In 1860, the newly appointed Board of General Education established and maintained primary schools that had an average attendance of 30 pupils. The school committee was required to contribute one-third to one-half of the total cost of school buildings, furniture and apparatus. The first reference to provisional schools in the reports of the Board of General Education was in 1869. The Report of 1869 referred to settlers who were 'too few, too far apart, or too recently established in their new homes to be able to comply with the regulation in regard to the average attendance, or the contribution to the cost of the school building'. If such settlers provided a temporary 'rough structure' until they were able to comply with the regulations dealing with the average attendance and the local contribution, then the Board would provisionally recognise the school and provide a small salary for a teacher.
The State Education Act of 1875 and The Regulations of the Department of Public Instruction, 1876 provided for similar arrangements. Where the local residents contributed one-fifth of the total cost of a building and furniture and could guarantee an average attendance of 30 pupils, the Department erected a State school, provided that the site was vested in the Minister.
A provisional school was defined as one '... In which temporary provision is made for the primary instruction of children and not being a State school'. Provisional schools were established where an average attendance of between 12 and 30 pupils could be maintained and where the local promoters could provide a suitable building at their own expense. These buildings could be built on private land, Crown land or on land vested in the Minister. While the Department undertook the major responsibility for maintaining State schools, the school committee of the provisional school was responsible for the maintenance of the provisional school. When the average attendance of the school rose to more than 30, the school committee was expected to raise the requisite one-fifth local contribution towards the cost of a State school.
The provisional school teacher appointed was usually an unclassified teacher who was not provided with a residence by the Department and who received a salary that remained less than that of the lowest classified teacher. Consequently, such a teacher was often a person with barely adequate education, or occasionally, a well educated person who had failed in other occupations, or an educated woman forced to provide for herself.