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Educating New Zealand


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Historical influences combined with geographical to give New Zealand in the early days a system of educational administration that was local rather than national in structure. So poor were means of communication between the different settlements—their quickest contacts were often through Sydney—that they were in many respects separate colonies. It was inevitable that a social function so personal and intimate as education should be carried on by local organisations rather than by the central government, especially as there was litte precedent in either English or Scottish experience for governmental responsibility for schooling.

Knowing the traditions of the colonists and the kind of country they were entering, an intelligent English observer at the beginning of last century could have predicted with tolerable certainty that New Zealand would begin with a decentralised education system: he could not perhaps have foretold that, when communications improved and the historical page 25principle was no longer reinforced by the geographi-cal, there would be a strong swing away from the precedents of the homeland towards centralisation of control. He would also have expected the churches to play the dominant role in the schooling of the young colony, but he would probably have been shocked had he been permitted to foresee that the secularisation of the system would proceed so rapidly that before the end of the century it should be one of the country's proudest boasts that its schools were free, secular, and compulsory. The history of educational administration in New Zealand can best be followed in terms of the double movement from local to central control and from church dominance to complete secularism. Although both movements were in the early stages intertwined, it is convenient to approach them first from the point of view of the steady trend towards secularism.

Before 1840 whatever formal education existed in New Zealand was entirely in the hands of the church. Samuel Marsden opened the first mission school for Maoris at the Bay of Islands in 1816, and before 1840 the Wesleyans and the Catholics were also in the field. After the arrival of the organised colonists, however, New Zealand education was at no time so completely church-dominated as were the English and Scottish systems. By 1840 sectarian quarrels over education in England had generated sufficient bitterness to make some of the settlers wary of deliberately introducing page 26the problems of the old world into the new. The better-informed of them were also aware of the political upheavals and religious dissension that had resulted from the British Government's policy of establishing the Church of England in Canada, New South Wales, and South Africa and of setting aside in these colonies huge land reserves for the main if not the exclusive benefit of this one denomination. Wakefield certainly was in an excellent position to know the damage that could be wrought by such reserves in a community of mixed religions, for he had been associated with Lord Durham's investigation of the Canadian grievances. Moreover, the British Government itself was by this time convinced of the unwisdom of its former policy. Not wishing to burn its fingers once again, it refrained from establishing the Church of England in New Zealand, which meant that from the foundation of the colony all sects were on an equal footing before the law. This made the task of creating a church system of schools extremely difficult, especially in sparsely populated settlements in which several denominations were represented, and favoured the movement towards secular control. To the Colonial Office, however, the absence of an established church implied merely that each of the various denominations should receive its fair share of any grants made by the legislature for educational purposes. There was no suggestion that the State, central or local, should turn schoolmaster. On the page 27contrary, it was assumed that its activity in education would, as in England, be limited to encouraging and assisting the work of the churches. Governor Hobson received instructions to this effect from the Colonial Office, and they were put into operation by Governor Grey, who was himself strongly opposed to secular control of schools, in his Education Ordinance of 1847, the first educational legislation in the colony.

Grey's ordinance immediately led to trouble. It provided for annual state grants to schools run by the Anglican, Wesleyan, and Roman Catholic Churches. The result was a wasteful overlapping of effort and a growing resentment on the part of the denominations that had not been early enough in the field to share in the benefits under the ordinance, and also on the part of secular school organisations (such as already existed in Nelson) which were denied any form of state assistance. So strongly did feeling run against denominationalism in some parts of the country that in 1848 the Legislative Council of New Munster, led by Alfred Domett, which was already at loggerheads with Grey over the constitutional question, simply refused to put the ordinance into operation. In the end the Maoris of the Auckland province were the chief beneficiaries under the ordinance, but subsidies were given as well to the pakeha denominational schools of Auckland. One effect was to confirm the whole Auckland province in the preference for denominational schooling which it had already page 28acquired from its contacts with the mission schools and from the thoroughly English outlook of Grey.

