Phillip Hughes Extract

phillip_hughesExtracts from The Unpublished Memoirs of Phillip Hughes

Courtesy of Kelli Hughes.

Canberra or Tasmania?

The Canberra option emerged in an odd fashion. In the course of my work on the Commonwealth Libraries Committee I travelled regularly to Canberra where the secretariat for the Committee was located. After a morning meeting in May 1969, Keith Coughlan, Deputy-Director of the Commonwealth Department of Education, invited me to lunch with him at the restaurant on the top of Black Mountain. A pleasant lunch, talking about general issues for the Libraries Committee: then, Keith took me to the viewing platform. On the side opposite the Lake he pointed to the North-West. Mostly bush, with occasional clearings but I saw a cloud of dust in the near distance, caused by a string of bull-dozers. Keith said: ‘That will be the Canberra College of Advanced Education. Would you consider a really interesting job, there?’  I was totally surprised.

The Colleges of Advanced Education were a recent move by the Federal Government into higher education, a move arising from the Martin Report suggesting a form of higher education similar in standing but different in emphasis to the universities: ‘different but equal’ as the catch-phrase went. Many of the initial CAE’s were former teachers colleges, extended and broadened in emphasis to include other courses beside teacher education. Canberra CAE was the first of the new breed to be built from scratch, not incorporating previous bodies. As such the Commonwealth Government saw it as an opportunity to develop a high quality institution, not ‘just a jumped-up teachers college’ as some people unkindly categorised others.  This was the reason behind Keith’s question: ‘ a really interesting job’. He was the Government nominee on the Interim Council with a mission from Prime Minister Gorton to make this College a high quality institution. The College was initially committed to three schools; Administrative Studies, Applied Science and Liberal Studies and had asked for the inclusion of a fourth, Teacher Education. This group was further expanded when a separate School of Information Sciences was formed from within Administrative Studies.

The committee formed to appoint the Head of School was remarkably strong: Sir John Crawford, Vice-Chancellor of ANU,  Sir Leonard Huxley, a former VC of ANU and a distinguished scientist, Professor Russell Mathews, Professor Percy Partridge, Professor Jim Pratt of NSW., and Keith Coughlan. They had already advertised widely and had a wide field of applicants but Keith commented that they still did not feel that they had the person they wanted. I was tempted to say ‘No!’ immediately as the idea had never occurred to me. Keith said: ‘Don’t reply now. Go home and talk it over. The Government is really keen to make this a success. Also, I believe this could be a fascinating job as it is all to be created.’ I returned home to do just that, feeling that those closest to me might help in a decision.

I talked it over with the family.  It was not easy as this would mean changes for all. Louise was at primary school. Three were at Rose Bay High: Timothy in the first year, David in the third year, Jennie in the fourth. Margaret was at Hobart Matriculation College and Phillip at the University, in his first year. Of the group it was most difficult for Phillip as ANU would offer quite different choices of subject. Quite a complex situation but finally the decision was reached. We committed ourselves, all eight of us, to be in Canberra next year:  not an easy decision but we all felt that it was a venture we could take together. We moved to Canberra early in the new year and were given accommodation in the Kurrajong Hotel while the house provided by the College was finished. An awkward period, feeling unsettled with so many changes to consider: schools for the four youngest, a new house for us all, a new university for Phillip and also for Margaret. Phillip remembers clearly one decision of long term effect.

I recently remembered an important event when I was staying at the Kurrajong. I had just returned for lunch and was sitting next to you, going through my enrolment plans at ANU. The choices were different from those I would have had at the University of Tasmania and I was having trouble choosing a final subject. I was not very aware of the content of statistics courses and would probably never have considered that subject without that conversation. Looking back that was a decisive decision for my life. Thanks.

My task was the most straightforward of all the family as the School of Teacher Education was only a name: staff, purposes, nature of courses, links with schools – all needed to be settled.

CHAPTER TWELVE. Canberra: The School of Teacher Education


The picture that emerges from research into highly effective teachers is a picture of individuals who are passionate about teaching and learning who respect students as learners and as people and who demonstrate care and commitment.

John Hattie.

Courses for Teachers.

