History of Australian Education

Schools as we understand them, have existed in Australia for more than 200 years, beginning in NSW and expanding across the country as other settlements began. Public School systems did not begin until considerably later than this, beginning with primary level schools, then expanding into the secondary area beginning in the 1880s. Universities first arose in the middle of the 19th century, with early childhood education in the form of kindergartens and preschools lagging well behind all other sectors.

Much of the information relating to the history of education in this country is held by state and national archives, rather than by education systems though, interestingly, many individual schools are now becoming more attuned to maintaining their histories than was the case previously.

This page covers the history of education in all states & territories, as well as historical information at . It is designed to cover all schools and all levels of education.

States & Territories

Australian Capital Territory

New South Wales

  • Facts and Figures
    ‘Browse facts and figures on various aspects of public education in NSW’.
  • Glossary of school types
    ‘The glossary provides definitions of the different school types in operation since 1848’.
  • Government Schools
    ‘This section gives a detailed history of public education in NSW and includes information on the Early History, Introduction of the national system, Public Schools Act 1866, Public Instruction Act 1880, Reform movement in secondary education, and NSW education system since World War II’.
  • Links to Further Information
    Included ‘are a list of organisation that may supply further information about schools and education in NSW’.
  • Photo Gallery
    ‘Historical photos spanning from 1848 to the late 20th century’.
  • School History Database Search
    Schools in NSW, past and present. A Database Search ‘contains entries for more than 7 390 current and former schools in NSW’.
  • Updated ! NSW Schoolhouse Museum of Public Education
    ‘Provides a glimpse of schooling from the past. The museum is a popular excursion venue for schools. Students participate in a hands-on education program interacting with artefacts and re-enacting early school lessons’.
  • Updated ! Photo Galleries - Schoolhouse Museum
    Links to a range of sources for photos relating to education including their own.
  • School Records Guide
    ‘Overview of education in New South Wales 1788-c.1979 plus a list of the main record series’.
  • School Student Records Guide
    ‘Records provide information relating to Orphan Schools, Industrial Schools and Government schools for admission purposes’. Both Pre-1900 and Post-1900 Records.
  • School Teachers Guide
    ‘Brief overview of sources held by State Records that relate to teacher employment in the Government sector between 1788 and 1979’.
  • State Archives
    Education & Welfare Subject Guide. School, Aboriginal Schools, pupil records, teachers, photographs.
  • Sydney Boys High School
    ‘Officially opened by Sir George Reid, Minister for Education, on October 8, 1883. Sydney High pioneered the field of Public High School Education in Australia’. Brief historical notes.
  • The Female and Male Orphan Schools in New South Wales, 1801-1850
    Digital Thesis [PDF format]. Several sections. Beryl M Bubacz.
  • The King’s School
    Brief history of ‘the oldest independent school in Australia’.

Top of Page

Northern Territory

  • Education in Wadeye and the Thamarrurr Region
    History from 1945 to the present.
  • History through the Decades
    ‘The following history of the vocational education and training sector in the Northern Territory, including the NT Training Awards, has been collated and written by Dr Don Zoellner, Research Associate at the Northern Institute, Charles Darwin University’.
  • Updated ! Our History
    ‘History of the development of Catholic schools in the Northern Territory’. Done in time periods.
  • The Archives Navigator
    Use the Navigator for NT Government and education data.


Top of Page

South Australia

  • The HOPE Collection
    ‘A collection of textbooks and curriculum material used in South Australian primary schools from the 19th century. It also includes audiovisual and kit material, and a selection of teachers’ lesson plans, school roll books and students’ copy books’. Only accessible at the University of South Australia Library.
  • Lutheran Schooling during WW1
    Article recording attitudes toward this.
  • The Manning Index
    The Index at the State Library of South Australia. Documents and other resources on multiple topics.


