Government Schools

Over the years since 1848 there have over 30 different kinds of government schools in New South Wales. Here are some of the most commonly-seen schools:

Public Schools

In 1848 a Board of National Education was established by Governor Fitzroy to establish schools based on the Irish system. National Schools were built to provide elementary education for a scattered population not catered for by the four religious denominations already providing education. The schools were called National Schools and in 1867 became Public Schools, when church schools came under the jurisdiction of the new Council of Education. The attendance of 30 children was required for a National School; reduced to 25 for Public  Schools in 1867 and 20 children in 1880.

Until the 1880s there were no publicly-funded secondary schools, and very few until 1910. Some Public Schools became Superior Public Schools, offering some secondary such as higher mathematics and languages.

Existing Public Schools remain today as elementary, or primary, schools.

Provisional Schools

Many country areas did not have enough children to justify the building of a National or Public School and so in 1867 the Provisional School was introduced, requiring a minimum of 15 children. Parents were required to pay for the building and furniture, and the Council of Education (later the Department of Education) provided books and equipment, and paid the teacher. The minimum number of children was reduced to 12 in the 1880s and by 1945 the minimum was 9 children.

Even though the Department made provision to supply all or part of the cost of buildings in 1882, most of the cost was still borne by parents into the 20th Century. Teachers had minimal or no training.

The remaining Provisional Schools became Public Schools in 1957.

Half-Time Schools

Schools with at least 10 children but less than 25 could be visited by itinerant teachers who travelled between a number of schools. These schools, introduced in 1867, were called half-time schools when the number of schools a teacher had to service was reduced to two schools in 1869. The minimum number of 20 children (across the two schools) was reduced to 16 in 1898 and the minimum was removed in 1908.

Intermediate Schools

In 1912 the Intermediate High School was developed to cater to children unable to attend the more academically-focused High Schools, and took the children to Intermediate Certificate level. Many were renamed Central Schools in 1944. Many of these schools became Junior High Schools and eventually full-fledged High Schools.

High Schools

Although provision had been made for secondary schools in 1880 very few were built until after 1910, when the education system was completely reorganised. Secondary schools specialised

  • High Schools catered for children expecting to go on to university
  • Commercial Schools catered to boys expecting to go into business
  • Junior Technical Schools were designed for boys entering the trades and industry
  • Domestic Science Schools were designed for girls becoming homemakers

From the 1920s the role of high schools became increasingly blurred and all secondary schools were called High Schools, although some may still carry their former names and functions such as Technical High Schools. Domestic Science Schools, I’m happy to report, became Girls High Schools and Junior High Schools.

Subsidised Schools

Where a community did not meet even the minimum requirement for any type of government school they could establish a Subsidised School, where the government paid a subsidy for each child and the parents had to provide everything else.

For a more complete listing of the types of schools see the Department’s Glossary.


New South Wales Department of Education and Training, Government Schools of New South Wales from 1848. Website.

New South Wales Department of Education, Sydney and the Bush, A Pictorical History of Education in New South Wales. Published by the New South Wales Department of Education, 1980.


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