Story: Private education
Elite establishments originally modelled on England’s exclusive ‘public’ schools are the best known of New Zealand’s private schools, but state-integrated Catholic schools and Māori church boarding schools also began life as private schools.
Full story by Megan Cook
Main image: Christ's College, Christchurch
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In the 2000s New Zealand had almost 100 private schools and just over 300 state-integrated schools. Most provided a mainstream education, although Rudolf Steiner schools, performing-arts schools, alternative schools and some Christian schools offered a less mainstream experience.
State-integrated schools received government funding and taught the national curriculum, but retained their special character. Most were Catholic church schools, but there were also Steiner, Montessori, Jewish and other Christian schools.
Churches and schools
The first schools were private, set up by missionaries to teach Māori and missionaries’ children in the 1820s.
From 1877 the government provided free, secular primary education for all children. In response, the Catholic Church set up its own schools. The other churches lobbied for Christian education in state schools, but this was unsuccessful – so the churches formalised links with existing private schools.
Evangelical Christian churches set up schools from the mid-1960s.
From the 1960s private schools received substantial government grants. In the 1970s Catholic schools were in financial trouble. However, they were able to become state-integrated and receive government funding.
Elite private schools were known for their spacious grounds, plentiful resources and immaculate uniforms. In 2011 they charged annual fees of $12,000 to $19,000 (plus boarding fees), and their students typically did better than average in national exams. Most elite schools operating in the 2000s were set up in the late 19th or early 20th centuries. The early schools were based on exclusive English schools.
Māori church boarding schools were among New Zealand’s earliest private schools, and were first set up in the 1840s and 1850s. From the late 19th century they produced some of the country’s Māori leaders. In the early 20th century the Department of Education encouraged Māori schools to teach manual and technical rather than academic skills.
In the later 20th century the schools were known for integrating Māori culture, fostering Māori leaders and producing good academic results. However, they suffered from an ongoing lack of funding. In the 2000s there were six Māori church schools. All were state-integrated.