History of education in New Zealand

For a broader coverage related to this topic, see Education in New Zealand.

The provision of State Education in New Zealand developed from ideas about democratic and progressive education in the late nineteenth century. The creation of an education system that aimed to reduce inequalities and enable social mobility was an important goal for New Zealand's early educational reformists.[1]

Origins of primary schools

The passing of the Education Act 1877 established New Zealand's first secular, compulsory and free national system of primary education. Under the Act it became compulsory for children from ages 7 to 13 to attend primary school. The Act also sought to establish standards of quality of education as schools varied greatly in their resources and approaches. Before this time children attended schools governed by provincial governments or church or private schools.[2] As with all legislation, the Act's effectiveness depended on its practicability and the resources to enforce it. Many children continued to face difficulties with attending school, especially those from rural areas where their manual labour was important to families.

The 1877 Act made some difference to Maori and women, enabling a small proportion to proceed to higher education. For example, over 500 Maori girls went to Hukarere Native Girls' School in the Hawkes bay between 1877 and 1900. Apirana Ngata went to Te Aute College at the age of 10 in 1884, won a scholarship, and became the first Maori to graduate in a New Zealand university and a leading politician.[3]

Origins of secondary schools

Around 1900, secondary schooling was generally for the wealthy elite who intended to go to university or enter professional careers, and it was not free. In 1901, less than 3 percent of those aged between 12 and 18 attended public secondary schools. An additional 5 percent attended district high schools (as they were known) or a Standard 7 class. Educational opportunities improved from around 1902 when secondary schools were given grants to admit more pupils.[1]

The Education Act 1914 required secondary schools to offer free education to all those who passed a Proficiency examination. The Certificate of Proficiency thus became the major determinant of job and career opportunities. By 1921 nearly 13 percent of 12- to 18-year-olds attended a secondary institution (usually for at least two years) and five years later in 1926, and still in 1939, 25 percent did so.[4]

Most schools continued to attempt to offer a curriculum with strong traditional and authoritarian elements. Schools attempted to balance a 'civilising' cultural and moral education with 'utilitarian', vocational training needs.[5] This frustrated those who urged a greater focus on workforce preparation. The battle between vocational and cultural educational imperatives continues today.

Introduction of technical high schools

An attempt to address workforce training needs was made early in the 20th century by introducing technical high schools. They offered practical, vocationally-orientated training. However, they were not a success. Traditional secondary schools were seen by parents as providing a pathway into high-status professions, and a better life. Technical schools were regarded as being for the less-able.[6]

There was a trend for greater emphasis on vocational training during the 1920s and 1930s, which was part of a modern Western trend in the first half of the century away from spiritual, moral and cultural education to a focus on the education of the workforce.[7]

Prior to the 1940s, students were receiving varying curriculums within different types of secondary schools. in 1926 for instance, a quarter of secondary students went to technical schools, 2 percent to Maori schools (which emphasised manual skills), 12 percent went to district or agricultural high schools, 10 percent to private schools (including Catholic schools), and just over 50 percent went to state secondary schools.[8]

The Thomas Report, 1944

The Atmore Report, 1930 was an important landmark document, and many of the measures recommended in this were finally supported by the Labour Prime Minister Peter Fraser who pushed through major reforms in the late 1930s and 1940s.[9]

From 1944, as part of the post-Depression era Labour Governments' 'Cradle to Grave' social reforms, secondary education was free and made compulsory up to the age of 15.[10]

The Thomas Report of 1944 was the document which established a common, core and free secondary curriculum for all. This remained in place for fifty years. It introduced School Certificate - a set of examinations sat at the end of Fifth Form, and abolished a Matriculation, replacing it with University Entrance - a set of examinations sat at end of Sixth Form. The syllabus material was drawn from both practical and academic strands, with the added aim of catering for students of widely differing abilities, interests, and backgrounds. Despite the core curriculum, including literacy, numeracy, science, social studies, physical education and arts and crafts, the practices of gender differentiation and streaming, it has been argued, ran counter to the rhetoric of equality. Teachers believed that students learned better when streamed into different ability classes as measured by (what is now recognised as) a limited assessment of intelligence IQ. Streams were divided into academic, commercial, and domestic or trades, and students received different versions of the core curriculum.[11]

A number of factors in the post-World War Two era challenged the goals of egalitarian educational opportunities and many students' experiences were still divided by class, race, gender, religion and geography. For example, in 1953, 40 percent of Maori continued to attend Maori primary schools and in 1969 a study of the private Auckland Grammar school demonstrated that only 1 percent came from working and lower-middle-class backgrounds.[8]

Mid 20th century

In 1964, the compulsory school starting age was lowered from 7 years to 6 years.

