Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The A to Z Challenge: S is for School

Primary school education was made free and compulsory in New Zealand in 1877.

In practice this covered far fewer children than "compulsory" suggests. Parents were exempt from having to send their children to school if they lived more than two miles from the nearest one, which was often the case in rural areas, especially in the early years of compulsory education. Those who lived close enough to a school might be separated from it by a river that occasionally became impassable; or they might simply be kept at home if their labour was considered essential. And the school itself might only be open part of the time: even by the 1920s, when my father-in-law went to a little one-roomed school, the teacher only came out from town three days a week. On three other days of the week (yes, that busy lady taught from Monday to Saturday) she drove her gig to another one-roomed school on the other side of town.

Unidentified school group. Ref: 1/4-005265-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. natlib.govt.nz/records/23012344
The sole-charge teachers with their rooms of pupils ranging in age from five to 13 or even older must have needed all the skills they could muster to keep order and to impart some sort of education to such a mixed range of age and ability. But their pupils were probably better off than those crammed into the busiest of the city schools, like this group:

Classroom of school children. Making New Zealand :Negatives and prints from the Making New Zealand Centennial collection. Ref: MNZ-2816-1/4-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. natlib.govt.nz/records/22735320


  1. These posts have been so completely fascinating! I think the photographs are the best part.


    1. Thank you! I love the pictures, too - they really help make history come alive.