A century of achievement

Marking the 100th anniversary of the creation of Queensland's first state high schools

Before 1912, what secondary schooling there was in Queensland had been provided by grammar schools, which charged fees and were therefore only likely to be attended by the children of the colony’s wealthiest inhabitants.

In 1891, however, 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 be supplemented by a state secondary system similar to the “superior” school system in NSW, in which secondary classes were attached to primary schools.

The QTU believed that every child should have the opportunity to receive some form of secondary education, but the Department of Public Instruction was quite happy to maintain the status quo. Under-Secretary John Gerard Anderson and David Ewart, the General Inspector, insisted that the department had enough on its plate with compulsory, free and secular primary education and that: “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”.

In spite of this opposition, in 1897, the Education Act of 1875 was duly amended to allow literature, science, algebra and geometry to be added to the syllabus of sixth class, the highest class in primary school. While this only affected a small minority of schools, it can be argued that it marked the arrival of state secondary education in Queensland.

By 1898, the Brisbane Technical College was providing a full secondary curriculum, 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 at Central Technical College, Brisbane, and Warwick Technical College which, although strongly oriented towards technical education, did prepare students for the Junior and Senior examinations of the University of Queensland.

With the success of these schools, in December 1911, the Governor-in-Council approved of regulations for the establishment of state high schools in locations where no state grammar schools existed. Thus, high schools were approved in Warwick, Gympie,  Bundaberg, Mount Morgan, Mackay, and Charters Towers, and secondary departments attached to primary schools were approved at Herberton, Gatton and Childers.

Addressing the QTU conference in January 1912, the Hon. K. M. Grant (Minister for Public Instruction), is reported to have attempted to allay fears that only state school pupils would be admitted to the high schools: “The doors of the high schools will be wide open to the educationally fit no matter from what source they may come; but they will be closed fast against those who are educationally unfit, for it is not intended to admit pupils who will be a drag upon the qualified pupils and a burden to the teachers. It matters not from what schools these unfit pupils may come — state schools, denominational schools, private schools, or no schools at all; they will not be admitted.”

The curriculum for the new high schools was to be delivered through three courses of study, namely, general, commercial, and domestic, each of four years’ duration. The first two years' study was common to all the courses, enabling every student to proceed to any of the three courses for the third and fourth years. The general course lead to university, and intending university students were able to matriculate from the high schools.

In the first two years, one language other than English had to be taken, while other subjects included English, French, Latin, arithmetic, algebra, geometry, trigonometry, mechanics, chemistry, geology, history, geography, book-keeping, shorthand, business methods, typewriting and calculus.

Peter Campbell
Professional Issues Committe

Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 117 No 2, 16 March 2012, pp18-19