Integration, 1975 to 1984

1980s and 1990s reforms

In the 1980s, New Zealand education underwent more major reforms. Early in the decade, the government called for a review of the curriculum. This information was collected but the public’s ideas were not used. Instead, it was overtaken by reforms that addressed the administration of education. Two major reports appeared.

"Administering for Excellence"

Further information: Picot task force

The first, "Administering for Excellence", was produced by Professor Peter Ramsay of Waikato University, Margaret Rosemergy, a Wellington Teachers College lecturer. Whetumarama Rolleston, a sociologist, and Dunedin businessman and Otago university council member Colin Wise. Simon Smelt from Treasury and Marijke Robinson from the State Services Commission were attached to the Task force where they played a major and at times controversial role. The report was a mixture of good education principle and a business model of education with plenty of compromise, reflecting the internal tension of the deliberations. The report became known as the Picot report after its chair, Brian Picot, a supermarket magnate.[12]

In 1989, the school leaving age was raised from 15 years to 16 years.

"Tomorrow's Schools"

The second report called Tomorrow's Schools, drafted by officials including Robinson and Smelt but no educationalists, was accepted by new Education Minister David Lange and his colleagues as the blueprint for the future organization of New Zealand's school system. Principal Noel Scott of Makoura College, a secondary school in Masterton, had visited Canada, and on return spoke with Lange; He also gave input into the Tomorrow's Schools concept.[13]

The government replaced the Department of Education with three new bodies:

Schools became autonomous entities, managed by boards of trustees. This arrangement is in place today in all schools in New Zealand.[14][15][16][17]

Conservative curriculum reforms were completed in the 1990s, followed by more comprehensive and contemporary reform a decade later, updating what was taught in schools for the 21st century.

Recent developments (2010–present)

In 2012 the Ministry came under fire over a number of different issues including the release of National Standards data, the Novopay payroll system, the closure and merger of schools in Christchurch, the implementation of charter schools, and the closure of residential schools.

Resignation of Lesley Longstone

Lesley Longstone was recruited from Britain where her last role was overseeing the introduction of a UK version of charter schools in Britain.[18] She was appointed as chief executive for the Ministry of Education in New Zealand with a five-year contract starting in July 2012 and a salary of $660,000 a year. She was recruited from England and given a "relocation payout" of $50,000 which "covers flights, freight, up to eight weeks' accommodation and visa expenses".[19] Chief executives recruited from overseas only have to repay the grant if they leave the job within a year. Longstone held the position for 13 months before she was pushed into resigning after her relationship with Education Minister Hekia Parata became 'strained'.[20] She was paid $425,000 in severance pay.[21]

National standards

This system of assessment and reporting to Primary school parents was launched by Education Minister Anne Tolley and her successor Hekia Parata without trials. Initially it was highly unpopular with primary teachers.[22] It required them to report to parents using a standardized format based on "standardized" assessments. As many as half of all school said they would not use the system. Parata threatened she would sack any Board of Trustees who did not follow her directions. By 2014 all primary school use National Standards. Some confusion has arisen because of the similarity of names between NCEA standards used in secondary schools and national standards used in primary schools but the two systems are completely separate and very different.[23]

The National government consistently claimed that parents supported the new standards but refused to provide evidence. Analysis of the National Survey of more than 3,000 parents done by the New Zealand Council for Educational Research found that only 14% of parents made positive remarks about the scheme compared to 38% who made negative remarks.

Primary schools can select from a wide range of assessment tools to enable them to report on their students. Not all school use the same methods. Results are open to interpretations so there is significant variation within and between schools.

Standards advisers were appointed by the government to help schools. They report a wide variation in how schools have implemented the standards. It is difficult for schools to avoid teaching to the standards instead of the curriculum to try to improve their results. Schools are under pressure by the wider community to deliver ever better results. Analysis of results is very difficult as the standard has been set artificially high by approximately 6%. Education Minister Hekia Parata call this "aspirational". Errors in assessment and variables in the system cause an error rate of about plus or minus 5%. Most educational authorities say the assessments are very subjective leaving too many judgement calls to teachers and principals. There are many other tried and tested assessment methods which are easier to use,more proven and more objective. Trials of these older methods are ongoing in some schools in 2014.

Implementation of national standards meant that poorer schools had to spend a significant part of their budgets upgrading office computer systems to allow the system to work.

