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The Board of General Education 1860-1875

Queensland was declared a separate colony from NSW on 10 December 1859 and in the following year the Queensland Parliament faced the task of providing an education system for the new colony. The Education Act of 1860 provided a Board of General Education which combined the functions of the National and Denominational Boards of NSW. The new Board acquired from NSW four National schools - Warwick (opened in 1850), Drayton (opened in 1851), Brisbane Boys and Brisbane Girls (both opened in 1860) - and had the authority to establish and administer primary schools vested in the Board under similar conditions to those applied by the NSW National Board. The new Board also paid the salaries of teachers in non-vested schools, nearly all of which were established and administered by churches. By stipulating certain conditions for the payment of these salaries, the Board of General Education exercised close supervision over the non-vested schools.

The curriculum provided by vested schools was the same as that provided by the earlier National schools but clergy wishing to give religious instruction were expected to attend before or after school hours, a practice which made such instruction unpopular with many parents. In 1862 a new building, designated the Normal School was erected within the grounds of the Brisbane Boys and Brisbane Girls Primary Schools, and thereafter those schools were usually referred to as the Brisbane Normal Boys and the Brisbane Normal Girls Primary Schools. The most important function of the Normal School was that of a training centre where pupil-teachers could see the best and most efficient teaching methods in operation.

The pupil-teacher system was a cheap form of recruitment, though perhaps a little hard on the pupils and teachers involved. Children as young as 14 were enlisted as apprentices, working as class teachers during the school day and receiving their teacher training before and after school. Pupil-teachers at the Normal School were well trained, but only a fraction of the State's teacher needs could be met in this way. The training system was therefore modified to allow head teachers of other schools to train pupil-teachers, thus relieving the pressure on the Brisbane centre.

In 1869 the Board provided provisional schools. These represented one of the earliest efforts to tackle a perennial problem of Queensland education - how to provide basic education to a scattered population with a limited education budget. Because they could be opened with as few as 15 children (reduced later to 12), provisional schools were a means of providing education in areas where the expense of a full State school was unjustified, or where the local people were unable to raise the necessary contributions towards a State school. The local people were responsible for providing a suitable building, and provisional school buildings were often of a very low standard. Moreover, teachers' salaries were low, and their standards of training correspondingly poor. As their name implies, provisional schools were intended as a temporary expedient which would eventually be replaced by standard State schools. Sometimes, when a locality prospered into a large, stable settlement, this happened; often, however, the provisional school withered away as population shifted, the gold played out or the railway moved further west.

Another significant advance came in 1870 when the payment of fees to National schools was abolished. There seems to have been little regularity in the amount or collection of fees which could be as high as one shilling per week per child. Although fees certainly augmented the meagre salaries of some teachers, their collection seems to have encouraged irregularity of attendance.

A new spirit was felt in Queensland by the 1870s, encouraging education and invigorating the State with a sense of democracy and national purpose. This spirit coincided with a wave of prosperity brought on by gold rushes and the start of the mineral boom. It was against this background that the State Education Act of 1875 was introduced.

The Act provided a number of key initiatives in education:

  1. Primary education for children aged from 6 to 12 was to be compulsory. (This provision was not fully implemented until 1900.)
  2. Education was to be secular, i.e. under the control of the State. (In conformity with this policy, all assistance to non-vested schools was withdrawn in 1880. This provision occasioned considerable ill-feeling among Roman Catholics and some Anglicans.)
  3. Primary education was to be free.
  4. A Department of Public Instruction was established to administer the Act.

The architects of the Act were Charles Lilley and Samuel Griffith, two of the most astute leaders in the young colony.

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Last reviewed
20 February 2013
Last updated
20 February 2013