I had the whole of 1970 in which to develop courses for our first intake of students. This is a rare luxury but one I really appreciated. I had had experience of a teachers college where the courses had the benefit of close interaction and where all the staff had a common goal. However I was conscious that some courses were not intellectually challenging. I had also worked in university courses where teacher education came as an extra, after the degree qualification had been achieved. Too often, students believed that the education year after the degree, the Dip Ed., lacked depth. That need not be the case but the belief can often be self-fulfilling. I wanted an option which would provide both: effective preparation and intellectual challenge.

As one stream of courses, I found myself contemplating a four year degree where the education elements were intertwined with their studies of history, English, physics, etc., with each of these presented by specialists. At that stage there were no such models in Australia and I felt I needed to explore possibilities elsewhere. The degree plus Dip Ed model would still be valid but I felt strongly the benefits of including professional elements in the course from the beginning. It also enabled a better grading of education courses with the more straightforward units early in the course and the more intellectually demanding ones coning later. I was keen to test out ideas with a variety of people.

The first step, however, was to select the initial group of staff. Advertisements were placed in most Australian and key overseas newspapers. The result was overwhelming: 1300 applicants for 10 positions, many from within Australia but quite a number from overseas. Short-listing was a formidable task but it became clear that I would need to travel overseas for interviews. I was pleased as I felt that there was a double bonus in the travel, to look at other models for teacher education and test their relevance for our situation. Because of the spread and quality of the applications the travel needed to include New Zealand, USA, Canada and London. The education attaché of the French Embassy, keen to see the teaching of French extended in ACT schools, arranged for a brief diversion to Paris. I did not argue too much.

I left Canberra on an auspicious date, as I thought, May 1, 1970. Two days in New Zealand brought forward an excellent candidate, Dr. H. S. Houston, and I felt confidence as to his ability. Stewart played a valuable role in establishing teacher education in Canberra. He later went on to other valuable roles, as Deputy Principal of the CCAE and then as Chairman of the Tertiary Education Commission. After New Zealand, I headed for the United States, first to Hawaii, then to California. This part of the journey proved to be dramatic.

High Tension in the US.

May 4 brought me to Hawaii, to be greeted by news of a tragedy: the Kent State Massacre. On that day members of the Ohio National Guard fired on an assembly of students, gathered to protest about President Nixon’s recently announced invasion of Cambodia. In a total of 13 seconds the guardsmen fired 67 rounds, killing four students and wounding nine others, one of whom suffered permanent paralysis. Over the next two days there was a significant national response to the shootings: hundreds of universities, colleges and high schools closed throughout the United States due to student action involving four million students.  All this made university campuses not merely uncomfortable but often dangerous places.

This became more obvious when I reached San Francisco and Berkeley, or to give its full name the University of California at Berkeley. Berkeley celebrated its centenary in 1968 but two years later was not in a celebratory mood. Always an activist campus the tragedy at Kent State had turned it to an angry mood. This proved also to be the beginning of a lively decade for Berkeley and for American universities in general.

Berkeley was in shut-down mode. The campus had already been the scene of major disturbances, resulting from the issue of the ‘peoples’ parks’. These were part of the Berkeley property which the university wished to sell for student housing and campus development. The activist students wished them to be maintained as areas of recreation and ‘free speech’, which they said was not possible in other San Francisco parks. In April 1969 they declared it a free speech area. Within days they had organised local communities to help them to develop the park, involving over 1000 supporters , contributing trees, flowers, shrubs and soil and the necessary labour to build community gardens.

During its early weeks the park became widely used and appreciated by the local residents as well as the students. University administrators agreed to negotiate, only to be sidelined by the recently elected Governor, Ronald Reagan. In his 1966 campaign he had promised to crack down on what he called the lax attitude of university administrators. This he now implemented. On May 6, 1969 at 4.30 in the morning Reagan sent California police into the park to combat what he called: ‘a haven for communist sympathizers, protesters and sex deviants’.

At noon the same day almost 3000 people, both students and local supporters gathered at Sproul Plaza. After speeches to consider their response they began to march towards People’s Park, arriving about 3 pm, to be confronted by police. The confrontation escalated into violence, the students using rocks and water from the hydrants, the police using tear gas at first. In a stand-still, police called for reinforcements, building to 800 armed men, now with shotguns. The police advanced to clear out the students from the square, now using guns as well as tear gas. A student bystander, James Rector, was killed in the melee and carpenter Alan Blanchard was permanently blinded. Many others were injured in the gun-fire. The protesters retreated, pursued by police who kept firing.

