An inkwell and pieces of broken slate, brought to the surface by a plough, confirm that an early school once stood on the headland inside Bradley Point near Cowan Bay, on the Mahurangi River. Open from 1858-62, the school is recognised by historians as the first on the mainland, although the children of copper miners on Kawau Island attended classes at Dispute Cove more than a decade earlier. About the time the Cowan Bay school closed, a school opened at McKinney Rd, Warkworth, in the original Presbyterian church buildings. At St Clements (Kaipara Flats), Mahurangi Heads and Matakana there was also activity to establish schools.
A series of education acts passed in 1867, 1872 and 1877 gave a framework for school committees to establish and manage local schools. Grants were available but in most cases fell well short of the true cost. In 1878, the Auckland Provincial Gazette published a list of schools and roll numbers. Puhoi was the largest with 77 pupils, Warkworth (58), Dome Valley (42), Mahurangi Heads (34), Little Omaha (33), Mullet Point (28), Big Omaha (19), Lower Matakana (19), Kaipara Flats (14) and Upper Matakana (13).
Eventually, there were more than 20 small schools in the area, so that ideally no child had to walk more than three miles to school. A teacher was often in charge of two schools, each open three days a week. Examples of part-time schools were Dacres Claim, Tawharanui, Pohuehue, Mahurangi West, Ahuroa and Woodcocks. There was no guarantee a school would be open on any particular day, as the records of Lower Matakana school show.
• June 22, 1879 – Very wet, no school.
• August 22, 1879 – School closed. Teacher attending inquest on the body of Miss Young.
• October 2, 1879 – School closed all week by request as children required to be at home for the maize planting.
As roads improved and the policy of consolidation took hold, the smaller schools closed and the buildings were put to good use elsewhere. Kaipara Hills school was moved to provide another classroom at Ahuroa, Waiwhui became a school for the soldiers’ settlement at Kourawhero, Dome Valley was taken back to Warkworth to serve as the Parish Hall, Ti Point moved to the Leigh church property, and Mahurangi West and Kourawhero are still in use as community halls. Each of the schools has its own unique history and the records kept in the Warkworth Museum archives are a valuable resource for anyone wanting to research their local history or family records.
Judy Waters, Warkworth & District Museum