Community Contributed

Foxton 1888-1988 - Education

Kete Horowhenua2020-01-27T18:37:39+00:00
Education has seen a change from showing and telling to guiding and questioning. Dr Beeby, a former Director of Education, claimed that from the ever widening and changing curriculum, three things from the present that would remain in the 21st century would be reading, crea­tive activities, and the instilling into children the fact that "all people count".

The Reverend Duncan would surely agree with this philosophy. When he began teaching the Maori people in 1844, his aims were not just spiritual, but also practical. He included in his lessons the study of figures and weights to help them in their dealings with the Pakeha traders. As well as assisting the Maori, Duncan also gave lessons for the children of other settlers in his home at Matakarapa and later at Te Maire. The Rev. Duncan, helped by his daughter, continued to teach until 1866 when a Mr Ivor was appointed to the school at Foxton, the only one in the Manawatu. The school site was obtained in 1855 from Ihakara Tukumaru by Mr Nye and Captain Robinson. The public raised the money and a schoolroom was built, with a sloping floor so that the teacher could easily see all the class. The fee for attendance was one shilling per week per pupil, reducible for families.

The original educational system organised by Sir George Grey in 1847, was a denominational one, based on the English system. This was not accepted by the South Island settlers, who had an efficient, free, secular and compulsory system. The Education Act of 1879, which set up the present state system followed the South Island precedent. In this the school committees were to collect ten shillings from householders for each child attending school. Each Education Board was to receive 3 pounds 10 shillings from central Government for each child. Foxton was under the Manawatu District of the Wellington Education Board until the Wanganui Board was formed in 1878. Mr Hulke was the first head teacher appointed under the new act in 1878 on a salary of 190 pounds per annum. The school roll of 130 was housed in a building of 43 x 36 feet. (The statutory requirements of today consider this enough for 55!). This roll had increased from a roll of 98 in 1866. The Inspectors' report in 1878 stated that "Foxton is in the front rank of satisfactory schools, distinguished by capital infant teaching and very accurate fractional arithmetic in the higher classes".

In 1898 the headmaster Washington Stewart (later interred in the Foxton Cemetery) was irate with the parents, abiding by the law in sending their children to school for the minimum number of required days and keeping them at home to work on the remainder. "The growth of the intellect," he wrote, "appears to be of less concern than the growth of plants" and he cited the full drayload of schoolboys being driven out to plant cabbages for a local market gardener. This led Ernest Thynne, editor of the Herald and chairman of the School Com­mittee, to write a hard hitting leader that claimed "parents were not well enough off to do without their childrens' labour." Although the law-makers had decreed that it was mandatory for children to attend for only half a week things began to get out of hand and Truancy Inspectors were appointed to control the situation.

Above: Foxton School in 1878 with the pupils assembled on the grounds.

Above: The second school, built in 1906, which was destroyed by fire in 1918.

In 1906 a larger, wooden, school costing 1400 pounds was opened by Prime Minister Richard Seddon. Foxton had gained a reputation for its flax, fires, and floods and this new building was to be added to it. The fire of 1918 is clearly remembered by pupil Olga Yorke (now Olga Burns) who received all her education in Foxton and taught here for thirty years. The fire resulted in Olga and her schoolmates receiving their next two years of education in either one of the four church halls or the Town Hall Supper Room. (This latter venue was also used when the roll outgrew the school in the years after World War 2). The re­placement brick building, opened in 1920 at a cost of 7520 pounds, consisted of eight classrooms with a large dome over the front entr­ance. The dome was removed in 1942 after being damaged by the severe earthquake of that year.