  • New ! 150 Years of Public Education in Tasmania
    ‘Libraries Tasmania has an extensive collection of historical material about schools and their history. These collections include historical films, photographs, school building plans, admission registers, teacher applications, inspector’ s reports, yearbooks and published school histories’.
  • Education Board
    The Education Board during the period 1853 to the end of 1855.
  • Education Department
    Archives Office. Education Department - indexes, registers and correspondence, teachers, more.
  • New ! Photos and plans
    ‘Finding photos and building plans for your school, Photographs, School Plans and architectural drawings online’.
  • New ! Schools and Education Records
    ‘School and education records, Admission registers, Inspectors reports, Teacher applications, Other education records’.

Top of Page


Western Australia

Top of Page

National Information

  • A History of State Aid to Non-government Schools in Australia
    ‘A history of funding to non-government schools in Australia since colonial times and its evolution since World War II’. 2007 publication in PDF format. Now archived through Pandora Archive.
  • Australian National Museum of Education
    ‘Comprises an on-site repository at the University of Canberra and a distributed collection which aims to bring together in a virtual way, archival material held in by national network of school museums registered as members’.
  • Dictionary of Educational History in Australia and New Zealand
    ‘Aims to provide a range of authoritative entries about the multifaceted history of education in Australia and New Zealand, including histories of various types of schools and schooling; teachers and teacher training; curricula and pedagogies; childhood and youth; educational purposes and policies; and educational philosophies’. Outstanding !
  • Doris Chadwick Collection
    “History of School Education in Australasia”. 1890s to the 1960s. Most can only be accessed at the University of Wollongong. Some material available in PDF format.
  • Historical time series of apprenticeships and traineeships in Australia : Infographic
    ‘This infographic presents a summary of training activity in apprenticeships and traineeships in Australia for the period 1963-2018’.
  • History of Music Education in Australia
    Deakin University. Specialist Musical Training and Music in General Education. The Colonial/Early Federation Period and The Modern Era.
  • Schools in Australia : 1973-1998
    “The 25 Years Since The Karmel Report [Conference Proceedings]”. Download from here.
  • VET Knowledge Bank [VOCEDplus]
    ‘The site contains a suite of products capturing Australia’ s diverse, complex and ever-changing vocational education and training [VET] system. It aims to provide a collected memory of VET reference information. The Knowledge Bank is a living, growing resource’. Among its contents are :
  • A History Search List
    More than 400 documents covering every aspect of the history of vocational education and TAFEs in Australia.
  • History of VET
    ‘The aim of this product is to provide easy access to information that tells the story of VET in Australia. This page provides links to key documents and timelines’.
  • History of VET - Milestones in the history of VET
    ‘This timeline highlights key events in the history of VET in Australia, starting with the 1952 Commonwealth-State Apprenticeship Inquiry which was the first national review of apprenticeships’. Also has links to related timelines.
  • Landmark Documents
    ‘The term “landmark”, as used for this collection, refers to documents considered by history and authoritative commentary to have influenced the development of the system, providing vision and/or leading to significant reforms or widespread cultural/attitudinal change’.
  • The Development of TAFE in Australia
    ‘From the late 19th century until the 1990s’.
  • Timeline of Australian VET policy initiatives 1998-2017
    ‘This timeline helps understand the scale of change and the individual policies, programs or initiatives that have shaped VET at both the national and state and territory level. The comprehensive resource also includes economic events that may have influenced’ this change.

Related pages include :

  • History of VET in Australia : Overview
    ‘Historical coverage of vocational education and training in Australia beyond the period covered by Gillian Goozee’s 1995 revised edition of Development of TAFE in Australia and timelines covering aspects of the development of vocational education and training’. Includes a detailed Timeline 1969- worth viewing. Both of these pages have been archived but are still available for consultation.

Top of Page

Other Information

Top of Page

× Home Calendar Competitions Conferences Curriculum Education Resources Site Information Special Pages Teachers Tertiary