Reform movement

Peter Board

Change, precipitated by criticism from educationalists and politicians, was not long in coming. Two decades after the passing of the 1880 Act the reform of education was once more the centre of public interest, but on this occasion attention was directed towards the inadequacy of educational provision and practice in the light of new ideas on education. A Royal Commission was appointed with the task of reporting on the 'existing methods of instruction in connection with Primary, Secondary, Technical and other branches of education, and of recommending for adoption whatever improvements might with advantage be introduced into New South Wales'. The Commissioners spent 12 months overseas prior to submitting voluminous reports on what they had seen and what they recommended should be done in New South Wales. An inspector of schools, Peter Board, also spent time overseas examining new developments and his concise report agreed in principle with the Commissioners' recommendations. Both reports were given official approval by an influential conference of inspectors, teachers, departmental officers and prominent educationalists in April 1904. With the appointment in 1905 of Peter Board as Director of Education the stage was set for a comprehensive reform of education in New South Wales. Primary education was the first to feel the effects of the 'new education' movement, and significant improvements were made in teaching methods and curriculum in the primary schools; however the basic types of schools - Public, Provisional, Half-Time and House to House - remained unaltered. This was not surprising since most of the effort in the nineteenth century had gone into the creation of a system of schools which would provide elementary education for children in all parts of the colony.

Expansion of secondary education

It was in the field of secondary education that most changes in the government school system were to take place. It had been obvious to the Royal Commissioners that countries overseas were expanding their secondary school systems to maintain the supply of qualified people needed in a period of growing industrialisation. New South Wales, they concluded, must do the same. Moreover, there was already a demand by many parents to have their children instructed beyond elementary stages of education: the 140 Superior Public Schools and the four High Schools demonstrated this. Thus it became the basic aim in the early part of this century to take the government school system a step further. While this was to take place mainly after 1910, some changes occurred earlier. In 1906, 19 District Schools were created in country areas to provide the higher branches of learning, especially for pupils seeking admission to the Teachers College in Sydney. The District School attempted to overcome the problem of providing higher education for country students without bringing them to the city High Schools, thereby exposing children of tender years to the 'allurements of city life' and weaning them from the 'delights and advantages attached to rural life'. In essence the District School was a 'superior' Superior Public School; it provided primary and secondary education but the secondary sections were staffed by university qualified teachers specialising in particular subjects, such as science or modern languages, rather than being teachers of all subjects as were the teachers in Superior Public Schools.

Schools to cater for differing vocational needs

The main objective in reorganising secondary education was to provide a system of secondary schools which offered an appropriate form of higher education to all students who had satisfactorily completed the primary school course. The reorganisation was based on several assumptions about society and about children. It was believed that New South Wales required a workforce in four major areas: the professions, commerce, industry and the home. It was also confidently assumed that certain types of people, because of their mental ability or sex, were more suited to certain parts of the workforce. One other assumption of crucial importance was made: it was believed that by the time a child was about 12 years of age, it was possible to know which area of the workforce he or she was most suited to. This meant establishing schools to cater for the differing vocational needs of pupils and ensuring that pupils were guided into the schools which most suited their ability. The primary school course was to end with an examination, the Qualifying Certificate, from which those with marked intellectual ability would proceed to the High School to do an academic course leading to professional studies in higher institutions, especially the university; the remaining pupils were to be channelled into an alternative system of post-primary schools. The diagram below indicates the new system as it was in 1913.

Government school system in 1913

 The Government School System in 1913

Intermediate High Schools

The implementation of the new scheme began in 1911: fees in High Schools were abolished so that they could more easily compete with other forms of post-primary education, and for the first time a High School course of study was laid down leading to an Intermediate Certificate after two years, and a Leaving Certificate after a further two years (the four-year course was extended to five years in 1918). High Schools immediately proved popular and in the early years after 1911 they were unable to accommodate the demand for places. Consequently the Intermediate High School was 'temporarily' formed by upgrading the secondary tops of some of the city's Superior Public Schools; in most cases these were indistinguishable from District Schools except that District Schools were restricted to country areas. After 1920 Intermediate High Schools gradually replaced District Schools.

