IMG_3755Looking at the history of education in the A.C.T over the last 100 years is an overwhelming prospect. Fortunately there are a number of people and organisations in the region that have looked at various aspects, including the Australian National Museum of Education (hosted by UC), the Hall School Museum which has launched a database of the early schools and teachers, the Tuggeranong Schoolhouse Museum.

There seemed to be a distinct focus on the period around the formation of Canberra.  Interestingly an initial search showed that there was very little work on the period around the formation of the A.C.T schools authority and its separation from N.S.W. and the formation of the Faculty here at what was to become the University of Canberra. Two notable exceptions being the work of Barry Price on the schools authority with the Canberra District Historical Society and Geoffrey Burkhardt on the first 25 Years of what was to become the Faculty of Education.

Writing this history was beyond the scope of this project. Instead we sought to begin the process of writing this history in the hope of encouraging ongoing research and scholarship in this space.  We have in many ways uncovered issues and raised questions more than answer them.  But in the process we have mapped an important interconnected story that holds many lessons and insights for future education policy.

In setting out this groundwork I have driven the project in the direction of my interests, curriculum history and the utility of the history of education.  While not discounting the value history for its own sake and the importance of documenting the past, indeed they are the essential first steps, I have sought to explicitly focus on what we can learn from the past.

This approach of deploying history with the explicit orientation of learning from the past rather than recording it is something my Colleague Simon Leonard and I call ‘History for Education’.  It draws from a recognition that history, along with philosophy, used to be part of the foundations of education.  However with changing social trends, standardization, and the rise of psychology these foundations are nearly all but gone from the field of education.  Indeed one of the first lecturers appointed here was a historian of education, and the foundations were the core of the courses here for the first three decades.  They now no longer exist beyond this project.

While we might blame the ‘the times’ for this, I’d have to agree with Campbell and Sherington (2002).  They suggest that as education expanded as a field of study and then arrived in universities history was used as a form of legitimation.  The ‘sub-discipline’ focused on the theorists, and ‘great educators’ in a somewhat parochial fashion to ‘prove’ educations provenance. As a result it lost its connection with its initial discipline, and once this work was done had lost its purpose.  I hope that through this work we can contribute to the theoretical re-orientation to studying the present through the past.

The opportunity to do this was presented with the publication in 2011 of Australia’s Curriculum Dilemmas by Lyn Yates, Cherry Collins and Kate O’Connor.  This important and timely book looks at the different state cultures of education in Australia and take a historical and contemporary snap shot of curriculum issues in each jurisdiction prior to the implementation of the Australian (National) Curriculum.  The A.C.T is not included in this study, primarily due to budget and space, through a helpful timeline of developments in the A.C.T was developed.   This project goes someway to filling the ensuing gap, and suggest the ‘state’ culture that has developed in the A.C.T.


Turning to this project, we sought student volunteers to assist with the work. After strong initial interest we have at the end excellent essays contributed by three Secondary Graduate Diploma Students Ms Annalise Pippard, Dr Sasha Tait and Ms Ebony Donohoe.  These students undertook original research to explore the issues under investigation.

The project also took an Oral history turn.  While by no means completed these oral histories have been, and will continue to be, an invaluable resource.   Excerpts from some of the interviews are available on the website.  There are also many more to do as each interview throws up a number of further names to follow up.  Doing so will be ongoing, but urgent, work given the age of many identified.  In addition to the formal interviews we are calling on the recollections and reactions to the work to date by others involved who we have not interviewed.  We would ask them, you, to share their stories stories of this period – just head to this comments page and submit your recollections.


Turning to some of the issues that emerged.

Firstly, the contributing to the Yates, Collins and O’Connor book there is the theme of governance and curriculum.  Or, perhaps more specifically that the A.C.T as a separate school system grew out of parental agitation for more say in their children’s education, and a view that each school was unique, led to a particular ethos around school-based governance.   School councils were led here, and while some may not have been as effective as others, the idea that parents and teachers work together was important.  It was also a point of tension though, with the boundaries of professional knowledge and role and parental interest often tested.  This raises questions about the role of parents in A.C.T schools today, and the lessons about effective collaboration that can be gained form this period.

The second aspect is that of school based curriculum.  If parental involvement was the political catalyst for the new system, then Curriculum was the professional catalyst for staff. As the central feature of the new system, and at least culturally still so, the idea that schools can, and should, develop a curriculum tailored to the interests and needs of the students in their schools is arguably the A.C.T ‘state’ culture.  Teachers strongly didn’t want to be like N.S.W and went about setting up a curriculum system that focused on the needs of their students in their school rather than delivering a pre-determined curriculum. This took a certain type of professionalism and system leadership, an intellectual academic teacher, as envisioned by Phillip Hughes. How successfully this was realised is, as Cherry Collins suggested in 1989, debatable.  This issue needs historical evaluation, especially as we enter a period of a national curriculum that directly challenges the foundational principal of this territory.  Equally important though is do teachers still think this way? And how do we, when there is no space for history of the profession, induct new teachers into this culture, if indeed we want to.  Finally, to what extent has the leadership of those early pioneers in developing a school based system become its own system by default?

