Australian Bureau of Statistics
1301.0 - Year Book Australia, 2001
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 25/01/2001
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AUSTRALIAN SCHOOLS: PARTICIPATION AND FUNDING 1901 to 2000
Education is not included as a Commonwealth power in the Constitution, and therefore it remains the responsibility of the States. However, the Commonwealth with its greater revenue base, especially after 1941, became involved in assisting with the funding of tertiary students and universities and then, notably from the 1960s, of the school system itself, in both public and private sectors. By the end of the century it provided over 40% of all public funds for education, had a dominant role in higher education and substantial influence and funding in vocational education and in schooling
This article has a limited scope. It examines participation in education, particularly secondary schooling, in Australia during the twentieth century and the funding system that underpins it. This necessarily involves comment on the quality of the education system in relation to the needs of the students of all social backgrounds and the Australian economy and society. And it involves outlining some of the key changes that occurred in the twentieth century and the political and policy issues that underlay them.
Although the Australian colonies readily embraced and almost implemented universal education in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the challenges of secondary education, and the participation and destinations of adolescents in this stage of formal schooling, have dominated educational politics and planning during the entire twentieth century. Perhaps this was unavoidable because of the nature and position of secondary education in a modern democratic society. Of all the stages in schooling, secondary education is the most sensitive to both personal aspirations and societal demands. As the first national survey of secondary education (The Education of the Adolescent in Australia) observed in 1935: "Australian secondary education is still in the stage of transition. Perhaps it will never be in any other".
Australian education in 1901
In 1901 Australian education, except in Western Australia, was suffering from the financial effects of the long economic depression. But there was an abundance of schools and pupils. Some 15,000 of these pupils, from New South Wales’ public schools, provided the choral accompaniment to the first Governor-General’s signing of the new Oath of Allegiance in Centennial Park, Sydney on 1 January 1901.
Of the 9,353 schools with a total enrolment of 887,137 pupils, most were 'free' public (state) schools, and the bulk of these were one-teacher schools with enrolments of between 10 and 30 students. The ‘peculiarity’ of Australian education, noted Monroe’s A Cyclopedia of Education in 1911, was the absolute centralised control by the State of each public education system, and "since local interest is fitful, the external equipment of the schools is usually of an inferior character". This international review also observed that it was "perhaps unfortunate" that an education constitutional power had not been included in "the act of federation" in 1900.
Compulsory attendance laws for children, generally for those between 6 and 13 years, were at last in place (Queensland having introduced its law in 1900), but they were not strictly enforced and, as well, remained out of reach of the most isolated communities and were inapplicable to Indigenous peoples. Schools were open at least 220 days a year, which was regarded as progressively high for a non-industrial society. Roman Catholic parish schools, established in the 1880s by the bishops to counteract the secular ('godless') public schools, and other private schools in towns and cities, appeared much more effective in maintaining regular attendance of pupils, attaining an average pupil attendance of 81% of their enrolments, compared with 70% for pupils in government schools.
Two free kindergartens had recently opened in Sydney, but no system yet provided school medical and related services. Nonetheless, in 1901 Sydney and Hobart schoolboys were surveyed to find that for their ages they were taller than their English counterparts, but had smaller chests than European boys. Among the diverse range of secondary schools in the cities and the larger towns, only five were state-controlled institutions (four in New South Wales, one in Adelaide) but, like the private providers, namely endowed grammar schools and denominational religious schools, they attracted low and fluctuating enrolments from fee-paying secondary school students. Overall, the diffusion of popular education over the previous decades, as measured by national literacy rates (percentage of 5-14 year olds who could read and write), was 80% in 1901, an increase of some 4% from 1891; it would rise to the acceptable level of 90% in 1911.
There were 22,213 teachers working in Australian schools in 1901, two-thirds employed by State education departments. Nearly two-thirds of all school teachers were women or girls; it had been a higher figure, but married women and many female pupil teachers in the public school systems had been systematically retrenched as part of the economy measures in the 1890s. Most schoolteachers had never trained at a teachers' college, instead they had obtained certification in a State system after an apprenticeship as pupil teachers. Queensland, Western Australia and Tasmania did not have training institutions in 1901, while the Victorian Government only permitted the education department to reopen its college in Carlton in 1900 after a six years' recess.
