Origins of Primary Schools

The passing of the Education Act 1877 established New Zealand's first secular, compulsory and free national system of primary education. Under the Act it became compulsory for children from ages 7 to 13 to attend primary school. The Act also sought to establish standards of quality of education as schools varied greatly in their resources and approaches. Before this time children attended schools governed by provincial governments or church or private schools. As with all legislation, the Act's effectiveness depended on its practicability and the resources to enforce it. Many children continued to face difficulties with attending school, especially those from rural areas where their manual labour was important to families.

The 1877 Act made some difference to Maori and women, enabling a small proportion to proceed to higher education. For example, over 500 Maori girls went to Hukarere Native Girls' School in the Hawkes bay between 1877 and 1900. Apirana Ngata went to Te Aute College at the age of 10 in 1884, won a scholarship, and became the first Maori to graduate in a New Zealand university and a leading politician.