Back Issues: How we got a four term school year

This week school children have returned to their places of learning for the second school term. Yet holidays in April are a relatively new idea.

Even though there were several proposals to change the school holidays, May and August, with the long summer break, remained standard in New Zealand until 1996.

Those who proposed changing the holidays often cited some common complaints with the May and August holidays.

One was that they did not incorporate Easter, making for a disruptive first term. Another that February often had hot, settled, weather and that meant that children were inside missing out on the heat and sun, and also enduring hot stuffy classrooms.

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The length of terms was also seen as a problem, particularly for younger students, as the three school terms meant between 13 and 15 weeks of school before a holiday.

In 1930, Minister of Justice Sir Thomas Sidey came up with a solution to two of these problems.

Sidey was already well-known for his persistence with introducing day light saving, which he had successfully done in 1927.

He proposed beginning the summer school holidays sometime in February which would then allow Easter to be incorporated into the end of the long school holiday.

Russell Street School when it opened in 1929.

ManawatÅ «Heritage

Russell Street School when it opened in 1929.

To canvas support for this idea a series of meetings was held at schools in Palmerston North.

The headmaster of Russell Street School thought that moving the holidays would benefit the health of children, particularly if there could be holidays in June, which he described as a “ very wet and cold month”.

The meeting proposed the combined school committees of Palmerston North approach local MPs to voice their support for the change.

At the Hokowhitu School meeting the committee chairman was in favorite of change with FO Amos pointing out the weather around Christmas was not very pleasant and summer temperatures occurred in February and March.

Despite this, when a resolution supporting the change was put to the meeting, it lost 23 votes to 19.

Hokowhitu School in Palmerston North, circa 1939.

ManawatÅ «Heritage

Hokowhitu School in Palmerston North, circa 1939.

The principal at Longburn School was against the idea. One of his objections was that January was a busy time on farms. The result of this meeting was that a motion was passed that Longburn householders strongly objected to the proposal.

It wasn’t until 1977 that the idea of ​​four school terms was seriously considered.

Les Gander, the MP for Manawatū, was the education minister. He commissioned an enquiry into the possibility of moving to four terms.

Palmerston North MP John Lithgow used his weekly column in The Tribune to ask constituents for their opinion.

In response to this, syndicate five at Monrad Intermediate conducted a public survey to find out if there was any support for a change. The students found that people under 20 were less likely to support a four-term school year, partly because cutting down the long summer holidays would mean less opportunity to earn money.

Les Gander, the MP for Manawatū and education minister, who led the discussion about school holidays in 1977.

ManawatÅ «Heritage

Les Gander, the MP for Manawatū and education minister, who led the discussion about school holidays in 1977.

Those between 20 and 60 were more in favor, with some saying that a shorter summer holiday would mean children would not run out of things to do.

The children then travelled to Wellington to present the findings to Lithgow and were treated to afternoon tea at Bellamys.

The issue of four terms was again raised in 1986. This time the Department of Education produced a public discussion paper and asked for feedback on the proposal to move to a four-term year.

The five state secondary schools in Palmerston North gave their opinions to the Standard. Palmerston North Boys’High School Board opposed the move to four terms and the board chairman of Governors accused the department of”making change for change’s sake”.

The head of College House, the school’s boarding facility, pointed out that it would be more expensive for parents who would have the travel costs for boarders increased by a third.

Both the principals of Queen Elizabeth College and Palmerston North Girls’ High also opposed four terms.

Noel Smith, the principal of Freyberg, said the school had yet to discuss the matter, but staff had voted against the idea. Only Awatapu College supported the move with its board of governors voting in favor of four terms.

However, the major educational reforms known as Tomorrow’s Schools, introduced in 1989, pushed the reformation of the school year off the agenda.

Yet it was Tomorrow’s Schools which allowed a four-term year to be introduced.

Central Normal School pupils preparing to leave for summer holidays on the last day of school for 2012. From left, Frances Allen, 11, Elijah Brooks-Bowen, 10, and Kristen Beattie, 11.


Central Normal School pupils preparing to leave for summer holidays on the last day of school for 2012. From left, Frances Allen, 11, Elijah Brooks-Bowen, 10, and Kristen Beattie, 11.

In the May 1993 Education Gazette the then Minister of Education Lockwood Smith announced that schools could, with community consultation, choose what dates to have holidays, as long as they were opened for instruction the required number of half days.

They could even open on a Saturday or Sunday if it could be proved that it would be a benefit to the students.

This was possible because Tomorrow’s Schools had made each school a self-governing body which was designed to reflect the community.

At the same time a cluster of Waikato schools took part in a trial of a four-term year. That was so successful that the education ministry announced it would move to a four-year term in 1996.

The four-term school year now incorporates Easter into the April holidays, and the shorter terms are kinder on students and teachers.

It is over 90 years since Sir Thomas Sidey first proposed changing the school year yet in 2018 the idea of ​​moving the summer holidays was raised again.

Perhaps there will one day be futher changes to the school term and the April, July, September holidays will also be a thing of the past.

Elizabeth Ward is a political and social historian and co-authored the chapter on Palmerston North politics in City at the Center.

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