Western Australia had established its first technical college the same year, thereby providing technical education of the ‘central’ technical model or the ‘school of Mines/Arts’ model in each of the new States. Except for New South Wales, none were under direct State control, but this would occur increasingly throughout the decade. Western Australia, and also Queensland, were without a university in 1901. Each other State had one small university located in the capital, which on 'modern' British lines closely regulated and administered various levels of public examinations for the schools, and offered higher studies for degrees in the liberal arts, the old and some of the new professions like engineering or dentistry, as well adjunct extension classes for adults. In 1901 there were 33 professors in the four Australian universities and some 2,500 undergraduate students, many of whom were part-time enrolees.
The formation of the new nation, occurring as it did during an economic crisis, invoked a widespread questioning of the status and functions of all public institutions. Education was part of this restlessness, especially evident during official inquiries into State education systems, teacher union conferences and public fora like the Federal Educational Congress convened by the Victorian State department and the teachers union in January 1901. Reformers, who bemoaned the loss of educational ideals that had been enshrined in the foundation public education acts of the 1870s and the 1880s, advocated the modernisation of public education to satisfy the aspirations of the new nation. In particular, reformers (public officials and private citizens) called for the liberalisation of the rigid elementary schools' methods and curriculum, the replacement of 'pupil-teacher' system by pre-service college training and the direct intervention by the state in secondary (and technical) education. Such intervention, it was argued, was critical so that this stage of formal schooling would meet both the skill requirements of an emerging industrial economy and the nationhood needs of a democratic political system. These could be achieved by the States legislating for increases in their minimum school leaving ages and the establishment of different secondary schooling sites in the public education systems that would offer 'free' or almost 'free' secondary education to young Australians of the new century.
Foundations of public secondary education
The policy problem before State Governments and education departments was the question of access to the first 2-3 years of a secondary education, or what was termed the '12-14 years old' problem. Different types of new schools or classes within primary schools had to be designed and developed with curricula to meet the different abilities and occupational expectations of this age group. Generally some form of externally validated examination at the last year of primary school was required to sort the different destinations of pupils. The main focus of departmental energies, however, was not devoted to this question, but remained fixed on the establishment of a few academic high schools. These new institutions, often established originally to prepare school pupils for State school teaching, in fact provided a new, public pathway for academic students to progress through a modern secondary school curriculum. Students of ability, who paid fees which were lower than those charged by private schools, were able to access these schools in capital cities (often gender differentiated schools) and provincial centres by successfully completing qualifying or entrance examinations. Those who completed the secondary education course would compete with private school students at public examinations and, if successful, would 'matriculate' for entrance to the universities and technical colleges. The curriculum, teaching methods and school organisational culture was unashamedly ‘grammar school', which had been transplanted from Britain to the Australian private schools in the 19th century. Thus secondary school competition was created between the public and private sectors, even though most education departments initially conceded that they would not locate the new public high schools in private school catchment areas. The larger established private schools later agreed to the competition because States like Victoria (1905) and NSW (1916) introduced regulation of teachers and schools in private schools. This dramatically reduced the number of small, often family-owned, private academies, which until then had attracted significant numbers of students to this sphere of the secondary school market.
The high schools, often more selective and cheaper than private schools, appealed to the new middle classes, who understood the importance of a meritocratic school system that also embedded the ethos, activities and social networks of the private school. These new schools, especially those in the capital cities, were to produce a new constituent of the social elite; indeed in NSW and Western Australia, but less so in Victoria, products of the selective high schools later emerged as the leading members of the local professional elites.
However, the public high school system, established as it was in each State between 1905 and 1915, ahead of the resolution of the '12-14 years old' problem, did little to advance mass educational opportunities or socially inclusive and democratic secondary schooling in Australia. The success of the State high school in creating a new academic education market encouraged other departmental leaders to argue for the introduction of secondary school structures that would provide an accessible and relevant curriculum to most 12-14 year olds. Initially this was done by extending the primary school into a central or superior school, that was to provide vocational emphases in technical, commercial or domestic economy, balanced with some features of an early general secondary education. The objective was to provide preparation for semi-skilled work, vocational training or a technical education. But the difficulties of imposing this type of curriculum on schools dominated by the primary school curriculum and teaching ensured that in most States the vocational aspects would be surrendered inevitably to a general education, without sufficient or adequate preparation in the new work skills. Agricultural education was to suffer the most, but it was not alone, and gradually in States like New South Wales, vocationalism in secondary education was subsumed by a general academic curriculum in the superior public schools and district high schools.
Victoria, on the other hand, because of the strength of the vocational education lobby (and its dismay at what had happened to the vocational streams in public high schools), created separate technical schools in its public secondary system. These schools, established after 1911, were controlled by the education department's new technical education directorate, which designed a pre-vocational curriculum that was linked directly to entry into industrial training, work, or technical college education. The ‘junior’ technical school became one of the major innovations of the Victorian education system and it influenced the growth of similar schools in Tasmania.