The drama was not over. On May 21 a mid-day memorial service was held and several thousand gathered in Sproul Plaza where speakers remembered Rector’s life. Without warning, National Guard troops surrounded the Plaza, donned gas-masks and pointed their bayonets while helicopters dropped CS gas directly on the trapped crowd. Panic ensued, with many injured in the rush to escape. Almost a year after what had come to be called Bloody Thursday, Reagan made the inflammatory comment: ‘If it takes a bloodbath, let’s get it over. No more appeasement.’ That confirmed an aggressive mood among the right wing. Two weeks later, the National Guard actions at Kent State, with four deaths and the wounding of nine, echoed this approach. 

It was in this atmosphere I arrived in San Francisco and went to Berkeley, feeling rather tentative . The campus was occupied by students who had closed down all the buildings and were checking those who wanted to enter. Finally, those guarding the College of Education allowed me to enter to see the Dean, Theodore (Ted) Reller. Ted had been at Berkeley since 1948 and had recently become Dean, a post he held for ten years. We had not met but I knew him from his formidable list of publications. He was a quiet, gentle man who found himself in a really difficult situation but the respect in which he was held by students allowed him to continue to operate with apparent ease.

Reller was supported by a strong faculty: some of the major figures in current education including Robert Gagne, Arthur Jensen and John Michaelis. Gagne’s ideas on learning hierarchy had a powerful effect on research on effective teaching. Jensen  was equally well-known but more controversial, particularly when he stressed the role of heredity rather than environment as the major factor in learning, an uncomfortable view at a time when many people were trying to improve opportunities for black students. His magnum opus came as late as 1998: The g Factor: The Science of Mental Ability.

I was interested not just to meet these leading scholars but to test out various possibilities on the courses to be introduced in Canberra. I had another good reason for the visit, to meet again up with Ron Traill, whom I had not seen since we were both at Hobart Teachers College. He was in the late stages of his Ph. D. For me, the timing and the person were exactly right and Ron agreed to come to Canberra for the beginning of the courses in 1971. A friendship continued which had begun in Tasmania in the late 1950’s and extended through 2011, providing much valued support.

The remainder of the travel proved just as successful although less dramatic than Berkeley. In Toronto my visit to the still reasonably new Ontario Institute for Studies in Education coincide with a visit from Denis Driscoll. Denis had just completed a period at the University of Maryland where he worked on science curricula with Marjorie Gardner, one of the leading science educators in the States. This fitted very well with my thoughts for our courses and Denis agreed to join us also. He proved to be a tower of strength in our courses and in the social life of the College. Tragically, Denis died early from cancer, but his work was of such quality that many reminders still exist.

Three out of three, so far.


Completing the selection

On to London, via Paris, as guest of the French Government: a delight to see Paris again, the first time since my honeymoon. To make matters better, the French Government intervened when I was about to leave Boston and I was conducted on the Air France flight to the first-class cabin where the food and wine were a great prelude to France. The arrangement had been made without my knowledge In Australia where the French cultural attaché was very keen for us to prepare French teachers. As a result for the rest of my Paris stay I was the very comfortable guest of the Government.

London was more work-oriented and had many candidates. Two more appointments resulted. Margaret Bearlin, the first of the women appointed, had just completed her masters’ degree at the London Institute for Education with Richard Peters, then the major international figure in educational philosophy. David O’Sullivan was a Lecturer in Educational Psychology from Liverpool but unmistakably Irish, with brogue and charm to match.

An odd coincidence occurred. I was due to meet at lunch with an old friend from Oxford, Layton Donne. We lunched at Simpson’s in the Strand and Layton opened the conversation (before an excellent lunch) with the comment that David O’Sullivan was the husband of Layton’s sister, Gaynor. Layton had been at Oxford with me, also at Wadham. We were in the College team and I always have a dramatic memory of one incident. I was bowling and the ball was snicked into the slips to be picked up with a low catch by Layton, diving forward. The first pleasure changed quickly to shock as Layton threw himself back on the ground, a cloud of smoke arising. There was a rush to help: the trousers came off and we saw to our relief that he was unhurt. The fire in the trousers was extinguished and the origin disclosed: a box of matches, all burnt. Layton was now a senior executive with BP and able to afford better matches.


