University of Sydney, 1896

Excerpt from an article by R. N. Morris, LL.D., Department of Public instruction  – published in “New South Wales: the mother colony of the Australias” (1896) 

During the first thirty years of the existence of this Colony education was left entirely in the hands of private individuals, the Government taking no part whatever in the matter.

The first State recognition of the necessity for general education took the form of a subsidy to the various religious bodies, in proportion to the amounts raised by them for educational purposes.  The money was given to assist in maintaining schools which were wholly under ecclesiastical control. When this system was begun is not certain, but the probable date is about 1820.  It may be said generally that the state of education from 1820 to 1848 was anything but satisfactory.

In 1831 Sir Richard Bourke drew the attention of the Legislative Council to the importance of providing more ample and efficient means for the education of the youth of the Colony.  From year to year though with little immediate effect, he continued to press the matter on the notice of the Council, and in 1836 he recommended the introduction of the Irish National system, founded a few years before by Lord Stanley.  Bourke’s successor, Sir George Gipps, followed the same line of policy as his predecessor, but without avail.  In 1843 Dr. Lang made a fruitless attempt to introduce a comprehensive system.  In the following year Robert Lowe succeeded in obtaining the appointment of a Select Committee to inquire and report.  As a result of the work of this committee Mr. Robinson moved that the Irish National system should be adopted.  After various amendments and much discussion, in which Mr. Cowper, Mr. Windeyer, Mr. Lowe, and Mr. Wentworth figured prominently, it was decided to introduce the Irish system, but still to recognise and assist the Denominational Schools.  It was not, however, till 1848, four years later, that anything practical was done, when on the 4th of January the first National Board was appointed consisting of Mr. J. H. Plunkett, Mr. W. Macleay, and Dr. Nicholson.  At the same time Messrs. Riddell, G. Allen, Callaghan, and T. Barker were appointed a Board “for the temporal regulation and inspection of Denominational Schools.”

This system, while it proved to be a great advance on the previous method, or, rather, lack of method, nevertheless on the score of expense, and by reason of its divided jurisdiction, was not complete a success as its promoters could have wished; so, after many attempts, at length in 1866 an Act was passed by Mr. (now Sir H.) Parkes, which abolished the two old Boards, and provided for the formation of a new body to be called the Council of Education, which should disburse all funds paid by the State for educational purposes, and should have the power to make regulations having the force of law unless disallowed by a resolution of both Houses of Parliament.  By this Act the Council was authorised to grant aid to such Denominational Schools as met certain conditions, and were willing to submit to inspection by the Council’s officers, and follow the course of secular instruction laid down by the Act and regulations.  The scheme was, however, so devised as to give a preference to Public Schools as compared with those of a sectarian character.

Any ordinary reader must be struck with surprise at the great delay which occurred before any thoroughly efficient system was adopted, but the truth is, that the reform of our educational system was really a prolonged struggle, a large section of the community clinging pertinaciously to the idea that all schools should be ecclesiastically controlled.

The Council of Education did excellent work during the fourteen years of  its existence, and laid the country under great obligations; but there was a conviction gaining strength among thoughtful citizens that as the State had by manhood suffrage handed over complete political control to the great body of the people, for her own safety she must see to it that all should be fitted to give an intelligent vote; and that to save constituencies from mere schemers, charlatans, visionaries, and demagogues, she must place within the reach of all voters that which would, as far as possible, enable them to read and think for themselves.  So, in 1880, further legislation, again under the direction of Sir H. Parkes, was affected, which abolished the Council, withdrew all aid from Denominational Schools, greatly reduced the fees payable by pupils, made education compulsory, and created a Government Department charged with the duty of carrying out the provisions of the Public Instruction Act.

Up to the year 1880 the teachers were paid partly by fixed salary and partly by the fees of the pupils, the fee payable being one shilling a week per child, with a stated reduction where more than one child attended from the same family; people who wanted a school had to furnish some portion of the cost of erecting a building, and, in the case of Denominational Schools, the whole cost.  Under the present Act buildings are put up and kept in repair entirely by the expenditure of public money; the teacher is paid wholly by the Department, and the fees, now reduced to threepence a week, are paid into the consolidated revenue.  All children between the ages of 6 and 14 must attend at least seventy days in each half year, unless they are otherwise receiving instruction, live more than 2 miles from the nearest school, are prevented by some cause which the Minister deems sufficient, or hold a certificate stating that they are educated up to a fixed standard.  The instruction is secular, but this is defined so as to include lessons on moral subjects and the bare facts of Scripture history, the text-books being the Scripture lessons of the Irish National Board, Old and New Testament, Numbers I and II.

Provenance: “New South Wales: the mother colony of the Australias“. Frank Hutchinson, Edited by F. Hutchinson.
Author: Frank Hutchinson
Date of Publication: 1896
Publisher: C. Potter
Place of Publishing: Sydney
Copyright status: Out of copyright
Courtesy: The British Library

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