The promotion of such early specialisation in adolescents' education disturbed the new generation of departmental leaders in Victoria. By the mid-1920s they were positioned to merge all technical schools into the high schools. They would have succeeded, but for the election of a State Labor Government in 1929. It heeded the pleas of the Trades Hall Council, the Chamber of Manufacturers and The Age, and retained the technical schools system. Another Labor government would eventually incorporate the technical schools into a new secondary college system in the mid-1980s. Tasmania abolished its junior technical schools in the 1950s.
The Victorian technical schools system also created a small number of girls' technical schools, but like elsewhere in Australia, the main vocational stream for working class girls in non-academic courses was in domestic arts classes or schools. These were to prepare girls 12-15 years old for home-making, after unskilled work as adolescents. Most girls left these schools on reaching the school leaving age. In Victoria's eleven domestic arts schools in 1929, 2,467 of the girls were 14 years and under, and only 912 were over 14 years.
Public secondary education after the school leaving age was found to be the most inclusive in the multilateral or omnibus high school which developed during the 1920s in the larger country towns. These non-selective schools did attempt to meet some of the specific vocational needs of non-academic stream students, while extending an academic education for students who stayed even one year beyond the school leaving age. Indeed, within the State system the country high school became the dominant mode of secondary schooling in the period between World Wars I and II. In Victoria in 1928 only six (three selective) schools out of 60 high and intermediate high schools were in the Melbourne metropolitan area, while in South Australia the figure was four out of 24. In Sydney, where the public high school had developed more than in any other Australian city, only 48% of all State secondary students attended its metropolitan schools. Tasmania attempted genuine educational innovation in the late 1930s, when it introduced area schools that offered a pronounced bias in practical agriculture geared to local rural industries in the first two years of the secondary school curriculum. This type of schooling proved so popular with local communities that by 1942 fifteen area schools had been established across the State.
The fees question
The public provision of secondary education was constantly the subject of debate about tuition fees. It was apparent that when fees were increased, extended or reintroduced, as in almost all States during the Depression, secondary school enrolments fell markedly. There was both a psychological impact on families that secondary school appeared unaffordable, and a material impact as a result of the collapse of family incomes in the 1930s. The reintroduction of fees as a 1930s emergency measure came at a critical time because primary school enrolments, which had increased significantly in the mid-1920s, could not be matched by the anticipated expansion of secondary school enrolments and retention rates between 1931 and 1936. Thus many young Australians were cruelly denied access to an extended secondary education or the opportunity to complete it in this decade.
New South Wales, as the leading public provider of secondary education, was potentially the most vulnerable to the economic emergency of the 1930s. Its rapid expansion in the previous decade, which had seen State secondary school enrolments treble between 1917 and 1927 (but school accommodation barely doubling), continued during the first years of the Depression. The Government resisted pressure to reimpose fees, and as a result, while State secondary school enrolments fell in 1933 and 1934, they quickly returned to 1932 levels in 1936, and then evened out for the remainder of the decade as a result of the declining birthrate after 1927. The absence of fees in public high schools also had the effect of attracting and retaining students from private schools, whose overall enrolments collapsed by nearly 20% between 1930 and 1934, again as the result of the reduction in family incomes. Nevertheless, the Depression took its toll on all secondary schooling opportunities, because in 1936 New South Wales’ secondary education systems could not account for about 40% of children who had completed their primary schooling in 1934.
In South Australia, Tasmania and Victoria, which reintroduced secondary school fees in the early 1930s, high school enrolments fell by 9-11% between 1933 and 1936. But the Victorian Government’s decision to maintain free technical schooling resulted in an increase in these schools’ enrolments by 21% in the same period. For the entire decade, Victorian high school enrolments increased by only 13%, compared with a 42% increase for the technical schools. Obviously the pre-vocational aspect of these schools encouraged families to invest in a system that promised some skill preparation for a revived industrial economy at the end of the 1930s. The overall impact of the 1930s Depression on Australian secondary schooling can be found in the results of a 1946 survey by ACER; it estimated that only 88% of the 13-14 year olds were at full-time school, 57% of 14-15 year olds, 27% of 15-16 year olds and 7% of 16-17 year olds. "Australia has far to go before it attains anything approaching secondary school for all" (Cunningham 1947, p. 344).