Pre-vocational schools

Those pupils who did not qualify for the academic course, whether offered in the High School, Intermediate High School or District School, were offered two-year courses in pre-vocational schools. Rather than create new schools for this purpose, the Superior Public Schools were refashioned from the beginning of 1913 to include one or more secondary departments; commercial, junior technical or domestic science. These secondary departments were often referred to as schools but they were still attached to their primary departments, at least at this stage; later some became separate secondary schools. The Commercial Schools (mainly for boys) offered a variety of courses such as business principles and economics, designed to assist a boy entering on a business career when he left school; the Junior Technical Schools provided courses in technical drawing, woodwork and metalwork for boys who would take up a skilled trade; and the Domestic Science Schools, renamed Home Science Schools in 1942, trained girls as homemakers, while at the same time giving them some preparation for employment prior to marriage. These schools, designed to continue a pupil's education beyond the primary level, were known as Superior Public Schools or as continuation schools. In 1923 a fourth type of pre-vocational school was established, the District Rural School, which offered courses such as agriculture, applied farm mechanics and rural economics for boys, and home science and horticulture for girls.

Evening Continuation Schools

A similar system of continuation schools replaced the unsuccessful Evening Public Schools. From 1911 Evening Continuation Schools offered similar courses to the day-time Commercial, Junior Technical and Domestic Science Schools, mainly to students in Sydney and Newcastle. The schools were open to students who had completed the primary course, had a job, but wanted to gain additional instruction in subjects related to their employment. No primary section was attached to these schools although for a brief period there were several Evening Continuation Schools offering what was called an Independent Preparatory course, a literacy course similar to that taught in the earlier Evening Public Schools. The Evening Continuation Schools were well supported and by the end of 1912 had enrolled over 3,000 students compared to less than 1,000 in Evening Public Schools two years earlier. Their popularity was at its greatest in the late 1920s and early 1930s (unfavourable economic conditions may have helped) after which they declined until discontinued at the end of World War II. The Evening Colleges which replaced them concentrated more on adult education, especially in cultural and handwork subjects, and as the Evening Colleges are not regarded as schools they have not been recorded in the database.

Great variety of schools

Depending on one's viewpoint, the period of secondary school development after 1911 can be seen as one of infinite variety, or confusion. It is impracticable here to trace in detail the labyrinthine pathways by which each of the post-primary schools - District, High, Intermediate High, Junior High, Junior Technical, Commercial, Home Science, District Rural, and later Central Schools - gradually moved from specialised schools offering courses to children who had been chosen at the end of their primary education to enter specific occupational fields, to the comprehensive High School designed to give a broader secondary education to adolescents and to allow them greater freedom of occupational choice. It is, however, possible to give a general outline of the process.

Wider occupational choice

During the 1920s it became apparent that the specialised post-primary schools needed to become more flexible in order to cope with the relatively large numbers of children who at age 12 or 13 had not formed vocational preferences. Therefore, selection procedures at the end of primary school were modified in an attempt to assess the future prospects of students to allow more accurate placement in an appropriate type of secondary school; but while scholastic ability was relatively easy to measure, vocational interests continued to remain elusive, and the various specialised schools moved towards offering courses which would permit a wider occupational choice. For example, it became possible to follow the High School course at Home Science Schools and proceed to University or Teachers College; and many of the High Schools and Intermediate High Schools offered courses which had earlier only been available in the Junior Technical, Commercial or Home Science Schools.

