 1912, having returned from a position at Makowhai, near Sanson. In June 1913 she moved to the wider world of Palmerston North to a position at College Street, a school with seven teachers and six pupil-teachers.46

We round out our examples with Jeremiah Crowley, a young man who finally opted for farming after a successful beginning as a pupil-teacher. Jeremiah, a son of the widowed Hannah, attended the Kapuni School, probably from his stepfather's Neill Road farm, passing Standard 6 in 1897. He became a cadet at Kapuni—the board minutes of 13 March 1899 show them writing to inform him that ‘he will be promoted in his turn’. In November 1899 he was appointed a pupil-teacher at Kapuni School. The Star of 2 July 1900 reported him at Riverlea, gaining a good pass in his pupil-teacher's exam. It must have been shortly thereafter that he began his successful farming career.

Much of this exploitation of young entrants to teaching ceased in 1902 when the government implemented a national salary and staffing schedule and took over direct responsibility for its funding. However, ‘on-the-job’ pupil-teacher training continued to be the main way of entering teaching. Over the 15 years 1900–14 some 10 young people appear as pupil-teachers in the December staff listings of the Kaponga district schools. Thus these schools made a significant contribution to first providing credentials to, and then training, new entrants to the profession. In looking at pupil-teachership we have seen some significant ways in which credentialled ‘professional’ jobs differed from farming. They were managed by bureaucratic structures not by informal family discussions. Staff moved to meet the system's needs; trainees under direction to meet short-term needs, trained staff by applying for ‘vacancies’ to meet more permanent needs. What a farmer was up to at any time could usually be readily understood by his neighbours in terms of local circumstances. But to understand what a teaching ‘professional’ was up to you had to grasp his profession's code and the wider world of its bureaucratic control. The ‘credentialling’ role these schools were playing for entry to the ever-widening range of occupations in both public and private sectors is too complex to survey. However, our pupil-teacher examples have page 265 given a good feel of how it all differed from the simpler settler world.

Not only the children looked forward anxiously to the annual examination day, for the teachers' reputations and careers were also at stake. Everyone did their best to put the inspector in a good mood. Looking back in 1958 to his 1906–14 schooling at Awatuna, an old boy recalled:

Inspector's Day was the event of the year. The inspector arrived by horse and buggy and two boys were detailed to unharness the horse and paddock it. We all turned out in our Sunday best, looking as intelligent as possible.47

When Inspector James Milne arrived one October morning for the 1897 examination of Kaponga School he found that 90 of the roll of 101 were present. Headmaster MacLean would have been pleased that all but one of the absentees were from the junior pupil-teacher's primer class of 31, which was not examined. He must have held high hopes for the day. The school was now past its difficult early years. He himself had prepared the 46 senior scholars for the day's trials. The competent Johanna King had taught the 24 being presented in Standards 1 and 2. He was to be bitterly disappointed. In the senior classes 21, including the cadet, were failed. However, in Standards 1 and 2 all but one passed. In his report the inspector provided this brief assessment of the year's work:

Altogether the school has passed a very poor examination. Much of the work was very ‘sloppy and careless’ giving evidence of poor training and a want of thoroughness in the teaching. Reading has been well taught.48

Within the atmosphere of the time these results would have been perused avidly by all interested in the school and its teachers. MacLean would know that the 69 per cent pass rate compared badly with the board district's average (82.3 per cent for 1897) and also with his own school's 72 per cent of two years earlier. He would also have read Milne's comments as fixing the blame squarely on his own shoulders, seeing the remark that ‘reading has been well taught’ as implying a comparison between the results of Johanna's work and his. He must have felt that the whole judgment was unjust. It was not poor teaching on his part but the rampant intrusion of the rising dairy industry into his pupils' lives that was spoiling their schoolwork. Johanna's superior results came from pupils as yet too young for the slavery of the milking shed. MacLean put his concern to the board. Its minutes of 18 January 189849 record its response:

Kaponga. Teacher's explanation re examination results and explaining how the children are overworked at dairy work. Resolved that the letter be received and regret be expressed that such a state of things should exist.

