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The grammar schools era 1860-1912

In 1860 Queensland's first Parliament passed the Grammar Schools Act which allowed for the establishment of a grammar school in any town where at least £1000 could be raised locally. The Act provided for a Government subsidy of twice this local contribution. When established, each school could be run by its own seven-member board, including a Government representative. The first grammar school established under the 1860 Act was the Ipswich Grammar School, opened in 1863. In the years 1863-1892, 10 grammar schools were opened, the last being the Rockhampton Girls Grammar School.

Queensland grammar schools followed the traditional English model, with curricular dominated by classical subjects like Latin and Greek. Because fees were charged, the children of gentlemen, the wealthy of the colony, were the only ones likely to avail themselves of grammar schools. These schools catered for an elite, in accord with the nineteenth century view that popular education beyond the elementary level was not desirable.

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Provision for the award of scholarships to grammar schools was made in the 1860 Grammar Schools Act. The first awards were made in 1864 for the 1865 school year at Ipswich Grammar School (the only one then existing). Between 1865 and 1873 only about twelve such scholarships were awarded. Selection was on the basis of a personal examination by a senior officer (in 1864 the Colonial Secretary acted as the first examiner). The first formal Scholarship examination was held in July 1883. Until 1914 a fixed number of scholarships was awarded though the number varied over the years depending on the amount of money allocated. From 1914 this system was changed and all students obtaining 50 per cent or more in the examination, were awarded a scholarship to any approved secondary school (which by then included State high schools).

In 1891 a Royal Commission on Education advised that a 'system of secondary schools more directly controlled as to foundation and management by the State would be less expensive and quite as effective in the education of the youth of the colony'. Grammar schools would continue, but would be supplemented by a State secondary system similar to the 'superior' school system in NSW, in which secondary classes were attached to primary schools.

Initially, the Department of Public Instruction opposed this extension of secondary education. The Under Secretary and General Inspector were both conservative men who believed that the Department had enough to do to implement compulsory, free and secular primary education. Furthermore, they felt that Queensland's economy was not ready for such an expansion of secondary education: 'The State can only absorb a certain quantity of highly educated labour and if it spends the years of its young people in the pursuit of higher education, there will be a loss as these young people find themselves forced to fall into the ordinary avocations of life'. Perhaps there were social reasons too for this fear of 'over education'.

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Despite these doubts, the Education Act of 1875 was amended in 1897 to allow additional subjects to be taught. Literature, science, algebra and geometry were added to the syllabus if sixth class, the highest in the primary school. Though this change affected a small minority of schools, it can be argued that State secondary education had thus come to Queensland.

Another area of development of secondary education was within the technical colleges. During the 1880s and the 1890s some of them provided night classes in grammar school subjects. By 1898 the Brisbane Technical College was providing a full secondary curriculum during the day, and in 1905 the South Brisbane Technical College opened a high school which prepared day students for the Sydney public examinations. In 1910 the Department of Public Instruction established separate day schools within the two Technical Colleges directly under their administration - Central Technical College, Brisbane, and Warwick Technical College. Though strongly oriented towards technical education, and consequently not regarded as the first State high schools, these schools did prepare students for the Junior and Senior examinations of the University of Queensland.

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Last reviewed
10 January 2013
Last updated
10 January 2013

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