The land on which Tawa College stands is part of Section 48 of the Porirua District, surveyed by the New Zealand Company in the early 1840s. Section 48 was the farm of William Best from 1856 till 1865, which he called Grasslees, after the Best family farm In Northumberland, England. His son, Elsdon Best, Tawa’s most famous scholar, was born there in 1856. Eventually, in 1925, the Government purchased Section 48 as part of the land needed to allow for the Tawa Flat Railway Deviation to be built. It replaced the original steep and winding railway line which ran from Tawa Flat through Johnsonville to Wellington. Once the Deviation was completed in 1937, some of Section 48 was sold to a local farmer, while 26 acres were retained by the Government on which to eventually build a Post Primary School. The rest makes up today’s Grasslees Reserve.

With a population of only 415 in 1936, and 598 in 1945, Tawa Flat did not need a secondary school. However it was clearly an area where growth was eventually going to occur. Peace and prosperity following World War II, new electric units introduced in 1949 taking only 15 minutes to get to Wellington, and the Motorway’s construction in the early 1950s, saw Tawa Flat’s rural landscape transformed to suburban in a relatively short time. Population grew rapidly, from 2459 in 1951, to 4016 in 1956, and was going to continue. Planning got under way to establish a secondary school. By 1961, when Tawa College was opened, Tawa’s population (Tawa Flat became Tawa in 1956) was 7204, and was indeed a “nappy valley”. By 1971, Tawa had over 11,000 residents. Tawa Flat had but one primary school from 1855 to 1952. Those who went to secondary school travelled into Wellington, or from 1957 attended Mana College. By 1975 Tawa had six primary schools, an Intermediate School, and a College.

Tawa College opened on 1 February 1961 with a roll of 141 foundation pupils, 8 teachers, a school secretary, a caretaker, a hand operated Gestetner (by which typed material could be reproduced), and a school hand bell. A and C Blocks were available for teaching. The foundation Principal was A S Mackie, MA, chosen from 30 applicants and a short list of 7 by the small foundation board. Mr Mackie, appointed in August 1960, had to continue as Deputy Principal of Heretaunga College for the remainder of that year, while working in the evenings on all the tasks necessary to open the school successfully. To Alan Mackie Tawa College owes the establishment of its tradition of academic excellence; its motto and its badge; its school colours of crimson, royal blue and gold; its initial uniform, with neither black gym frocks for girls, nor caps for boys; and above all, a sound set of educational principles by which the College could set its course. By the time Mr Mackie left Tawa College for the Principalship of Wellington Teachers’ College, the roll was 870; the Administration Block and Assembly Hall, D Block, and half of B Block had been built; and a number of magnificent mature pohutukawa trees, courtesy of the links with the Ministry of Works of an early Board member, had been transplanted successfully within the College grounds.


E M P Flaws, MA, Deputy Principal at Mana College, was appointed to the vacancy left by Mr Mackie. It fell to him to guide the College through a decade or more of roll growth. Tawa was still a growing suburb, and in 1966 had 9852 residents. In that same year it was one of only two secondary schools in the Porirua Basin, so it drew students from Porirua East in the east to Pukerua Bay in the north to Glenside in the south. The building of Porirua College in 1968 eased some pressure, but the roll burgeoned to 1450 or more by the mid 1970s. Aotea College offered further relief when it opened in 1976.

Roll growth brought changes and great challenges for the Board, Principal and staff. Building and teaching spaces were the most obvious. B Block was completed; a gymnasium was opened after a huge fund-raising effort; an art room was added; S Block (Science) was built; J Block provided two more laboratories; half a dozen prefabs were sited east of the staffroom; the staffroom was extended; and four classrooms in the Intermediate’s Avalon Block (I Block) were borrowed for some years. Further, the Intermediate’s four acres reduced the twenty acres of the original College grounds, and sloping batters and banks took up a further three. The increased roll and shrinking flat space required more sports fields. In 1971 these were provided by the addition of the fields across the motorway, and the tunnel built at the same time for access made getting to and from school, and to and from railway stations, much easier for many.

The pastoral care and discipline of a large body of students was also a vexing problem. Hitherto, the official solution had been to vertically cut a large school into two or three divisions, each run by its own administration, and watched over by the executive Principal of the school. Mr Flaws did not care for that model. He wanted a horizontally split school, along form levels. After argument, he was given the go-ahead, and introduced to Tawa College, and to New Zealand, the Deans’ System, where two Deans, a man and a woman, were responsible for the administration and pastoral care of each form/year level in the school. There were undoubtedly pros and cons for each of these models. But it is true that today, thirty or forty years on, most New Zealand secondary schools have preferred the Deans’ or horizontal model by an overwhelming majority.

