Project Canterbury

Handbooks of English Church Expansion


By the Rev. A. E. David, M.A.

London and Oxford: A. R. Mowbray & Co., Ltd., 1908.

Chapter VIII. Education

FROM its earliest days the Church in Australia has had its "education question," which even at the present time cannot be regarded as finally settled, since in those States where a secular system prevails a determined struggle is still being waged to secure an alteration of the Education Acts in the interests of religious instruction. As a result of the different phases through which the education question has passed a single system has been adopted whereby the State, instead of assisting local educational authorities as in England, itself has assumed the whole responsibility and control, and, with some trifling exceptions, provides plant, funds, and teachers for all primary schools. In the spheres of secondary and University education the State assists by making annual grants to senates and governing bodies, in whose appointment it claims a share.

[170] This situation is the result of a process in which two successive stages are clearly marked. When the first chaplain accompanied the first batch of convicts to Botany Bay, he received from the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel a small grant towards the payment of school teachers, and, as we have seen, he founded a Church school. By Royal instructions the Governor was directed to set apart in each new township four hundred acres for the support of a clergyman and two hundred acres for the maintenance of a schoolmaster, so that by 1810 it is stated that the schools of the colony "were almost entirely Church of England institutions." These instructions were superseded in 1824 by a Royal Charter, by which a corporate body was formed for purchasing, holding, and administering property in trust for religious and educational purposes. This charter was based upon the principle of the identity of Church and State, and since it made munificent provision for the Church of England, it evoked violent hostility from those who did not belong to that communion. In 1833 the charter was revoked without the knowledge of Archdeacon Broughton, who was on the eve of departure for England, and actually sailed in ignorance of its revocation. [170/171] By this means much valuable property was lost to the Church, though the lands held by the corporation were transferred to the Crown subject to their original trusts. The Church undoubtedly had not been vigorous enough to fully utilize this endowment, and, notwithstanding grants in aid from the Government, could not keep pace with the educational needs of the population.

In order to settle the religious difficulty and to prepare the way for a wider extension of educational facilities, the Governor, Sir Richard Bourke, in 1836, made an abortive attempt to introduce the Irish national system, and a similar proposal was made by Sir George Gipps three years later; but in each case strong opposition to any change was shown, and the proposal withdrawn. Up to this point the system of education was wholly denominational, and in its main features resembled the English system prior to the Act of 1870, except that the Government provided the bulk of the funds. A similar system prevailed in Tasmania, Victoria, and South Australia.

The supporters of denominationalism held their ground until 1848, when, at the instance of [171/172] Mr. Robert Lowe (afterwards Lord Sherbrooke), a select committee of the New South Wales Legislature was appointed which reported in favour of the establishment of a uniform system throughout the colony on undenominational lines, and, despite the opposition of Bishop Broughton in the Council, a measure was passed incorporating a "Board of National Education" to administer the undenominational system. At the same time a "Board of Denominational Education" was constituted, consisting of one member of the Anglican Church, one Roman Catholic, one Presbyterian, and one Wesleyan, to supervise the denominational schools. This dual system was carried on for eighteen years, the two boards being practically rivals, much to the injury of educational progress. In 1866, Mr. (afterwards Sir Henry) Parkes successfully carried a "Public Schools Act," by which the whole administration of primary education was vested in a single body termed the "Council of Education," and all primary public schools were thus placed under the direct control of the State. The dual system, however, was not abolished, for provision was made for granting certificates to denominational schools on certain conditions, whereby they were [172/173] entitled to participate in the education vote. This measure had the effect of increasing the public, or, in the terms now familiar, the provided schools, and of causing a decline in the denominational or unprovided institutions.

The way was thus prepared for the introduction of the Public Instruction Act of 1880, now in force throughout New South Wales, which enacted that all aid to denominational education should cease on December 31, 1882. This final stage was not reached without strenuous but unavailing opposition on the part of the Church, but the advocates of the single system of education proved too strong, and, with some few exceptions due to local circumstances, Church schools were extinguished. The opposition, however, was not without effect, for the Act of 1866 contained two clauses which were carried over into the Act of 1880. These clauses provided for a system of religious instruction which represents a fair compromise between the supporters of denominational and undenominational education. Although primary education was declared to be free, secular and compulsory, "secular instruction" was interpreted as including "general religious teaching as distinguished from dogmatical or [173/174] polemical theology." In virtue of this gloss, teachers, subject to a conscience clause, give religious instruction during school hours to all scholars attending the school, and children in this way acquire a fair knowledge of the facts of Bible history, and receive instruction in morals based upon religion. The simple Bible teaching, however, is supplemented by special dogmatic instruction, provided for under another clause which grants "all-round facilities." This clause permits the clergy or their authorized representatives, at stated hours during the week, to give as part of the school curriculum denominational religious instruction to the children belonging to their respective Churches.