Building a New School of Education

Four more appointments came when I returned. Two were from Armidale, at the long established Armidale Teachers  College: Geoff Burkhardt, a history of education specialist and Allen Miller. Two others joined us from Melbourne Teachers College: Neil Russell, a science educator and Jim McDonald in the social sciences.

In late 1970 our first group of applicants responded to the national advertisements: 3, 500 seeking a place for our first year of 200 students, an even more formidable task than selecting the staff. They came from all over Australia, including special groups preparing for the Northern Territory and for Papua-New Guinea: some studying the 4-year B. Ed, some the graduate Dip Ed. The PNG group was easy as they were folk chosen from among PNG nationals to prepare for future work in teacher education. The Australian Administration in PNG planned carefully for the coming time of independence: the sad outcome was that so much of that planning was ignored after the event itself.

The Northern Territory group was from all over Australia but they spent substantial time in schools in NT, supervised by our staff, under the care of a special appointment, Don Williams, who had spent many years in the territory and was a specialist in aboriginal culture. Their preparation was very thorough and the arrangement worked well.

Unfortunately this pattern of association was not to last. When the Territory became independent, there was no teacer education program specifically for the area for many years and also the staffing of remote schools lost its priority. The result was that they received the least experienced teachers who often stayed a matter of weeks rather than the years which were needed. This contributed to the current situation where current generations of young aborigines are less well-prepared than their parents, often leaving school still illiterate.

The School also took on special responsibilities to assist the newly-established University of the South Pacific, providing both a group of staff in residence and also a bevy of staff who spent their summer vacations in Fiji to provide further aid. This was not an area where I had any problems attracting volunteers for the Summer Schools on the campus of the University of the South Pacific. The arrangement with the USP continued for many years, continuing the links from my association with its founding.

A special group of students.

One dilemma faced us for our regular entry who were not committed to a particular destination: it would have been possible to fill the quota easily with high-flying students straight from school. I was keen to include a spectrum of older students, people with a wider experience. The Academic Board was difficult to persuade: selection of the highest marks was the obvious way. We persisted and, in the end, succeeded, including also some people with greater life experience. These students proved a treasure: their wider understanding of people contributed to their fellow students and to the course. They not only completed their courses very successfully but later played a major role as teachers and also as leaders through the very valuable work of bodies such as the Australian Schools Commission in the renewal of Australian schools.

A recent occasion organised by the University of Canberra to commemorate the 40th year of the course produced some surprising statistics. Teacher Education at CCAE and its successor, the University of Canberra, now totals 11,218 graduates to enter teaching over that 40-year period. The University estimates that in their careers these graduates would have taught some 2.5 million students: an impressive total. This may be over-generous, as many of the graduates did double degrees, such as B.Ed., M.Ed. What is more important is the hope that each one of their students was enriched and enlarged in outlook by the teachers they meet. Canberra CAE developed a strong base which many of that first entry still look back upon with pride.

Ron Traill brings to mind the early days of our association – for Phil.

 I can remember very clearly the first time we met.  It happened in a classroom at Lenah Valley Primary School in Hobart in 1958.  I was a young classroom teacher who had been allocated a University of Tasmania education student for practice teaching and you visited my classroom several times as the University supervisor of student teaching at the school.  Since that time you have been a very special professional mentor and colleague, but, most important of all, a true and trusted friend.

My first experience of your support as a mentor came in the mid 1960’s during a period when you were introducing many innovative changes to the Tasmanian school system.  The change which created most attention was to the mathematics curriculum.  To a young primary school headmaster, teaching in a remote area and with a most inadequate mathematics background, the world of “set theory”, “probability” etc caused great alarm.  However, you presented a series of telecasts to explain the new curriculum.  I watched these in the company of a group of parents and you not only allayed our fears but inspired us to do all that we could to enable the children in our school to become immersed in the “New mathematics”.  Many times over the ensuing years your thoughtfulness as a mentor has steered me into new directions – the move from the school system to teacher education, to pursue post graduate studies in the USA, and to return to Australia to work with you in Canberra.

