Vale Emeritus Professor Phillip Hughes AO

Vale Emeritus Professor Phillip Hughes AO

Emeritus Professor Phillip Hughes AO FACE 

12 March 1926 – 12 October 2011


The Australian College of Educators is sad to announce the passing of Emeritus Professor Phillip Hughes AO FACE who died this morning after a short illness. Phil has been an active and invaluable member of ACE for over 51 years, serving as the National President in the early years of its relocation to Canberra.


Phil went to Oxford University in 1947, as a Rhodes Scholar, intending to become a nuclear physicist but then decided to commit himself to the profession of teaching. His influence has been significant as an educator and an education administrator.

Phil rose to be deputy head the Tasmanian Department of Education in 1965 and was the first Head of the Education Faculty of the Canberra College of Education in 1970. Phil chaired the inquiry that led to the establishment of the independent Education Authority for the ACT and became its inaugural Chair in1973.

Phil returned to Tasmania, his home state, in 1980 to take up the position of Professor of Education. He left Tasmania in 1995 following the death of his wife Peggy to head up the newly formed Australian Principals Centre in Melbourne.

Phil returned to Canberra in 1997 and continued to work as a consultant both in Australia and internationally. He is known for his reforms in education particularly the establishment of senior colleges in Tasmania and the ACT, his work as part of a team that reviewed the education needs of the geographically scattered south Pacific countries, that led to the establishment of the University of the South Pacific, and the move away from examination based assessment for the higher school certificate in the ACT. 


He is esteemed for his commitment to the teaching profession and his ability to work,support and develop principals and teachers through his consultancy work. He is also widely respected for his passion and contribution to those least well served by education. He was a staunch champion for the principle of 'education for all' and was disappointed that Australia, an early advocate of this principle internationally, did not do enough to improve the education outcomes for those who currently do not benefit from education.

Throughout his ‘retirement’ Phil worked tirelessly to seek to improve quality teaching and learning, speaking at national and international conferences, reviewing education systems and curriculum around the world, examining theses, writing and engaging with colleagues.  One of his last books Opening Doors to the Future (ACER 2007) was based on his interviews with 17 prominent Australians about the impact teachers had on their lives.


Phil had a lively appreciation of the importance of teachers and their impact on young lives. He wrote about the profound impact three teachers had on his life: Alison Smith his primary teacher for all six years in a one teacher school, who never let him get away with work that was less than his best; Doris Brown his English teacher who brought the classics to life for him and gave him a life long love of literature; and finally C S Lewis, who lectured on Milton when Phil was at Oxford. It was Phil's decision to sit in on his lectures, even though he had never read Paradise Lost, that changed the course of his life. CS Lewis inspired him with the power to connect prose and passion, learning and meaning.


When Phil learnt that he had a terminal cancer earlier this year, he decided to put his effort into one last book on education, drawing on his wide global circle of educational colleagues he respected. That book will be available soon.

Phil's contribution to education has been recognised through the following awards:

1968 Fellow, Australian College of Education
1984 Fellow, Australian Council of Educational Administration
1991 Order of Australia
1991 Gold Medal, Australian Council of Educational Leadership
1996 Fellow ASIA-PACIFIC Centre of Educational Innovation for Development, UNESCO
1998 Honorary Fellow, Australian Principals Centre
2003 The establishment of the Australian College of Education Phillip Hughes Oration in the ACT
2008 Jan Comenius Medal of UNESCO for services to international education
2011 Life Membership Australian Council for Educational Leadership in recognition of his long and outstanding contribution to the Council


Phil’s daughter, Margaret Clark, is the recent CEO of the Australian College of Educators and now holds the position of Manager, Advocacy and Articles. The thoughts of College staff are with Margaret and her family at this sad time.

If you would like to pay tribute to Professor Hughes, we would welcome your comment below, or contact the National Office on 1800 208 586.


A message from Lyndsay Connors, AM FACE, National President
I will miss Phillip Hughes personally, as he has been an inspiration and a mentor since I was a student in the Education Faculty at the then Canberra CAE in the 1970s, when he was its foundation Head.

I hope that the affection and respect he commanded from his colleagues and friends across the education community will be of comfort to his wife, Kelli, and to his daughter Margaret and all his family in their loss.
I would like members to know that such was his fortitude and his devotion to the College that, even while very ill, he was keen to meet me for coffee at the National Library to discuss its future only a few months ago.
He never wavered in his support for a strong and socially representative public school system and his ability to express his views in a rational, civil and respectful way serves as an example for all educators to follow.

Lyndsay Connors, AM FACE, National President 12 October 2011


ACEL has been the richer in its advocacy and recognition of educators and their contributions as a result of the foundation work under taken by Emeritus Professor Phillip Hughes AO in the very early days of ACEAM. Dr Jim Watterston, President, ACEL shared with participants at the recent ACEL National conference in Adelaide the signficant impact on him when he was able to bestow the recent ACEL Life Membership on Phil for his services to Education in Australia. Jim reflected that the one hour of conversation with Phil was a highlight of his professional career in education.This was supported in his considerations at conference by Emeritus Professor Frank Crowther, Patron, ACEL.

Helen Starr

A/Executive Director

Australian Council for Education Leaders

12 October 2011




Phil Hughes

His passing was much like his life - shortly after hearing of his cancer he commenced a new book. His life was spent in education and the book will be a testimony to that life. His book will not be his only legacy - he has left much for us to consider and from which we can learn. My thoughts are with his family - especially Kelli and Margaret. Take care.
Kerry Kennedy