Wellington, the first of the New Zealand Company's settlements, did not follow in Auckland's footsteps. One can only hazard a guess as to why Wakefield's plan for the Wellington settlement contained no provision for education, either denominational or secular. On the one hand Wakefield was aware of the troubles that would follow the setting aside of church reserves for education in a community of mixed denominations; on the other, he must have known that any scheme for purely secular schooling directly controlled by the State would find little favour with his upper-class English backers who could find no precedent for such a system in their own experience. It may be that he found it convenient in the circumstances to overlook the necessity for educational provision until his settlement should be safely launched. The most important of his Wellington settlers, the 'capitalists', would not be unduly worried by the absence of any public scheme of education, since they would in any case expect their children to attend exclusive fee-paying schools. So it came about that Wellington, with no educational reserves, no state assistance for denominational schools, and no friendly contacts with the mission schools, developed a collection—it would be misleading to call it a system—of private schools catering for those able to pay fees.

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By the time Nelson was settled in 1842 the New Zealand Company had decided to incorporate provision for some measure of public education in its plan of colonisation. One of the conditions governing the sale of land in Nelson was that, out of the sum of £50,000 to be devoted to public purposes,.£15,000 was to be applied to the establishment of a college. Owing to the failure of the Company, however, the money was not available until 1857, though Nelson College was actually opened in 1856 'for the advancement of religion and morality, and the promoting of useful knowledge, by offering to the youth of the province a general education of a superior character'. In the meantime the settlers were left to shift for themselves in the provision of education for their children, and to men born in easier times it must remain ever a cause of wonderment that the Nelson colonists, dispirited by their failure to secure land or employment, frightened by the Wairau massacre, and faced with starvation, could yet, without any assistance from outside, found and carry on during their blackest days a little school system that was ultimately to become an inspiration to the whole of New Zealand.

Nelson, like Wellington, was settled mostly by English colonists, but the social composition of the settlement was rather different from that of Wellington and markedly different from that of Auckland. There was a relatively high proportion of labourers page 30and working men, and few settlers with more than a very modest capital. Most of the major religious denominations were represented, and the nonconformists were relatively more numerous than in the other two settlements. Since land was almost unprocurable at first, and production was consequently delayed, there was little money to spare, certainly not enough for each of the sects to set up its own school system. The situation obviously called for some kind of joint action on a non-sectarian basis. The British and Foreign School Society, which some of the nonconformists must have known in England, provided a ready-made model.

Actually, however, the first school to be started in Nelson did not claim affiliation to the British and Foreign School Society, although its principles were very similar to those of the Society. It was greatly influenced by the English Sunday school. On 27 March 1842, 'in a rush-woven cottage on the banks of the Maitai assembled a few labourers and mechanics, who saw the necessity of making some effort to instruct their children at least one day in seven. . . . Taking the circuit of the scattered and half-impenetrable plain . . . they endeavoured to collect nearly the whole of the children of the early colonists, and to impart to them such humble information as they themselves possessed.'* At first it was only a Sunday school that was run by the Nelson School Society.

* Report of the Nelson School Society 1864.

page 31'It was a pleasant sight, on a Sabbath morn, to see the well-attired little parties issuing from the groups of huts, and passing along the narrow avenues, formed by the tall fern, to the place in which they were reminded of the religion of their fathers in a country new and strange, and taught from the Bible on the open principles of our Society, which has the Bible for its basis, being free from all denominational objections, striving at the inculcation of the essence of Christianity, the simple lessons of the Saviour, which lessons in their own language, we hold sufficient to improve the heart and prepare us for the state of future happiness.'

This Sunday school later developed into a day school, but in the meantime another school had been started by what was in effect a branch of the British and Foreign School Society under the leadership of the Quaker surveyor, Frederick Tuckett. Alfred Domett and Captain Wakefield were honorary inspectors. In 1845 this movement was merged into the Nelson School Society which, led by Matthew Campbell, established other schools throughout the province. The Society depended for its finances almost entirely on subscriptions and donations. Fees were charged, but the scale was so low that they brought in very little money. The Committee resolved in 1846 that fees 'be threepence per week when ciphering is taught; twopence when only reading and writing are taught, provided nevertheless that not more than page 32sixpence per week be received from any family; provided also that any member of the committee have power to furnish tickets for the free admission of any child, in cases of family distress, sickness, etc. . . .' The fees for the first three months of 1847 amounted to only £2 4s 3d. In 1848 Grey made the Society a grant of £35 a year, and between 1854 and 1857 the provincial government gave a few hundred pounds, but, as might be expected, the Society was usually in debt.