Unfortunately MacLean misread the resolution's intention and the board had to write to him again explaining that it ‘was not in any way a reflection upon him, but that ‘the “state of things” referred to was the excessive strain put upon the children by the milking duties’.50

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At its May 1898 meeting the board had before it ‘Mr C. MacLean's application for removal’. MacLean must have felt deserving of consideration for his hard work in establishing the school and then wrestling with the competition of dairying. He was told he would be considered when there was a suitable opening, and received a similar reply when he applied again in November 1899. Meanwhile he had received another blow when the opening of Riverlea School at the beginning of 1897 reduced Kaponga's roll and accordingly his salary (it dropped from £193 in 1897 to £163 13s in 1899). He must have known that the board would have difficulty placing him elsewhere since ‘credential-minded’ committees would insist on applicants/with better records in examination percentages. In the end he escaped from Kaponga in June 1904 by accepting a position under the Auckland Education Board.

MacLean's replacement was a younger man from the Manawatu-Rangitikei district, Peter Matheson, probably in his late twenties. Matheson came from the headmastership of Mangaonoho, on the main-trunk line north of Hunterville, where he had taught around 50 pupils with the assistance of a pupil-teacher. Mangaonoho had enjoyed a few boom years of railway construction and sawmilling but by 1904 it must have been clear that the school would decline as the district settled down to sheep farming. The move to Kaponga must have seemed a worthwhile promotion. The school had an attendance half as large again as Mangaonoho's, a rising roll, and the assistant was a fully trained teacher, not a pupil-teacher. It was in a maturing township in a rising and prosperous district. Matheson probably envisaged (rightly) that for the next few years his status and salary would grow with the school.

Within a year or two Kaponga was a three-teacher, three-roomed school. Matheson's salary had jumped from around £170 to £190 on his move from Mangaonoho and rose steadily to £240 in 1911 through the growth of Kaponga's roll. Matheson later reported that when he was appointed to Kaponga the chief inspector had told him he was going to a difficult school.51 He probably felt that this was a challenge to show his real capabilities as a teacher. What he would not have been told, or realised, was that he was walking into a trap from which the previous teacher had just gladly escaped. He was going to a school where the best of teaching could not get results to match those of schools not handicapped by the effects of dairying. And without those results he would be unable to win the longer-term promotion he must have hoped for, to a larger school in one of the more important centres.

At the end of his first week at Kaponga Matheson recorded his impression in the log book: ‘I find the children very slow and unresponsive. They do not move about in a bright and smart manner.’ But within a short time he had completely changed the school's tone, largely by sharing his enthusiasm for sport with the children on the playground. The school's 1951 diamond jubilee booklet (p. [19]) recorded that page 267 Mr. Matheson and Miss Henn … found time not only to teach the three R's but to encourage the outdoor sports of the school. This could be called the ‘Golden Era’ of sports in the district—school cricket, football, soccer and hockey—Mr. Matheson encouraged them all—we remember how he constantly came to play with us at playtime and after lunch—his cork-handled cricket bat—the ball just glided away from it—and his cork-handled hockey stick—what a contrast to our bush and willow hockey sticks—and the results.

The writer proceeded to recount Kaponga's golden age of sport, which we will survey in our next chapter. While there was a little local criticism of Matheson's ‘obsession’ with sport, most parents seem to have agreed with his contention that it had a positive effect on the children's class work.52 In July 1913 the Wanganui Education Board's chairman, secretary and chief inspector made a motor tour of their south Taranaki schools. After inspecting Kaponga's grounds and buildings the chairman addressed the children and granted them a half holiday. He was a little nonplused to find that a number would have preferred to stay at school.53 But these pupils' high regard for what went on at school was not reflected in the inspectors' report on their annual visit of 7 October 1913. When he received this Matheson wrote in the log book on 26 October:

I received the report from the inspectors. That which could be reported on adversely was reported on! but all work of good quality was not mentioned. This is most disheartening and unsatisfactory to a teacher while it can not fail to give all who read it the impression that the school is in an extremely unsatisfactory state. I maintain that all things taken into consideration the school is in as good a state of efficiency as reasonable men could desire. I know that I have put in a strenuous year and have done the work of two teachers. I should like to get a little credit for some of the work I have done and the energy I have expended.

