The School Inspectorate

1856 - 1973

School Inspectorate
Provincial school inspectors at their annual gathering in Victoria, 1948
British Columbia Archives I-00078

The school inspectorate in British Columbia dates from 1856, when the Council of Vancouver Island appointed the Rev. Edward Cridge to the colony's first Public Schools Committee. Following his appointment, Cridge was instructed to "report on the progress and conduct of the pupils, on the system of management and on all other matters connected with the District Schools [of Vancouver Island]."

The inspectorate may also be traced to two colonial statutes: the Common School Act, 1865, of Vancouver Island, which appointed a Superintendent of Education (Alfred Waddington) to inspect the colony’s nine common schools; and British Columbia’s Common School Amendment Ordinance of 1870, which created the position of Inspector-General of Schools (held by Edward Graham Alston from May 1870 to July 1871). However, the foundations of the provincial school inspectorate lie principally in the Public School Act, 1872.

Under the terms of the Public School Act, the Superintendent of Education was responsible for inspecting every public school in the province at least once a year. During the years 1876-1878, the Superintendent (John Jessop) received some assistance from R. M. Clemitson, who served as Deputy (or Assistant) Superintendent of Education. Clemitson was mainly concerned, though, with the Cache Creek Boarding School and with other schools in the Cariboo district. Consequently, Jessop and his successor, C. C. McKenzie, carried out most of the school inspections themselves.

Provision for a school inspector (as distinct from the Superintendent of Education) was made in the Public School Act of 1879 [42 Vic., c.30, s. 8.2], and in the estimates of 1882, when $100 was allocated for a "Temporary Inspector of Schools" [Sessional Papers, 1882, p. 419]. The position was not filled until July 1887, when David Wilson, principal of Boys' School, New Westminster, was appointed Inspector of Schools at a salary of $100 per month.

In many respects, Wilson was an ideal inspector of schools. He was progressive, pragmatic, and precise. He had pronounced views on every aspect of the school system, and on the best ways of teaching every subject in the curriculum, from History and Music, to Drawing and Arithmetic. He also had decided opinions on how students should deport themselves in the classroom, as he stated in his Inspector's Report for 1892.

Wilson was inspector of schools for twenty-one years, until 1908 when he resigned to become Officer-in-Charge of the new Text-Book Branch. In the meantime, a second provincial school inspector -- William Burns -- was hired in 1892, and a third, S. D. Netherby, appointed in 1897.

Between 1887 and 1901, the school inspectors were part of the Education Office. In July 1901, the Schools Inspectorate became a separate branch of the Education Department, although the inspectors continued to report directly to the superintendent and to share the superintendent’s office and clerical staff. Also in 1901, the position of City Superintendent of Schools was created through an amendment in the Public School Act [1 Ed.7, c.48, s.20]. The title of this position was changed in 1912 to Municipal Inspector of Schools. A separate position -- Superintendent of Schools, Vancouver -- was created to oversee the inspection of schools within that city.

Municipal Inspectors were responsible for overseeing schools in the large municipal school districts, notably Victoria, Burnaby, New Westminster and Saanich. The salaries and expenses of municipal inspectors were paid jointly by the local boards of school trustees and the Department of Education. Municipal inspectors, in turn, reported to both the Department and to their local boards. Municipal inspectors were generally appointed by the Council of Public Instruction in Victoria; the Superintendent of Schools, Vancouver, was appointed and paid by the Vancouver School Board.

In 1905, the province was divided into several large inspection districts. The Schools Inspection branch then consisted of three full-time provincial school inspectors, each responsible for a large district. The provincial school inspectors looked after schools outside the jurisdictions of the municipal school inspectors and the Superintendent of Schools for Vancouver. Twenty years later, the Schools Inspection branch consisted of two high school inspectors, sixteen elementary school inspectors, and four municipal inspectors.

The qualifications for school inspectors were set out in the Rules and Regulations of the Council of Public Instruction.

Any person of good character who is a graduate of a university in Great Britain, in Canada, or any of the other British Dominions, and who has had advanced professional training approved by the Department of Education and also successful experience as principal and teacher of a school for at least five years, shall be qualified for appointment as a Provincial or Municipal Inspector of Schools.

The duties of provincial and municipal school inspectors were first defined in the Public School Act of 1905 [5 Ed.7, c.44, s.8]. Inspectors were required to visit and inspect annually (or more often, if necessary) all schools within their districts; to help the Superintendent of Education in determining the status of school districts; to promote the advancement of education by holding public meetings as often as possible; to ensure that the provisions of the school act were being carried out; and to render assistance in the Education Office.

School inspectors were also responsible for assessing "the efficiency and character and usefulness" of teachers working in the provincial school system. During the 1890s and early 1900s, the inspectors recorded their assessments in routine correspondence with the Superintendent of Education. At that time, there does not appear to have been a standard procedure for submitting the reports and as a result the school inspection records for these years are rather haphazard and incomplete.

A new reporting system, using standardized three-part assessment forms, was implemented in 1918. Thereafter, provincial and municipal school inspectors were required to inspect the conditions of each class room and to observe the methods of every teacher within their inspectorate at least once a year. One copy of the inspector's report was provided to the principal of the school and one copy to the local board of school trustees. A third copy of the inspector's report was kept on file in the Education Office in Victoria.

A separate corps of inspectors reported on specialized programmes, such as Technical Education (including Manual Training and Industrial Arts), Elementary Agriculture Education, and Home Economics. For a few years -- from 1929 to 1934 -- a separate series of reports was also filed by the Rural Women Teachers' Welfare Officer, Lottie Bowron.

The office of Chief Inspector of Schools was created in 1925, but was not filled until 1939, when Major (afterwards Dr.) Herbert Baxter King was appointed to the position. The duties of the Chief Inspector were to inspect Normal Schools and to coordinate and supervise the work of the department’s field inspectors.

During the Depression, provincial school inspectors often served as Official Administrators for impoverished rural and assisted school districts. In such cases, they took on duties which had previously been discharged by elected school trustees. Provincial school inspectors also played a significant role in promoting "consolidated" or "united" school districts in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

After the creation of large administrative units in 1946, provincial school inspectors became more closely involved with the day to day management of their school districts. At the same time, the provincial government was obliged to accede to the requests of local school trustees who wanted more autonomy in the managing their own affairs.

More modern approaches to school administration took shape in a new Public School Act in 1958. The Schools Inspectorate branch was dismantled and the title of inspector of schools was changed to district superintendent. The government-appointed superintendents effectively became the chief education officers and directors of instruction for the school districts they served, rather than emissaries of the Department of Education in Victoria. The superintendents' role was redefined again in April 1973 through an amendment to the Public School Act. The amendment empowered local school boards to appoint and to dismiss superintendents, as well as the right to appoint assistant superintendents and other executive officers.

Written by Patrick A. Dunae

Patrick A. Dunae, The School Record (1992), pp. 47-50; Thomas Fleming, "'Our Boys in the Field:' School Inspectors, Superintendents, and the Changing Character of School Leadership in British Columbia," in Nancy M. Sheehan, J. Donald Wilson and David C. Jones (eds.), Schools in the West: Essays in Canadian Educational History (Calgary: Detselig, 1986), pp. 285-303; also reprinted in Patricia E. Roy (ed.), A History of British Columbia. Selected Readings (Toronto: Copp Clark Pitman, 1989), pp. 218-238.