Education Act passed into law

29 November 1877

Otahuhu District School (Manukau Libraries Reference: Footprints 03719)

The Education Act 1877 (passed into law on 29 November) established free, compulsory and secular education for all Pākehā New Zealand children. The Act did not apply to Māori children, but they could attend the free schools if their parents wanted them to. Primary school education was made compulsory for Māori in 1894.

The 1877 Act required Pākehā children between the ages of seven and thirteen to attend school. The legislation covered children up to standard six (Year 8); while a primary school education was a universal right, secondary school was only for a select few.

In practice, the schools were far from compulsory; children were only required to attend on half the days that the school was open. Parents in rural areas often kept their children at home to help with activities such as harvesting and haymaking.

The Act aimed to provide a uniform education. The standardised curriculum consisted of reading, writing, arithmetic, history and geography, plus sewing and needlework for girls and military drill for boys.

To run this new education system, a three-tiered administration was put in place. A newly-established Department of Education supplied the national curriculum and allocated funding to 12 regional Education Boards, which oversaw the school committees that ran individual schools.

Women were eligible to sit on school committees and did so immediately. In the first year, a woman was elected chair of the Selwyn district school committee, and others followed her lead. This was part of a larger movement that saw women moving from the ‘private’ sphere of the home into the ‘public’ sphere of civic life. Education, concerned as it is with children, could be seen as a natural stepping stone.

 

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