Celebrating The Correspondence School’s centenary

The struggle for equity of access to education is at the heart of a new book charting 100 years of Te Kura – The Correspondence School

Going the Distance – 100 years of Te Aho o Te Kura Pounamu – The Correspondence School

By Gael Woods

2022 (Te Aho o Te Kura Pounamu)

When a grand old lady reaches 100 years she deserves a biography and that’s what Going theDistance is - an account of the history of Te Aho o Te Kura Pounamu, The Correspondence School.

The book details the evolution of Te Kura from 1922 when it was a one woman show with Miss Janet MacKenzie delivering instruction from a room in the old Government Buildings in Wellington to the large, complex organisation it is today.

At its heart, this is a story about the struggle for equity of access to education, starting with the country kids wanting the same educational opportunities as town kids and expanding to include children in hospital and those with disabilities, Māori students (from 1932) pregnant schoolgirls, special needs students, prisoners, and second chance education for those in adult education

When a grand old lady reaches 100 years she deserves a biography and that’s what Going theDistance is - an account of the history of Te Aho o Te Kura Pounamu, The Correspondence School.

The book details the evolution of Te Kura from 1922 when it was a one woman show with Miss Janet MacKenzie delivering instruction from a room in the old Government Buildings in Wellington to the large, complex organisation it is today.

At its heart, this is a story about the struggle for equity of access to education, starting with the country kids wanting the same educational opportunities as town kids and expanding to include children in hospital and those with disabilities, Māori students (from 1932) pregnant schoolgirls, special needs students, prisoners, and second chance education for those in adult education

Correspondence School led the way

“Those early days were golden years of adventure with teachers like pioneering prospectors searching for gold and finding it tucked away in remote and isolated spots all over the country…”

Long before teachers in conventional schools were discussing the importance of learning relationships, personalised programmes and self-directed learning, Te Kura teachers were

doing it. And it wasn’t a job for the faint-hearted. Visits to students in remote locations involved

“being rowed or rowing themselves over estuaries, travelling on horseback, horse cart, railway jiggers or flying foxes, rides hitched with rural delivery trucks, cream lorries, on tractors and often on foot.”

The nadir
Perhaps the lowest point for the school was after the introduction of bulk funding in 1989. The formula was insufficient for staffing the school and led to redundancies. At the same time demands on the school had never been greater as Tomorrow’s Schools enabled schools to suspend more students while teacher shortages led to more dual enrolments. The substantial increase in at-risk students for whom the traditional correspondence model was unsuitable added to the challenge. The possibility of closure was an ever-present threat.

Woods, who was the RNZ education reporter at the time, is well-placed to review this period. It stands as a reminder to PPTA members to never trust politicians who want to fund schools on the basis of simplistic (but easily delivered and audited) formulae rather than student needs.

It took almost 20 painful years to stabilise the finances and to restructure the school to better serve a different group of students, who didn’t reside in remote locations as such but were certainly alienated from traditional schooling.

Valuable social history

It goes without saying that this book should be in school libraries but it would also be an excellent resource for a nonfiction study or for a unit on research skills. It’s probably most useful in schools

as a social history - full of interesting details about Aotearoa New Zealand over the last 100 years and complete with quotations and illustrations that bring the journey alive. The chapters on schooling during WWII and the 1948 polio epidemic lockdown are particularly insightful.

All the best for the next 100 years Te Aho o Te Kura Pounamu.

- Bronwyn Cross is a former PPTA Te Wehengarua Deputy General Secretary.

Last modified on Wednesday, 2 November 2022 11:48