Ngā Kura Māori: The Native Schools System 1867-1969

Kaikohe Native School classroom, 1939

Kaikohe Native School classroom, 1939. Native Schools Project records. MSS & Archives 2008/15, folder 173/1.

Today Kaikohe West School is a rural state primary school but between 1882 and 1969 it was known as Kaikohe Native School and was one of more than 160 Native or Māori Schools in the country. This photograph of pupils taken at Kaikohe and logbook from nearby Oromahoe Native School are among the archival items from the landmark Native Schools Project on display outside Special Collections to mark the 150th anniversary of the creation of the Native Schools system.

The 1867 Native Schools Act established a system of secular village primary schools under the control of the Department of Native Affairs. As part of the Government’s policy to assimilate Māori into Pākehā society, instruction was to be conducted entirely in English. Under the Act, it was the responsibility of Māori communities to request a school for their children, form a school committee, supply land for the school and, until 1871, pay for half of the building costs and a quarter of the teacher’s salary. Despite this, many communities were keen for their children to learn English as a second language and by 1879 there were 57 Native Schools.

Detail of handwriting in Oromahoe Native School Logbook

Detail of entry for 15 March 1938, Oromahoe Native School Logbook. Native Schools Project records. MSS & Archives 2008/15, item 74.

From 1879, the schools were administered by the Department of Education in Wellington, while public schools were managed by local education boards. By 1955, there were 166 Māori Schools (as they were known from 1947), mostly located in the North Island. During the 1960s, a series of committees reporting on New Zealand education contended that there should be only one system of state schooling and in 1969 the remaining 105 schools were transferred to the control of local education boards.

A lack of knowledge about the place of these schools in New Zealand educational history and the realisation that many surviving former pupils and teachers were getting on in years was the inspiration behind the Native Schools Project in the 1990s. Conducted by researchers from the University of Auckland-based International Research Institute for Māori and Indigenous Education, the project set out to record the recollections of former pupils and teachers. Now held in the General Library Special Collections, these oral histories and a wealth of related primary and secondary sources collected during the project are available for researchers to use.

Visit the display

To learn more, visit the Ngā Kura Māori display, curated by archivist Katherine Pawley and Māori and Pacific Graduate Intern Te Moana Maika, on Level G of the General Library until 17 November.

Katherine Pawley, Special Collections


Barrington, J.M. & Beaglehole, T.H. (1974). Maori schools in a changing society: an historical review. Wellington: New Zealand Council for Educational Reasearch.

Calman, R. (2012). Māori education – mātauranga – The native schools system, 1867 to 1969: Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved from

Simon, J.A. (Ed.). (1998). Ngā kura Māori: The native schools system 1867-1969. Auckland: Auckland University Press.


  • ruth ogilvie commented on 10/05/2018

    Intersting did not know this

  • jamie prentice commented on 20/06/2018

    My grandfather went to a native school, even though he was a pakeha, because it was the only school around the area.

  • Shirley Nagel commented on 22/11/2018

    Shirley Nagel..that it took some years before all schools were integrated and given equal opportunity .Surprisingly it was The 1960 s that initiated this ..that Old Sixties revolution!!!

  • Ang L commented on 26/11/2018

    I do find it hard to read that, unlike now, being Maori was “assimillated out of them” – you WILL learn in English, oh, and give us land and pay for the teacher….

    • Ang L commented on 26/11/2018

      Opps – bad spelling there of assimilated!

  • jocelyn commented on 25/12/2018

    My partner says his Maori grandmother was rapped over the knuckles when she spoke Maori at the native school in Upukongaro,Whanganui, in the 1920’s.

  • Peter Calkin commented on 25/03/2019

    My great, great Grandfather was a teacher in a native school in the Bay of Islands in the 1870’s. He didn’t tell me much about it (joke) but it prompts me to ask my father if he recalls any conversations about his experience. Interesting that the segregated systems ran for nearly 100 years!

  • T.K.H commented on 05/04/2019

    Why not talk about what happened to the Maori children who spoke Maori in these schools? How they were physically abused until they had stopped speaking their mother tongue. Don sugar coat it… tell it for what it was.

    • Libraries and Learning Services commented on 10/04/2019

      Thank you for your comments about children who were punished for speaking te reo Māori in these schools. This item aimed to let people know about a display of material from the Native Schools Project archival collection. This significant collection includes oral histories by pupils and staff that cover the harmful experiences you raise, as well as other more positive ones. How the English language policy was implemented is discussed in numerous publications, including those listed above and in A civilising mission: perceptions and representations of the Native Schools System, edited by Judith Simon and Linda Tuhiwai Smith.
      Katherine Pawley, Cultural Collections

      • John Brown commented on 30/04/2019

        So yous write article’s to which it only tells half of the story?

  • JFarris commented on 23/05/2019

    Will be interesting to see how far they have come with identity, language and culture as a key focus in school curriculum these past years. That it is not just within Maori Medium learning enviroments.

  • te marino commented on 26/05/2019

    tuahiwi (north canterbury) native school was established in 1863. it is located in maori reservation 873 which was the first block of maori land in nz to be subdivided into individual lots. we are still struggling to grow ourselves out of that

  • Erana commented on 05/06/2019

    My whanau were ones who gave land to be used for a native school, and its structure is still visible today

  • emillie delaney commented on 04/09/2019

    my mum attended kaikohe native school from 1938
    how do i go about getting copies of school pics i have no pics of her as a child so i thought i would start with the school i remember her telling us they were not allowed to speak Maori and been rapped over the knuckles how times have changed

    • Libraries and Learning Services commented on 06/09/2019

      Thank you for your comments Emillie, I will email you separately regarding obtaining copies of photographs from the Native Schools Project records.
      Katherine Pawley, Special Collections.

Comments are closed