Where did your ancestors go to school? Did they go to school at all? How long did they go to school, and what was being taught at the time?
To understand your ancestor it’s important to know what sort of education was available at that time and in that area, if any.
First we need to know something of the educational system in New South Wales. Here is a brief timeline of some milestones in the history of education in New South Wales.
1788 – no provision for education of the children of convicts or soldiers.
early 1800s – only schools were private “academies” and “public” schools subsidies or fully-funded by government but run by the Anglican Church.
1801 – Female Orphan School founded to prepare destitute girls for domestic service.
1819 – Male Orphan School founded for destitute boys.
1826-1833 – Clergy and Schools Corporation, run by Anglican Church and funded by grant of one seventh of all land in the Colony. Unpopular with other denominations and private landholders. Repealed in 1833.
1844 – Select Committee found only half of all children going to school.
1848 – Board of National Education introduced government education system. Local communities had to contribute one third of building costs, pay school fees and provide committee to run the school. New National Schools were built mostly in country areas where no schools currently existed provided a minimum of 30 pupils were enrolled, and fees paid.
1866 – Public Schools Act – restrictions on denominational schools, inspection of schools. National Schools became Public Schools, with minimum of 25 pupils. Provisional Schools, where the number was reduced even further, and Half-Time Schools, where a single teacher had to cover two schools, also introduced. The number of schools increased dramatically in the country, where they were most needed.
1870s – school available to almost all children but many attended irregularly or for brief periods. Most denominational schools except Catholic had closed or become government schools.
1880 – Public Instruction Act made attendance at school compulsory for 6-14 year olds. Secondary education introduced to prepare for university, with high fees. Funding was withdrawn from denominational schools resulting in the closure or absorption of many of them. New types of schools were introduced. Superior Public Schools combined primary and secondary education. High Schools were purely secondary schools, with high fees and low enrolments, intended to prepare students for university. Evening Public Schools were intended to cater for young people who had missed out on an education before it became compulsory, and ran at night. replaced the Council of Education with the Department of Public Instruction.
1890s – economic depression reduced spending on school buildings and many teachers retrenched, resulting in large class sizes in poor classrooms.
1904 – New Syllabus introduced – learning by doing.
1911 – High School fees abolished. Intermediate Certificate after two years of High School, and Leaving Certificate after a further two years.
1920s – more pre-vocational and academic courses introduced in High Schools
1914-1945 – World Wars and Great Depression reduce funding for schools and teachers
1961 - Wyndham Scheme introduced – Four years of High School for School Certificate, further two years for Higher School Certificate.
Now we need to find out what schools were available for our ancestors to attend in the area in which they lived.
The NSW Department of Education and Training has an online index to Government schools of New South Wales from 1848. A search of the database will give a list of schools containing the search-term, ie a place name, and the type of school, years of operation, alternative names, and the county in which it is situated.
Here is an example:
We can see that the dates for the different schools in Blayney are consecutive, so they all likely refer to the same school, with name changes reflecting the different stages of the public education system in NSW.
Keep in mind how far the children may have had to travel to get to school, and that they may have walked, or rode, many miles to attend school each day, especially in country areas.
Once you have found likely schools for the area you can trace their history. If you are lucky there will be a published account of the school, often published to coincide with the centenary or other anniversary of the school’s foundation.
State Records New South Wales holds the files that relate to the establishment, maintenance, and staffing of most schools. The files may contain plans of the site and drawings of buildings, so that you can see what the school may have looked like even if it no longer exists. They are available for inspection at the Western Sydney Reading Room at Kingswood.
To find out what records are available for your school search the Schools index. Here are the search results for Blayney:
You can see that the files are all administrative files, and that there are none before 1876.
To take another example, the school in the photograph is in Greghamstown, near Blayney. The Government Schools of New South Wales from 1848 search shows me that there was a Provisional School from August 1871. It closed in December 1872. A Public School opened in May 1875 and closed in Dec 1947. There are no further entries, accounting for the emptiness of the building in the photo.
A search of State Records NSW Schools Index has hit the jackpot!
There is usually very little in these files relating to individual pupils, although there may occasionally be lists of parents requesting establishment of a school, or who haven’t paid their fees. For this school, however, there is an admissions register for 1914 to 1926. If your ancestor lived in this area and was of school age within this period you could be lucky!
School has a lasting influence on all of us as we develop into adults and make our way in the world. Discovering the school your ancestors attended and the type of school that it was can tell you a lot about your ancestor.
Burnswood, J. and Fletcher, J. Sydney and the Bush, A pictorial history of education in New South Wales. [Sydney]: New South Wales Department of Education, 1980.
NSW Department of Education and Training. Government schools of New South Wales from 1848. http://www.governmentschools.det.nsw.edu.au/cli/govt_schools/index.shtm.
State Records NSW. State Records Archives Investigator: Activity Detail, School Education http://investigator.records.nsw.gov.au/Entity.aspx?Path=\Activity\25.
State Records NSW, Index to Schools and Related Records, 1876-1979. Website at http://www.records.nsw.gov.au/state-archives/indexes-online/indexes-to-education-and-child-welfare-records/index-to-schools-and-related-records.