The beginnings of reform of State secondary education in this period did allow the elementary school to be reshaped into a primary school as a stage in formal education and not a terminus. The Australian primary school, as distinct from its 19th century antecedent, concentrated on the growth and experiences of the child as an individual personality. The emergence of public secondary education gave the primary school the space to implement the pedagogical and curriculum innovations that had been part of the 'New Education' movement at the turn of the century. Access to primary schooling in the remote areas also had been improved by the introduction of correspondence education around 1916, and the extension and retention of the one teacher school, even though it was four times as expensive per pupil to operate as an ordinary school. Departmental and party political adherence to the small school, except in NSW and Tasmania, seriously impeded the consolidation of these schools by use of road transport for outlying pupils. At the end of the 1930s some two-thirds of Australia's State schools still employed only one teacher, even though these primary schools attracted less than 15% of State school enrolments. The growth of a progressive primary school pedagogy was also inhibited by the poor quality of teacher pre-service training, and by shortages of books, materials and instructional equipment necessary to promote individual and social learning. These difficulties were to be accentuated by the Depression, wartime austerity and postwar shortages. Indeed it would not be until around 1960 that the Australian primary school fully embraced the progressive ideals of the 1900s.
The financial context in the late twentieth century
To take the discussion of schools and participation into the second half of the nineteenth century it is necessary to sketch the main features of educational finance.
In 2000 governments still provide the bulk of funds for education. Public primary and secondary schooling is provided without tuition fees. Small tuition fees have been charged in recent years for public vocational education and training after being removed in the 1970s. The Commonwealth abolished tuition fees in higher education in 1974 when it assumed responsibility for public funding for higher education, previously shared with the States. It began to reintroduce fees in the late 1980s, and in 1989 it brought in the Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS), which offers an income-contingent loan, later repayable through the tax system, to cover the fee. The fee was then about 20% of course costs. It has since been increased and now varies across courses. Fees covering the costs of tuition are charged for most postgraduate coursework degrees, for a very small proportion of the undergraduate degree courses taken by Australian students, and for overseas students at all levels of education.
Nearly all institutions in higher education and Technical and Further Education are owned by State and Territory Governments, though there are substantial numbers of private providers in Vocational Education and in English language provision. There are two private universities, Bond and Notre Dame, but they provide only a tiny fraction of higher education. The Australian Catholic University is funded by the Federal Government as a public institution.
The Commonwealth provides an important but minority share of the funds for publicly funded vocational education. The Commonwealth provides means tested grants for full-time students in schools and in tertiary education, for those aged 16 and over.
About 70% of school students are in government schools, about 20% in Catholic schools and about 10% in Other non-government schools. Government schools are largely funded by State and Territory Governments from their own resources (which include Commonwealth financial assistance grants to the States and Territories). No tuition fees are charged, though many government schools seek contributions from parents for a range of materials and services. About 12% of spending on government schools in the States comes from the Commonwealth allocation specifically for government schools-as general funds for schools and for some specific-purpose equity programs and as capital grants for building. The Commonwealth did not provide any funds directly for government schools in the States before 1964.
In the late 1990s, on average about 54% of the spending of non-government schools was financed by government grants (Commonwealth 36%, States 18%) and 46% from private sources such as fees. The amount that a school received from governments depended on a measure of the school's resources (provided from its private income, especially fees which are around $2,500 per annum at a typical Catholic secondary school, but about $10,000 at the high fee Other non-government schools; there are an increasing number of Other non-government schools at the middle to lower fee range).
The economic context of the post-war period was one of full employment and relatively high rates of economic growth until the mid 1970s. The support for public expenditure on education remained strong and a rising share of the nation's resources were allocated to it. The expansion was most marked in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Outlays leapt by 1% of GDP in one year in the mid 1970s, a combination of the Whitlam Government's policies for higher education and schools and the continuing rising expenditures of the States.
The stagflation of the late 1970s and 1980s led to restrictions on public expenditure and efforts to make the education and training system more efficient. Table C7.1 provides an overview of the the overall size of public and private expenditure on education from the late 1940s, drawing on the pioneering estimates of Karmel (1962 and 1967) and Mathews (1968) and subsequent ABS data. The table shows that public expenditure as a share of Gross Domestic Product waxed until the late 1970s and then waned. Private funding has expanded notably in the last decade. Cash benefits for students expanded in the late 1980s following the introduction of a new system, which in particular extended to 16 and 17 year olds at school the types of student assistance available to tertiary students.
