A Period of Educational Reform
The period from the appointment of George Hogben as Inspector-General in 1899 to the passing of the Education Act 1914 was one of almost continual reform in education. Prior to his appointment, Hogben had been Principal of Timaru Boys' High School, and before that an inspector of the North Canterbury Education Board. He had also been actively concerned in the establishment of the teachers' organisation, the New Zealand Educational Institute. This background of experience, together with an innate enthusiasm and drive, made Hogben singularly well-equipped for the task of educational reform.
Hogben's earliest reforms were concerned with the improvement of the examination system in the schools and the preparation of a more liberal syllabus, matters within the competence of the Department. These measures depended for success on an improvement in the quality of teachers. Various factors contributed to the low standard of the teaching profession. Salary scales differed from one board to another; in some districts school committees had the main voice in making appointments and were often influenced by parochial considerations; and diverse classification systems precluded the movement of teachers between board districts. The Public School Teachers' Salaries Act of 1901 established a national scale of salaries and made possible the introduction of a national superannuation scheme for teachers. Further legislation in 1905 and 1908 defined with certainty the procedure for making appointments.
While the boards' powers to determine teachers' conditions of employment were being progressively lessened, their authority was being restricted in other directions. In 1901 a system of grants for individual building works replaced the lump sums previously payable on estimated annual requirements. A uniform basis prescribed for the payment of grants by boards to school committees increased the financial autonomy of the latter authorities.
Perhaps the most far-reaching reforms of the period related to secondary education, which had largely been excluded from the purview of the Education Act of 1877. In the period 1877–99 a series of local Acts established more than 20 endowed secondary schools under Boards of Governors. These schools, patterned on English Grammar Schools, provided academic courses of instruction for what were predominantly fee-paying pupils.
Hogben's aim was to make secondary education available to more pupils and to broaden the secondary school curriculum. The Secondary Schools Act 1903 virtually forced the free place system on the secondary schools, which were required to accept the offer of capitation allowances for free places or to institute free places to the value of one-fifth of their endowment income. The Act also provided for the inspection of secondary schools, the establishment of new ones, and the making of special grants for the building additions necessitated by an increasing influx of free place pupils.
The task of reforming the syllabus to bring it into closer relationship with the needs of the community proved more difficult. Secondary school boards (and education boards in respect of secondary departments of district high schools) refused liberal grants offered under the Manual and Technical Instruction Acts of 1900 and 1902 for the introduction of practical subjects rather than accept the conditions for the close supervision of classes. The education boards were prepared, however, to establish technical classes under the control of managers. From the aggregation of technical classes and associated classes established in this way developed technical schools which by the end of the period were providing, in addition to the practical classes for which they were originally established, courses of instruction in the subjects taught in the secondary schools.
From 1910 onwards, it became increasingly evident that the educational reforms of the period, undertaken without full regard to their administrative consequences, raised difficult problems of coordination of control in education. A Royal (Mark Cohen) Commission recommended as a solution a large measure of decentralisation, and the unified local control of primary, secondary, and technical education. Meanwhile a new Administration elected with a slender majority was in no position to introduce sweeping and controversial measures. In the circumstances, the consolidating Education Act of 1914 was, like its predecessor of 1877, to some extent a compromise of conflicting interests.