One of the first acts of the Nelson Provincial Council after its establishment in 1854 was to set up a commission to report on education. The Education Ordinance of 1856, based on the commission's report, provided for a central board of education elected by local committees to be set up in school districts. There was to be a school rate of £1 a year on every householder, and a special rate of 5s a year for each child between the ages of five and fourteen years. The Provincial Council was also to make grants for education. One of the commission's most important resolutions, which was incorporated in the ordinance, was to the effect 'that religious instruction, when given, shall be free from all controversial character, and imparted at such hours that parents objecting may be able to withdraw their children from the school at the time it is given.' There was much opposition to the ordinance, especially from the Catholics, and in 1858 an amendment permitted page 33denominational schools to receive assistance from the Board of Education provided that they were open to all children and that any religious instruction should be given at such times that children could stay away from it. The Board of Education took over the Society's schools, and continued to run them with considerable success and relatively little friction until the passing of the provinces in 1876. This achievement made a marked impression in other provinces, several of which borrowed much of their legislation from the ordinance of 1856. The influence of Nelson in hastening the movement towards universal public education was out of all proportion to the size and wealth of the province.

Otago and Canterbury, founded respectively in 1848 and 1850, were settled under religious auspices, the former Presbyterian, the latter Anglican, and in both provision was made for large endowments for religious and educational purposes. In promoting these schemes Wakefield and his fellow directors of the Company doubtless argued that in colonies made up exclusively of settlers of one faith the 'religious difficulty' would not arise. Actually neither settlement was at any stage completely homogeneous in its religion and for this reason (to which, with Canterbury, must be added clerical mismanagement of school funds) neither escaped acrimonious controversy over the control of education.

The Scottish Presbyterians who emigrated to Otago page 34were for the most part agricultural labourers and artisans, devout, hard-working folk with an immense respect for the Kirk and for learning. They were accompanied by their ministers and schoolmasters —the first official schoolmaster to the settlement conducted classes on the voyage out, giving instruction 'every week day excepting Saturday, without intermission while the emigrants remained aboard' —and the ambition of their leaders was to create a community 'constituted similar to a parish or county in Scotland'. As a result of close co-operation between the Presbytery and the secular authorities this ambition was, on its educational side, realised to a remarkable degree. By the end of the provincial period in 1876 there had been built up in Otago a well-organised system of primary, post-primary, and higher education which did, indeed, finally make concessions to the large and growing non-Presbyterian element in the province, but which bore a strong family likeness to the original Scottish model.

By the agreement between the Otago Association and the Company one-eighth of the proceeds of land sales was to be set aside, under the control of trustees for the Presbyterian Church of Otago, for 'religious and educational purposes'. This money, however, was used to purchase land as a permanent church endowment and none of it was made available for 'educational purposes'.* Hence the settlers were at first thrown on

* Later the Church endowed chairs in the University of Otago.

page 35their own resources, and in 1850 it was decided to raise money by public subscription and to establish a primary school in each district. A few years later education became the responsibility of the provincial government, and after the passing of the 'McGlashan' Ordinance in 1856, which provided for the establishment of public schools under the control of an education board and local committees, the schools were maintained out of provincial revenues and pupils' fees. Hereafter the story of education in Otago is one of steady and uninterrupted expansion, and by 1876 it had, in addition to its primary system, boys' and girls' high schools at Dunedin, five country grammar or district high schools, a teachers' training college and normal school, and a university—the only fully-developed system of post-primary and higher education in the colony. Nowhere else in New Zealand, furthermore, were there better-built or better-equipped schools, better-qualified or better-paid teachers—or more vigilant and exacting inspectors. Nevertheless education was far from being universal —in this respect Nelson had a much better record— and the authorities were not in favour of making it compulsory. Compulsion implied free education, and Otago, with its Calvinistic horror of making things easy, adhered very rigidly to the principle of school fees. The result was that children of parents who were unwilling or unable to pay fees were deprived of any schooling at all.
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Despite the fact that no funds were available for public education from its endowments, the Presbyterian Church maintained for many years a powerful grip on the schools. Under the McGlashan Ordinance religious instruction was part of the ordinary curriculum, and although the framers of the bill failed in their attempt to prescribe the Shorter Catechism, they secured the passage of clauses that went a long way towards ensuring that none but impeccable Presbyterian doctrine was taught. No teacher could be appointed unless he could produce a certificate from his minister guaranteeing his fitness to give religious instruction, and as a further safeguard, it was laid down that any two male parents might challenge the soundness of his doctrine before the school committee and the board, after which, if the charge were proved, he might be censured, suspended, or dismissed. In these circumstances there was plainly not the slightest reason why the Church should put itself to the trouble and expense of creating its own system of denominational schools.

