Story: Tertiary education

Page 3. Colleges of education before 1990

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19th century

In the 19th century many teachers did not receive formal training, but rather learned on the job as ‘pupil-teachers’ apprenticed to schools.

The first teacher-training school opened in Dunedin in 1876. After schooling for children aged 7–13 became compulsory in 1877, trained teachers were in demand. Training schools opened in Canterbury (1877), Wellington (1880) and Auckland (1881). Schools were attached to each, so student teachers could gain experience in the classroom.

Universities provided education courses, though actual teacher training remained the responsibility of training schools. Teaching students also took general university courses.

In 1887, during a period of economic depression, training school grants were withdrawn by the government. The Auckland and Wellington schools closed, while Christchurch and Dunedin remained open. The pupil-teacher system continued.

Training colleges

In the early 1900s George Hogben, the government’s inspector general of schools, turned his attention towards teacher training. From 1904 funding for the Christchurch and Dunedin schools increased and schools (which were now all called training colleges) opened in Wellington and Auckland in 1906. That year 261 students attended training colleges – 195 women and 66 men. Women continued to dominate enrolments.

Gender differences

The number of male training college students never equalled that of women, though the ratio waxed and waned. The Department of Education annual report for 1918 maintained that it was ‘freely acknowledged that women are suitable teachers for three-fourths of the school population’.1 Exactly why was not stated. The report noted with satisfaction that the recent salary and allowance increases for pupil-teachers and college students were followed by increases in male student numbers.

The colleges were governed by local boards of education. Students received paid grants while training and their university fees were paid. This system continued until 1983, when students received the normal tertiary bursary.

Students had to take English and education courses at universities, but this did not work well. Pupil-teachers, who had no post-primary education, struggled and it was hard to make college and university timetables work together. From the 1920s training colleges provided more general educational courses and college students attended university voluntarily. The pupil-teacher system ended in 1926, though students still spent time in classrooms as probationary assistants.


Enrolments grew in the early 1920s – from 680 in 1920 to 1,271 in 1926 – but the economic depression of the early 1930s ended growth. Graduates could not find paid work and the Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin colleges were closed by the government in 1932. Auckland followed in 1934. All the colleges were open again by 1936 and in 1940 enrolments reached 1,460.

The post-Second World War baby boom meant more teachers were required. In 1950 there were 2,684 enrolments. New training colleges opened and by 1964 they peaked at nine – four in Auckland, and one each in Hamilton, Palmerston North, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin. Trainee teacher numbers also increased, reaching 7,779 by 1975.

No condoms on campus

In 1972 the students’ executive of the Auckland Teachers College wanted to install a condom-vending machine on campus. Even though the college was slowly modernising its attitudes – for instance, women students were allowed to wear trousers instead of skirts and dresses from 1970 – the principal Duncan McGhie could not accept this innovation. He said the college was a government institution and the public expected high standards.

Greater autonomy

In the 1960s training colleges gained some independence. Governance was transferred from the boards of education to college councils. This meant colleges managed their own staff appointments and curriculum. Policy development and student recruitment and selection were still carried out by the Department of Education.

By the late 1970s most training colleges offered shared education degree programmes with universities.

Colleges of education

In the 1980s some training colleges were renamed colleges of education. While teacher training remained their primary focus, the colleges expanded to include social-work training, higher level courses for trained teachers and courses for teaching in other professions, such as nursing.

1980s enrolments

By the 1980s the supply of teaching graduates well exceeded the number of teaching jobs available, and student intakes were cut. Enrolments had dropped to 2,703 in 1985.

Some training colleges closed. The first closure (Ardmore in Auckland) occurred in 1974, as the declining birth rate coupled with a growing tendency for more teachers to stay in the profession reduced demand for new teachers. The North Shore Teachers College (Auckland) closed between 1981 and 1983, and the Auckland Teachers College and the Secondary Teachers College (Auckland) merged in 1986. However, student intakes again increased from the mid-1980s and enrolments grew to reach 5,766 in 1990.

  1. Appendices to the Journals of the House of Representatives, 1919, E-1, p. 18. Back
How to cite this page:

Kerryn Pollock, 'Tertiary education - Colleges of education before 1990', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 18 June 2024)

Story by Kerryn Pollock, published 20 Jun 2012