Education Department

Public Record Office Victoria
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Full description

Prior to the appointment of a Minister of Public Instruction and the establishment of the Education Department in 1873 under the provisions of the Education Act 1872 (No.447), the administration of education and allocation of public funding had been the responsibility of the Chief Secretary (VRG 26) and the Board of Education (VA 713) which had been established in 1862. For further information about the education authorities prior to 1873 see VRG 35 Education.

During the early history of the Education Department there is some confusion over the title of the office. It is variously referred to as the Department of Public Instruction, the Department of the Minister of Public Instruction or the Education Department. However, all letters, Government Gazette proclamations and annual reports, are registered under the title: Education Department.

An Overview of the Development of Education in Victoria


Victoria was the first of the colonies to introduce free, compulsory and secular education with the passing of the Education Act 1872 (No.447). School attendance increased by approximately fifty percent as soon as education became free and compulsory. This Act also ended financial aid to denominational (church) schools.

The Education Act was born out of dissatisfaction with the form and content of education as well as the controversy over religion and education. In September 1866 the Higginbotham Royal Commission recommended, inter alia, that a Minister of Public Instruction, responsible to Parliament, have a general superintendence over education in Victoria. Higginbotham introduced a Bill, based on his suggestions to Parliament in May 1867 but it received only a luke-warm response.

In 1869 the Eighth Report of the Board of Education stated that the Board was in favour of compulsory education. By 1870 two thirds of the population of Victoria aged between five and fifteen attended school. In August 1870 the Education Act (British) was passed and set up elementary schools in England although attendance there was not compulsory.

In December 1871 a Bill was introduced into Parliament by Sir James McCulloch for compulsory, though not free, education. This Bill proposed the abolition of aid to denominational schools. The Government collapsed in June 1872. In September 1872 the Attorney-General in the Francis Ministry, J.W. Stephen, introduced an Education Bill. It was passed in December 1872 and came into force on 1 January 1873. This Act abolished the Board of Education and established a Department of Education under a Minister of Public Instruction. The Department of Education controlled all aspects of State primary education. At the same time Church authorities responsible for the then existing Church Schools were permitted to, and did, retain an independent system, although State aid to these schools ceased in January 1874.

The Education Act provided for the establishment of a Department of Education consisting of a Secretary, an Inspector General, inspectors, teachers and such other officers as were deemed necessary. The Act provided that education should be full and secular and that school attendance was to be compulsory for children between the ages of six and fifteen. State schools were to be established wherever required and teachers became public servants. Religious instruction was not permitted during school hours and Boards of Advice were to be established as guardians of school property and were to induce parents to send their children to school.

James Wilberforce Stephen was the first Minister of Public Instruction, with the first Secretary, H.P. Venables, as the Permanent Head.

Royal Commissions between 1872 and 1901

The working of the 1872 Act was scrutinised by three Royal Commissions between 1872 and 1901. The Royal Commission of 1877 to 1878 under the direction of C.H. Pearson recommended minor additional duties for the Boards of Advice as well as other improvements to the education system. It had little immediate effect. The Commission of 1881 to 1884 under J.W. Rogers, and later J.M. Templeton, supported religious instruction of a non-sectarian nature in State schools. However, no legislation resulted from either Commission. In 1886 Pearson became the Minister for Public Instruction and could implement some of his suggestions of 1877 to 1878. The Education Act 1889 incorporated some of these changes, including the lowering of the school age to thirteen years and a provision for school instruction to cover lessons in temperance and health. The Education Act 1890 consolidated the law relating to education.

In 1891 the Education Department had ten administrative branches which operated under the Chief Clerk. They were Correspondence, Teachers, Buildings, Registration, Despatch, Papers, Books, Accounts, Messengers and Truant Officers Branch.

The Fink Royal Commission of 1899 to 1901, although ostensibly relating to Technical Education, made far-reaching recommendations affecting all levels of education. In terms of the administration of the Education Department, the Commission stressed that the Permanent Head should be an "educationalist of high standing and administrative skill" and recommended that the Inspector-General of Schools should be appointed to the office of the Secretary.

The Education Act 1901 introduced many changes based upon the recommendations of the Fink Commission. A Director of Education from the professional ranks of the Public Service was appointed with responsibility for the administration of the Acts, whilst the Office of Inspector-General was abolished. Mr Frank Tate was appointed as the first Director on 26 February, 1902. Teacher payment by results was also abolished under this Act.

Changes Arising from the Education Act 1910

The next major administrative change resulted from the Education Act 1910. The Boards of Advice were abolished and school committees were set up to take their place. The office of the Secretary of Public Instruction was also abolished. Another change resultant from the Education Act 1910 was the establishment of the Council of Public Education (VA 2310) to replace the Teachers and Schools Registration Board (VA 2309) which had previously controlled the registration of non-Government schools and teachers. The functions of the new Council were to supervise employment and training of teachers, as well as to report to the Minister on matters related to the development and general administration of education. It also oversaw the standards of independent schools.

