Auckland: School days

By John Roughan

As Auckland merges to create a supercity, the Herald looks back at how Auckland has changed over the years. Click here to view the full series.

Auckland Grammar School in the 1880s. File photo / New Zealand Herald
Auckland Grammar School in the 1880s. File photo / New Zealand Herald

A child born in the year Auckland was founded would have been 37 before a basic education became every New Zealander's birthright. By then that person's own children would have been too old to benefit from the 1877 Education Act that had made school free, secular and compulsory to the age of 12.

The Act meant that by the beginning of the 20th century, practically every person under 30 could read, write and count. But another generation was to reach adulthood before everyone would go to high

Secondary education was made free in 1903, though to gain entry, pupils faced a test at the end of primary school which they had to pass with
"proficiency". If they gained only "competency" they could go to a
technical school.

But even with proficiency, many children could not afford further education. Family circumstances frequently dictated that at 13 they would get a job to relieve their parents of the full cost of feeding, housing and clothing them.

The more fortunate could go to the Auckland Grammar School for boys that Governor Grey had envisaged as early as 1850.

It was eventually founded in an old immigration barracks in Howe St, Freemans Bay, in 1868.

By the turn of the century the school was in Symonds St and girls had been enrolled too, though they had segregated classrooms and their own entrance. A 1.3-metre wall divided the playground.

In 1909 a grammar school for girls was established on the old Howe St site and in 1911 the boys' school was given surplus prison land in Mountain Rd, Epsom, where it erected a building of Spanish-Californian character overlooking Mt Eden jail.

The provision of free secondary education for those with proficiency soon meant more schools were needed. Epsom Girls Grammar opened in 1917, Mt Albert Grammar School in 1922 and Takapuna Grammar in 1927.

Some went to the Auckland Technical School in Rutland St, where AUT University stands today. It became Seddon Memorial Technical College in 1913 and its secondary school moved to Western Springs in 1964.

Private and religious secondary schools reflected the same social geography. Kings started in 1896 on the Remuera site now occupied by its preparatory school. Diocesan opened in Epsom in 1903, Sacred Heart in Ponsonby the same year, Baradene in Remuera in 1909 and St Cuthberts in Epsom 1915.

The proficiency test was a social filter that persisted until 1936 when the first Labour Government abolished it. The curriculum was then made "comprehensive". All secondary schools were to embrace practical courses as well as academic subjects.

By the time the first 16-year-olds were finishing school the world was at war and the full flowering of compulsory secondary education would not be seen until the post-war generation went on to university in droves.

Written with the assistance of Dr Maxine Stephenson of the University of Auckland faculty of education.

Early teaching methods were formal and spoken. Discipline was strict. Classes of often 100 or more pupils set in galleries of 3-metre desks with little personal space. The curriculum consisted of reading, writing, arithmetic, English grammar, English composition, geography,
history, elementary science, drawing, singing and, for girls, sewing
and needlework.

The teachers, often untrained older pupils, were frequently not up to the task of controlling the very large classes created by compulsion.
Truancy was common.

Worse perhaps, the money that schools received, the number of staff they were permitted and even the pay of teachers, could fall if too many pupils were absent for too long.

Schools, teachers and pupils were assessed by the number of passes in standard exams and an annual inspection. Pupils who did not pass would not be promoted to the next level.

If most of the population had no more than a basic primary education
in the early 20th century, they were much better educated than the first generations born in the colony.

In some places Maori were more likely than settlers' children to attend school. Missionaries had learned the Maori language and set up mission schools where children were taught to a level at which they could return
to their village and pass on what they had learned.

At the time of colonisation Governor Hobson was given a grant to support missionary education, but his fledgling Government was short of funds and had other priorities. It was left to churches to start the first schools for settlers' children.

The Catholic Church started a school in Auckland after a visit by Bishop Pompallier in 1841. The following year an Anglican school opened in Parnell.

The first Government contribution to education came in 1844 when the Wesleyan mission received a grant of land from Governor FitzRoy to establish a boarding school for Maori.

That school was the forerunner of Wesley College, founded at Three Kings on a site large enough for the school to become an almost self-supporting agricultural institute teaching a range of farmwork and carpentry.

Soon after that the Anglican Church established St Stephens in Kohimarama, initially for Maori girls. Later the school moved to Parnell. The church also brought a site in Ayr St for a grammar school.

When Governor Grey took charge of the colony he issued an ordinance in 1847 that offered support to schools serving not only Maori and part-Maori children but also "orphans of destitute children of European

But grants to the church schools went overwhelmingly to the education of Maori children and began to arouse resentment among the settlers in a period when nearly all schools for their children charged fees.

Maori education remained a direct responsibility of the British Government until 1863 when, finding itself simultaneously financing war in the Waikato, it handed the responsibility to the settler government.

State education started when New Zealand was divided into six large provinces, and schools were the responsibility of provincial councils.

The Auckland Provincial Council's board had limited finance and most schools remained reliant on churches. As late as 1865 there were 2686 children attending board schools and 3258 in private schools, mostly religious and with uncertified teachers.

In board schools pupils could be charged a fee of up to one shilling a week. The schools were obliged to teach reading, writing, spelling, arithmetic, grammar, geography, history, vocal music and, for girls, needlework. Decisions about religious instruction and the textbooks to
be used were left to "patrons or committees of management".

Children could be excused from religious classes on request. The school committees had to provide a well-ventilated schoolhouse with furniture, a playground and toilets. They had to accept board inspections and
contribute to teachers' salaries. Poor communities were givenadditional grants.

The first Auckland schools to be recognised by the provincial board were Mt Albert's Cabbage Tree Swamp School, the North Shore Church of England School, Catholic schools in Onehunga, Otahuhu and Panmure, St Matthew's boys' and girls' schools and St Paul's girls school.

Gradually demand grew for schools that were not just free and secular but compulsory.

The Auckland Provincial Council passed a law in 1872 requiring all children between the ages of 7 and 12 to attend a school for half the year. In 1877 Parliament passed the Education Act, making school compulsory throughout the country and setting out a uniform programme of lessons for state schools.

Compulsion, however, was difficult to enforce. Auckland's rain could quickly turn primitive roads into quagmires and streams into raging rivers. And pioneer households often needed older children for domestic chores.

Many early settlers simply saw compulsory schooling for their children as an infringement of personal liberty.

- NZ Herald

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