Over 60% of outlays on education are for schools. The changing size and distribution of school enrolments across government, Catholic and Other non-government schools is shown in Table C7.2 for the period since 1963, in which comprehensive Australian statistics on school enrolments have been compiled. Government schools enrolled nearly 80% of students in the mid 1970s, but since then all the growth in enrolments has been in non-government schools. Government enrolments in 1999 are at the level they were in 1974 and non-government enrolments are some 60% higher. The growth is especially in other non-government schools, which enrolled less than 5% of all students in the early 1960s but over 10% by 1999.
The growth in school enrolments in the 1960s was still driven by the postwar baby boom and was largely absorbed by the government systems, which alone had access to government funds. The demographic push eased with the sharp temporary decline in births in the early 1960s. The return of government funding for non-government schools from 1964 and its sharp increase in the 1970s were factors in the increase in their share of enrolments. For the low resource Catholic schools, Commonwealth capital grants were crucial in allowing them to expand their provision. The recurrent grants allowed them to do so with improving resource levels per student. The growing pattern of public recurrent funding of non-government schools is given in table C7.3.
As indicated, both the Commonwealth and the States provide recurrent support for non-government schools. However, as the States differ in their form of support, an example for Victoria is shown. In 1999 a high income non-government secondary school would have received the minimum amounts of $832 from the Commonwealth and $447 from the State, a total of $1,279 per student. Most Catholic system schools received close to the maximum or about $4,500 per student.
The years chosen for the table are of significance. The figure for 1973 shows the funding determined by the Gorton and McMahon Coalition Governments: there was a flat per capita grant varying only by level of education. The figures for 1976 are the legacy of Whitlam Labor Government: it expanded funding very greatly for low resource, mainly Catholic, schools. The figures for 1983 show the policy of the Fraser Government: to expand the funding of the high income non-government schools proportionately the most, but to increase the absolute funding of the low resource schools most of all.
The 1996 figures indicate the Hawke and Keating Governments' policies: in real terms they cut the grants to the high income non-government schools and increased them to the low income schools. The 1999 figures show the effects of the first years of the Howard Government: it has relatively increased its funding of the low resource schools. However, in 2000 it revised the method of making grants to non-government schools, except for the Catholic systems. Other private schools and systems from 2001 will receive grants based on the socioeconomic status of the areas in which the parents of their children reside, rather than the resource levels of the school. The total grants for non-government schools will be substantially increased and the increases on average will be largest among the high fee schools. The government funding of such schools will no longer be affected by the resources they acquire from fees or donations. A Liberal spokesman has referred to the new system as making 'an historic correction' in funding.
The introduction of government funding for non-government schools was not, at least initially, at the expense of funding for government schools. Table C7.4 summarises the growth in the government sector and the non-government sector (both Catholic and Other combined) in enrolments and expenditure per student. It also provides approximate estimates by the authors of the change in total recurrent expenditures and in expenditure per student in constant 1998 prices.
The table shows that, over the whole period from the 1974, expenditure per student has increased in real terms a little more in non-government than in government schools. In both sectors it more than doubled. The table shows the massive expansion in the resources in government schools in the late 1970s-an increase of nearly 40% in real resources per student in five years. It is in the period of the 1980s and especially the 1990s that the non-government schools increased their expenditures more rapidly than government schools. Overall, because of the rapid expansion of enrolments, the total expenditure of non-government schools has increased much more than in government schools.
Another way of viewing the resources of schools is to focus on the major resource, teachers, Table C7.5 shows the changes that have occurred in the period from 1973 to 1999 in the ratios of students to teachers. In government schools the most rapid reduction in ratios was in the 1970s, but it also was rapid in Catholic schools. Government schools took advantage of a decline in primary school enrolments due to low births in the 1970s to reduce ratios in the 1980s and 1990s, but secondary ratios have altered little since the beginning of the 1980s. Catholic and Other non-government schools have continued to reduce the average ratios at both primary and secondary levels. At secondary level the ratios in Catholic schools which were nearly 40% higher than in government schools in 1973 were less than 10% higher in 1999. The ratios in Other non-government schools, which were higher than in government schools in the early 1980s at secondary level, are now once more lower.
It might also be noted that non-government schools with high levels of resources tend to spend a lower proportion of their funds on teachers than low resource non-government schools or government schools. The gap in expenditure between Catholic schools and Other non-government schools is proportionately larger than the gap in student teacher ratios shown in table C7.5.
