National system

Irish national system

The introduction of the Irish National System into the colony was an attempt to reduce the number of unnecessary schools and provide them where they were most needed. It was also an acceptance of the role of the State in the provision - not just subsidising - of education. However, the National System still called for a considerable amount of local initiative and support; the local community was expected to contribute at least one-third of the capital costs of establishing and maintaining its school, to offset part of the cost of the teacher's salary by the payment of school fees, and to form a school committee to manage the affairs of the school. To ensure that National Schools had the greatest chance of survival, they were to be established in country areas where no denominational schools already existed, and then only if local residents could guarantee an average attendance of at least 30 pupils. It was not the intention (although it later occurred) to add to the duplication of schools by having National Schools in places also served by Anglican, Catholic, Presbyterian or Wesleyan schools.

Kempsey National School

In the first year of operation of the Board of National Education only one school, Kempsey National School was opened.  It was temporarily housed in a rented building pending the erection of its own premises.  In the following year the government system gained 14 more schools, most of which were new, although some had been operating as denominational or private schools prior to coming under the board's control. By June 1851 the Board had 37 schools in operation attended by over 2,000 pupils. The largest of these schools, the National School in Fort Street, Sydney, had been opened in 1850 as a model school to serve as an example to new teachers of how a good National School should be organised and managed.  Six schools were handed over to the Victorian authorities when Victoria was separated from New South Wales in July 1851.

One-teacher schools

The growth of the government school system in the mid-1850s was slow and by 1857 only 62 schools were under the board’s control.  Despite precautions, some of the earlier schools proved ephemeral due to fluctuations in local populations; others were forced to close due to the hostility of individual clergy who saw the National Schools as 'godless'. This same hostility was also responsible for the failure of many local attempts to obtain National Schools. Nevertheless, considerable gains occurred from 1858 onwards when the Board of National Education, following precedents in Ireland and Victoria, allowed denominational and private schools to become National Schools under its control without demanding that the school building become the property of the Board. This arrangement permitted the owner or local residents to use the school building after school hours for whatever purpose desired, a freedom denied for vested National School buildings. Hence in small communities a church hall could be used as a non-vested National School and still be used for religious purposes after hours or on Sundays. Alternatively private houses or rented premises could become school buildings on a long-term basis. The response to the non-vested scheme was immediate and within two years the number of schools under the Board doubled; by 1866, the last year of the National Board, half of its 260 schools were of the non-vested type. Fewer than 20 of all the Board's schools were located in the Sydney area, the remainder being predominantly one-teacher schools scattered throughout the countryside. The government school system in New South Wales had become as planned a 'country' system, although the school figures were a little deceptive, for while city schools made up less than 10 per cent of the total number of schools, because of their large enrolments they accounted for nearly 30 per cent of total attendance.