The Golden Age of Australian Schooling was When? A Hundred and Twenty Years of Media Coverage of Standards in Australian Schooling

Year: 2016

Author: McCollow, John

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

A vast improvement is necessary in the average secondary [school] standards of this colony.' (The [Melbourne] Argus, 22 February 1896)'When boys nowadays came from school … they could not write a readable hand, they could not spell correctly, they could not speak good English, and they would faint if confronted with a row of figures to be added up, and yet they might have a wide knowledge of unessential subjects.' (The [Adelaide] Register, 24 August 1928)'While the present inquiry into secondary education is proceeding, it would seem appropriate to mention the apparent lack of sufficient emphasis on basic subjects in our school curriculum.' (The Sydney Morning Herald, 20 July 1954)'All around the country, teachers are giving our children a diet of intellectual poison. Syllabuses in the social sciences and value-related areas are being taught that are deeply hostile to Australia … Large areas of the state education system have been captured by mediocre talents who adhere to a variety of fruit-cake ideologies.' (Greg Sheridan, The Weekend Australian, 2-3 February 1985)'New PISA results show education decline – it’s time to stop the slide.' (Sue Thomson, The Conversation, 3 December 2013)For well over a hundred years the Australian media (popular and scholarly) has provided disturbing reports about poor and declining standards in Australian schools and of the subversive and nefarious agendas of educators. Using Trove and other archival sources, this paper examines this coverage over time to identify some key themes and explores the extent to which these themes inter-relate, compete, persist, develop, fade or intensify at various points of time. Examples of these themes include: failure to teach basic literacy and numeracy skills; failure to equip students for employment and life in the “real world”; failure to instil proper values accompanied by the ascendency of relativism; poor teacher quality; failure to be internationally competitive; political correctness; and the hegemony of leftist (or other “trendy, fruit-cake”) ideologues in teaching and curriculum.