Origins of Secondary Schools

Around 1900, secondary schooling was generally for the wealthy elite who intended to go to university or enter professional careers, and it was not free. In 1901, less than 3 percent of those aged between 12 and 18 attended public secondary schools. An additional 5 percent attended district high schools (as they were known) or a Standard 7 class. Educational opportunities improved from around 1902 when secondary schools were given grants to admit more pupils.

The Education Act 1914 required secondary schools to offer free education to all those who passed a Proficiency examination. The Certificate of Proficiency thus became the major determinant of job and career opportunities. By 1921 nearly 13 percent of 12- to 18-year-olds attended a secondary institution (usually for at least two years) and five years later in 1926, and still in 1939, 25 percent did so.

Most schools continued to attempt to offer a curriculum with strong traditional and authoritarian elements. Schools attempted to balance a 'civilising' cultural and moral education with 'utilitarian', vocational training needs. This frustrated those who urged a greater focus on workforce preparation. The battle between vocational and cultural educational imperatives continues today.