With the inrush of miners that took place in the early sixties, however, the non-Presbyterian population of the province grew so rapidly that its dissatisfaction with a system that permitted the teaching of what it regarded as sectarian doctrine at the public expense could no longer be ignored. The Kirk and its supporters had gradually to give way, and there was a steady movement towards complete secularism. The page 37official religious instruction had by 1872 given place to daily Bible reading, without note or comment, at the opening or close of school. To the Roman Catholic Church, however, and to a section of Anglican opinion, the new situation was no better than the old, and they continued to press a longstanding demand for grants for their own denominational schools. But on this matter Otago was not to be moved — it feared disruption of its cherished system of schools and it feared priestcraft—and whenever the issue arose in the national Parliament there was fierce opposition from Otago representatives to any scheme for denominational grants.

Canterbury was to be a segment of English society, composed entirely of members of the Anglican Church, with a cathedral city that would spread its civilising influence throughout the whole province, and a rural land-owning aristocracy cultivating its estates with the help of an adequate supply of labourers. 'Without a certain provision for religion and education,' stated the directors of the Canterbury Association (of which the Archbishop of Canterbury himself was chairman), 'the gentry of England, who are religious and educated men, cannot be expected to emigrate.' It was actually decided that as much as one-third of the proceeds of land sales should be set aside for religion and education; and ample provision was made for clergymen (at £200 a year) and schoolmasters (at £70). 'At the head of the educational page 38system,' wrote Alston to Godley, 'which was to be under the control of the Church, there was to be a College capable of taking rank with similar institutions [in England], from which, as from a central point, the education, not merely of the Canterbury settlement, nor of New Zealand alone, but of the Australian Colonies, even of India itself, may in a measure be supplied.'

But as men like Godley and FitzGerald quickly realised, good churchmen though they were, colonial conditions were destined sooner or later to defeat any attempt to make the province a Church of England preserve. Godley himself made the task more difficult by permitting Australian squatters who were not adherents of the Church to buy runs on the same terms as the other settlers, while FitzGerald, far from claiming special educational privileges for his Church, opposed denominational control altogether and fought for a system of public schools. After the provincial government was set up the combined influence of a section of the Anglican laity, the wealthy runholders from Australia, and the growing nonconformist middle class was strong enough to establish the principle that all denominations were entitled to a fair share of grants for education. It was much the same alliance that was ultimately responsible for the complete overthrow of denominationalism and the establishment in Canterbury of a system so entirely secular that its opponents could call it 'godless'.

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In Canterbury, as in Otago, the settlers had at first to provide schools for themselves, as no money was available for either churches or schools from the province's very handsome endowment, although there were building sites in abundance. This curious state of affairs resulted from the action of the Canterbury Association in paying over to itself the one-third of the proceeds of land sales which it then re-invested in unsold land of its own as an endowment for the objects of the trust, an expedient adopted by the Association in 1853 in order to provide itself with ready money. Instead of witnessing the orderly development of the education system planned by the founders of the Association, the early years of the settlement saw nothing more than the establishment of the Canterbury College and Grammar School (in practice it was a grammar school only), and the haphazard growth of a collection of private and denominational schools which was quite inadequate to meet the educational needs of the community. FitzGerald pleaded with the Provincial Council to take the situation thoroughly in hand, but it declined to do so, and followed the policy of making relatively small grants to the Bishop of Christchurch and the heads of the Wesleyan and Presbyterian Churches, and leaving them entirely free to organise and control education in their own way.

