- 1847-08-31 - 1893-10-01 (Creation)
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A small population, economic uncertainties, and denominational rivalries militated against the development of a comprehensive education system in Western Australia during the early years of the colony. Some progress was made, however, after 1847 when (at the urging of the Colonial Administrator, F C Irwin) the Legislative Council appointed an Education Committee. The Committee - known after 1849 as the General Board of Education - established a secular Girls' School and a Boys' School in Perth, opened government assisted schools in rural districts, and provided subsidies to Roman Catholic schools in the colony. The low fee structure and the egalitarian character of the schools were popular with colonists. Governor Kennedy, however, regarded the system as being extravagent.
In December 1855 a conflict between the Governor and the Board resulted in the resignation of nearly all Board members. A new Board was appointed by the Governor and a number of new policies implemented. Most notably, the General Board of Education became an adjunct of the Colonial Secretary's office and the Colonial Secretary became Board chairman. A new fee structure was introduced in which fees were paid directly to the Board, rather than to schoolmasters. A curriculum modelled on the Irish National School System was introduced and the subsidy to Roman Catholic schools was withdrawn. The withdrawl of support for Roman Catholic schools caused divisions within the colony and the issue remained contentious until Governor Weld restored subsidies through the Elementary Education Act of 1871. Under the new legislation, the General Board of Education was replaced by a body known as the Central Board of Education.
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The Elementary Education Act of 1871 abolished the General Board of Education and replaced it with a body known as the Central Board of Education. The Board consisted of the Colonial Secretary (who acted as chairman) and four laymen appointed by the government for three year terms. To preclude sectarianism, no two appointees could be of the same religious denomination. The Central Board was responsible for secular instruction in all schools receiving government aid. To this end, the Board was empowered to make by-laws and regulations, to distribute funds and endowments, to establish curricula and prescribe textbooks, and to set teachers' salaries and pupils' fees.
The 1871 Act defined two classes of schools: non-denominational "Government Schools" and "Assisted Schools". The latter, which were Roman Catholic foundations, were eligible to receive roughly half the grant applicable to Government schools. Despite opposition from the Roman Catholic hierarchy, grants-in-aid to Assisted schools were discontinued in 1895. The Elementary Education Act authorized the formation of district school boards, which were subordinate to the Central Board of Education. The district boards consisted of five members elected by local rate-payers for three year terms. District boards were responsible for the general supervision of all schools within their districts, for the appointment of teachers, and for the attendance of school-age children. However, enforcement of attendance proved difficult, as did the system of appointing staff at the local level, and in 1894 these duties were transferred to the central authority. Thereafter, the power of the district boards declined steadily. In 1922 they were replaced by Parents' and Citizens' Associations - fund-raising bodies which did not have any significant administrative responsibilities.
The advent of responsible government in 1890, coupled with the discovery of gold and the dramatic growth in population, imposed considerable demands on the educational structure of the colony - demands which were not easily met by the amateur, part-time Central Board of Education. The Forrest government was also committed to a highly centralized education system. Accordingly, by an amendment to the Act in 1893, the Board was abolished and a Minister for Education appointed, having all the powers and duties previously vested in the Board. With the creation of this portfolio, the Education Department came into being.