The Campbell Report

Secondary Education for Canberra: Report by the working committee on college proposals for the ACT (The Campbell Report), Dec 1972


At the heart of this report is an acknowledgement of the increasing technologisation and professionalisaton of the Australian workforce, and a real concern that the current school system doesn’t reflect this and isn’t sufficiently preparing students to enter this social world. Kids are staying in school longer, but aren’t engaged while they’re there––and the reason for this, according to the report, is the authoritarian Wyndham system: kids in colleges in Tasmania enjoy school; kids in Wyndham high schools in the ACT and NSW don’t.

This opinion was concluded from the results of a survey, conducted by Don Anderson and David Beswick at the ANU, on student opinion of the college proposal. 1,272 students from years 10, 11 and 12 in Canberra answered the survey. The results indicated a widespread negative attitude to school and to teachers in particular, and found that students were generally in favour of the college proposal, or at least have a strong desire for some form of systemic change. A second study was then conducted with a sample of over 5,000 students from the ACT, Sydney, Victoria and Tasmania, the results of which indicate that students from the ACT, Melbourne and Sydney are significantly more likely to experience low morale at school, dislike their teachers, and complain about an authoritarian attitude than their Tasmanian counterparts.

There is also a concern about the earlier onset of puberty and how this affects student learning. This, together with the results of the survey that suggest that Canberra students are at a high risk of alienation from and antagonism towards school, comes together in the recommendation for secondary colleges that treat students like adults and give them more responsibility for their education. The report also takes on the recommendations of The Currie Report and a submission by Phillip Hughes for the creation of an ACT Education Authority (the official Hughes report wasn’t released until six months later), and all other recommendations are pitched with the creation of this Authority in mind––again reflecting the opinion that they just needed to get away from the NSW system.


  • Representative committee of parents, teachers and departmental officers (and MACE)
  • Richard Campbell, Chair: “I believe that the Commonwealth Department saw this committee just as a kind of exercise in repressive tolerance, since it was not established in anything like the way proper committees of inquiry normally are. I believe that they envisaged it as a soft soap public relations committee that would simply endorse what they had proposed.” (Pioneers, 14)
  • Acknowledges that because of the constantly changing governmental backdrop against which the recommendations were being made (the flip-flop of the Commonwealth over who will be in charge of ACT schools) there was the freedom to be more radical in the consideration of school organisation, staffing and curricula. (6)

Summary of the recommendations

  • Four-year high schools and two-year senior secondary colleges
  • Colleges should offer a wide range of courses tailored to the differing interests and abilities of students; the accent should be on freedom, self-development, self-motivation, and student management of student affairs; closer integration with the life and work of the community as a whole
  • Schools and colleges should assume great autonomy to devise their own objectives, goals, structures and curricula
  • Colleges should not be organised or staffed in such as way as to create a group of “elite” teachers
  • Colleges should be responsible for their own methods of continuous assessment and phase out external exams asap
  • Teacher training a prerequisite for all staff in schools and colleges
  • Critical and comparative studies of religion be integrated, but no course of study be prescribed as compulsory for all college students
  • Appoint a Curriculum Advisory Board, as part of the Authority
  • School councils [boards] who, among other things, are closely involved in staff selection

Summary of reasons given for the recommendations

  • The Report attributes the problems of education in the ACT in the main to the Wyndham scheme and the unexpected holding power of students into senior years. It was anticipated that most would exit school with the Year 10 school certificate, but in fact the majority of students in the ACT continued on for their final two years, though not all with the aim of matriculating to university. (2)
  • The Wyndham system is completely geared towards matriculation to university: what about those students who are not headed for university?
  • Chapter 2, “The Changing Social Context”, identifies numerous other influences on the state of the current education system and the pressures to change it. These are divided into three themes: knowledge (growth and application, employment, competition, affluence, women, communications technologies, and migration) secondary school population (retention, adult roles, alienation, values, and overt dissent), and schools (size, staff instability, and social issues).
  • Cites Canberra’s overwhelmingly tertiary workforce as a factor bearing on education: “In the A.C.T management and service occupations account for almost 80 per cent of the workforce” (10) and “The rapidity of the these changes in the occupational structure means that formal schooling can no longer be conceived in such narrowly vocational terms” (11). This connects to students’ professional ambitions (cf. 13) and the relative affluence that families were experiencing (cf. 14).
  • Cites the earlier onset of puberty, and adolescents’ attendant shouldering of adult social roles, as an influential factor (20–21).
  • The expansion and increased complexity of the curriculum is also mentioned (21).
  • The subsection titled “alienation” (pp 21–23 esp. 22) is worth reading closely. It expresses a concern that because students overwhelmingly exhibit “low moral” (as evidenced by their survey, see below) they will develop either a rebellious and aggressive response to school (though its unclear if they mean to imply violence), or they will become alienated. The reasons cited for this hostility, while presented as specific to Canberra, are many and varied: moving interstate, “broken homes”, excessively careerist parents, financial problems, alcoholism, non-English speaking homes, &c. &c.
  • Also: “The detailed complaints of the Canberra students, repeated even more strongly by the matching sample from the Sydney North Shore area, centered particularly around an authoritarian relationship with their teachers and a restrictive social organisation of the school.” (23) Later in the report this forms the basis for the argument for more freedom and less discipline in colleges.
  • Richard Campbell described the central argument of the report as being: “that mid-adolescent students then, and I think still, are caught in a severe contradiction, that they’re becoming adults sooner and being treated like children for longer.” (Pioneers, 17)
  • Overall, that chapter (2) does a pretty good job of describing the big picture socio-cultural politics [;-)] of the late sixties.
  • As an aside, there’s a nice point on p17 (2.46) about the educational aspirations of the working class, and the fantasy of education as universal equaliser.
  • The Committee, through the ANU (Don Anderson and David Beswick), conducted a detailed survey on secondary students’ opinions on the college proposal.
  • The results were overwhelmingly in favor of the college proposal, and revealed deep hostility towards and alienation from the status quo of the school system. So much so that, according to Campbell, any hesitations or negativity from people of authority––principals, inspectors­­––was completely undermined: “It was clear something radical had to be done. I think that was the decisive moment.” (Pioneers, 15)
  • Ran more surveys in Sydney and Tasmania that “clearly reinforced the conclusion that it was the NSW Department and the way NSW schools operated that was the major source of alienation. The two Sydney schools showed up like the Canberra ones did, but Tasmanian students showed a difference in attitude that could not merely be attributed to their being more rural; the college made a significant difference.” (Pioneers, 16)
  • On a large number of social indicators, especially retention rates, the Canberra population was ahead of where the rest of the Australian population was moving. (Pioneers, 17)
  • Post-hoc, Campbell said that not enough care had been taken with the high schools: they kept the original principals and treated them like “decapitated institutions”, not new schools; where it would have been better to re-hire. (Pioneers, 21)
  • Pages 45–46 outline the kind of person the committee hopes students will be at the end of their secondary school life.

Assistance of A. Pippard 2013