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Browse the 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand
Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.



Development of System

The first post-primary or secondary schools in New Zealand were of the English Grammar School type with courses of a predominantly academic character. Then in 1905 came the first Technical High School offering courses in practical subjects. In the years following, a number of these schools were established throughout the country. They catered not only for those wishing to prepare themselves for future trade occupations but also for the many pupils for whom the academic courses of the secondary schools were quite unsuitable. At the same time the newer secondary schools, particularly in the smaller centres, widened the range of subjects and courses offered, and became in part secondary and in part technical schools. Since 1945 all the schools beyond the primary or intermediate school level have been known as post-primary schools. A few of the older secondary schools, particularly in large centres of population, have retained their strongly academic character while the older technical schools have a similar bias towards technical subjects. But all the schools, whatever their bias, are classified as post-primary schools, are operated under the same regulations, given the same types of grants, and staffed by teachers paid on the same salary scales. They prepare pupils for the same examinations and are inspected by the same Department of Education inspectors. The older schools have retained the names by which they were first known — grammar schools, high schools, colleges, technical high schools, and technical colleges — while the newer ones have adopted whichever of these names they wish, usually high schools or colleges. By 1964 there were 183 post-primary schools in New Zealand. In addition, there were 81 district high schools in the smaller country districts. These schools are primary schools with an attached secondary department, staffed by post-primary teachers one of whom, known as the senior secondary assistant, has responsibility under the headmaster for the running of the post-primary classes in the school. The smallest of these departments have only about 20 pupils and one teacher; the largest have rolls of over 200 pupils, with nine or 10 teachers. When a secondary department reaches this size and when there is evidence of further steady growth in roll, the translation of the department to a full post-primary school with its own principal may be considered. The post-primary schools themselves range in size from this mark up to about 1,300 pupils. A new post-primary school in an urban area will, however, start with a Form III (first year post-primary) entry only. In the following year the new school will have classes in Form III and Form IV, and will grow by the addition of one form each year until it has reached its maximum size. The Department of Education has for some years been working on an optimum roll of approximately 850 for co-educational schools and 600–700 for single-sex schools. Co-educational schools in country districts may not reach a roll of 850; urban schools generally reach the optimum roll numbers or exceed them.

The general pattern of development of post-primary schools in New Zealand has been the establishment first of a co-educational school in a centre, though this is so far back in history in the case of the main cities that it is almost forgotten. Smaller centres still have only the one school for boys and girls, but in all larger towns the one school has been split at some time into separate boys' and girls' schools. In recent years almost all the new schools established, including those in the suburban districts of cities and large towns, have been coeducational. Attention is paid, however, to local opinion when a choice between types of school is practicable.

The permissible staffing of post-primary schools is calculated by means of a formula. This gives some weighting to schools with smaller rolls and lays down certain staffing allowances which may be claimed by each school for heads of department duties and careers teachers' duties. Apart from the principal of the school, the formula allows one teacher to approximately 22 pupils in the smaller schools, and one teacher to approximately 25 pupils in the larger ones. Some classes are, however, much smaller than this in the upper school (Form VI) and in certain specialised subjects. It is therefore not unusual for first- and second-year classes to be as large as 36. In addition to the regular teaching staff, including part-time staff, schools may appoint part-time teachers to instruct in instrumental music outside school hours and also may appoint library assistants. The teachers in the schools are, in the main, specialists in particular subjects or groups of subjects. The normal preparation for those engaged in teaching the academic subjects is a university degree followed by a one year's professional training course. Teachers in trade subjects will generally have had a period of trade experience followed by a year's teacher training course. While every encouragement is given to teachers to undertake professional training, suitably qualified men and women may be accepted as post-primary teachers without this training. Promotion for all post-primary teachers depends in the first place on their classification or “grading”. This is assessed each year by inspectors of post-primary schools. Salaries are paid on a national scale, though all teachers are appointed by local controlling authorities of schools, usually boards of governors in the case of post-primary schools.

The present curriculum of all post-primary schools in New Zealand, whether “state” or “private”, is based on the provisions of the Education (Post-primary Instruction) Regulations of 1945. These regulations themselves are the outcome of the recommendations by a committee of 14 persons (commonly known as the Thomas Committee from the name of its chairman) which was set up by the then Minister of Education in 1942 to review post-primary education in New Zealand. The committee's work was carried out at a time when far-reaching changes were already taking place in the general nature of post-primary education in the country. The Proficiency Examination at the conclusion of the primary school course had been abandoned a few years previously and a changed system of promotion through primary classes had been introduced. A greatly increased number of pupils was now entering post-primary schools, and for many of these the courses provided by post-primary schools were inadequate. Steps had already been taken to introduce a School Certificate Examination of much wider scope than the existing Matriculation or University Entrance Examination, to suit the needs of the great mass of pupils. Furthermore, a raising of the school “leaving age” to 15 was contemplated. The Thomas Committee was charged with the duty of recommending changes in the whole structure of post-primary education which would ensure a well balanced education for all types of pupils who would enter the schools. The Committee's report contained not only recommendations on the structure of post-primary education but also detailed syllabuses of instruction and prescriptions for the subjects in the new School Certificate Examination.