Mr Flaws oversaw a number of other innovations: progress cards, briefer but more frequent than reports, kept parents informed; mufti was introduced for the 7th Form/Year 13; the Putara Field Station was acquired in 1976; the Leavers’ Dinners commenced in 1978; School Fairs, overseen by “the Boss” with military efficiency, were a source of much needed funds; prefects were abolished. But Mr Flaws’ insistence on, and promotion of what he called “the ethic of service” amongst students, is what many will remember him most for. He led in this regard by example. And he wrote the Tawa College Litany, with which College Assemblies have commenced ever since. Eric Flaws retired from Tawa College at the end of 1981, after 16 years of service. He was delighted when his Deputy, Brian Walker was chosen to succeed him.


It fell to Mr B C Walker, BA, Dip Ed, to deal, not with continuous student roll growth, as had his predecessor, but with roll decline. Many would say that such a task is even more challenging, and the school was fortunate that he had both the wit and the people skills to handle it. Brian Walker was a Yorkshireman, with a degree in French from Sheffield University. The son of a bricklayer, he was a people person, unassuming, but perceptive. He had taught at Mana College, and came to Tawa as the Head of the Languages Department in 1966. At the end of 1970 the foundation Deputy Principal, Mr Rex Sage, was appointed as the foundation Principal of Newlands College, and Mr Walker filled the vacancy thus created. He was Deputy Principal for 11 years, and became the Principal in 1982.

The roll decline he faced was not because there was a sudden lack of confidence in the College. It was due to a number of factors well beyond the control of either Mr Walker or the school. The post war baby boom had ended some two decades previously, and declining birth rates eventually were transformed into declining school rolls across New Zealand. As noted above, Porirua College (1968) and Aotea College (1976) were established in the Porirua Basin, and Bishop Viard College also came into being. Where once the Basin was served by only two secondary schools, by 1982 there were five. Further, local enrolment schemes made it much more difficult for students from beyond Tawa to attend Tawa College. Third form intakes of 300+ fell to intakes of 200 to 230. At least rolls falling meant that teachers were not constantly challenged by building construction somewhere on the property, and the “village” of prefabs clustered around the tennis/netball courts by the gymnasium were gradually taken away.

Mr Walker had other difficulties to handle. In the July of his first year as Principal, a fire destroyed much of the middle section of C Block (the two laboratories at ground level, C4 andC5; and the typing rooms above them, C11 and C12) which was the original teaching block built in 1960 for the school’s opening in 1961. Much disruption followed as repairs were made. Human tragedies also occurred: a 4th form girl, killed by the school bus, in 1982; the death of a 5th form lass and the school caretaker in 1983; and the death of the replacement caretaker in 1984. It says much about the character of Brian Walker that the school remained on an even keel through these trying times, and his likeability, his commonsense, his decency and personal touch was just what the school needed.

Other changes were having their effect, not just on Tawa College, but on education throughout the land. New subjects were appearing in the curriculum – Health Education, Computer Education, Maori Language and Taha Maori, and Japanese. How could they be fitted in? What had to give way? Brian Walker led superbly here, for he was happy to discuss, to challenge, to listen, and to gather consensus. So while curriculum discussion and review was constant, they did not overwhelm. It was also a blessing that by this time schools were able to draw upon the power of computers to assist in drawing up timetables, and they were sorely needed, for the days of the school timetable being assembled with the aid of pencil, paper, and most important, a rubber, were now past. And just as Mr Walker was considering retirement, another, even greater change was looming, brought in by politicians – “Tomorrow’s Schools”.

It was typically thoughtful of Brian Walker to retire at the end of Term 1, 1989, with the school settled and staffed, and timetable problems ironed out, so that his successor would have less pressured time to become acquainted with the tasks ahead. He and his wife Gwen, who retired later as an Assistant Principal, gave over 50 years of service to Tawa College.


Mr Bruce Murray, MA, assumed the principalship of Tawa College in May 1989, just as major changes were brought into New Zealand’s education. He had previously taught at Tawa from 1966 to 1977 in the Social Studies Department, and then had 12 years at Naenae College as the Deputy Principal from 1977, and from 1981, as the Principal. This prior experience was helpful in dealing with the changes that were to be visited upon not only Tawa College, but on all New Zealand schools.