In the Diocese of Sydney full advantage is taken of these facilities, and an organized band of teachers paid by the Church assists the clergy in the work, with the result that some eighty per cent. of Church children are trained in the principles of the Faith. In the "Bush" districts, where such organization is difficult, a smaller percentage of Church children is reached, but on the whole the arrangement works well and receives the hearty co-operation of the officials of the Education Department and the teachers. The [174/175] number of children withdrawn under the conscience clause is infinitesimal, and the clergy of the various religious bodies are enthusiastic in their praise of the operation of the system. Speaking in 1891, the Governor of New South Wales (Lord Jersey) said that "the members of the Church of England could stamp religion upon the educational system of the colony without offending a single conscience, without clashing with the policy of the State, and without raising burning questions." Similar testimony comes from an official document of the Department of Public Instruction, which states: "There are no sectarian difficulties in working the clauses providing for general or special religious instruction, because the system has always formed part of the school routine of the colony, and probably only a small percentage of patents would like a change made unless it were in the direction of giving more and not less religious teaching." Anglican and Nonconformist clergy in the same way speak highly of the arrangement. One of the former writes: "I am not surprised that the people of New South Wales are proud of a system that has in a great measure solved the religious difficulty in schools, which still exists in England"; whilst [175/176] a Baptist minister says: "It is the best Act I have ever heard of, and it works extremely well." It will be observed that the system conserves two great principles, the retention of which is in the forefront of the agitation in England, namely (I) the recognition of religion as a necessary element in education; (2) the right of parents to determine the particular form of faith in which their children shall be educated.

Primary education has passed through similar evolutionary stages in the other colonies, but the final settlement of the question has not proved to be the same in each case. Denominational education, as in the mother colony, prevailed in the early days. Later on a dual system was introduced, under which denominational schools received grants in aid, but alongside these State schools were established under the control of a Department of Education, and finally resort was had to a single system. In Tasmania this single system provided for compulsory education, from which simple Bible teaching was not wholly excluded. Later on the Government, in deference to pressure brought upon it, conceded "right of entry" to the ministers of religious bodies, who are permitted to give, at stated times [176/177] in the week, special religious instruction to children of their own denominations, and the system has thus been brought into line with that which obtains in New South Wales. A similar result has been reached in Western Australia. Under the Education Act of 1871, by which the dual system of denominational and undenominational was swept away, provision was made for the reading of the Bible during stated hours, but in 1893, in accordance with the urgent representations of the synod, clauses similar to the New South Wales Act were introduced, and the right of entry was granted to the clergy for the purpose of giving special religious instruction. Thus in three States of the Commonwealth religion is recognized as a necessary element in education, and facilities are afforded to the different religious bodies for giving definite dogmatic religious instruction.

In the remaining three States--Victoria, South Australia, and Queensland--a different result was reached, and public instruction in the State schools was rendered wholly secular, despite the opposition of the Anglican and other religious bodies. In Victoria, after the dual system had been in existence for sixteen years, the inefficiency of the [177/178] denominational schools attracted the attention of the Government, and a Royal Commission was appointed to inquire into the condition of education, which reported strongly against the continuance of aid to denominational schools. At length, in 1872, an Education Act was passed, in which the free, secular, and compulsory principle was embodied. Whilst the introduction of this Act was threatening, Bishop Perry called into conference the representatives of the Presbyterians and Wesleyans, who agreed upon a form of remonstrance in which the continuation of denominational schools was vigorously urged; but the Governor declined to entertain the memorial. The withdrawal of State aid from denominational schools was followed by their rapid extinction, except in the case of the Roman Catholics, who, at great sacrifice and through their teaching orders, have maintained them. The lengths to which secularism can go is well illustrated by the publication of a Victorian reading book for use in primary schools (since withdrawn), from which all reference to religious subjects in current literature was eliminated, and such poems as the "Wreck of the Hesperus" appeared in a mutilated form by the omission of the touching [178/179] stanza in which reference is made to the Gospel narrative:--

"Then the maiden clasped her hands and prayed
That saved she might be,
And she thought of CHRIST Who stilled the waves
On the lake of Galilee."

Reference has already been made to the interest shown by Bishop Moorhouse in education, and mainly on his initiative a "Bible in State Schools League" was founded in order to secure the introduction of simple Bible teaching into the schools of the State. Repeated efforts have been made by this organization to obtain an alteration in the Act, but the opposition of the Roman Church, which regards the introduction of the Bible into the educational curriculum as an endowment of Protestantism, and the indifference or astuteness of politicians who prefer to leave a thorny question untouched, have rendered these attempts nugatory.

In Queensland the history and the present position of the question is very similar. The dual system was terminated by the "State Education Act" of 1875; and, though State aid was not at once withdrawn from denominational schools, it was provided that after 188o primary education [179/180] should be free, secular, and compulsory. Here Nonconformist opinion supported the passage of the measure, whilst the Anglican and Roman Churches were united in opposition. Secularism, however, was not carried to its extreme logical issue as in Victoria, and the reading books in use in the schools have not been edited with a view to the exclusion of the name of the Deity. In 1891 a Bible in State Schools League was started in order to advocate the introduction of the New South Wales system; and in 1900 the League undertook to carry out a voluntary referendum to the parents of scholars attending the State schools, on the religious question, which resulted in an enormous majority declaring themselves in favour of the New South Wales system, the numbers being 21,000 in favour of religious instruction, and 1,400 against. Owing to frequent changes in the ministry, the Church has been unable to take full advantage of this step, but the prospects of alteration are hopeful.

The course of events in South Australia presents a repetition of what has taken place elsewhere. When the proposal was made in 1875 to secularize the State system of education, Bishop Short, as we have seen, endeavoured to obtain a [180/181] compromise, but without success. He has been criticized on account of his policy; but, whatever line he might have chosen, there can be little doubt that public opinion in South Australia was against State aid to religious teaching in any form, and no other settlement would have been reached. Since the passage of the measure efforts have been made by the Anglican Church, in conjunction with other religious bodies, towards its amendment, and a few years ago a referendum to the electorate was made upon this question. Its form, however, was totally misleading, and the fact that a majority declared themselves against any alteration of the Act cannot be regarded as an accurate indication of public opinion upon the subject. The experience of the Church in these three States shows the extraordinary difficulty of obtaining any alteration of the secular system when once established, but the success gained by the advocates of definite religious teaching in Tasmania and West Australia proves that the situation is by no means hopeless.

Whilst engaged in this struggle the Church has not been unmindful of the necessity of making some provision for the training of her own children, and, although Church schools in the [181/182] sphere of primary education for the most part have been extinguished through the competition of a free system provided by the State, and few have survived, in the secondary sphere, in which education is not free, the Church has been more successful. In the mother diocese of Sydney the ancient foundation of King's School, Paramatta, the North Shore Grammar School, and the Clergy Daughters School, are doing excellent work. At Bathurst there is the School of All Saints; at Armidale a first-rate proprietary school; at Brisbane a high school for girls, and a flourishing school for boys, at present conducted privately by a clergyman, and at Townsville, in North Queensland, a high school for girls. Reference has already been made to Hutchins' School in Tasmania, to the two important foundations in Victoria, the grammar schools of Melbourne and Geelong, and to S. Peter's College, Adelaide. These institutions are few in number as compared with the population, but they represent a considerable amount of effort and self-sacrifice on the part of Churchmen, and they furnish an education in secular subjects no whit inferior to the State-assisted grammar schools which stud each colony. These latter are under the control of boards of [182/183] governors partly appointed by the State, and they receive an annual Government grant for maintenance, but the education provided, like that in the primary schools, is for the most part secular. The Universities in the same way make no provision for the teaching of theology, although at Sydney and Melbourne the erection of denominational colleges has been assisted by the State, and in the former University the heads of these hostels receive annual grants from the Consolidated Fund in defrayment of stipend.

The prevalence of secularism in the educational system of the important States of the Commonwealth undoubtedly constitutes a serious menace to the future well-being of Australia, but its operation is at present concealed by the social conditions of the country, and it may take a generation or two before the full effects become patent. A rough and ready test would seem to be furnished by a comparison of criminal statistics between, for instance, Victoria, where secularism prevails, and New South Wales, where religious education is given, but such a comparison would be misleading. In the first place, Victoria still receives a number of immigrants from England who bring with them the traditions of their [183/184] home, and assist in maintaining a Christian tone in the community. In the second place, the circulation of population is a marked feature of Australian life. Inhabitants of one State pass freely into another, so that the moral atmosphere tends to equalize itself throughout the island-continent, and to differentiate between one locality and another in this respect becomes impossible. The time must arrive, however, when immigration will cease, and, if no alteration in the secular system be made, the general moral declension must become more apparent.

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