 As a colleague you are an inspiration.  Your ideas for structuring a new teacher education program led your staff in Canberra to develop what is still regarded as an outstanding exemplar of how teachers might be developed and fostered for life long careers.  You just seem to know the right words to “lift” your colleagues.  The illustration I like best of this quality is in the number of times I saw you, with very minimal notice, speak to groups in such precise and insightful ways.  The fact that you had often only been given very short notice and that your preparation often consisted of a few words hurriedly written on a piece of scrap paper left me in awe of your talents.

Family Stories – still to come –

 beginning school-high school university in Canberra


CHAPTER THIRTEEN. Canberra’s New System of Education.

What is good for education?  And what is education good for?  Those twin questions about the causes and consequences of education are high on the agenda of most advanced countries in the world today.

Putnam, Robert.

Canberra Comes of Age.

An early adventure in my time in Canberra was the formation of the ACT school system. Hedley Beare wrote in his chapter in the book, Learning and Teaching in the Twenty-First Century, of the early stages in Canberra and the link between the School of Teacher Education and the new system.

‘The timing of Hughes’ appointment as Head of the School of Teacher Education could not have been more felicitous. Barely a year after he had arrived in the national capital, he was invited by the national minister to chair his panel of four, of whom one was Professor Walker. The panel worked with alacrity as well as efficiency and in May 1973 produced the book A Design for the Governance and Organisation of Education in the Australian Capital Territory, now known as the Hughes Report. It appeared almost simultaneously with the first report of the interim Australian Schools Commission, one of the major innovations of the Whitlam Government and whose activities over the next decade were to create an environment of unprecedented innovation and change in schools throughout the nation. In a sense, the ACT was first cab off the rank.

Beare, 2007.

The new education system in Canberra was made possible by the existence of its own teacher education program. The Canberra program had a wider reach: aid to the Northern Territory through special courses for teachers; preparing some of the new indigenous leaders of PNG education for senior education posts; and assisting in the early years of the University of the South Pacific.

The invitation to lead an inquiry came from the Minister for Education, Kim Beasley Sr. It took me by surprise but I was pleased to be involved. In addition to visits around Australia the assessment panel, consisting of Professor Bill Walker from Armidale, David Hunt from Tasmania, Ken Fry, a local politician, and myself, visited New Zealand where we were particularly keen to see the operation of school boards. Our deliberations were not straightforward as Canberra was an unusual community in Australia, very vocal and civic-minded and they wished especially for a system in which lay people, and particularly parents, could be involved. This was a touchy point with teachers who, coming mainly from NSW in the past, had a history of keeping parents at arms length. Our report took an active stance on this point, adopting a principle from an earlier report, the Curry Committee, which was to guide the final recommendation:

‘ Keep the schools and the government of the schools close to the people so that citizens generally, and the tax-payers, may know what their schools are doing, may have an effective voice in the school program, and may participate in the community use of the school building.’

Currie, 1967.

The pattern we adopted, and which was approved by the Federal Government, did see the need for both parents and teachers to be actively involved in the administration of their schools. In the original form of organization in the ACT, parents were given a more active role than was traditional in Australia, a position which the teachers union had opposed openly and about which individual teachers were ambivalent. Over the years the role for parents has remained but now in a diminished form. The current ACT school system has a smaller proportion of the student population than does the ‘private’ system which is heavily supported financially by the Commonwealth Government. I wonder if this would apply if the original strong link between parents and local schools been maintained.

Hedley Beare is perhaps the best commentator on that new system, coming as he did to lead it at a crucial time in its formation.

‘Hughes was appointed as lay, part-time Chairman of the Interim Schools Authority, navigating it through its early teething problems, the complicated politics both national and local, and preparing it for the day when its own Ordinance would give it operational certainty.’

I was fortunate in my role as Chairman to coincide with that of Hedley as Chief Education Officer for he shared my hopes. We both aimed for a system of education in Australia which would be more parent friendly than was the norm in the states where parents were welcome in their fund-raising role but kept away from the teaching and learning aspects for their children.

Building the staff.

In those same years my work with the School of Teacher Education was focused on building a strong staff. I was fortunate in that there was still a lively interest in coming to Canberra, both among Australians and overseas. It was a time of rapid growth as there was a continual demand for the services we could provide, a demand fuelled further by the reluctance of ANU to move into education. With the moves of the Commonwealth Government into education in such a substantial way through the Schools Commission and the Curriculum Resources Centre our staff found themselves valued as specialist resources.