In 1907 the headmaster Mr Adams formed technical evening classes in what he hoped would become the first step towards a High School. The expansion of the school into a District High School did not come until 1927 after much effort by headmaster Frank Mason. Mr Mason taught a class of 6-8 pupils (some of whom had reached Form 6 level at Palmerston North High Schools) in his own office so as to promote the cause of the new development. In 1928 the secondary pupils were able to move into a new building on the corner of Duncan Street and Ravens­worth Street. This included woodwork and cooking rooms which re­mained in use for secondary pupils for several years after they moved to the Ladys Mile site. The rapid increase in infant numbers had led to a new block being built in 1945. These rooms often had to accommodate over forty pupils plus the necessary equipment - in Irene Forrest's case this meant her "hoard" of boxes and other teaching effects which were not allowed to be touched by other staff. Most would not have dared enter her storeroom for fear of being lost! In 1957 the primary roll fell by 80 when the Beach School was opened. A new Manual Training block was opened in 1973 and the old brick secondary block was demolished followed by the brick classroom block in 1974. (Both buildings were considered earthquake risks). The problems faced by the demolition men moved George Barber, Chairman of the School Commit­tee for many years (and later Chairman of the Manawatu College Board of Governors), to observe that "It would have needed a massive earth­ quake to shake that down!!"

The establishment of Manawatu College in 1961 with Ted Irving as principal meant that the primary school section of the District High School became Foxton Primary. Stuart Morris, who had served for sixteen years as Headmaster of the D.H.S. retired but Neal Hunt stayed on (as First Assistant Maste'r) as did Olga Yorke. New Headmaster Harold Flynn arrived and began to sweep clean, sorting and removing the unnecessary. Seeing the changes Neal remarked to Olga "We'd better keep on the move or we'll be on the truck to the dump!" These two gave many years of service to the school in the town and when he finished as remedial reading teacher at the College, Neal had given over fifty years service to education.

Due to lack of playing space at Foxton Primary for the large number of pupils, options of an Area School, an Intermediate School, or a sepa­rate primary school were addressed. The latter option was decided upon and adopted and in 1967 Coley Street School was opened with a roll of 137 infants and Standard 1. The motto adopted was Kia Kaha-To Serve - and Alan Weatherall was appointed Headmaster. Longest serving staff members are Delia Robinson there since the first day and Isobel Rotherham (Office Assistant since 1969). Building did not keep pace with the roll growth and from time to time classes had to be accommo­dated at Foxton Primary until Coley Street became a full Primary School in 1972. The School quickly built up a sense of pride and this is reflected in the construction of a swimming pool and the attractive play equipment constructed by parents and staff.

The town's third primary school, St Mary's, has been open since 1911. This was established by the Brigidine Sisters who first held classes in the convent while a debt free school building was constructed in three months. Mother Raphael was the first Mother Superior and provided a curriculum of "Bookkeeping, French, Latin, and Fancy work as well as the normal subjects"! When the influenza epidemic of 1918 raged, the school was converted into a temporary hospital, with the patients being nursed by the nuns. Those who did not succumb "inhaled acrid fumes in the Town Hall and Bryant's Billiard Room to prevent the spread of infection." The school buildings have twice been updated and rebuilt and the large convent home of the Sisters for many years, was partially destroyed by fire in 1987 after being sold to private buyers. St Mary's is now integrated into the state system and is staffed by lay teachers.

Will it be a high school or a college? On 4 August 1960 seventy parents met with a representative of the Wanganui Education Board. This inaugural meeting to establish a post primary school was chaired by the Mayor of Foxton, Mr Ted Field, and Mr Roy Allen acted as secretary. Mr Field suggested the name be 'Manawatu College' while Headmaster of the Distict High School favoured 'Foxton College'. The former suggestion was taken up, the motto of 'From Each His Best' was adopted and the school was translated to full secondary status with a Board of Governors chaired by Roy Allen. These three men, Morris, Field, and Allen have been commemorated at the College along with the first Head Prefect, Suzanne Robertson, through the naming of the four Houses used as a basis of friendly competition.

When Mr Ted Irving was appointed the first Principal it was a 'local boy' coming home. Ted Irving was born in Duncan Street but by the time he was 18 months his family moved to Marton. He and his wife Esther, who became Senior Mistress, during their seventeen years, forged a College based on the policy expressed on their arrival. 'My policy is to give this district the kind of Secondary School that can match those of Palmerston North.' On his retirement in 1977 parents and student alike felt that his aim had been achieved and it could truly be said in the words of the school song 'Manawatu salute to thee'. Increasing roll numbers meant increasing facilities and first a Technic­al block was added, then, four further classrooms and laboratories, and a Hall. A big fund raising effort based on a Queen Carnival produced the cash needed to build a gymnasium which was opened in 1970. This was unfortunately destroyed by fire in 1985 but its replacement is more than adequate. Along with the adjoining Common Room and Swimming Pool the Gymnasium is part of a high class Physical Education complex. These buildings, along with the high quality playing fields, complement the academic standards to give an institution of high status.