A significant influence on the early years is that Professor Phillip Hughes.  This is not to downplay the role of Hedley Beare, who largely sharing this vision set out the principles of the new authority, in what was to become known as the Beare eleven.  However, as foundation Dean, The Hughes Report for the formation of the Authority and as chair of the Authority he exercised a powerful vision. That no comprehensive biography of his involvement has been written is to say the least, surprising.  We are particularly fortunate in that Phillip’s wife Kelli has shared with us, and allowed us to publish, a few excerpts from his unfinished (and unpublished) memoirs that are related to this project.

Besides the schools authority Phillip Hughes formed the faculty here that was for many decades seen as the leading and most innovative school of education in the country and with an enviable international reputation.  It was based on a vision of an intellectual profession, where knowing why you are doing things was perhaps more important than the how. Indeed as many have reported the basics of practice were not part of the curriculum – deliberately so.  It was seen that these would be taught on professional experience and in the first years through effective in-school mentoring.  Though that may be misleading as the School was an international leader in micro-teaching at the time, but again this was conducting through a theoretical lens rather than a practice lens. There was also a strong orientation to seeing the profession as acting, explicitly, to making a more socially just world. This orientation to seeing education as a social good, located in social relations, more than professional preparation or a transactional arrangement between teacher and student, is illustrated through change of name from initially a School of Teacher Education to a School of Education. Names matter. It was about teaching for a more just world rather than the trend of working on the self of the teacher that now dominates or increasing our performance on narrow national and international tests – something research consistently shows does not work.

Importantly this period showed a particular orientation to the ongoing debate in teacher education around the best model of preparation – that is a teacher-scholar versus a professional practitioner.  It would seem that the faculty has moved between these positions throughout its history, often influenced as much by national discourses of the good teacher as the preferences of the teacher educators and faculty leadership.  Finally, in relation to the faculty, it should be noted that teachers for the Northern Territory and Papua New Guinea were trained here in the early years.  This saw the School of Education exercising an important influence on the future development of Papua New Guinea.   In return these arrangements ensured that the programs offered took into account very diverse school contexts.


Illustrating the informal partnership between the institution and the profession is the rows of masters thesis’ up in the library.  Teachers it would seem bought into the intellectual profession en-masse, and many doing further study – the topics of these studies were generally about aspects of the new authority and issues in schools for which teachers were researching solutions through a variety of methodologies. As times have changed and teaching has been talked about in new ways, constantly enquired into, and national accreditation imposed, professionalism has been redefined.   Similarly the academic landscape and the type of educational research that dominates has changed.   How we all respond to this remains to be seen.  In this project through we have a number of avenues to looking historically at the connection between society, the profession and the academic work of education.

The final theme I want to identify, perhaps the biggest challenge, is that of governance.  Governance would arguably be a critical issue in the history of A.C.T education, and remains a central challenge into the future.  It would seem that as self government for the territory loomed a state mentality began to develop.  The independence of the schools authority was lost, and the authority disbanded: a minister after all needs something to administer.  Similarly the planned merger with ANU of the CAE has been in many cases put down to local politics to also do with self governance and the prestige of a university constituted in local legislation.  With these changed governance arrangements came challenges of resourcing, aka funding, in an expanding territory with many competing demands is a main part of this governance conundrum.  Such that now the jurisdiction is an early adopter of federal initiatives to obtain the funding linked to these.


It could be argued that with changed governance the vision of the Campbell and Hughes reports, and that of Phillip Hughes for the faculty, has not been achieved, and indeed looks like being lost further. But, it is in failure that we come to know what we value and lay the foundations of where we need to go.  Hopefully tough this project we can remind the next generation of teachers about the gains their predecessors made, and they can come to value the professionalism they fought so hard for.  In Judith Sachs terms the partnership between parents, teachers and the School of Education was that of activist professionals taking control of their profession and their children’s education together.

Finally, in project like this there is the risk of romanticising the past. We may be presenting a time where teachers were perhaps more autonomous and innovative with a different professionalism to that that has been assigned through standards.  Where pre-service preparation and educational research were cutting edge asking the difficult questions and engaging with the big questions of the social world. What we can’t do is look back and try to defend that past – instead, what we can do is learn from it, examine why we may have lost some ground, and use that knowledge to propose new futures.

Philip Roberts, November, 2013.

View pictures form the launch here on the UC Facebook page.