Arnold Everitt Campbell was born at Karere, near Palmerston North, on 13 August 1906, the son of Mabel Annie Brooker and her husband, Fernly Charlwood Campbell, a teacher. He went to West End School and Palmerston North Boys’ High School, and then to Teachers’ Training College in Wellington, attending Victoria University College as a part-time student. Campbell began to build a reputation as a young man of progressive views through appointments as an assistant lecturer at the training college in 1926, a WEA lecturer, and, from 1930, a part-time assistant lecturer in education at Victoria University College. He graduated MA with first-class honours in education in 1930.
The educational policy of the New Zealand Labour Party and the aspirations of the New Zealand Educational Institute were virtually identical, and there was regular consultation between leaders of both organisations living in Wellington. Campbell was soon involved and his appointment as editor of National Education , the NZEI’s journal, from 1934 to 1936 gave him an influential national platform. He was a member of a ‘band of hope’ that met regularly during the depression years and that included Percy Martin-Smith, W. B. Sutch, Ormond Wilson and Frank Combs. He assisted Walter Nash in drafting Labour’s education policy statement for the 1935 general election. On 10 February 1934, in Wellington, he married Louise Annie (Nancy) Combs, the daughter of Frank Combs. They were to have two daughters and a son.
He was promoted to a lectureship in education in 1936 and was one of the leading spirits of the New Education Fellowship Conference in 1937, editing its proceedings, Modern trends in education (1938). Early in 1939 he succeeded C. E. Beeby as director of the New Zealand Council for Educational Research. The council had an ambitious programme of research and publication under way, almost all of which was to be undertaken by honorary researchers under the director’s supervision. During his 14 years as director he supervised, edited, and published over 30 titles, many of them substantial books. Among them were his own research reports on The Feilding Community Centre (1945) and The control of post-primary schools (1948). His main publications were Educating New Zealand (1941), in the series of national centennial publications, and Compulsory education in New Zealand (1952), written with G. W. Parkyn for UNESCO’s international series of studies in compulsory education.
With the ending of Carnegie Corporation of New York grants to the NZCER, Campbell gained government agreement to the New Zealand Council for Educational Research Act 1945, which provided public funding and safeguarded the council’s professional independence. One sign of the role that the NZCER so quickly created for itself was that government and other organisations regularly turned to it for expert advice on new educational developments. Campbell’s personal standing facilitated that sense of trust. He was approachable, well informed, balanced and constructive in his approach to issues, and of unquestioned integrity.
Beeby enlisted him in 1942 to be one of the joint secretaries of the Thomas committee, which produced the blueprint for the reorganisation of post-primary schooling for forms three to five. He was also a member of the 1945 consultative committee on adult education and was appointed to the National Council of Adult Education in 1948. He represented New Zealand at the international conference held in London in 1945, which drew up the constitution for UNESCO. He became a foundation member of the New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO when it was formed in 1947 and chaired it from 1960 to 1966.
From 1948 to 1951 he chaired the consultative committee on the training and recruitment of teachers. A Carnegie grant in 1949 enabled him to study developments in teacher education in the United States, Canada, and Australia. He resigned from the NZCER in 1952 and in 1955 the Carnegie Corporation presented him with a Paul Manship-designed bronze plaque for distinguished service. He was the first non-American to receive this award.
Campbell was appointed chief inspector of primary schools in the Department of Education in 1952, became assistant director in 1959, and succeeded Beeby as director in 1960. His years as a senior public servant were unprecedentedly difficult in public education. High birth rates had outpaced the provision of school buildings and nothing could prevent post-primary schools from being subjected to the teacher shortage that had already seriously affected primary schools. University enrolments were poised to increase significantly, as was demand for tertiary-level technical education. No less important was widespread public concern that educational standards were falling and that the officially endorsed policies of the ‘new education’, including the introduction of School Certificate and the accrediting of University Entrance, were to blame. For more than 20 years Campbell had advocated a broad, balanced curriculum for all pupils regardless of their presumed ability and he joined Beeby in battling a tide of sceptical public opinion.
The Labour Party returned to power in 1957 with a commitment to hold a public inquiry into the education system. A commission under the chairmanship of Sir George Currie began shortly after Campbell became director in 1960. Campbell’s scrupulously honest, balanced accounts of the state of public education greatly assisted the commission, whose report, published in 1962, generally endorsed the direction of educational policy. The report created a watershed in public debate and, with teacher shortages also becoming a thing of the past, the teaching profession was able to cast off its siege mentality.
During the last four years of his term as director (director general from 1964, following a change in the statutory title) Campbell and his departmental colleagues had the satisfaction of advising the government on far-reaching initiatives in all sectors of the education system. He also played an important international role: as part of New Zealand delegations to UNESCO general conferences in 1958 and 1964 and to the second Commonwealth Education Conference in New Delhi in 1962, and advising on New Zealand’s educational contribution under the Colombo Plan.
Campbell was appointed a CMG in the 1966 New Year’s honours list and he retired a few months later. The years had taken their toll and he was in frail health. He assisted the University Grants Committee as a part-time adviser until 1972, when a stroke cut him off from public life. Earlier that year the NZEI had made him an honorary fellow. Nancy Campbell, a woman of notable verve, cared for him devotedly until his death in Wellington on 2 July 1980. Arnold Campbell was second only to C. E. Beeby as an educational thinker in his generation, and Beeby, his friend of 45 years, depended on him and respected him more than any other colleague.