Secondary schooling for all
The period of the long economic boom, 1945-1970, fostered a transformation in secondary education in Australia. Before 1945 State secondary school provision was dysfunctional, and the so-called ‘ladders’ of educational opportunity were still missing rungs and feet. After 1945 State secondary education is defined by the magnitude and pace of its physical expansion and the genuine attempts to introduce from overseas practice a comprehensiveness in location, curriculum and culture, for at least the 12-15 years old cohort. Nevertheless, some high schools that were highly selective in scholastic and social composition were retained in all States. Special purpose schools like Victoria's junior technical schools, or domestic arts schools, were also retained, and both extended the years of provision and offered a more general curriculum which made it easier for students to transfer between different types of schools in a secondary system.
This transformation in secondary schooling was driven by social demands for extended education. Industrialisation, immigration, full employment policies and new levels of urbanisation helped create a silent social revolution, where secondary education was ‘consumed’ for personal economic advancement. Families, "the depression or wartime generations", were willing and economically able to support their children (especially boys) undertaking secondary schooling beyond the compulsory leaving age to improve their credentials and opportunities for non-manual and skilled manual employment. This demand can be seen in NSW government schools' retention of students from year 7 to year 10: it increased from 13% in 1948 to 48% in 1958 to 72% in 1968.
State Governments in the immediate postwar years assisted the extension of State secondary education by abolishing entrance examinations at the end of primary school as well as all tuition fees, extending the school leaving age, and increasing the number of school scholarships and subsidies for school transport, especially in country areas. They also encouraged the liberalisation of the school curriculum for all but the last two years of the secondary school. More than anything else education departments and governments raised community expectations that secondary schooling for all adolescents was a desirable end in itself, and a direct means for students to obtain the skills and credentials to move into meaningful employment, training or higher education. This establishment of a favourable precondition for "the revolution in rising expectations" would resonate with State authorities, Roman Catholic school leaders and the school reform movement well into the 1960s. But as one observer wrote in 1962, "public secondary education … is still regarded by many as something of a new-comer" (Bassett 1963, p. 305).
Another disappointment, which was much more widespread, was with the inaction of the Federal Government. The Labor Government of the 1940s, which had introduced federal subsidies for disadvantaged university students as a wartime manpower control and as postwar reconstruction initiative, also contemplated a similar assistance scheme for low income secondary school students in the final two years of school. The defeat of Labor in 1949 sidelined this proposal and, while the Menzies Government continued and expanded the university scholarships scheme, it was not until 1964 that it came to the financial assistance of the schools, with a scholarship scheme to support students to stay on at secondary school. The decision, and the Commonwealth Science Laboratories and Libraries schemes, ushered in the current era of State Aid to school education. The secondary schools scholarship did not provide significant support to students from working class backgrounds or in country high schools to complete their schooling because, being awarded on academic merit rather than economic needs, they favoured students from elite private schools and government and Roman Catholic schools in middle class communities in metropolitan areas. For example, in 1968 Victorian Year 10 students in high schools obtained only 5% of all Commonwealth secondary scholarships, compared with 15% of non-Catholic private school students (Fensham 1972). An exception was in Victoria's technical schools, which catered for working class children where the principals argued that they provided a different curriculum and obtained an allocation of scholarships proportional to their enrolments.
Most States reorganised their secondary school system on a comprehensive model. In doing so they not only reformed the middle years of the secondary school but anticipated the flow from there to senior years, so that a fully comprehensive secondary school would be ready to meet further demands. The pace and trajectory of these reforms in Australia can be seen in the ten or more years that it took NSW to reorganise its secondary education system. Known as the 'Wyndham Scheme' after its Director-General of Education, the scheme brought to fruition many of the ideas that had been formally debated in NSW as early as 1933. Departmental postwar reconstruction planning after 1946, a public inquiry and survey between 1953 and 1957, the introduction of new school legislation in 1961 and the implementation of the 'scheme' between 1962 and 1964, suggest something of the process and pace of major school reform in Australia.
New South Wales’ planners had to accommodate serious opposition from within the State Government's ranks, from the social elite who had graduated from the State's selective schools, from teachers' industrial and professional associations, and from some elite private schools and university academics. Ultimately the reforms were accepted by the education community because they preserved aspects of the traditional systems, while laying the template for the structure of today's secondary education in NSW. In contrast, the Queensland Government was able to dispense with its obsolete State secondary system within three years. Its Education Act 1964 raised the minimum school leaving age to 15, abolished the primary school scholarship examination and the university’s control over most of the secondary school curriculum, and encouraged the growth of comprehensive State high schools.