Class sizes

In May 2012, Education Minister, Hekia Parata, announced changes to the education sector which would raise the level of qualification required by teachers - including a minimum requirement of postgraduate degrees for teacher trainees. Because of proposed budget cuts, she also announced there would be a loss of specialized teaching staff in intermediate schools and a corresponding increase in class sizes. However, it was Treasury rather than the Ministry of Education which was responsible for promoting this strategy "which essentially rates teacher quality as a more critical factor than class size".[24]

As Education Minister, Parata was given the job of selling the policy to the sector. She claimed the changes would save $43 million a year and that: "About 90 per cent of schools will have a net loss of less than one full-time teacher equivalent as a result of the combined effect of the ratio changes and projected roll growth."[25] Over the next few months, teachers and parents alike voiced their concerns about the proposed changes especially when it was revealed that the new ratios would cause some schools to lose up to seven teachers.[26] Because of public backlash, in June 2012 Parata announced the Government would not go ahead with the policy and acknowledged it had caused "a disproportionate amount of anxiety for parents".[27]


Main article: Novopay

In 2012, the Ministry rolled out a new payroll system for teachers and other school staff called Novopay run by the Australian company Talent 2. From the outset, the system led to widespread problems with over 8,000 teachers receiving the wrong pay and in some cases no pay at all;[28] within a few months, 90% of schools were affected.[29]

The 'Novopay débâcle' as it was called[30][31] received almost daily media attention, causing embarrassment for the new Minister of Education Hekia Parata, and leading to the resignation of newly recruited Education secretary Leslie Longstone. The Australian Financial Review says: "The débâcle bears similarities to the botched $500 million payroll implementation at Queensland Health by IBM" which is expected to end up costing $1.25 billion.[32]

Hekia Parata was relieved of her duties towards Novopay by the prime minister and replaced by Steven Joice but problems continued and prior to the September 2014 election Joyce admitted that Novopay would be taken over and run by the government as he saw no hope that Novopay could be made into an efficient, viable organization.

In 2014 the National Government announced that it was terminating the Novopay contract and would be forming a new government-run organisation to take over. This was implemented in October 2014.

School closures in Christchurch

In September 2012, newly appointed Education Minister, Hekia Parata, announced that 13 schools in Christchurch would be closed and 18 would be merged following the earthquakes the previous year.[33] The decision caused outrage in the local community.[34] In an editorial, the New Zealand Herald said: "Of all the mishaps in education this year, the Christchurch school plan was the most telling. To read the plan was to see a Ministry utterly out of touch with the people its schools are supposed to serve. The earthquakes had left a number of schools damaged and some of their communities decimated. Some closures would be required. But not nearly as many as the ministry decided."[35]

After further consultation, the Government backtracked. On 18 February, Ministry of Education staff visited the 31 schools under the Ministry's spotlight to tell teachers and principals in person which schools would be closed.[36] Seven schools would close and twelve would merge creating another five closures. Another twelve schools originally proposed for closure or merger would now remain unaffected.[37] In March 2013 the Ombudsman announced an investigation would be held into the way the Education Ministry conducted its consultation process on schools closures and mergers to see if they were done in "a manner that adequately ensures fair and meaningful participation by affected parties".[38]

Charter schools

The National government agreed to the introduction of charter schools in 2011 as part of its arrangement with John Banks for the support of the ACT Party after the election. Catherine Isaac, a former Act president, says charter schools would not have to follow Ministry of Education requirements but would be free to set their own timetables, school terms and teacher working conditions.[39]

The proposal for charter schools aroused considerable opposition, not just from teachers groups. Speaking to a parliamentary committee, New Zealand Principals' Federation president Philip Harding said: "There is no public mandate to pursue this policy."[40] The New Zealand School Trustees Association expressed concerns about allowing people to teach who are not registered teachers.[41] The Chief Ombudsman, Dame Beverley Wakem, expressed concern that making charter schools exempt from public scrutiny was "unconstitutional" and would detract from public confidence.[40] In February 2013, visiting American Karran Harper Royal told the education and science committee in Parliament that "charter schools have been a failed experiment in New Orleans" and the Government should not proceed with them.[42]

John O'Neill, professor of teacher education at Massey University's Institute of Education says the Bill proposing the establishment of charter schools is "undemocratic and patronising". The Education Amendment Bill euphemistically refers to them as 'partnership' schools - but O'Neill says "the so-called partnership will only be between the Government and a private 'sponsor' which may be for-profit and have no prior connection with the local community". He says parents will have no right of representation on the school's governing body as they do in state schools, and the Minister of Education can set up a charter school without even consulting the local community.[43]

Leaky schools

Main article: Leaky homes crisis

By March 2013, 305 schools were reported as having problems with cladding and weather-tightness issues which is expected to cost the Ministry up to $1.4 billion to repair. These schools were built or modified between 1995 and 2005, and are an extension of the leaky homes crisis which has affected many New Zealand homes of the same era. At Te Rapa school (near Hamilton) so many of the classrooms were affected the entire school was "forced to play musical classrooms" for over a year while repairs were being done. Principal Vaughan Franklin described it as a 'massive disruption' which threatened the quality of teaching. So far only 61 schools have been repaired.[44]

