School Inspectors in Kingston

Parkdale Primary School 1959 School Assembly.

Mr Morrison, the District Inspector of Mentone, chose Parkdale Primary School as the last school he was to inspect prior to retirement in 1959. As was the practice at that time, no prior warning of his intention was given to the staff of the school. He just arrived. When Morrison called in to the head teacher’s office, his arrival was noted by a grade five teacher. On leaving the head teacher’s office the teacher immediately spread the word amongst her teaching colleagues. "You wanted red ink Mr Whitehead" she informed the young grade three teacher in his first year of teaching. He was a bit confused because he had never been offered red ink before and he didn’t need it and politely told her so. After repeated her statement several times with some firmness, only to have him reaffirm his situation she realising the young teacher did not recognise the significance of the signal. So she proclaimed with some exasperation "He is in the office, the Inspector, Morrison!" before moving off to spread the word.

Inspector Morrison stayed at Parkdale for several days, noting the physical condition of the school, checking school records, visiting each classroom, observing the teachers teach, talking to the children and examining their book work. At the conclusion of his stay a conference was called where the teachers sat in the grade six desks and listened as he read his report on the school where he noted amongst other things that "in many of the classrooms the ceilings and walls are water stained and painting is very necessary. However with the use of cut flowers in vases, modern pictures and illustrative material teachers are doing their best to make the rooms cheerful and bright." [1]

Some months after the Inspector Morrison’s visit, each teacher received a blue slip containing a pithy statement about his or her performance and an assessment or teaching mark. "Manages his class efficiency, keen to succeed" Most were to receive a rating of ‘good’ some ‘very good’ and a select few ‘outstanding’. This latter mark was prized because it allowed the teacher to be placed on a seniority or promotion list ahead of teachers without such a mark. This gave them a better chance of gaining a promotion to a school high on their priorities and perhaps in a less remote location in the State. A ‘very good’ indicated that a teacher was ready for promotion while a ‘good’ indicated a teacher was performing satisfactorily at that level of seniority but was not yet ready for promotion. This responsibility of school inspectors to mark the performance of teachers gave them immense power over the career prospects of teachers and influenced what was taught in the classroom. Their influence was also enhanced by the fact that they were the representatives of the central educational bureaucracy at the local level.

For more than a hundred years school inspectors were an important part of the education scene. With the establishment of the Education Department on January 1, 1873 a number of inspectors were appointed under the direction of the Inspector General, Gilbert Wilson Brown. Among them were John Sircom, Harry Augustus Sasse, Archibald Gilchrist, John Simeon Elkington, and Charles Alfred Topp. Later appointments were Robert Craig, James Holland, Richard Philp, Alfred C. Curlewis, Charles Tynan and Samuel J Swindley. Most of these men had served under the previous administration of schools, reporting to the Board of Education. Several had links with education in the 1850s. [2]

Mr Alfred Curlewis, School Inspector.

Usually university trained, inspectors (some with no or very limited teaching experience) visited schools in what is now the City of Kingston, advising teachers, testing children, making recommendations to the central authorities and writing reports. It is from these reports that some appreciation of attitudes to schooling, the nature of the curriculum, the quality of teaching and local community concerns can be gained.

Inspector John Simeon Elkington noted in his report to the Board of Education in 1866 that he had visited Cheltenham 127 twice (Cheltenham East), Beaumaris 84 twice (Cheltenham), Moorabbin 422 twice (Moorabbin) together with a number of other schools in his district. He went on to point out that there was a large number of parents not paying the appropriate school fees. [3] At that time education was neither compulsory nor free. Although he recognised this issue was not really the concern of a school inspector he wanted to record his belief that "a considerable proportion of the so-called destitute parents could pay for their children if they thought proper. In some instances, beyond all question, the publican receives, in addition to his own, the teacher’s share of the Saturday’s wage, in others, the parents are in partial employment, and could, at the least, afford to pay for a portion of their families; in others again, they seem to be better off than many who, in their honest pride, refuse to let the State do more than its share in educating their offspring." [4]

When in February 1865 members of the Mordialloc community wrote to the Board of Education seeking the establishment of a school, Inspector A B Orlebar was sent to examine the situation. He reported in September of that year indicating that there were "about 20 houses in the township but the greatest part of the population live towards Dandenong". He described the townsfolk as fishermen and woodcutters, those further inland as farmers or graziers - "they were generally poor".[5] The school was officially opened on January 6, 1868.

