A History of Australian Schooling

Craig Campbell and Helen Proctor
AUD $45.00
Availability: Print on demand

A social history of school education in Australia, from dame schools and one teacher classrooms in the bush, to the growth of private schools under public funding in recent years. The first systematic history of education published in thirty years, it offers invaluable insights into the issues and debates which characterise one of our most important institutions.

At a time when schooling is more important than ever for families, and where there is great public concern about educational standards and outcomes, Craig Campbell and Helen Proctor show what is new and what is an echo of older agendas. They offer a comprehensive history of Australian schooling from colonial days to the present, highlighting the ways in which schooling has helped shape society.

They identify distinctive features of the Australian education system: the strength of the non-government sector, the experiences of Indigenous children, and the relationship with global trends. From the bush to the burgeoning cities, they consider the impact of schools on children and young people over the decades.

A History of Australian Schooling is an invaluable resource for anyone involved with Australian schools.

'This unconventional and vibrant history of Australian schools and schooling reads like a fine biography. Landmarks and turning points are interwoven with the pedagogic, social and political shifts that have shaped today's school system. ' - Lyndsay Connors, AM FACE

'a compelling account of public and private provision, one that speaks directly to the current debate' - Professor Stuart Macintyre, University of Melbourne

'a comprehensive, insightful and engaging study of the power of schooling over two centuries' - Dr Paul Kilvert, former Chief Executive, South Australian Certificate of Education Board

Author bio:

CRAIG CAMPBELL is an honorary associate professor in the history of education at the University of Sydney. HELEN PROCTOR is a historian of education in the Faculty of Education and Social Work at the University of Sydney. Craig Campbell and Helen Proctor are co-authors with Geoffrey Sherington of School Choice (2009), and co-editors with Kay Whitehead of the research journal History of Education Review.

Category: Education
ISBN: 9781742371825
Table Of Contents: List of tables


The authors


1 Precarious endeavours: to 1820

2 School entrepreneurs: 1821-1860

3 Inventing public school systems: 1861-1900

4 Towards universal provision: 1901-1925

5 The socially useful school: 1926-1950

6 Equality of opportunity: 1951-1975

7 Towards a market of schools: 1976-2000

8 The present and future school

Select bibliography including references

Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Imprint: Allen & Unwin
Pub Date: January 2014
Page Extent: 304
Format: Paperback - C format
Age: 0 - 0
Subject: Education

Teachers reviews

This review of an account summarising the investigation of documentation of schooling from the time of European colonisation of Australia and its colonies by Craig Campbell and Helen Proctor published in 2014 outlines the main features. Featured in the investigation is the growth of social reform, growth of schools and changes in education and it’s effects on schooling. The perspective of Aboriginal people begins awkwardly as it occurred and continues to detail how unjust it was throughout this carefully prepared history of Australian schooling. This social narrative gives a thorough examination of this as records have been interpreted. The changes in the social order of society that affect the way people were educated are also highlighted in the narrative. Throughout the text the growth of schooling in Australia has been highlighted by changes in laws or legislature by reformers whose ideas and interpretations of education have been exemplified.

The text is compact and concise arranged in periods with extended references at the end of each chapter and a relative index of all key areas covered. The book details how growth in schooling was achieved through reforms, reformers and acts passed in state and federal governments in Australia from its colonial beginnings.. The report has been well indexed with relevant key concepts and social influences. Growth in the history of Australian schooling meant ‘public’ would be redefined. The scope of information within the text is astounding and is recorded with astute connection to an overall theme about schooling and its reflection of society. Topics such as merit, monitors, workforce, domestic science, invalid cookery, sustaining citizenship, schools without playing fields, education for boys, gender equity, teacher qualification and world-wide trends are mentioned and an overall compassion for the plight of any members of society unable to obtain equal opportunities is a cry heard and surveyed in these pages.

Experienced teachers, educational professionals and new scheme, and trainee teachers wishing to explore or investigate authentic history of Australian schooling make a good audience for this book. However the narrative is an interesting read for any history collection.
Helen Latimer 


It always helps to have a little perspective and that is exactly what A History of Australian Schooling delivers. As a comprehensive overview of policy, people, and practices in a broader social and political context, it answers the question, when did formal schooling become the norm? If you've ever wondered why the Australian educational landscape looks the way it does and how it developed, here is your answer. The book moves chronologically, mostly drawing on other published works, exploring objectively the various developments in curriculum, teaching methods, the social backgrounds of students, the expectations and influences of growing and changing Australian communities and indeed the very purpose of schooling and education. Particular and careful attention is paid to the schooling and education of Aboriginal and other minority or disadvantaged students.

