Common School Ordinance, 1869

In an effort to provide a comprehensive, cost-effective system of public education, the colonial legislature passed the Common School Ordinance on 24 February 1869. Under the terms of this act, the Governor-in-Council was empowered to create school districts, to apportion grants for school purposes, to certify, hire and dismiss teachers, to approve courses of study, and to prescribe textbooks.

The Ordinance - which repealed Vancouver Island's Common School Act of 1865 - did not state specifically that the colony's public schools were to be free and non-sectarian in character. It did, however, stipulate that textbooks used in the school were to be of "a proper and non-sectarian character."

Under the terms of the Common School Ordinance, 1869, school districts could be created by addressing a petition (signed by two-thirds of the resident householders in an area) to the governor. To qualify for district status, a community had to have at least 12 children between the ages of 5 and 18 years who wished to attend a school. Local school trustees were responsible for contributing towards the cost of their school, and could raise the necessary funds by subscription, by levying household or poll taxes, or by charging tuition (the maximum allowable being two dollars per pupil per month). When the government was satisfied that a school had adequate local support and funding, it would establish a school district and provide local trustees with a grant of up to $500 per annum for a teacher's salary.

The Ordinance of 1869 did not provide for a Board of Education. Neither did it provide for a Superintendent of Education. However, the position of Inspector-General of Schools was created in April 1870, under the authority of the Common School Amendment Ordinance, 1870.

Edward Graham Alston, a Cambridge-educated civil servant who had served on the colonial Board of Education, was appointed to the post. Alston's duties were to inspect and report on the "management, character, efficiency, and general condition" of the public or common schools in the colony. He was to ensure that teachers were suitably qualified and that their classes were conducted in accordance with the Rules and Regulations for the Management and Government of Common Schools. These rules [first published in the Government Gazette, 28 May 1870] set down hours of instruction, vacation periods, teachers' duties, and approved textbooks. The rules also reaffirmed the non-sectarian character of the colonial schools by stating that "no person shall require any pupil to read or study in or from any religious book, or to join in any exercise of devotion or religion objected to by his parents or guardians."