Matheson resigned forthwith, finishing duties on 7 November. He left the profession, initially to work for an Opunake carrying firm. It was a sad end to years of dedicated teaching service.

The relieving headmaster who filled in between Matheson's departure and the arrival of his successor was Frederick Davie, who had entered teaching as the new Makaka School's first teacher in May 1909. Until the government took over direct responsibility for salaries in 1902 the Wanganui board had been very wary about opening small schools such as this. Even though they were no longer a major threat to a board's financial position, keeping them staffed must have been a recurrent problem. It would seem that the board had had no applicants for the new Makaka School when educated English immigrant Fred Davie enquired about a position. He spent a Saturday being interviewed by three inspectors and sitting an examination, and shortly thereafter received a telegram from the secretary: ‘Please arrange page 268 open Makaka School, Taranaki, Monday next, May 10th. Meantime attend Silverhope to observe methods.’ Davie had arrived in New Zealand in 1907 with a background of work as a draughtsman and shift engineer in electricity works in Southampton, and had spent a varied first year or two in the Rangitikei district—bushfelling, packing stores, milking, bush carpentering &c. After two days learning a little from Miss Grant at Silverhope School he made his way to Makaka by the weekend. Fifty years later he provided this account of how he opened the school:

Visiting the school I found it about as ready for the opening as I was; for, believe it or not, my two days at Silverhope were the only time I had been in any school since leaving my own! It was certainly a school building, but there were no books, blackboards, chalks, registers, timetable, schemes of work or any back records that would guide me. BUT there were some lovely brand new desks and the windows had been cleaned! … The great day arrived. May 10th, 1909, broke fine and a line of expectant prospective pupils faced a rather wondering teacher. On some paper I had brought I made the job of enrolling them last out rather well, and spent the morning till play-time in a drawing-out cross-check kind of conversation; explaining the school's predicament—NOT MINE!—and led them by common consent to agree that the most sensible thing to do seeing that they had their own school books with them, but which would not be used in a Wanganui Board's school, was to carry on using the timetable they had been used to just as if they were still at Awatuna School [which was a Taranaki Board one]. I asked for their very best work and supervised it most carefully, honouring senior pupils with many leading questions, which were eagerly answered and competitively discussed. This went on for several days, and little did they think they were teaching ME school methods; so that when the books and gear arrived later we were able to go almost full speed ahead.

I well remember one of the fill-in stunts of that period, when I took the pupils en masse along the road asking from the juniors to find something interesting to talk or write about, while the seniors were measuring a 3000ft. base line along the Auroa Road with a borrowed surveyor's tape. From the ends of the base each senior pupil took angle readings with a rather crude anglemeter quadrant to the top of Mt. Egmont, and back at school we did a little simple triangulation to arrive at the approximate height of Makaka above sea-level by subtracting from the known height of the mountain. Out of the letters written by the class to the Lands & Survey Department they selected the best, and just how much of a fluke was it to find we were only 13ft. out?

