Pegs in the Ground: Landmarks in the History of New Zealand Physical Education

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This article identifies significant developments in the history of the school sector of physical education in New Zealand. It covers the period from the first Education Act of 1877 to the introduction of the new Curriculum Statement in Health and Physical Education in 1999. Each item is covered briefly to indicate the range and diversity of events of particular interest. The items identified show clearly the early influence of British syllabi, British and American people but also included are references to indigenous developments such as Te Reo Kori and Bursaries physical education. In all, twelve items are described which portray (briefly) the work of key individuals whose commitment, energy and drive brought about important changes.


The events described in this essay could be referred to as landmarks in the history of New Zealand physical education, especially in the school sector. I have chosen these events because they were innovative or challenging as well as being noteworthy in influencing change. It should be noted however, that this selection is not exhaustive and several other worthy items could have been included. The order is chronological rather than hierarchical but each event is a product of its time and is special in its own right, moulded by prevailing attitudes and shaped by personalities, politics and resources.

The 1877 Education Act

This Act (Campbell, 1972) created, among other things, the Department of Education, established twelve Education Boards, confirmed the system of school inspectors, determined the subjects of the primary curriculum and declared that primary education in New Zealand should be:

'free, secular and compulsory" (Campbell, 1972).

It was a profoundly influential piece of legislation with long lasting implications.

In addition to reading, writing and arithmetic (and English grammar, English composition, geography, history, elementary science, drawing, object lessons, vocal music and sewing and needlework for girls) the Act specified that provision should be made for the instruction of boys in military drill. The Act also stated that in schools that the Boards from time to time would determine, physical training should be provided. Provision for a playground of at least a quarter acre was recommended.

These provisions enabled Education Boards to employ people with military experience to teach military drill in schools. It also resulted in military marching, bands with fife and drum and sergeant majors in staff rooms. The advent of the Boer War (1889-1902) resulted in a fervour of military activity and the development of cadet and junior cadet companies in schools. Major Loveday was appointed to the Department of Education (1899) to manage this eruption of patriotism. By 1907 there were 280 registered companies, 14,000 enrolments and 14,000 wooden rifles had been issued to schools (Stothart, 1974).

A more enlightened approach to physical education was not achieved until 1912 when Royd Garlick was appointed Director of Physical Education within the Department of Education. Nevertheless, the 1877 Act provided the foundation for physical training and later on, physical education, to become integral components of the curriculum. It was our first peg in the ground.

The Development of a Professional Association (from 1936)

Practitioners of physical education have frequently felt that their area of expertise is not always accorded the recognition that they believe it deserves. To overcome this perceived discrepancy, teachers in Otago, Wellington, Canterbury and Auckland had established `ad hoc' district associations during 1936 to bring teachers of physical education together. Eventually this activity led to a meeting in Wellington, in May 1937, where the New Zealand Physical Education Society was established. The promotion of physical education and the provision of further training for members were compelling reasons to form a national association. …