It was Inspector Robert Craig who reported on the request of Mentone residents for a school to be established for the benefit of their children. He recommended on April 13, 1888 that a brick school be built to accommodate 150 pupils. However, it was not until April 15, 1889 that the school was opened in the Recreation Hall in Mentone Parade, as a temporary provision, until a school could be built on land purchased in Childers Street from Henry Arnold and Co. [6]

It was a community issue that brought Inspector Charles Topp to Cheltenham in 1885. The primary school adjacent to the Cheltenham Cemetery (known as Beaumaris 84) had been built following acrimonious discussion between rival school groups. The Cheltenham school (No 127) on the site of the present Cheltenham East School was forced to close when government funds were withdrawn. Nevertheless the Cheltenham group continued to agitate for the establishment of a ‘Cheltenham’ school. Inspector Topp was sent to review the situation and to make recommendations. John Arnold Macarthy, the President of the Shire of Moorabbin, argued that additional accommodation should be provided to cater for increasing numbers at Beaumaris No 84 but also the Mechanics and Protestant Halls on Point Nepean Road should be hired until a new school could be built at Cheltenham. [7]

Topp agreed with Macarthy that additional accommodation was required and that the halls on Point Nepean Road should be hired as a temporary solution but recommended that they should be part of the Beaumaris school. "It is equally plain that it is unnecessary to erect a new school." Topp also recommended that an additional male assistant be employed as Mrs Meeres was "not competent to conduct classes held in a separate room but she should continue her role as workmistress." It was not until the opening of Cheltenham East Primary School on February 20, 1956 on the site of the original Cheltenham School No 127 that Macarthy’s ‘vision’ was achieved. [8]

In addition to recommending sites for new schools and the closure of schools, a key task was to assess the adequacy with which each school was conducted. On visiting Heatherton Common School in 1871, the Inspector-General, G Wilson Brown wrote in the Inspectors Register that the buildings were in good order but "the out offices require emptying. The furniture and apparatus is still inadequate but is, I understand, to be supplemented during the Xmas recess." Inspector John Sircom in 1874 thought the discipline in the school needed "tightening there being much chatting going on during the lessons." By the following year discipline appears to have improved as Inspector Irwin Thompson thought it was very good but regretted that the children were not more punctual in their attendance. In 1889 the toilets again featured in the Inspector’s report. He noted that "pans should be applied for to use in place of the wooden boxes now used in the out offices" and that the windows required cleaning. [9]

Inspector Charles Tynan,. when reporting to the Minister of Public Instruction in 1880, a time when school attendance was compulsory, wrote "I regret to say that the school records in this district (Metropolitan South) are not at all satisfactorily kept. Because cases of wilful falsification of the rolls, for which the offenders were severely dealt with there have come under my notice during the year several cases of gross carelessness in the way of incorrect marking, and in some cases positive neglect to mark the roll at all. Notwithstanding the adoption by the Department of such stringent measures in dealing with the offenders, I fear that the serious offence of wilful falsification is much more frequent in this district than is generally supposed. I shall make it my special business during the ensuring year to devote my energies and attention to discovering all such delinquencies, and in all cases shall recommend the Department to use the utmost severity in dealing with the delinquents. [10]

Inspector Robert Craig reported four years later in 1884 that he found the great majority of schools in Metropolitan South "in a satisfactory state of efficiency and those which failed to show fair proficiency were happily less numerous than those which attained excellence. …. A few teachers were met with who were not sufficiently careful that their own desks and the general appearance of the school-room and play-ground should be patterns of tidiness to their scholars. " [11]