In 1989 New Zealand embarked upon what some scholars have described as arguably the most thorough and dramatic transformation of a state system of compulsory education ever undertaken by an industrialised country. Under the broad umbrella of Tomorrow’s Schools, a great many initiatives were introduced. The Department of Education had looked outwardly to schools for more than a century in support, curriculum, inspection, property, and in-service training. It also provided a manual by which schools were given guidance on matters large and small. All this was abolished at the stroke of a pen. In its place rose a Ministry of Education, whose prime function was to “about turn” from schools to face and serve the Minister of Education. Schools were henceforth left much more to their own devices, under the governance no longer of a Board of Governors or of professional bureaucrats in The Department or the local Education Board, but of a Board of Trustees, drawn mainly from parents, with a much wider range of responsibilities. Whereas once responsibility for things educational was reasonably seen as that of the Government, the new model introduced a buffer, the Board of Trustees, between educational outcomes and the Government.

Tawa College coped with this revolutionary change better than many schools. A large, skilled pool of parents was available, from whom talented trustees were elected. While they went through a steep learning curve, they were able to deal with their new responsibilities. Areas such as finance and property in particular were major challenges, but board members with the necessary abilities were either elected or co-opted. So Tawa College survived this sharp change from the past, and coped or managed with the defining principles of Tomorrow’s Schools: namely, that they should be self-governing in ways they had never been before; that they should continue, however, as agents of the state to pursue the educational aims of the Government; and that they should cope in a competitive environment.

The second major change related to the imposition or attempted imposition upon schools during the 1990s of a number of educational philosophies by the government of the day. Doctrines such as “provider capture” (teachers could not be trusted to give impartial advice because they would always give opinions favourable to other teachers); “market forces” and “parental choice” (schools will only improve if they have to compete with each other); bulk funding of teacher salaries (school boards will set teachers’ salaries rather than have a centrally negotiated salary scale, and will allocate other monies as they see fit); merit pay; greater power to principals; these were new ideas that had huge implications for Boards, principals, and teachers. Rational discussion of them was hindered by the deliberate policy of Governments of both the late 1980s and the 1990s of promoting changes dramatically and continuously, so that time for reflection, piloting, testing or evaluating which might challenge the proposed change(s) was simply not possible. The effect of such forced change on Tawa College was dramatic, and principal and staff struggled to cope. It was a tumultuous time.

Given this background, it is a testament to the quality of Mr Murray and the staff of the time that progress in the life of the College occurred. Curriculum change continued, which saw new subjects develop like Computer Studies, Japanese, Text and Information Management, Nannying, and Adventure Tourism. New departments emerged, such as Learner Support, Careers and Transition, Information Technology, and Maori. These initiatives helped the school cope with the leaving age being raised from 15 to 16. The imposition of an Enrolment Scheme meant that, while the roll fell to 1012 in 1991, its growth to 1188 by 2002 was able to be managed. Prefects were reintroduced 32 years after they had been abolished. Sports Assemblies became a part of the school year. Property development saw great improvement to both buildings and grounds, and the appointment of a Property Manager was one of significance. Projects such as the TCPTA Centre, with its associated canteen and changing rooms; the extensions to the Library; the remodelling of the Team Teaching room into a Little Theatre; all added quality to the teaching environment, with the generous financial aid of the PTA. The original pine trees and golden cypresses along the school frontage and the drive were replaced with natives. The school was completely reroofed, getting rid of the old asbestos material. All the school’s 1400 light fittings were replaced with energy efficient ones. E Block was built to house the Languages Department. Beyond the school, the Field Centre at Putara was finally equipped with the proper ablutions facilities.

Bruce Murray was (and still is) a keen local historian, and he had Honours Boards placed in the Assembly Hall and elsewhere to reflect important student involvement and achievement. The College stage furniture, made of tawa, and new Assembly seating, also appeared. And, in recognition of the ethic of service established by Mr Mackie, and enhanced by all Principals and staff since, the words “ENTER TO LEARN” and “DEPART TO SERVE” were placed above the College Hall doors as a reminder to all who pass in and out of assemblies of the core values on which the school stands. When he retired at the end of Term 1, 2002, Mr Murray and his wife Shona, for many years the HOD Music, had, like the Walkers, also given well over 50 years’ service to the College.