The system, FitzGerald said, was the very worst that could be adopted, and as many of his fellow-page 40citizens shared his dissatisfaction, the Provincial Council finally decided to set up a commission of enquiry which reported in 1863. FitzGerald and his supporters were fully vindicated. Some areas had no educational facilities, in others there was wasteful overlapping, and many of the schools themselves were insanitary, overcrowded, and grossly inefficient. 'The practical result', said the commissioners, 'has been not only the creation of an authority independent of the Legislature, but also of one incapable in its very organisation of acting harmoniously within itself.'

As a result of the commission's report the administration of educational funds was immediately transferred from the denominational heads to a public board of education. But the system did not at once become entirely secular. An ordinance of 1864 provided for both public and denominational schools. In the former there was Scripture reading, and the teacher might, subject to a unanimous vote of the committee, give religious instruction as well; in addition the clergy had the right of entry for the purpose of giving distinctive religious teaching to the children of their own communion. In the denominational schools the committees were free to make their own arrangements. With this compromise none of the contending parties was completely satisfied, and, after some preliminary skirmishes, matters came to an issue in 1873, when an intense and bitter struggle took place. The secularists, who were able page 41to point to the advances being made under a system of public control, had in the meantime greatly strengthened their position and they won a decisive victory. All grants to denominational schools were stopped, and religious instruction by the teachers, which had two years earlier been reduced to simple Scripture reading, was eliminated entirely. The only remnant of denominationalism that remained was 'the right of entry' of the clergy and it was saved by the narrowest of majorities. That Canterbury of all provinces should go so far is still something of a puzzle; one can only assume that a considerable number of Anglicans were completely out of sympathy with the policy of their Church.

During the last years of the provincial period the education system of Canterbury began to rival that of Otago, from which, indeed, much of its educational legislation had been borrowed. Provision for postprimary and higher education was not nearly as extensive as in Otago, but on the other hand primary education of much the same standard of efficiency was more widely diffused. Educational enthusiasts in less fortunate provinces looked with envy at the Otago and Canterbury systems and when the time came to organise a national system it was natural that the government should not only regard them in some degree as models, but should also appoint as administrators men who had been closely connected with them. The secretary of the Otago Board, John page 42Hislop, became the first secretary of the national Education Department, and the Rev. W. J. Habens, the secretary of the Canterbury Education Department (as it was called after 1875) its first Inspector-General. It was also natural that Otago and Canterbury should feel that they themselves had little to gain and possibly something to lose through the introduction of a national system, and that even those of their representatives whose vision was broad enough to compass the whole colony should yet be anxious to preserve a large measure of provincial autonomy in educational affairs.

About the beginning of the seventies the provincial governments of both Auckland and Wellington set themselves seriously to the task of building up public school systems (though as late as 1872 neither the city of Auckland nor the city of Wellington possessed a single common school). Auckland broke with denominationalism—for much the same reasons as Canterbury—and passed in 1869 a Common Schools Act that was based on the educational legislation of Nelson and Otago but went to the point of complete secularism, permitting no Scripture reading or religious instruction whatsoever. Wellington, which had always been unsympathetic to denominationalism and already possessed an ineffective Common Schools Act, remodelled its legislation on the lines of Nelson, though its education board, unlike that of Nelson, declined to give grants to church schools.

A Public School 1872

A Public School 1872

A Public School To-Day

A Public School To-Day

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Thus in all five of the major provinces it had by the end of the provincial period come to be widely accepted that the chief responsibility for education lay, not with the churches or other voluntary organisations, but with the State. More than this, the four larger provinces (and Nelson is only a partial exception) had established the principle that public money granted for education should be devoted entirely to publicly-controlled schools in which religious teaching was either forbidden altogether or strictly limited to the reading of the Scriptures or to 'non-sectarian' instruction. At bottom it was a case of similar conditions producing similar results: in a colony of small and often struggling communities in which several sects were represented, each of equal standing before the law, and each ambitious to extend its influence, complete secularism—or a close approximation to it—was the price that had to be paid for economical and efficient organisation of schooling and a semblance of educational peace.