A key section in Inspectors’ reports were their observations on the nature of and quality of instruction taking place in each school visited. Charles Tynan in his report to the Minister in 1881-82 wrote that in his schools in the Southern Metropolitan district, "The subject military drill receives a considerable amount of attention and the various complicated movements in squad and company drill are generally executed with commendable steadiness and precision. Frequently, however, I notice that the mechanical correctness of the movements is somewhat stilted, and that military carriage and soldierly bearing in the ranks, so essentially the characteristic of the thoroughly drilled soldier, is not so observable as one might wish." [12] This military drill theme was included in Inspector Judd’s report after his visit to Heatherton in 1880. He noted the movements lacked steadiness and precision and indicated that considerable improvements must be made before the ‘drill bonus’ could be claimed. [13]

Marching to classes after a morning assembly persisted for many years. Inspector Parker noted in his report after visiting Parkdale Primary School in 1933 that the Monday ceremony at the flag-pole was carried out and the marching was regulated by a drum. "It would improve the playing if the drummers could get some training from an efficient teacher." Obviously attention was given to his comment for he wrote the following year that "Work for the day began with an effective assembly. The marching was regulated by a drummer & was more effective than formerly." [14]

Evaluation of the instruction taking place in schools was strongly featured in inspectorial reports. Inspector Robert Craig on his visit to Heatherton on May 26, 1886 made some positive comments about the results of the work undertaken by Mr P Hotton, Head Teacher, Mrs Hotton the Work Mistress, and Miss Hunter the pupil teacher. Writing was seen to be good and the performance of the school above average. "The examination papers were neat." Spelling was a little deficient in the 2nd and 6th classes but good in the 3rd and 4th. He commented favourably on the teacher insistence that reasons for answers be given in parsing and that in reading the board was used to show syllables of the hard words. "Throughout the school the copybook writing is very good & the books afford evidence of careful supervision". For needlework Mr Craig was pleased to see the girls presenting useful garments in the 4th, 5th and 6th classes.. The comment by Inspector Craig on needlework was in contrast to that made six years earlier by Inspector Charles Judd who wrote, "needlework is not up to the mark & the darning …will require considerable more attention." [15]

The Inspector of Music made a call to Heatherton on November 15, 1887. He assessed the sight singing and elementary musical knowledge as satisfactory but the song singing was only fair. He advised that "it would be as well to see that the ‘Test Songs’ are carefully prepared for my annual visits." He went on to note that the girls possessed "sweet voices" and "the boys all try to sing." A similar comment was expressed by an inspector visiting the Parkdale Primary School seventy years later when he found the singing was "sweet and tuneful." [16]

Three weeks after Parkdale school commenced in 1924 Inspector John Saxton paid a visit. He noted the accommodation as being inadequate for the number of students enrolled and that the children in the junior grades were very backward in their studies. Irregular attendance he thought was the reason for this lack of achievement. After all, the Mordialloc and Mentone schools were some distance from the pupils’ homes. The large classes which also existed at those schools was also seen as a factor. He expressed hope that progress would be more satisfactory at Parkdale with the presence of smaller groups. [17]

Retirement of Inspector Carl Bryan, District Inspector Mentone with his wife and Mr A V Pearce, Head Teacher of Parkdale Primary School, 1966. From Leader Collection.

Inspector Parker when visiting Parkdale in 1933 noted that grade eight was not a strong grade but as he wrote, "this might be expected owing to the nearness of the Mordialloc High School, to which most of the promising pupils go after leaving Grad VI. The chief weakness in Grade VIII is in mathematics. The geometrical theorems are not yet well grasped. …. Spelling is being well taught & reading and recitation are good. Satisfactory progress in history & geography is being made." [18]

During that same visit Inspector Parker advised that in grades 3 & 4 when "marking composition it is well to set a higher standard. A composition marred by many errors in simple matters that the child should know cannot be wholly redeemed by thought content, however full it may be." Inspector Rowell in 1935 saw speech was a weakness throughout the school and advised teachers to give it more attention "The commonest faults are the ‘a’ sound as in day, make, the ‘i’ sound as in like and the ‘o’ as in snow and cow. Short lessons of 5 minutes should be given daily on these sounds to take a special effort this year to improve speech." [19] Sixty seven years before Rowell’s visit to Parkdale, Inspector Henry Sasse was writing in his report to the Minister of Instruction that "more attention is also required in correcting provincialisms. In one school, where the master exhibited no deficiency in the aspirate, none of the pupils of the senior classes could aspirate words beginning with the letter h. After unsuccessfully giving the children several words to pronounce, I requested them to say "my hat" after me; they all, one after the other, said "my yat;" and on my inquiring what a "yat" was, one of the boys said " a small steamer, sir". [20]