We had a series of appointments of Visiting Fellows from different countries as a deliberate effort to avoid becoming too inward-looking. An early Fellow was Lionel Elvin with his wife, Margaret, fresh from the London University Institute of Education where Lionel had been the Director for many years. Prior to that he had played an active role in UNESCO, including a period as Director of Education. Lionel enjoyed an outstanding and varied career in education, serving as Principal of Ruskin College, 1944-50, as Director, Department of Education at Unesco in Paris, 1950- 56, and then’ from 1958 until his retirement in 1973, as Director of the Institute of Education at London University. He played a major role in making the Institute the outstanding centre for teacher education in Britain, recruiting a strong staff, including Bill (now Sir William) Taylor, Richard Peters, Denis Lawton, Peter Mortimore and Basil Bernstein. Each one came to visit with us in Canberra, keeping us very much in the centre of thinking in the area. . Lionel’s period in Canberra came directly after he left his post at the Institute.

Lionel and Margaret also featured in a memorable dinner with Sam Richardson, his wife Sylvia, Peggy and myself. Sam was reminiscing about his days in the Army, in Burma. He told us of an episode when he and some companions were in the jungle and very short of food. They persuaded some of the native Burmans to provide some meat, which they proceeded to barbecue. The meat had an unusual colour and Sam asked the local if it was deer. ‘No, not deer, Japanese soldier.!’ There was  a deathly silence at the table as we absorbed the significance. Margaret Elvin looked distinctly pale. Sam had the reaction he wished.

Robert Strom came from Arizona State University where he had already established himself as a leader in the field of educational psychology. His wife, Shirley and sons, Stephen and Paris, accompanied them. Bob is a very activist person, always looking for new ways to further the reach of education. One of his recent achievements has been through the Retired Senior Volunteers Program. This federal project places and monitors over 1,000 volunteers a month, preparing them to help in non-profit agencies. He has given free courses for parents and grandparents in the area and these have been so successful that they have been recognized by coverage in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, U.S.A. Today, and on major television programs.

Mel Lang came from the University of Hawaii. His wife, Mim, also played an important role in developing our early childhood program. Mel developed a strong interest in Aboriginal education and returned to Australia later to help in the development of a special initiative. The Remote Area Teacher Education Program (RATEP) was designed by him in conjunction with staff at James Cook University and Cairns College of TAFE. The aim was to extend instruction beyond the traditional areas to remote sites in the Torres Strait Islands and Aboriginal communities in Northern Queensland, Australia. RATEP used computer based interactive multimedia courseware with which to equalise educational opportunities for its students who were teachers wishing to improve their teaching qualifications and who wished to study in their own communities

Another appointment at this time was Patrick Brady, adding to our Irish component and our strength in educational philosophy. Patrick quickly became a valued part of the staff. One of his recollections captures the mood of those days when we needed to be proactive in seeking new initiatives

One particular time when Phil demonstrated his quickness and skill in a situation was when the School and Community project was born. I had met David Bennett, one of the School Commissioners, at a conference in Melbourne where he mentioned that he was looking for some research into the role of the community and the school. Of course I mentioned that I was interested having received a small grant from the CCAE in the topic. The concept was however very vague. Then one Friday afternoon a few weeks later I received a phone call from David asking for a project proposal. Phil agreed to the proposal and I sent a quarter of a page of motherhood statements. Phil and I were summoned to the MLC Tower to meet the Commissioners. In the car on the way we both admitted to having little idea beyond the very general statements. The meeting went slowly with little emerging until suddenly Phil jumped up seized a pen and began to outline the details of a concrete project to my surprise. By the time he left the pen down the white board was covered with detail and the project was accepted with acclaim. Phil’s ability to create ideas on his feet was legendary.

Patrick Brady.

R P Irwin  Donelle Wheeler, Roger Rees, Lawrie and Dianne Kendall, Gillian Bonham, Nancy Irvine, Bill Mulford, Don Phillips, Bob Boland, Colin Ducker, Bruce Sommers, K B Graham, John Stinson, Sylvia Richardson, Laurel Heath, Pat JohnsonSpringer Academic, The Netherlands. Beare, 2007., in Learning and Teaching for the Twenty-First Century. Hughes, 2007