Until the 1860s, the government subsidised church schools for Māori. Early missionary schools were often conducted in the Māori language, which was the predominant language throughout the early part of the 19th century. By the 1860s, three-quarters of the Māori population could read in Māori and two-thirds could write in Māori. The Education Ordinance of 1847 provided funding for mission schools and required them to conduct classes in English in order to receive subsidies. The New Zealand Wars however forced the closing of most of the mission schools.
The Native Schools Act of 1867 was a major shift in policy. Rather than helping churches to rebuild mission schools after the wars, the government offered secular, state-controlled, primary schools to Māori communities who petitioned for them. In return for providing a suitable site, the government provided a school, teacher, books, and materials. The act required that English be the only language used in the education of Māori children, and Māori were generally strongly supportive of their children learning English as they saw benefits in being able to work with Pākehā.
James Henry Pope (1837–1913) was appointed the organising inspector of native schools in January 1880 and he issued a Native Schools Code later in 1880 that prescribed a curriculum, established qualifications for teachers, and standardised operation for the native schools. The primary mission was to assimilate Māori into European culture. Māori could attend board of education schools and non-Māori could attend native Schools, although the primary purpose of the Native Schools was providing European education for Māori. Throughout the 20th century the number of Native schools decreased and Māori increasingly attended board of education schools.
The native schools remained distinct from other New Zealand schools until 1969, when the last 108 native schools were transferred to the control of education boards.
See also 
- History of education in New Zealand
- Native American boarding schools in the United States
- Residential schools in Canada
- Cultural genocide
- Māori Language in State Education from the Archives New Zealand[dead link]
- Māori Education in New Zealand: A Historical Overview Chapter 2 of a Waitangi Tribunal Report