Above: The opening of the new brick school that replaced that destroyed in 1918. The tower was removed in the 1940s after earthquake damage. The building was demolished in 1974.

Above: A school bus on its side down a bank on Ridge Road in 1965. Although there was no serious injury the occasion caused much concern among staff, pupils and parents when first reported.

Everybody has their own stories about their school life and here are a few that may bring back memories. In 1918 a new piano was purchased for the school but alas it was of German manufacture. Some saw no harm in making the purchase, while others, including the Education Board, thought otherwise. The decision was no! Mr Hornblow resigned from the School Committee, although later it was found that the piano that was finally purchased was found to have a German label under the British one! But things do change for in 1946 a Japanese piano was purchased without a fuss! When one pupil was disciplined for the length of his hair a member of the Board of Governors commented that simi­lar conditions should apply to some staff. Later the question of hair length led to what must rank among the quickest strikes ever - Ted Irving's appearance on the scene was enough!! A more serious occasion was the School Bus accident in 1965. The bus travelling along Ridge Road went over the bank and although some of the passengers needed hospital attention there was luckily no really serious consequence.

Pre-school education, while lagging behind primary schooling, had an early start when Mrs Gray, a holder of Home and Colonial Certificates and trained in the Frobel system in Frankfurt, opened a kindergarten in 1905. Her policy was to nurture the young and not "force the infant mind which would be the same folly as tearing open a bud to admire a flower". Mrs Gray also taught Pianoforte Theory and Singing in Triad Hall, advertising in the Herald "Theory Tuesday, Singing Thursday". Mrs Edith Donovan in 1951 began a private kindergarten in her home in Johnston Street, catering for up to 24 children. At this time there was no licence required for private kindergartens but due to complaints about some day nurseries, the Child Welfare Department set down standards and Mrs Donovan and her assistants took pride in the fact that they always received the highest grade. In 1972 Mrs Donovan retired, 20 years and 700 children after she had first opened her doors.

"Sheltered from the hot Foxton sun by the shade of the cooling trees in the Foxton Plunket grounds, young mothers sat, gossiped, and knitted while their toddlers cut pictures and made fanastic shapes with dough. This scene was not a picnic but the opening of Foxton's latest venture, a nursery play centre." Thus the Manawatu Times reported the first session of the Foxton Play Centre in 1954. As the roll increased there was a need for more space and so activities moved to the Memorial Hall. The inconvenience of packing the gear away every session led to a search for a permanent home. An old joinery factory in Hall Street has become the permanent home for the Centre. The mothers from the Foxton Centre were keen to spread the benefits of their movement to other areas and Mrs Mary Malthus (as President) and Mrs Daphne Hunt (as Director of Supervisor Training) served on the committee of the Central Districts Region for several years. The Play Centre movement not only required trained supervisors in all centres but also required all mothers to receive some training for their compulsory Mother Help duties. The increasing number of mothers entering the workforce and the wish by some to have a more formal pre-school education for their children saw the need for a public kindegarten develop.

Once again it was funds that would be needed. The Kindergarten and Play Centre committees united to organise the Expo 69 (stealing a march on Japan's Expo 70). A queen carnival was organised and a sum of $14,500 raised with Beryl Sayer (now Carter) being crowned. In 1970 the fine new brick building in Coley Street was opened, the 270th centre in the eighty year history of the Free Kindergarten in New Zealand.

Maori is a living language and as New Zealand is the only place in the world where it is spoken the Maori people saw the urgent need for it to be nurtured. Following the lead of other centres, a Kohanga Reo, or language nest, was started in Avenue Road in conjunction with the Kokiri Group in 1983. After protracted negotiations the Kohanga Reo was able to gain the lease of the old Maternity Home in Ladys Mile and Kaitaka Ada Winiata and trainees settled in in 1984. Up to 24 children take part in a pre-school programme using the Maori language.