Other points of interest include changes in teaching method from the monitorialism of 19th century schools due to a shortage of teachers to centralising New Education of the 20thC based on advancements in economic and psychological models. The effects of other social policies are also discussed, such as the White Australia policy, a post-primary curriculum side effect of which was to increase the gendered character of classes offered. Boys moved into technical education, girls to domestic science. Sometimes these policies seem contradictory as to whether their intent is to control or develop school populations. Various schemes of kindergarten teaching are covered as well as the introduction of post-primary schooling, higher education (such as universities) and even teacher education, yet the focus is mainly on education for ages six to fourteen. The most significant shift in the focus of policy and assessment over 200 years is that of seeing the importance of academic merit give way to the importance of equality of opportunity. 

Published early in 2014, the book ends with high hopes for the recommendations of the Gonski report, yet admits that other Rudd/Gillard educational initiatives may not survive a change in government. However schools and teachers will endure, although what happens inside the walls may not be so easily recognisable as the rate of technological change increases. Many of the issues of the early 19th century are still visible in schooling practices today. Yet A History of Australian Schooling offers no opinion as to whether it is reassuring or depressing that the same arguments are still being chewed over. The book as a whole is very readable although at some points a little dry where data analysis is employed, yet anecdotes, quotes and photographs are also used. A History of Australian Schooling is a necessary resource for anyone working within or adjacent to the education sector. 
Rachel Holkner


Whilst the authors of A History of Australian Schooling have not pursued any new archival research, their work is a valuable resource for all those who are determined to keep abreast of the public debate on the direction of education in Australia. Working on the premise that “…schools are an integral part of society; rather than reflecting it, they are often powerful agents in its ‘making’ ” Craig Campbell and Helen Proctor successfully explore education and schooling from the first British settlement in Australia until the present. The authors cover indigenous education, pedagogy, curriculum, equity of access, funding, and the pervasive impact federal and state government policy changes have on schooling, and therefore social and public life in Australia. Campbell and Proctor are most successful in their analyses of the political, historical and social tensions which continue to shape Australian schooling, concluding that despite following very old patterns in curriculum and school types, there has been a “democratisation of the school experience” in Australia over the past 200 years.

The authors committed to a monumental task in their attempt to cover such a breadth of history in less than 270 pages. The careful inclusion of resources, including photographs, cases studies, oral histories, letters and even the occasional school report, however, show the authors to be deft hands at writing history that manages to both inform and entertain its audience. Recommendations for further reading at the end of each chapter as well as a detailed bibliography are extremely valuable to those who wish to use this book as a springboard into more detailed readings.

Students of Australian History will find much to support their studies in A History of Australian Schooling; with the coverage of indigenous education and schooling to be of particular interest. Teachers and students of Legal Studies and Australian Politics who require a more detailed understanding of High Court challenges and the division of powers, will find that Campbell and Proctor provide a concise outline of the 1981 challenge to federal government funding of church based schools, combined with a deeper analysis of the impact this decision has made on the nature of Australian schools into the new century.

The final chapter on 'The Present and Future School' is essential reading for parents, teachers, administrators and students who attempt to follow the education debates prevalent in recent media. It provides highly relevant discussion of the long term impact of governmental policy on student retention, higher education, school autonomy, teacher ‘quality’ and curriculum. A History of Australian Schooling should be compulsory reading for any politician, political party, lobby group or government which espouses reform of the education system.
Ingrid Perkins, Beaufort Secondary College, VIC


If you have an interest in the Education system in Australia, you will find this an enlightening and informative read. This book covers a multitude of aspects of education in Australia dating back to European colonisation and before. It provides an in-depth insight into the political and cultural views that shaped our schooling system into what it is today. A History of Australian Schooling is a journey of discovery from a time when schooling was very different to what we have today. This book shows us how and why changes such as introducing curriculum, professional teaching, controlling bodies such as the Education Department and many other reforms have occurred over the years. It is interspersed with facts, quotes and pictures to provide an understanding and appreciation of an institution that has affected most Australians in one way or another.

