Development and Trends in the Last 25 Years
Changes in the field of education beginning about this time were to have important administrative consequences. In 1936 the proficiency examination was abolished and free secondary education up to the age of 19 years became available to pupils completing the primary school course. The movement towards post-primary education for all was further stimulated in 1944 by the raising of the school leaving age to 15.
A wider choice of courses became necessary to meet the needs of the influx of new post-primary pupils. Revised prescriptions for courses and an adjusted basis for post-primary grants tended to eliminate the difference between secondary and technical schools in all but the larger centres. Other factors carrying forward the process of unification in the post-primary field were the appearance of a uniform salary scale for secondary and technical school teachers in 1945, and the practice, from 1947 onwards, for the post-primary inspectorate to work as a composite group over all post-primary schools.
Following the Second World War, the need to take appropriate steps to meet unprecedented increases in the school population took precedence over all other considerations in determining education policy. These increases, first experienced in the primary age groups but later extending to post-primary groups, called for proportionate increases in the supply of teachers, and in the provision of classrooms, teaching equipment, and other facilities such as school transport. The demand for additional classrooms and equipment was aggravated by an arrears of deferred work and inadequate equipment resulting from labour and material shortages in the concluding years of the war.
This situation called for closer liaison between the Department and local education authorities and their agreement on simpler and more effective administrative arrangements. In the primary field, standard plans did much to speed classroom building, but the difficulty remained that education boards could not develop any real responsibility while dependent on individual grants for particular works. A system of annual building programmes, put into operation in the financial year 1953–54, was a partial solution to this problem. Following a visit by Departmental officers to England, various measures observed there were adapted to New Zealand conditions. Schools were planned on a “block” principle to give improved facilities at lower cost. A new system of primary school building was adopted which gave education boards increased authority and responsibility, and an incentive to use local skill. Education boards were to plan and build within “white lines” imposed on the one hand by the minimum standards of a building code and on the other by a ceiling figure placed by Government on the finance available for a particular project.
The important problem of maintaining a sufficient supply of teachers proved no less difficult of solution and called for close coordination of effort between the Department and local education authorities in the operation of emergency training schemes and other measures adopted to improve the supply of teachers. At the same time, progress was made by the Department, the education boards, and the New Zealand Educational Institute towards agreement on a new scheme for the appointment and promotion of teachers which would replace the system based on accumulated grading marks. The outcome was amending legislation which made recommendations by Appointments Committees (on which were represented the appointing authority, the Department and the teachers) the main factor in determining primary appointments.
In some sectors of the national system of education, the Department, in the absence of a strong regional authority, was obliged to take the initiative in devising means for meeting post-war problems. This applied particularly in respect of problems associated with the future of Maori schools. In 1879 the newly created Department of Education had been given control of the native village schools in the belief that the needs of Maori children would require special attention. Over the years the system worked well, although there was a general understanding that the Maori schools would ultimately be absorbed in the public school system. However, the continuing adjustment of the Maori people to the economic life of the country, improved teaching methods in public schools, and the possibility of Maori schools and public schools being established, because of population growth, in the same town, led to the Minister of Education setting up a committee to consider the control of Maori schools. The committee which reported in 1956 recommended that the process of handing Maori schools over to education boards “should be gradual and spread over several generations of pupils”. In consequence of the committee's report, full consultations with the Maori people preceded the subsequent transfer of one or two Maori schools to education boards; an officer for Maori education was appointed; and school committees for Maori schools were established similar to those of the public schools.
By the middle fifties, the impact of rising school rolls had reached the post-primary schools. This gave urgency to the long-standing problem of finding a rational system of control for post-primary schools which would reconcile a large degree of local participation with the need for central direction of educational policy. A system for the control of groups of post-primary schools was introduced in Christchurch in 1948 which promised a solution to this problem in larger centres of population. Under the “Christchurch system”, each participating school had its own board to control its domestic affairs. The separate boards elected the majority of members of a post-primary schools council which would act on their behalf in matters common to all and would maintain a central office to provide clerical and accounting services. Although legislative provision was made in 1953 for this system to be adopted in other centres, the Wellington city area, to which it was introduced in 1956, is the only other region to which it has been extended. In general, new post-primary schools established in suburban areas and in growing boroughs to meet school population increases have been set up at the wish of the local people, under their own boards of governors. These boards have been constituted so as to give a large representation to parents of pupils and other groups and organisations directly interested in the work of the schools. An exception to this tendency is found in one or two provincial towns — e.g., Palmerston North or Napier, where the one governing body has controlled all post-primary schools for many years, a plan which has local approval. While, however, separate boards for separate schools are insisted upon in the outer suburbs of Auckland, Wellington, Dunedin, and in the Hutt Valley, there will continue to be a need for some agency to perform in those areas similar functions to those carried out in Christchurch and the inner Wellington city area by a post-primary schools council. These coordinating functions will, in the absence of some specific authority, devolve upon the Department of Education. In that case, the Department's decentralisation, begun with the opening of an Auckland office in 1948 and continued by the establishment of a Christchurch office in 1960 and a Wellington office in 1963, has placed the Department in a better position to meet these responsibilities.