This Act also provided for the establishment of higher elementary schools and technical schools by the State, and so created two new administrative divisions. The first Chief Inspector of Technical Schools was appointed in 1911 and the first Chief Inspector of Secondary Schools was appointed in 1914. However, the original position of Chief Inspector (primary schools) seemed to involve some responsibility for all schools until 1925 when the office of Chief Inspector of Primary Schools was organised officially.

The structure of the Education Department remained relatively stable throughout the following three decades, except for the reappointment of a Secretary in 1920 to manage the administrative functions of the Department and the appointment of an Assistant Chief Inspector of Secondary Schools in 1937.

Administrative and Legislative Change 1940's to 1970's

In 1941 the Education Act was amended to protect children from expulsion on religious or political grounds and in 1943 the school leaving age was raised to fifteen years.

In 1949 the Minister of Education Act changed the title of Minister of Public Instruction to that of Minister of Education. The Education (Religious Instruction) Act 1950 provided for religious instruction in State schools, but it did not make it compulsory.

The 1960's saw several administrative changes within the Department. In 1964 the Primary Schools Division was divided into five areas - Northern, Southern, Eastern, South-Eastern and Western - all under Assistant Chief Inspectors who were in turn responsible to the Chief Inspector of Primary Schools.

Pursuant to the Education and Teaching Services Act 1967, the position of Director of Education became the Director-General of Education and in 1968 the Chief Inspectors became Directors of Education under the provisions of the Act. Two new Directorates were also established. These were for Teacher Education (under the Superintendent of Teacher Education since 1961) and Special Services which covered aspects ranging from physical education to welfare. The Curriculum Branch was one of five branches within the Special Services Division. This branch provided educational support services to all schools in the area of curriculum development and research. Within the branch specialised units were responsible for particular subjects and curriculum areas. The branch prepared proposals for curriculum change and course development, organised teacher in-service days and seminars and prepared research papers on educational issues.

By 1971 there was a Minister of Education, an Assistant Manager and a Director-General. Under them were three Assistant Directors-General - one of whom was the deputy to the Director-General; another was concerned with forward planning and survey and statistics, and the third looked after school buildings and educational facilities. There were also five Directors of Education encompassing the areas of Primary Education, Secondary Education, Technical Education, Teacher Education and Special Services. There was also a Secretary who controlled the thirteen administrative divisions - Accounts, Buildings, Estates, Examinations, General Correspondence, Inspection, Papers, Post Primary, Primary Teachers, Secretariat, Stores, Teacher Education and Transport.

The Director of Teacher Education was responsible for matters relating to studentships, the recruitment and in-service training of teachers and the administration of teachers' colleges. The Director of Special Services administered a variety of areas including schools for mentally and physically handicapped children and other specialist schools.

The Education (Handicapped Children) Act 1973 made provision for an increase in the number of Assistant Directors-General to four. The new position was for an Assistant Director-General of Special Education and Specialist Services. In 1975 the number of Assistant Directors-General was increased to five under the Education (Amendment) Act.

The Education (Minister of Special Education) Act 1976 made provision for the appointment of a Minister of Special Education who shared administrative responsibility with the Minister of Education until 1979 when this arrangement ended.

Review and Restructure of Educational Administration in the 1980's

From the mid 1970's and particularly during the 1980's the administration of education has been frequently reviewed and restructured. There have been many changes in policy and direction and several radical re-organisations of the Education Department and its schools.

In 1980 there was a Minister of Education, an Assistant Minister of Education, a Director-General, and five Assistant Directors-General - Personnel, Finance, Administration, Curriculum, and Buildings. Under them were nine Directors, each representing one of the nine divisions of the Education Department - Personnel, Teacher Education, Administrative Services, Special Services, Planning Services, Building Operations, and the teaching Divisions: Primary, Secondary and Technical. The administrative services section was divided into eight branches - Accounts and Finance, Central Registry, Computer Services, General Correspondence Branch, Library Education Department, Management Services Unit, Stores and Transport Branch.

However this structure was under review. In 1979 the new Minister for Education, Mr Hunt announced a complete review of education to identify the aims and objectives of education and to determine the strategies, structures and administrative changes that would best assist in achieving them. On 10 December 1980 the Government White Paper on "Strategies and Structures for Education in Victorian Government Schools" was presented to Parliament. Basically, it proposed the taking of power and responsibility from the centre and giving it to the regions and the schools. Mr Hunt stated that administrative and organisational reform of the Education Department was urgent. A firm of management consultants (PA Australia) was commissioned to prepare a detailed plan for reorganisation of the central and regional offices of the department. A Steering Committee was appointed to oversee the implementation process.