In 2013 the Ministry was involved in legal action over 87 schools to rectify damage caused by "poor design, workmanship, quality control, and materials failure" and is holding architects, designers and builders liable for the cost of repairs. Contractors are liable for the cost if the building work was undertaken within the past 10 years.[45]

Weathertightness issues have also been identified with several 1970s-built secondary schools constructed to the "S 68" design. These schools were designed with low-pitched roofs and protruding wooden clerestory windows in pre-1977 schools (schools built from 1977 have skylights), which in recent years have started to cause problems in areas with relatively high rainfall. The original prototype buildings at Porirua College (opened in 1968, hence "S 68"), have progressively been replaced with modern building since 2007, while extensive re-roofing projects have taken place at other schools, including Waiopehu College in Levin and Awatapu College in Palmerston North.[46]

See also


  1. 1 2 Erik Olssen, "Towards a New Society," in The Oxford History of New Zealand, ed. Geoffrey Rice (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), 276.
  2. "1877 Education made compulsory and free". Retrieved 26 March 2015.
  3. Melanie Nolan, Chapter 15 in The New Oxford History of New Zealand, ed Gisellle Byrnes (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 2009), 378.
  4. Erik Olssen, "Towards a New Society," in The Oxford History of New Zealand, ed. Geoffrey Rice (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), 276-77; Melanie Nolan, Chapter 15 in The New Oxford History of New Zealand(Oxford, 2009), 379.
  5. See for example, "The Annual Conference," National Education, 1 February 1919, 3-4.
  6. Howard Lee and Tom Brooking, "A Cautionary Tale: Rural Education in New Zealand, 1900-1940," in Rural Education in Australia and New Zealand, ed. R.C. Petersen and G.W. Rodwell (Casuarina, Australia: William Michael Press, 1993), 51-74.
  7. Erik Olssen, "Towards a New Society," in The Oxford History of New Zealand, ed. Geoffrey Rice (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), 277.
  8. 1 2 Melanie Nolan, Chapter 15 in The New Oxford History of New Zealand(Oxford, 2009), 379.
  9. P.J. Gibbons, "The Climate of Opinion," in The Oxford History of New Zealand, 2nd ed., 1992, 329; Robert Chapman, "From Labour to National," in The Oxford History of New Zealand, 2nd ed., 1992, 359.
  10. Michael King, "Between Two Worlds," in The Oxford History of New Zealand, ed. Geoffrey Rice (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), 289; Tom Brooking, The History of New Zealand (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood press, 2004),122.
  11. Melanie Nolan, Chapter 15 in The New Oxford History of New Zealand(Oxford, 2009), 379-80.
  12. Roger Dale and Joce Jesson (1993). "Mainstreaming Education: The Role of the State Services Commission" (PDF). New Zealand Annual Review of Education, 7, 7-34. Retrieved 2010-12-13.
  13. Lynne Street, conversation with Scott
  14. "Tomorrow's Schools 'lost a decade'"
  15. "Call to review Tomorrow's Schools model"
  16. Waiting for super schools
  17. Big bucks lure top execs to New Zealand
  18. Secretary of Education Lesley Longstone resigns
  19. Parata blasted over payout
  20. Grocott, Matthew (10 September 2014). "Parata vows to push on with unpopular policy". Manawatu Standard.
  21. TVNZ Jan. 2011.Standards Confusion.
  22. Parata takes the fall for Treasury policy
  23. Larger classes move sparks alarm
  24. Key won't rule out future school cuts
  25. Relief over class size backdown
  26. Ministers' knowledge of Novopay problems revealed
  27. Novopay 'not first' failure for provider
  28. Parata on Novopay: 'We are responsible'
  29. Novopay: Testy relationship revealed
  30. Talent2 downplays $100m NZ school payroll bungle
  31. "Summary of renewal proposals" (PDF). Stuff.co.nz.
  32. Editorial: School policy should be about needs, not theories
  33. "Editorial: Parata lucky to stay after year of errors". The New Zealand Herald.
  34. Live stream: Christchurch school closures
  35. "Christchurch school closures and mergers". Stuff.co.nz.
  36. "Ombudsman to investigate Education Ministry's handling of closures". The New Zealand Herald.
  37. "Charter school trials to take place across the country". The New Zealand Herald.
  38. 1 2 "Charter schools exemption 'unconstitutional'". Stuff.co.nz.
  39. Boards wary on charter schools
  40. Charter schools a 'failed experiment in New Orleans'
  41. John O'Neill: Charter schools totally undemocratic
  42. New Zealand schools leak millions
  43. Legal action begins on leaky school repair bills
  44. Hill, Marika (6 July 2010). "Leaking roofs hit region's schools". Manawatu Standard. Retrieved 17 May 2013.
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