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Independent Schools

Horton College at Ross, about 1880 (AOT, PH30/1/1142)

Independent Schools (non-government, non-Catholic) existed to fill gaps in the government system, or provide perceived advantages – social, educational or religious. Their fortunes varied according to teaching standard, the state of government education and the economic situation.

The nineteenth century was the heyday of private schools. Government schools, all primary, were patchy, geographically and in standard, and charged fees. With transport limited, families preferred schools near home. No regulations covered private schools, and educational standards and expectations were generally low. A private school required little equipment and could be held in a room in the teacher's house. There were few other ways to capitalise on education, and many people opened private schools. Most towns had a succession of small primary schools, some of higher quality but all too often shortlived, with low standards and as few as three pupils. From 1847 to 1853 the state provided assistance to church primary schools; the Anglican Church began 48, and a total of 147 private schools taught 75 percent of schoolchildren.

Some parents and teachers had higher aspirations, and some schools aimed to turn out young gentlemen, which meant the Classics, Latin and Greek; or young ladies, which meant 'accomplishments' – music, art, embroidery and a little French. Higher fees were charged, and some schools took boarders. Again most were small and short-lived, and standards were not necessarily high.

In the 1840s the Protestant churches moved into boys' education. The Church of England established the Launceston Church Grammar School (1846–) and the Hutchins School (1846–), and non-conformists established the Hobart High School (1850–84) and the Wesleyan Horton College at Ross (1855–93). Pupils' stay was often short, but secondary education was provided, often to a high standard. The Hobart Ladies' College (1874–94) and a few other girls' schools provided secondary education for girls.

Rising expectations meant new schools from the 1880s, founded both by churches and private individuals, and based on British models. They aimed at a higher standard, with secondary education, better-qualified teachers, physical education and successful sports teams; and they were larger, with a hundred pupils or more. Discipline was firm, teaching regulated, and these schools gained prestige, especially through good results in public exams. They included Hobart's co-educational Friends' School (1887–), and for girls, St Michael's Collegiate School (1892–) and the Girls' High School (1892–1931); and Launceston's Methodist Ladies' College (1886–, amalgamated with Scotch College to form Scotch Oakburn, 1978) and Broadland House, an older school which transformed itself (and amalgamated with Grammar, 1982). There were similar but smaller schools in country centres, such as St Hilda's, Deloraine.

Regulations covered private schools from 1906, so teachers needed qualifications and schools amenities. From the 1880s the state system abolished fees and greatly increased the standard and the number of schools, and high schools were established from 1910. Many small independent schools could not provide adequate amenities or compete with both improved state schools and larger independent schools. In 1910, there were 164 independent schools, most primary, with only one or two teachers. They were situated all over Tasmania, even in tiny townships like Victoria Valley. By 1924, there were only 52. In the period 1930–70 about 17 independent schools educated 5 to 6 percent of schoolchildren. The 1920s were successful (school uniforms appeared then), but the Depression and the Second World War, with its shortage of teachers, were difficult. Prosperity brought easier conditions from the 1950s, but no state aid and a flourishing government system meant numbers remained limited. Growth came after the government provided aid, from the late 1960s. Christian, community and other new independent schools appeared, existing schools grew larger, and in 2002 there were 29 schools, ranging from large colleges to small primary schools.

Further reading: A Alexander, 'Independent schools in Tasmania', THRAPP forthcoming.

Alison Alexander