Mr Murray Lucas, M Sc, became the first past pupil to be appointed as the Principal of Tawa College. Leaving the school at the end of 1970, he took a degree at Victoria University, gained his teaching qualification, and returned to his alma mater as a Science and Mathematics teacher in 1976. Thereafter, he taught at Naenae College and Hutt Valley High School before appointment as Deputy Principal at Horowhenua College in 1996, and then as the Principal from 2000. He re-joined the Tawa College staff as Principal in Term 2, 2002.

Like his predecessor, Mr Lucas also has had to deal with dramatic educational change. Much of this related to the replacement of qualifications with which New Zealanders had been familiar, like School Certificate and University Bursaries examinations, with completely new qualifications at each level of the Senior School, under the name of the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA). This qualification was fundamentally different from all that had preceded it. No longer did all hinge upon the results of end of year exams. Work done during the year now counted, and practical work could also contribute to NCEA. For example, in earlier years, Music was tested in a 3 hour written exam. Now, music performance and composition by students could be assessed, and students given credit. Such a change required enormous effort from the principal and every teacher in every subject, and meticulous planning and preparation. This effort came to dominate the school for some years.

The NCEA is, fortunately, a very broad qualification, able to cater for both academic and vocationally inclined students. As the demography of the senior school has completely changed from earlier years – most students now stay at school for 5 years – new subjects have emerged. Construction Skills, Childcare, Outdoor Recreation and Tourism have entered the College curriculum, and Drama is now taught at every level. Of course, academic subjects remain, but Year 13 (Form 7) is no longer the preserve of an academic elite who will proceed to University.

A new National Curriculum has also come into being, with its challenges of the teaching of key competencies; of students having to “own” their own work; and having to learn not just individually, but in groups. Teachers too have had to learn new skills, and the in-service training of staff now assumes an importance that teachers of the 1960s and 1970s never had to contemplate.

The impact of technology has also had a profound effect not only on teaching method but on the College budget. Tawa College now has over 200 computers, TV screens in many classrooms, and the wherewithal to incorporate data shows into the lesson. Whiteboards are in every classroom, and every classroom is carpeted. The days of blackboards, chalk, film strips, and the occasional film shown in the team teaching room, are gone forever.

Another feature of Mr Lucas’s tenure has been the development of the buildings of the College. Though the Board is much more in control of such matters than it was in the previous two decades (when it was virtually starved of funding for building purposes), it has also had to take on additional responsibilities. The Board has worked hard on the planning and design of both new and altered accommodation, and the result has seen a transformation in many of the learning areas of the College.

Over 2002-03 the original gymnasium was upgraded and a second gymnasium was added at a cost to the school of $1.43 million. The Wellington City Council, with an injection of $0.89 million, has entered into a partnership with the College to use all of these facilities as the Tawa Recreational Centre, available to the public after school hours and in holidays.

Long overdue modernisation of the Technical Block, housing wood, metal and plastics technology, art, and food and textiles technology was accomplished in 2003 at a cost of $1.1 million.

In 2007 the old administration part of H Block was completely demolished to provide new accommodation for the Principal, Senior Staff, and School Office staff. This project cost $1.1 million. Following that, in 2008, another part of H Block, the staffroom, was remodelled at a cost of $0.89 million, providing much better facilities and work space for teachers.

In 2009-10 an entirely new block T Block was built on the northern slopes of the College driveway to cater for Guidance staff, some Deans, and the Transition to Work Department. The block also contains three new classrooms. The cost of T Block was $1.457 million.

In 2010 most of the Music facilities of the College were demolished, and new ones, necessary for the teaching of music in the 21st century and the College’s extensive co-curricular music programme, were installed in their place at a cost of $1.6 million.

As well as all the above, in 2005 structural strengthening of the three Nelson blocks (Blocks B, C, and D) was carried out at a cost of $0.676 million.

In all more than $9,100,000 has been spent on new or refurbished College buildings in the period from 2002 to 2010. This sum includes a grant of $1.8 million from the Ministry of Education in partial recognition of the fact that for many years Tawa College’s building requirements were significantly underfunded.

All of the above has been very challenging for the Board, the Principal, the staff, and the students, but it has also been very exciting. The aim of it all is to continue to produce the good, all-round students for which the College is widely admired, and to give them the quality of leadership, teaching, and facilities which will help them to enter Tawa College to learn, and to take away, when they leave, a desire to serve their world.