Schools for Girls: Past experience and future planning

Year: 1995

Author: Gill, Judith

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


This paper reports on a study of a group of women who finished secondary education at a private girls' school in Melbourne in the late 1950s. The study was prompted by Janet McCalman's work in "Journeyings" and Lesley Johnson's analysis in "Modern Girls", both of which demonstrate the connections between schooling, class locations and popular consciousness as shaped by embryonic educational theory.

Australian girls' schooling in the fifties was characterised by traditional codes and values regarding women's role as moral gardians and home makers. The academic orientation of the school and of this particular group of women, all of whom entered tertiary education in the following years, was not seen to conflict with their adoption of traditional women's role. The participants were interviewed in terms of their recollections of school, their subsequent educational experiences and life choices and their attitudes to education generally. The paper attempts to contrast the schooling as experienced by the group of women with the social changes of subsequent decades in Australian society especially with respect to women's increased participation in the workforce. In particular the participants' views about the question of single sex schooling as compared to coeducation constitute a focus for the analysis. Ultimately it is argued that the social location of the group was far more instrumental in shaping subsequent life choices than was either the school's religious affiliation or its gender context. The findings are mapped on to current debates and research about school gender context. In conclusion it is argued that attitudes to particular features of schooling tend to be shaped by personal experience and are to varying degrees resistant to educational change.