School / The NZ School System

3.1.5 School

What schools did the girls attend?

[jp,mf,sb,lw,mm,maw] At the beginning of "Heavenly Creatures," Pauline is in the Third Form (the first grade of high school) at Christchurch Girls' High School (CGHS), an academically well-regarded and progressive state school in central Christchurch. Christchurch residents still refer to it as "Girls' High."

Juliet joins CGHS near the beginning of the Third Form early in the film. We are told by Miss Stewart that Juliet had been attending St Margaret's [note: Confirmed to be the private Anglican girls' school in Christchurch, now located just north of Hagley Park. lw,mm. But Juliet Hulme's attendance in real life has not yet been confirmed. jp]. Prior to that, Juliet had been in Queenswood in the Hawke's Bay [note: Located on the east coast of the North Island of New Zealand. See 3.2.4. jp]. And, in real life, she had also been to Ilam School, an elementary school near the Ilam homestead, though this isn't mentioned in "Heavenly Creatures."

Later, Pauline is removed from CGHS in a critical sequence of events, and she is enrolled at Digby's Commercial College [note: Confirmed from PYP's diaries, trial testimony and other sources. jp].

Digby's was a private vocational school where girls learned shorthand, typing, bookkeeping and other skills necessary for a clerical job. It is now closed, but it was in the central city, not in Digby Place [note: Digby Place is in the east end of ChCh. jp]. [lw]

Digby's was a secretarial "College" and certainly much looked down upon. [maw] Christchurch schools and the NZ system

What was the school system in place in NZ?

[lw,mc,maw] Here is the English Public school system in place at the time, as a point of reference [jp]:

Form: 3rd 4th 5th 6th Upper 6th
Ages: 13-14 14-15 15-16 16-17 17-18
(typ 7 subj)
(typ 3 subj)
(some English Public schools called 3rd Form 'Fourth Form'
and 4th Form 'Removes' and 6th Form 'Lower Sixth'.)

The corresponding 'equivalent' "Heavenly Creatures" years would be:

"HC" Year: 1952 1953 1954 (1955) (1956)

That is also right for NZ, except for the examinations. I'm not absolutely certain about the early fifties, but a decade later there were three external examinations:

  1. School Certificate at the end of the 5th Form (normally 5 subjects, to pass required (i) at least 30% for English and (ii) 50% average for English and the top 3 other subjects.

  2. University Entrance at the end of the Lower 6th Form (normally 5 subjects) passed mainly by "accrediting" (internal assessment)--the examination was only for those who were refused accreditation, and few of them passed it.
  3. Junior and National Scholarship for the intellectual elite at the end of the Upper 6th Form (again 5 subjects).
Many went to University direct from 6th Form. Those who went back for the Upper 6th (now called 7th Form), and lasted the year out, more or less automatically got Higher School Certificate which entitled them to the basic bursary allowance at University. Those who sat and passed the Scholarship exam (bloody hard, I can tell you) got generous living allowances at University.

(There was a different system of exams, including the Matriculation and Public Service exams, in the 1930s, but I think the later system would have been in place by the early fifties.) [lw]

In the late 40s, the Forms (Grades) in CGHS were denoted by roman numerals: Form III, Form IV, Form V and Form VI, with the classes appended, e.g. Form IIIA. There was 'streaming' with the 'A' classes being composed of the more academically-inclined girls. Most of the girls from Form IIIA went on to Teachers' College or to University. The 'A' class sat School Certificate after 3 years, whereas the rest of the school took 4 years, and the pass rate for the 'A' class was higher than for the other classes. School Certificate was an external exam taken at the end of Form V. [mc]

The use of Roman numerals for classes was still in place in the early 60s. Form VA, VB, VC etc are what you will see on school photos. Many girls left after School Certificate, a nationwide exam at the end of Fifth Form. University Entrance Exams could be taken in Lower Sixth Form. Upper Sixth prepared you for University. There was a big gap in standard, so most who went to University without the Upper Sixth year failed. [maw]

What was the school year in New Zealand?

[lw,pb,jp] The school year was coincident with the calendar year and was divided into three terms. English term names were not used. The terms and holidays coincided with those of Canterbury University College, where Dr Hulme was Rector.

The First Term starts in the week in which February 1st falls and runs until the end of April. Easter holidays fall in the First Term.

The "May Holidays" follow and run for two weeks in the late Autumn. Canterbury College traditionally had rather wild student activities in the first week of May, after the first term (see This is actually an old tradition in English schools, too, after their first term. [note: This holiday originally for harvest? jp]

The Second Term follows, running from mid-May to mid-August.

The "August Holidays" run for two weeks at the primary school level and for three weeks at the secondary school level. This corresponds to late Winter, early Spring. [note: Originally for tilling and planting? jp]

The Third Term then runs until the week before Christmas. This marks the end of the school year. For 5th and 6th formers the last weeks of the year, after the examinations in November, are a pleasant time (apart from waiting for results). The pressure is off and teachers are often willing to let pupils decide what to do in class.

"Summer Holidays" then last for six weeks, and include both Christmas and New Year.

What were the important high schools in Christchurch?

[lw] The school which figured prominently in "Heavenly Creatures" is Christchurch Girls' High School (CGHS or "Girls' High"). It was located in the original town near Hagley Park. The other girls' schools of similar status were St Margaret's College (Anglican) and Rangi Ruru (Presbyterian), located just north of Hagley Park. The Roman Catholic Sacred Heart School (now merged with the boys' school under the name of Catholic Cathedral College) was on the other side of the central city by the Catholic Cathedral, about 2 km SE of CGHS. The only other state High School in the central city is Hagley, just south of Hagley Park and known as Christchurch West High School in the 50s.

Christchurch Boys' High School is in the suburb of Riccarton, to the west of Hagley Park between the Park and the suburb of Ilam. The Presbyterian boys' school, St Andrews, is in the suburb of Papanui, north of Hagley Park. Christ's college, the Anglican Boys' school, is a block away from CGHS on the eastern edge of Hagley Park.

What kinds of students attended CGHS?

[lw,maw] The "best" suburb of Christchurch is Fendalton, to the north-west of Hagley Park. Until the abolition of school zoning in the 1980s, pupils living in the suburbs of Bryndwr, Fendalton and Merivale were zoned into Christchurch Girls' and Boys' High Schools (which made houses in those suburbs desirable). Both schools also took boarding pupils from the more remote rural districts. [lw]

I lived in Hoon Hay, an outer suburb to the south-west of Christchurch near the Heathcote River and attended CGHS in the early 60s. I was admitted based on marks at the end of Form 2. Most girls attending the school lived closer than I did, in the posher suburbs. There was a fair bit of humbug around about people's social standing etc. I remember visiting the home of one school friend who said that her father was an accountant and that they lived in Fendalton. They did not seem any better off than us. [maw]

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