Nevertheless, this transformative period of "secondary schooling for all" should not be identified with equality of educational opportunities through extended access to secondary education. The conservation of the all-pervasive academic curriculum, the persistence of external examinations, still largely based on competitive selection for university, and the role of the Commonwealth and States’ financial aid to non-elite private schools, and especially for Roman Catholic schools to modernise their curriculum and teaching, meant that participation and success in public secondary schooling were highly differentiated by social geography and gender. Thus despite the rapid expansion of high school facilities and resources in Victoria between 1950 and 1975, social inequalities within the State system prevailed. Studies of Melbourne's high schools by Teese (1989) claim that, for 1972, completion rates for secondary schooling were 25% lower for students attending schools in the working class suburbs than for those attending schools in middle class locations. Moreover, for both locations, girls had completion rates that were half those of boys, suggesting that girls were still being 'ghettoed' into terminal streams in high schools, and dropping out of school earlier and more frequently than boys.
Universal secondary education?
The increase in secondary education capacity across all sectors between the late 1960s and late 1970s offered portents of a second silent revolution in education towards the end of the century. Specifically, the restructuring of the Australian secondary school, especially in curriculum and teaching, and the funding of these changes by the States and the Commonwealth, could provide the springboard for the introduction of universal secondary education in Australia, i.e. the level of education where almost all 16-17 year olds stayed on at schooling, either at secondary schools, alternative educational sites or programs, or in a combination of part-time education, training and work.
Secondary schooling underwent its most pronounced forms of modernisation in this period. Public examination reform both reflected this process and was affected by it, especially in the large number of students who remained at secondary school, where once their cohort would have exited full-time schooling at the end of Year 10. The notable reforms of this period included the abolition of external examinations except for the final year, a shift towards school-based examinations, including recognition of alternative curriculum pathways, and the introduction or extension of school system certification. Furthermore the use of external assessment was modified by a mix of external and teacher-based school assessment, with much more emphasis on ongoing assessment and moderation of standards by teacher peers in conjunction with an examination by authorities. In the latter, Queensland hosted the most radical reforms, while other States moved more slowly, if at all.
The dismantling or partial dismantling of public examinations systems indicated a newfound trust by authorities in the professionalism of secondary school teachers. This had been assisted by the recognition that for the first time these teachers were adequately prepared professionally for teaching by the universities and the teachers' colleges, the latter now free of education department control. There was also a recognition that professional development time was available for teachers, subsidised by Commonwealth initiatives, and that teachers could develop curricula that were responsive to the range of abilities, interests and destinations of students. The Commonwealth Government, through its Schools Commission (established 1973) also initiated special national programs such as for education of girls, students of non-English speaking backgrounds and Indigenous secondary students.
To support students of low income families or those disadvantaged from communities, the Commonwealth Government directly funded a secondary allowances scheme for these groups (which replaced the scholarship scheme in 1974), though it was fairly small in value and confined to the lowest income groups and the disadvantaged schools program.
But above this, the Labor Government in 1974 abolished tuition fees at universities, advanced colleges and the new TAFE sector which, although controlled by the State and Territory Governments, was increasingly supported by the Commonwealth Government. These measures again made a psychological more than a material impression as many students had been exempt from fees, but nonetheless raised expectations in secondary education that a tertiary education was within the reach of many Australian families.
The decade 1968-78 is seen as the crucial period for laying the foundations for the eventual drive towards universal secondary education. But it also contained the fault lines that would eventually disrupt its advancement.
The Whitlam expansion of funds for both public and private education resuscitated Australia's dual education system. Subsequent funding policies helped the private secondary schools to survive to such an extent that they offered an attractive and affordable product to parents. Moreover, the Karmel Report (1973), which outlined the reforms and expansion of Commonwealth funding for schools, also recognised the 'individual rights' movement. Originally cast as the 'rights of the child' or the 'rights of the student' in education, it was appropriated by more conservative thought to become the 'rights of parents' to select the school of their choice for their children. The schools chosen would be subsidised by public funds. The Fraser Government (1975 to 1983) emphasised the notion of choice in schooling to shift Commonwealth recurrent funds away from the States' public education systems to both the poorer Catholic schools and the better resourced private schools. It also added 'excellence' to its strategy for encouraging 'choice', not only as a way of justifying the transfer of federal funds away from public education, but to re-establish the supremacy of the academic curriculum in secondary schooling.
During the same period, Commonwealth and State Governments also felt the first winds of reaction, or what J. K. Galbraith calls "the revolt of the rich" in affluent industrial societies. Taxpayers did not wish or expect to keep on paying for the maintenance, let alone the growth, of the modern welfare state, including public education systems.
