Dr Eleanor Peeler considers reform in NSW Public Education (1905-1995) in this book review

Abstract

Book review of Hughes, J. with Brock, P. (2008). Reform and Resistance in NSW Public Education, Six Attempts at Major Reform, 1905 - 1995.  NSW: Department of Education and Training. In 1982, Director-General of Education in Victoria, Dr Lawrie Shears remarked, 'a future is the past modified by the present and given magnetis

Book review of Hughes, J. with Brock, P. (2008). Reform and Resistance in NSW Public Education, Six Attempts at Major Reform, 1905 - 1995.  NSW: Department of Education and Training.

In 1982, Director-General of Education in Victoria, Dr Lawrie Shears remarked, 'a future is the past modified by the present and given magnetism by our hopes and aspirations. Futures for all things suffer from the pressures of tradition, habit and a general resistance to change'. This reference encapsulates the motif behind this book that lists six major reforms, identifies the reformers and debates the effectiveness of their attempts.

Today change is an accepted part of the norm but not all change is readily accepted. Recognising significant milestones in educational change is a worthy cause and I commend the authors. It is easy to forget the historic relevance of just 'the-other-day' and, in the case of this book, events of the last century. It is in years to come that members of later generations recognise the input of those who instrumented change, the rationale that underpinned their aspirations, forces of acceptance and resistance and the effectiveness of their radical thoughts.

The authors of this volume present a valuable, clearly written history of education in New South Wales. It covers major attempts to instrument change and identifies the driving forces behind each. The final summation of the six reforms gives the reader insight into the continuity of the reform process over a time span of almost a century. The book successfully addresses the authors' goals to identify the major reforms and the rationale behind each. They explain the forces of acceptance and opposition, the degree of success and impact on public schooling. Reflecting on events of the past such as this is a vital tool for planners of future educational reform.

Important though this is, for me the authors bring to light the people behind the reforms. Rather than remaining names attached to a particular agenda, they become passionate educators who were keen to improve the education system and lay firm foundations for the future. Each was a visionary who attempted to initiate change within a particular political and social milieu. Peter Board's push to increase access to secondary schooling was taken up in turn by Wallace and Wyndham, each of whom proposed modifications. In turn reports by Vaughan, McGowan, Swan-Mckinnon, Carrick and Scott implemented change according to the particular needs of the times. The varying levels of success of each are logically discussed, so too are the implications and lessons learned.

I recognise the value of the book as an historic document but lament the masculine dominance in educational leadership. I look forward to this past practice being modified. A further regret is the book's lack of an index. Students of educational history and other astute readers would certainly welcome the opportunity to select indexed items to make quick comparisons and clarifications as they seek to reference the reforms. Despite this shortcoming the authors have paved the way for other researchers to seek and divulge greater insight into the reforms and reformers who aspired to modify the present and understand the magnetism of their hopes and aspirations.

Dr Eleanor Peeler MACE is a Research Fellow with the Melbourne Graduate School of Education.

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