The Education (Amendment) Act 1981 gave effect to many of the proposed changes. Section 4 described the new structure: "There should be an Education Department consisting of a Minister of Education, a Minister of Educational Services, a Director-General of Education, a Deputy Director-General of Education, Executive Directors (not more than four), Regional Directors, professional officers, teachers and such other officers as are necessary. A Victorian Education Council to advise the Minister was also provided for under this Act but it was never established.

By February, 1982 the re-structuring was under way. Gone were the four Assistant Directors-General and the nine divisional Directors, including those responsible for the three teaching divisions. They were replaced by Executive Directors. A new office, called the Office of the Co-Ordinator General of Education was created. It was to operate as a "small think-tank" to co-ordinate all sectors of Victorian education. Dr Lawrie Shears, previously Director-General of Education, was placed in charge. This office was abolished on the retirement of Dr Shears in 1984.

However before the recommendations could be fully implemented the Liberal Government lost power and the Australian Labor Party, under Mr John Cain, assumed office. The new Labor Government pursued the basic objectives of the White Paper, with only minor changes. One specific change was the repeal of Section 3 of the 1981 Amendment Act which had established the position of Minister of Educational Services by the Education (Amendment) Act 1983.

Functions of the Education Department

The primary functions for which the Education Department was responsible were:

provision of educational instruction in primary and post primary schools (previously Technical and High schools)

provision of educational facilities and equipment

employment and training of teachers in government schools and colleges

curriculum development and research

provision of special services such as the School Medical and Dental services; support for physically and intellectually disabled children including assisting their integration into the standard school system and counselling services for children with psychological and learning difficulties

special programmes such as education services at the Zoo, Museum, Art Gallery etc., physical education, music education, library services, audio visual education, prison education services, adult and child migrant education, aboriginal education, disadvantaged schools programme, equal opportunity and the participation and equity programme (some of which were provided in co-operation with the Commonwealth)

provision of financial assistance including scholarships and bursaries to students

provision of subsidized transport services for school children

examination and accreditation of students and selection of students for admission to tertiary institutions

training of educational administrators

provision and development of post-secondary and tertiary education programmes and facilities including TAFE Colleges and Teachers Colleges.

Transfers of Functions

Post Secondary Education

The first technical institutes were the Schools of Mines established at Ballarat and Bendigo in the 1870's and the Working Men's College (later RMIT) established in 1887. These and a number of other technical colleges received government grants but were under the control of their own councils. Senior technical schools and colleges established after 1911 were under the direct control of the Education Department until 1965 following the implementation of the Martin Committee Report 1964 and the decision of the Commonwealth Government to fund diploma courses.

Following this Commonwealth decision it became necessary to separate the administration of diploma courses from that of other courses provided by technical colleges.

Provision of technical education including vocational courses in apprenticeship trades and certificate courses in fields such as engineering, business studies, applied art and applied science continued in Education Department colleges, in technical schools and in technical colleges associated with the Colleges of Advanced Education and Institutes of Technology affiliated with the Victoria Institute of Colleges.

In July 1980 a Technical and Further Education Board was established under the provisions of the Post Secondary Education Act and by 1981 the Board had taken over the management of TAFE from the Education Department. The Board became responsible for 16 Education Department and 11 non-Department Colleges.

Teacher Training Colleges

The first teacher training colleges were established in Melbourne, Ballarat and Bendigo. In the 1950's and 1960's further colleges were opened in Geelong, Toorak, Burwood, Coburg and Frankston. These colleges offered teacher education programmes for primary teachers under the direct control of the Education Department. Other colleges for training specialist secondary, technical and domestic arts teachers were also established and a Centre for the Training of Teachers of the Deaf was opened.

In 1973 the State College of Victoria was established. It consisted of ten former Education Department Colleges, the Kindergarten Teachers College and the Catholic Education Colleges. This federation of teacher training colleges was designed to foster the independent growth of the colleges and to co-ordinate their academic and administrative activities.

Transfer of Other Responsibilities

In 1944, following a major re-organisation of the administration of health services, the Department of Health (VA 695) assumed responsibility for the provision of school medical and dental services. In 1976 the Education Department assumed responsibility for day training centres from the Department of Health I.

The Education Department had been responsible for school attendance officers, also known as truancy officers until 1971 when the newly established Social Welfare Department (VA 946) became responsible.

In 1985 the Ministry of Education (VA 1112) inherited responsibility for all functions previously administered by the Education Department.

Research Note:

For further information about the Education Department see Vision and Realisation Volumes 1-3, Education Department 1973.

Location of Records

Prior to c1960 there are extensive but incomplete holdings of records of the Primary Schools Division and some records only from the Secondary Schools Division (High Schools). There have been almost no records transferred from the Technical Schools Division. There are significant holdings of school building records and incomplete holdings for other branches and divisions. See List of Holdings 2nd edition, 1985 section 3.8.0. For records of individual institutions see VRG 24 and section 5.0.0 of the List of Holdings.

Data time period: [1873 TO 1985]

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