By the next week Wanganui must have been having second thoughts, for who should come along much to my relief but Mr. Braik the then Chief Inspector. He seemed rather pleased, I am glad to say, and, of course, gave me lots of much needed advice and information, and on leaving asked me to send in a copy of our triangulations.54

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Inspector Braik's pleasure at how his gamble on Davie was paying out was reported back to Makaka and duly passed on by the Awatuna East ‘Our Own’ (Star, 16/8/09). Davie spent only 11 months at Makaka, qualified for his teacher's certificate in his first year, married and made a honeymoon trip to England. His spell as Kaponga's relieving headmaster followed his return. After six years' teaching he shifted to the Auckland district and began '40 years of commercial life’.55

In Davie we have a promising recruit to teaching who eventually took his talents elsewhere. In manning the district's one-room schools the boards channelled several interesting individuals to the district. Two who contrasted strongly with Davie were experienced, trained teachers with some personality handicaps who were forced to this settlement frontier by their failure to ‘make it’ elsewhere. One of them was sent in 1892 by the Taranaki board to open the new Rowan School with an average attendance of 16 pupils. Unlike the Wanganui board (which firmly disciplined its system to get strong, centrally located schools) the Taranaki board had impoverished itself by allowing small, weak schools to multiply in its rural districts. At Rowan it could offer an annual salary of only £88 (less than most labourers were earning) yet it was able to appoint George Everiss, a 50-year-old, experienced, highly qualified teacher to the position. Only 14 years earlier Everiss had opened the new Mount Cook Boys' School in Wellington, on a salary of £360 (the board's second-best-paid teacher). How had he risen so high and sunk so low?

Everiss had arrived in Canterbury in December 1871, having been schoolmaster to the assisted immigrants on the Zealandia. He came with the prestige of having been trained at the British and Foreign School Society's Borough Road Training Institution in London, and with the advantage of being ‘tall, dark and of military figure’.56 After teaching in both Canterbury and Victoria he came to Wellington with excellent testimonials and was eagerly welcomed by Inspector Robert Lee, the architect of the Wellington Education Board's system. But Everiss had a professional defect in a sectarian outlook related to his Plymouth Brethren beliefs. This had forced his resignation from Mount Cook School in 1879. Reduced to taking a position with the Taranaki board, in 1882 he opened the new school at Ngaere, a bush district with a strong Brethren element. Here his sectarian outlook soon led to friction, forcing the board to move him in mid-1886.

A not dissimilar career, but with a different professional defect, was that of Samuel Turkington, who served the Taranaki board as headmaster of Mahoe School 1905–10. He had emigrated from Ireland to New Zealand in 1882. A good education in Ireland, years of teaching for the Wellington Education Board and two years at Dunedin Training College could not counter the defect of a contentious spirit. At Mahoe this led to his taking an unsuccessful slander prosecution against a neighbour in 1909. While he was away over the following summer vacation his beehives were destroyed in an explosion that was heard four miles away at Rowan.57

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To get an overview of the staffing of these schools we will summarise the picture given by the annual December listings for the 15 years 1900–14, leaving out the pupil-teacherships (which we have seen were filled mainly by girls from families in the region). We find that men, drawn from far and wide, filled the main headmasterships. Thus Kaponga had a headmaster throughout and Kapuni in all but one year. Riverlea provides an exception with a headmistress for six of the 15 years. But Mahoe, which began as a well-attended sole-charge school and became a two-teacher one from 1906, was headed by men throughout. Rowan, however, where the attendance figure never rose above 29, had a male teacher for only two of the 15 years. After Fred Davie's year there, Makaka was staffed by women for the remaining five years to 1914—its highest attendance figure was 15. All assistant positions in these schools were held by women. Overall, women filled 69 places in these lists and men 57. The 57 men were paid far more than the 69 women, but without these salaries they could not have been drawn to the district. On the other hand, at the salaries offered, the sole-charge schools and assistant positions could not have been kept filled without the steady inflow of women, drawn mainly from south Taranaki families.

HM: Headmaster HF: Headmistress M: Male Sole teacher F: Female Sole teacher
MP: Male pupil-teacher FP: Female pupil-teacher S: Sewing teacher

* Average attendances, third quarter.
N.B. Many of Kapuni's pupils were from outside the Kaponga District.