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Education & Schools in New Zealand

In such a young and developing country, emphasis was placed on the ability to work and to create a comfortable home and viable living. Family members would not have had the time, or indeed the money, to spend on an education. Any such learning, therefore, would in the main have been undertaken by the parents.

Some schools did exist but attendance was in no way compulsory. Indeed the compulsion for children to attend school did not arise until the Education Act of 1877. These early schools were run on a "user pays" basis and were not instigated, funded, organised or controlled by the State. The first school in the Wellington area, for instance, was opened and conducted by 30 year old Ann Tilke shortly she after she arrived on the ship Adelaide. It was held in "a long clay-built house with thatched roof, a little to the west of the corner of Mulgrave and Pipitea Streets." Her pupils were some of the children of the early Thorndon settlers. Shortly afterwards Charles Grace, recently arrived from Sydney by the Lady Lilford (March 16th 1840), announced his intention to open a school and as such was to become the first male teacher in Wellington. His school occupied one of the wooden buildings on Thorndon Flat owned by the New Zealand Company.

By 1855, the Wellington Provincial Council had agreed to promote the establishment of common schools (non Church based). One of the first in the Wellington area was the Wellington Commercial & Grammar School, established by   Edward Toomath on January 19th 1857. Many of these early schools were still run by the Church with an emphasis placed, quite obviously, on religious education rather than secular.

There was no universal agreement as to the form or value of a national education system and the schooling of the people became the responsibility of Provincial Governments. Understandably, facilities varied greatly from one Province to another with Otago and Nelson achieving the closest match to a public education system. The Provincial split was also in danger of giving rise to splits in religious denominationalism. Predominantly protestant Otago saw these issues differently from the Anglican north. In order to avoid this most of the Provinces were moving towards secular primary education as evinced in the Auckland Education Act of 1872.

Following the abolition of the Provinces, the 1877 Education Bill was introduced to Parliament in Wellington. This bill sought to introduce an almost wholly secular education system throughout the country which was almost free, almost compulsory and addressed the issue of religious instruction with daily Bible reading and the repetition of the Lord's Prayer. Fiercely debated on such issues as the relationship between central and local control, finance, compulsion and the place of religion, the bill was eventually passed giving New Zealand a uniform, national system of education which was almost wholly secular in nature.

The following are the School Rolls from the
Wellington Commercial & Grammar School 1857 to 1860 incl.