Inspectors’ reports rarely refer to the economic and social conditions of the day as their focus was the organisation of and instruction in. schools. For most reports the economic depression of the 1930s passed without comment. Australia declared war on Germany along with Great Britain in September 1939 but comments related to the Second World War only began to appear in 1942 when the threat of a Japanese invasion became more imminent. Trenches were dug in school yards and elementary first aid was taught to senior students. Inspector Bacon observed after his visit to Parkdale school in May 1942 that "ARP trenches have been formed. The work of timbering sides, bottom etc is now being carried out." He went on to record that approximately £8 weekly was being added to the school total (£383) for War Savings Certificates.[21] By the time of his visit in 1944, when the school had an enrolment of 279 students, the sum contributed had risen to £1400.

By the time of the arrival of Inspector Morrison at Parkdale in 1959 and the red ink episode, the school had grown to an enrolment of 823 students. The dramatic growth was in the 1950s when building activity in the area was at its strongest. The baby boom had hit the Parkdale school. In 1949 the Inspector’s report recorded an enrolment of 287. By 1955 the records show an enrolment of 684 and five years later it was 860. In 2000 the enrolment was 242 but the physical and educational environment was a much richer one than existed when the school was founded in 1924. Enrolments had peaked in 1961 and declined with the opening of Parktone Primary School in McSwain Street the following year along with the gradual ageing of the population. [22]

Falling enrolments has been a characteristic of many primary schools in the Kingston municipality and as a consequence some have closed. Heatherton founded in 1870 closed in 2000, and the closure of Braeside and Cheltenham North had preceded it. Like these schools, " positions have also gone. No longer does a person representing the senior administration of the Education Department visit schools to assess teachers, comment on the operation of the school, provide curriculum advise or record their observations and conclusions in a register. Alternative arrangements for school and teacher review now apply.


  1. Inspector’s Register Book - Parkdale School No4171.
  2. Blake, L. J., (Ed), Vision and Realisation 1973 Volume 1 page 300.
  3. "…though anxious to have their children educated, local people had difficulty in paying the fees which varied from 6d to 1/- per week. To the occupants of the 20 houses in the township, struggling to establish themselves as woodcutters, fishermen, gardeners or labourers… the fee was a heavy burden." Sandwell E. S., Mordialloc Primary School: The First Hundred Years. page 4.
  4. Fifth Report of the Board of Education 1866, page 66.
  5. Hibbins, G.M., Fahey, C., & Askew, M.R., Local History: A Handbook for Enthusiasts, page 69.
  6. Robinson, C., Additions and Subtractions: Mentone State Primary School No 2950, 1969, page 12.
  7. Education Department Correspondence, February 25, 1873.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Inspector’s Register Book , Kingston School No 938.
  10. Report of the Minister of Public Instruction for the Year 1880-81 page 195.
  11. Report of the Minister of Public Instruction for the Year 1884 page 132 The salary paid to teachers was influenced by the number of students attending the school.
  12. Report of the Minister of Public Instruction for the Year 1881 page 201.
  13. The ‘drill bonus’ was an additional payment made to the teacher on the basis of the standard of military drill achieved by students. In 1885,1886 & 1887 Mr Hotton received a 90% bonus.
  14. Inspectors Register Book, Parkdale 1933.
  15. Inspectors Register Book, Heatherton, 1886.
  16. Ibid, 1887.
  17. Inspectors Register Book, Parkdale 1924.
  18. Ibid, 1933.
  19. Ibid,, 1935.
  20. Board of Education - Minister’s Report 1868.
  21. Inspectors Register Book, Parkdale 1942.
  22. Ibid, 1961.
27 June 2018
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City of Kingston acknowledges the Kulin Nation as the custodians of the land on which the municipality is a part and pays respect to their Elders, past and present. Council is a member of the Inter Council Aboriginal Consultative Committee (ICACC).