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Research Guides

Government Records about the Australian Capital Territory

ACT Schools Authority

In the 1960s, community interest in Territory education was rising, particularly given the rapid increase in student numbers. There was dissatisfaction with the arrangement involving New South Wales and a belief that the state education system was remote from Territory needs and had led to larger class sizes.

Following a public meeting held at the Australian National University in November 1966, a working party led by George Currie (a former university vice-chancellor) was convened. The working party presented its report in November 1967, recommending the establishment of an autonomous education authority responsible for pre-schools, primary and secondary schools, and technical education.264

The government was slow to respond and, when it did, its first decision was to create a Commonwealth Teaching Service. Cabinet approved the Service in September 1970, although it was not formally established by legislation until April 1972.265 The service was created to provide teachers for schools in both the ACT and the Northern Territory; South Australia was particularly keen to end the provision of teachers to the Northern Territory.

In July 1972, Cabinet approved a proposal to establish a statutory authority to manage Territory education, and to have the Joint Parliamentary Committee on the ACT investigate the powers and responsibilities of that authority.266 The government lost office just five months later, and the proposed review did not take place.

The incoming Whitlam government was equally supportive of a new authority to manage Territory education and, on 15 March 1973, Minister for Education Kim Beazley commissioned a panel to assess the form the authority should take. The panel, chaired by Phillip Hughes from the Canberra College of Advanced Education, reported in May 1973. It recommended the establishment of a single authority to manage education, which would also be responsible for policy and administration. The panel also recommended the establishment of school boards to assist with the management of government schools.267

Cabinet approved the proposed authority in September 1973. The authority would consist of one full-time member and nine part-time members. The Minister for Education would have power over the authority but would not be involved in its general administration. Several existing institutions, including the Canberra Technical College and Canberra School of Music, would be exempt from the authority's direction. As it would take time to draft and implement legislation to establish the authority, Cabinet agreed to establish an Interim Committee in the meantime.268 On 7 October 1973, Beazley announced that the government would assume full responsibility for the Territory's school system the following year through the establishment of an Interim Schools Authority.

A major feature of the new school system was that primary and secondary schools would have boards comprising the school principal and members nominated by teachers, parents, the Schools Authority and, in some cases, students. Powers would be delegated to these boards by the authority to enable them to take responsibility for policies and programs, budgeting and finance control, and participation in the selection of senior teaching staff. Interim boards were to be established at all schools by the end of 1973.

Legislation to establish the Schools Authority was not enacted when the Whitlam government lost office in November 1975. In August 1976, Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser's Cabinet examined the matter. It noted that the Interim Authority had been in existence for three years, and believed that there was undue influence by parent and teacher groups on its policies and operations, and limited opportunities by the wider community to contribute to decision making. To correct this, Cabinet approved a larger membership with more ministerial nominees and two members from the ACT Legislative Assembly, rather than one, as was the case previously.269 Legislation was implemented in late 1976 and the ACT Schools Authority established on 1 January 1977.

The authority was disbanded in 1987 as part of the move towards self-government. Education in the Territory today is managed by the ACT Education and Training Directorate.

Agenda and minutes of meetings of ACT Public School Councils/Boards, 1973– A9458
Correspondence files, 'SA' (Schools Authority), 1974– A3442
'Education ACT' (magazine), 1976– A8996
ACT schools bulletins, 1979– A9025
Arrangements with Interim Schools Authority NC–73/01259, part 1
Proposed Schools Authority ordinance 74/2317
Proposed Schools Authority ordinance 76/2931
Proposed Schools Authority ordinance 77/1680
Restructuring the Schools Authority and proposal for an Institute of Tertiary Education 85/3706
Schools Authority management review 87/7
Schools Authority ordinance 87/8612
Schools Authority review 88/5043
Proposed abolition of the Schools Authority 90/13923
Abolition of the Schools Authority 90/18834
Canberra College of Advanced Education – Building and Site Committee meetings NC–70/00133
National Archives
Proposed inquiry into the administration of education in the ACT, 1970–72 A5882, CO1044
Papers of the reference: aspects of Australian Capital Territory education, 1972–73 AA1981/328
Establishment of an ACT Schools Authority, 1973–74 A5931, CL568
ACT Schools Authority establishment and policy, 1973–81 A1209, 1976/1952, parts 1–2
Establishment of an ACT Schools Authority, 1976 A10756, LC684
ACT Schools Authority remuneration for part-time members, 1977–78 A1642, C1977/3798
ACT Schools Authority estimates of expenditure, educational services, 1977–80 A1642, C1977/1913, parts 1–3
Commonwealth Teaching Service
National Archives
Malcolm Fraser – Commonwealth Teaching Service, 1969–72 M442, 14
Possible proposal for Commonwealth Teaching Service Bill, 1970–75 A451, 1972/3245 and 1972/8691
Establishment of a Commonwealth Teaching Service, 1970–76 A2314, 1970/622

Division of the secondary school system

At the same time as an independent education authority was being considered, the Department of Education and Science began canvassing secondary colleges for students at Years 11 and 12. The concept arose from a belief that students aged 17 or 18 were closer in their tastes and aspirations to adults than they were to students aged 12 or 13. The separation of the two groups allowed for the development of colleges designed to function in a more informal setting, and for their use after hours by students and the wider community. High schools would continue to provide education for students from Year 7 to Year 10.

In November 1971, Malcolm Fraser established a working party led by Richard Campbell (lecturer in philosophy at the Australian National University) to review the proposal. The working party supported the concept in its report presented in December 1972.270

The first purpose-built colleges were Phillip, Hawker and Melba, while the existing Narrabundah and Dickson High Schools were redeveloped as colleges. In time, other colleges followed; the most recent being Gungahlin, which opened in 2011. There are 10 colleges in the Territory today.

An innovative feature in the development of new colleges has been the introduction of joint-use libraries. Both Erindale College and Lake Tuggeranong College partner with the ACT Public Library Service. They were among the first examples of urban joint-use libraries and are still among the largest such libraries in the world. The libraries provide a service for both the general public and college students. The recently opened Gungahlin College is also a joint-use library.

Dickson High School conversion to Dickson College NC–73/00420, parts 1–7
Narrabundah High School conversion to Narrabundah College NC–73/00519, parts 1–3
Tuggeranong Secondary College facilities NC–84/00864, part 1
Tuggeranong College planning NC–84/01795
Tuggeranong Secondary College facilities, Greenway Library functional brief NC–85/00956, parts 1–19


Chapter notes | All notes

264 Report on an Independent Education Authority for the Australian Capital Territory, Canberra, 1967.

265 NAA: A5869, 535, September 1970.

266 NAA: A5908, 684, not dated.

267 'A Design for the Governance and Organisation of Education in the Australian Capital Territory', 31 May 1973, Parliamentary Papers, 1973, volume 3, paper 7.

268 NAA: A5915, 575, not dated.

269 NAA: A12909, 609, August 1976.

270 'Secondary Education for Canberra: Report by the Working Committee on College Proposals for the Australian Capital Territory', 20 December 1972, Parliamentary Papers, 1973, volume 3, paper 15.


Chapter 10