Raising the school leaving age

As the post-primary schools became more like each other in the type and range of courses offered, the distinction between them became blurred; in fact many of the earlier pre-vocational schools were converted to High Schools. This process was speeded up by the raising of the school leaving age in the early 1940s from 14 to 15 years, thus giving most children the opportunity to have two to three years of secondary education. (This remained in force until The Education Amendment Act 2009 raised the minimum school leaving age to 17 with effect from January 1, 2010.) Secondary schools were asked increasingly to cater for all types of adolescents, not just the more select ones of a previous generation. By the late 1950s (with the exception of a handful of selective High Schools) pupils were in general being allocated to their nearest secondary school. The introduction of the Wyndham Scheme from 1962 confirmed the trend towards comprehensive, co-educational High Schools which had been occurring in New South Wales; at the same time the full High School course was extended from five to six years. With the exception of selective High Schools and the special schools, the secondary school system today consists almost entirely of comprehensive High Schools and the secondary sections of Central Schools in country areas. From 2010 there are 17 fully selective high schools, 23 high schools with selective classes (partially selective), a virtual selective class provision (Western NSW Region) and 4 agricultural high schools offering selective placement in Year 7. There is also a senior high school, Sydney Secondary College, Blackwattle Bay Campuswith selective classes offering entry to Years 11 and 12. 

Subsidised school system

At the same time as secondary education was moving towards a multi-purpose type of school, the primary field was experiencing a similar trend. By 1910 the House to House Schools had all but disappeared and the Half-Time Schools, which in the 1890s had numbered almost 500, had dropped to 60 in 1930 and 16 in 1940. The introduction in 1904 of a conveyance subsidy to assist parents to send their children from outlying areas to central schools contributed to the decline of the smallest government schools, and so did the introduction of correspondence education in 1916. The other major factor was the Department's introduction in 1903 of a system of subsidising teachers of very small private schools in remote areas. The number of subsidised schools reached 350 within five years and, after some fluctuations, peaked at over 800 during the 1930s, before declining rapidly from 600 in 1940 to around 100 in 1950 and fewer than 40 in 1960. Throughout this period the average enrolment per school was nine. The subsidised school system provided a minimal education for thousands of children while avoiding the expense of establishing or continuing government schools. The number of Provisional Schools fell when subsidised schools were first introduced, but then recovered and continued to rise until by 1940 there were nearly 700 of them. By this stage, however, Provisional Schools had become simply smaller versions of the Public Schools. This fact was confirmed in 1957 when the remaining 390 Provisional Schools were converted to Public Schools. By the late 1950s, the 'comprehensive' Public Schools, together with the Correspondence School and the School of the Air, could reach all those geographically isolated children for whom the Provisional, Half-Time and House to House Schools had originally been created. Since the closing of the Correspondence School in 1990, Distance Education Centres (which commenced in 1991) have served isolated students, plus other students.

Schools for Specific Purposes

While some of the older types of schools were disappearing, other types were emerging. The first Hospital Schools were established in 1923 and a special school for slow learners was opened at Glenfield in 1927. The other special schools, catering for children with physical, intellectual or emotional disabilities, did not begin to expand appreciably until the 1950s and 1960s. In many cases these schools operated privately in institutions of various sorts prior to being absorbed into the government school system. The Department began to assume responsibility for more severely intellectually disabled children from the mid 1970s, but the adoption of an integration policy has seen a large number of children with disabilities transferred from special schools to special classes or units, or ordinary classes, in neighbourhood schools. The titles School and Hospital School are generally used to name these special schools, but the Department classifies them as Schools for Specific Purposes (SSP). Schools for children committed to government care, which have operated since 1867 but were not necessarily under the control of what is now the Department of Education and Training, were transferred to that Department in 1981; in the database the note community care school is used. Other new types of schools to emerge were the Sport and Recreation Centres, the first of which was established in 1947 (and which in the early 1970s were taken over by the Department of Sport, Recreation and Racing although the Department of Education continued to provide teachers until 1990), and the Environmental Education Centres, which first appeared in 1971. These schools offer a range of facilities and experiences for visiting children beyond the scope of the ordinary primary or secondary schools.