As a teacher, I have enjoyed reading this book and have learnt much about the education system from doing so. My grandmother was a teacher in the early years of the twentieth century and this book has helped me to gain an understanding of what she might have gone through in her career. Whether you are reading this book from the perspective of a student, teacher or if you have some other role in the education system, you will find this book is worth the read and worth passing on to your colleagues, friends and family. Every school staff room should have one.
Jodi McLeod, Relief Teacher (primary) in the Great Southern District of WA


This is an impressive book, spanning as it does a huge timeframe from even before the time of British settlement to the present day. Meticulous in its descriptions of the situations in each of the states as they come into being, and with an eye also to indigenous schooling, A History of Australian Schooling is set to become a seminal work for researchers of the future.The authors set out clearly their definitions at the start, “disambiguating” (as Wikipedia has taught us) the terms that are applicable to the variety of systems, and recognising that some of them (‘public’, ‘private’, ‘national’ and ‘independent’ for example) have different referents here and in Britain.

While obviously their own prior research interests are able to inform the present work with individual examples of school histories, the authors’ descriptions of the prevailing trends through each era are comprehensive and thorough. Having given this work a fairly close reading, I am left with the overall impression that, as in other areas of public and social life, schooling is an area where history demonstrates a reactionary lurching from one “way of doing things” to its opposite, often on the whim of the current responsible official, (see the discussion on methodology as determined by successive Governors Darling, Bourke and Gipps in chapter 2): "The new idealism [early 20th century, following federation] in education was attended by criticism of the public systems established 30 years earlier. Public schools ‘trained’ rather than educated; they closed off rather than enabled higher education; they failed to meet the demand for much-needed technical education — their conception of the child learner was narrow." (p.106)

While the academic education of middle class girls continued to be controversial through the 1800s (p.104), the blatant racism that greeted Aboriginal parents seeking an education for their children is breathtaking (“lighter coloured children could attend … if they were ‘clean’” p.129) and it is chastening to realise that the desegregation of some classrooms was not achieved until into the second half of the 20th century: It is hardly surprising that wider social changes and sensitivities have affected schooling, but sometimes their perception can be ludicrous, as these authors demonstrate. There was a remarkable turn-about in the popular debate concerning educational disadvantage and gender. In the 1970s, the issue was the problems that girls might have in classrooms and in gaining credentials that might lead to higher education and employment. During the 1990s ‘the boy problem’, existent from the late nineteenth century, was rediscovered. New programs were framed to support boys as the new disadvantaged sex. (p.215)

Campbell and Proctor take their description of Australian schooling right up to the current day with their discussion of NAPLAN, values education, the Gonski Report and parental choice in the education of their children. As they say, “Arguably the most contentious issue in Australian education today is the amount of public financial subsidy given to public and non-government schools by federal governments.” (p.261)

In summary then, this book is a most valuable description of the state of schooling in Australia over the past two centuries plus, with its clear-flowing text well supplemented with appropriately relevant photographs and tables. Each chapter — there are eight altogether — concludes with an annotated list of resources to explore in expanding on the topics dealt with therein, and the volume itself concludes with a ‘select bibliography including references’ and a comprehensive index. Very highly recommended for anyone with an interest in education or in Australian social history. An invaluable resource for research in these areas.
Julie Davies

This is an ambitious broad-spectrum social history of schooling in Australia from colonial days to the present age of new school markets. It shows how universal schooling has grown to the point where most Australian children nowadays have far more schooling than their parents ever did. Perhaps more significant is the massive growth at either end of the compulsory ages.

Campbell and Proctor provide lively accounts of the ways schools aimed to 'civilise' the unruly and assimilate the newcomer while showing that the private requirements of 'consumers' of schooling can sometimes be at odds with traditional values like social justice. The authors look at the experiences of schooling for particular groups, especially Indigenous children, and in the early days, institutionalised children - although the 500,000 Australian children who grew up in orphanages between 1920 and 1980 will be surprised by the claim that orphanages failed to survive the turn of the 20th century.

The book dwells on the great public concern about educational standards and outcomes of schooling, national curriculum and testing at a time when there has been a significant shift in resources from the government sector to the corporate sector (a term properly preferred to 'private' or 'independent' schools). The book's debate about equality of opportunity is set in the era 1951-1975 but the concluding chapters show that there has been no resolution of that debate. Nor is there likely to be while funding remains a deeply divisive issue. Australia spends less on government schools than the OECD average and more than average on non-government schools including religious schools. The authors conclude that the future of Australian schooling is not easy to predict, but the book's clear historical narrative shows us how we got to the point where Gonski is now almost beyond deliverance.
Frank Golding, Former school principal, VIC