Finally, as mentioned earlier, the fiscal adjustments of governments to high inflation from the mid-1970s onwards produced an expansion of unemployment, particularly among youth. One of the official responses to this problem was the claim that the public secondary school curriculum was failing students, or that it was contributing to the problem. This questioning of the new functions of secondary education brought both a parental revolt, that in a period of uncertainty they were prepared to transfer their children from public to private institutions, and a student revolt, of students leaving schooling before they entered Year 12.
Table C7.6 presents apparent school retention rates: the numbers in Year 12 in a particular year as a percentage of the entrants to secondary school five or six years earlier, depending on the State. Transfers among schools can cause the apparent retention rate to exceed 100%, which it does on occasion for Other non-government schools. Retention, which had been increasing rapidly since the mid-1960s, declined for boys in government secondary schools between 1975 and 1982, though an offsetting factor was the strength of apprenticeships as a post school destination for boys in this period.
During the 1980s, State and Federal Labor Governments revived the Whitlam Government's distributive justice stance to the continuing inequalities in secondary education, but without its commitment to investing heavily in public education. However, special Commonwealth programs to increase participation and equity strategies in public high schools, and a major extension of the student assistance scheme, helped stem the retreat from secondary education. The benefit level was increased and the income test on parents eased. The numbers receiving at least some assistance expanded rapidly from 145,000 in 1988, or about 40% of those aged 16 and over, to 235,000 in 1992 or about 55% of those 16 and over.
School retention began to rise again in the mid 1980s and continued rapidly to the early 1990s, fostered by the financial assistance and in the early 1990s by a severe recession that affected job prospects for school leavers. Retention rates peaked in 1992 at 77%-72% for boys and 82% for girls. The rates have since fallen to 72%-66% for boys and 79% for girls in 1999. The decline is most noticeable among boys and in the government sector.
In the 1960s the participation of females was considerably lower than for males. This is shown in table C7.7. By the mid 1970s there was little difference, and from the 1980s females have had distinctly higher rates of participation. This carries through into higher education.
School participation should be seen in the context of overall participation in education and training. Table C7.8 shows that the proportion of 15 to 19 year olds in schools rose nearly 8 percentage points in the period 1984 to 1994. Participation in higher education rose 4 percentage points, but there was little change in participation in TAFE for this age group.
Major changes to senior school curricula, modelled on the middle school reforms of the earlier period, were left to the States’ and Territories’ education departments. Again the main targets were changes to assessment procedures, the broadening of the curriculum in the senior years and establishing alternative pathways to the traditional academic core of the secondary school. As in the past, the nature of these changes required intricate negotiations with private and public academic schools, examination authorities, universities, subject associations and parents (as voters) who had become increasingly anxious, not only that their economic world was changing too fast, but also that of secondary and post-secondary education. Again, as in earlier periods, curriculum and organisational reform for the secondary school in a new post-industrial society was overtaken by a wave of new enrolments in Years 11 and 12.
The many students who willingly and otherwise remain in the public systems have become the recipients or legatees of the substantial increase in resourcing of private school systems. As a consequence, student achievement levels in the final years of secondary schooling are still based on social geography rather than social equity.
Bassett, G. W. 1963, "Education", in A. L. McLeod, (ed.) The pattern of Australian Culture, Oxford Univerisity Press, Melbourne.
Cole, P. R. (ed.) 1935, "Introduction", in The Education of the Adolescent in Australia, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, p.11.
Cunningham, K. S. 1947, "Education", in C. Hartley Grattan (ed.) Australia, Berkeley, University of California Press, p. 344.
Fensham, P. 1972, "School and family factors among Commonwealth Secondary Scholarship Winners in Victoria, 1964-1971", in D. Edgar (ed.) Sociology of Australian Education: A Book of Readings, McGraw-Hill, Sydney, pp. 26-40.
Karmel, P. 1962, Some Economic Aspects of Education, F. W. Cheshire, Melbourne.
Karmel, P. 1967, "Some Arithmetic of Education", in E. L. French (ed.) Melbourne Studies in Education 1966, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne pp. 3-34.
Karmel, P. (Chair) 1973, Schools in Australia, Report of the Interim Committee for the Australian Schools Commission, Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra.
Mathews, R. L. 1968, "Finance for education", Economic Papers, No 27, June 1968.
Monroe, P. (ed.) 1911, 'Australia', A Cyclopedia of Education, Macmillan, New York. pp. 301-02.
Teese, R. 1989, "Gender and Class in the Transformation of the Public High School in Melbourne 1946 to 1985", History of Education Quarterly, Vol.29, No.2, pp. 237-259.
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This page last updated 3 October 2007