School Histories

Education in Western Australia


During the early years of settlement in the colony of Western Australia there was no organised education system. The majority of people from the lower working class was illiterate; those few able to read and write passed their knowledge on to their own children.

As settlements and towns established, educated wives and daughters of ministers, doctors, lawyers and other professionals offered tuition to children of the fee paying upper middle class. Later, as educated men from the convict class were released into the population under the Ticket of Leave system, they too set up similar services, often at the request of residents.

Throughout the colony religious bodies fully funded their own schools and continued to do so until the 1900s. In 1846, Governor Andrew Clarke found that almost all the schools in the Perth area were Roman Catholic. That prompted him to found four ‘Colonial’ schools throughout Western Australia and a free grammar school in Perth.

Compulsory education, introduced in 1871, was difficult to enforce. In response to charges laid against settlers who failed to send their children to school, justices of the peace and magistrates heard and understood the repeated defences from parents who could not eke out a living without their children’s labour.
Under the system of that time, Government money paid for teachers’ wages, text books, equipment and such. The school, itself was the choice of local residents, sometimes just a hut, a hall or one room built on land donated by a local farmer. Parental pressure to initiate a school in the area is a common theme along with the closing, reopening and re-closing of the same school depending on pupil numbers.

Apart from lessons in basic literacy, girls were tutored in skills suited to home duties; boys had other subjects – history, geography and perhaps geometry, dependent on the standard of teaching available. There was no teachers’ training facility in this state until 1902.

At Federation in 1901, when the six colonies became states they continued to fund and create their own policies for education. To an extent that has changed over the years and the Federal Government now plays a major role in the modern education system as it expands and improves.

The little, one teacher bush schools of long ago have given way to the highly staffed, modern establishments of today but interest in the history of those school days continues.