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 Reply

    Intersting did not know this

  • jamie prentice commented on 20/06/2018 Reply

    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 Reply

    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 Reply

    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 Reply

      Opps – bad spelling there of assimilated!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *