Education Boards dominate
The Education Act 1877 established a small Department of Education to set teaching standards and provide funds to 12 elected regional education boards. The boards defined school districts, appointed and inspected teachers, and administered the school system. Each school had a committee of between five and nine local residents. They were responsible for managing the school, including recommending the appointment and dismissal of teachers. The boards, rather than the department, held the balance of power, spending money as they saw fit, without any national accountability.
From the 1950s greater prosperity led to an increase in the amount spent on education. In 2009/10 the amount spent annually on education had risen to 6.2% of GDP (gross domestic product), more than the OECD average, and above the percentages of Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States.
The Education Department grows
Wide variations in staffing levels and teachers’ pay and conditions between education board regions prompted a royal commission in 1901. A national system of pay and staffing for primary schools was set up and the Education Department administered this from 1902. In 1914 a national system of appointment and grading of teachers was adopted, and the department took over the inspection of schools. Although boards continued to hire and fire teachers, the department became more influential. Following further education reforms in the 1940s, it grew dramatically in size.
Secondary schools had boards of governors similar to the primary school committees, and active parent–teacher associations developed in schools during the 20th century. However, from the 1960s some people became concerned about the cumbersome education bureaucracy and worried that local communities did not have enough say in the running of schools. In 1989 a new education act decentralised education administration. The Education Department and education boards were abolished, a much smaller Ministry of Education was set up, mainly to deal with policy, and schools were given power to administer their own affairs through elected boards of trustees.
In the 19th century primary schools were funded through a government ‘capitation’ grant – a fixed amount for each child on the roll who met a certain level of attendance. When capitation was replaced by nationally administered teacher salaries in 1902, a system of building and administrative grants was introduced. Capitation was used to fund secondary schools until 1920, when national pay scales were introduced for secondary teachers. After the 1989 reforms the Ministry of Education provided school boards of trustees with operational, salary and property funding.