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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.


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One of the most interesting features of the history of education in New Zealand has been the part played by the registered private schools. In the earliest years of the colony, education was almost entirely the concern of churches and private secular organisations, which were assisted by limited grants from public funds. When the provinces were established under the Constitution Act of 1852, the provincial councils assumed responsibility for education. Most of them tended at first to support the private school organisations already in existence in their areas, but by 1870 the beginnings of a public or State school system had also been established by them. The abolition of the provinces in 1876 obliged the Central Government to take over the responsibility for public education, and the Education Act of the next year set up what is, in effect, the present system of “free, compulsory, and secular” education. The same Act recognised private schools, to the extent that it accepted the education they provided as fulfilling the requirements for compulsory education.

The next 50 years saw rapid growth in the number of private schools throughout the country. The majority of the new schools were those of the Roman Catholic Church, but schools maintained by other denominations also grew in number, partly for the religious education they gave, and partly, too, to satisfy a demand among some groups for a more selective school than that which the State system normally provided.

The growth in the number of private post-primary schools in New Zealand has been steady. In 1960 there were 108 as against 54 in 1929, 28 in 1918, and less than a dozen in 1908. Most of them now have boarding establishments, and some are wholly residential. Two, Christ's College and Wanganui Collegiate School, are endowed schools modelled upon the English “public” schools. The distribution of post-primary schools among the various denominations, and the number of pupils attending in 1964 are shown in the following table:

Controlling Body Number of Schools Secondary Enrolment
Roman Catholic 69 14,645
Church of England 22 4,862
Presbyterian 13 3,293
Seventh Day Adventis 3 221
Methodist 1 175
Latter Day Saints 1 530
Undenominational 5 713
Total 114 24,439

In 1964 the great majority of the private primary schools were Roman Catholic schools, of which there were 274, catering for over 51,000 pupils. The remaining private primary schools comprised 54 church schools of other denominations, 11 undenominational schools, and two lower departments of secondary schools.

Measures are taken to ensure that private schools provide instruction which reaches the same minimum standards as those of the public schools. All of them are required to apply for registration, and they are subject to regular inspection by the Department of Education.

The first Roman Catholic secondary school in New Zealand for boys was St. Patrick's College, founded in Wellington in 1884, and later transferred, in part, to Silverstream. Other large Roman Catholic schools for boys include the Sacred Heart College, and St. Peter's and St. Paul's Colleges in Auckland; St. Patrick's College in Wellington; St. Bernard's College in Lower Hutt; St. Bede's and Xavier Colleges in Christchurch; St. Kevin's College in Oamaru, and the St. Paul's High School in Dunedin. Convent high schools for girls have been established in the principal cities, among the largest being the St. Mary's Colleges in Auckland and Wellington, the Sacred Heart Colleges in Hamilton, Wanganui, Lower Hutt, and Christchurch, and St. Philomena's College in Dunedin.

The three senior Church of England boys' schools are Christ's College (Christchurch), Wanganui Collegiate School, and King's College (Auckland). The first two date back to the early days of the colony. King's College was established much later as an Anglican boys' secondary school for Auckland. Largest of the established Anglican girls' schools are the Diocesan High School in Auckland, Marsden Collegiate School in Wellington, and St. Margaret's College in Christchurch.

The Presbyterian schools were all established after 1914. There are four large schools for boys — St. Andrew's College in Christchurch, St. Kentigern School in Auckland, Scot's College in Wellington, and John McGlashan College in Dunedin. The largest girls' schools with Presbyterian affiliations are Solway College in Masterton, Queen Margaret College in Wellington, Rangi-ruru Girls' School in Christchurch, and Columba College in Dunedin.

The largest of the other denominational schools is the Church School of New Zealand Latter Day Saints established in 1958 in Hamilton. The largest undenominational school is St. Cuthbert's College for Girls in Auckland.

by Horace William Sayers, M.A., DIP.ED., Senior Inspector (Post-primary), Department of Education, Wellington.


Horace William Sayers, M.A., DIP.ED., Senior Inspector (Post-primary), Department of Education, Wellington.