Department of Public Instruction

Department of Public Instruction

Name: Department of Public Instruction

Group: Institutional Location

Type: Educational Centre (Queensland Government Department)

Years at Location: 1875-1957

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Under the earlier National School system clergy wishing to give religious instruction were expected to attend before or after school hours, a practice which made such instruction unpopular with many parents. The Education Act of 1875, designed by Charles Lilley and Samuel Griffith, was a compromised, maintaining the secular ethos of instruction in public schools, but provided for voluntary religious instructions within school hours. The earlier provisional school was continued but it design and purpose was as a hold on the state budget. The number of schools rose from 231 in 1875 to 911 in 1900. This situation strained the colony’s limited education budget and created problems of inadequate teacher supply and training, a proliferation of poorly designed and equipped provisional schools, and a perennial teacher housing problem in rural areas, including in the outlying areas of Brisbane’s Moreton Bay districts. Matters began to turn around in 1914, when a teacher training college was established, and the pupil-teacher system was phased out between 1923 and 1935. Nevertheless, the colonial curriculum hung over the system for many decades. The main criterion for inclusion of subjects in the curriculum was not their practical value, but their value in disciplining (‘sharpening’) mental faculties such as memory and reasoning. Add to the curriculum were object lessons in agriculture and domestic economy. Until 1963 the endpoint of primary education in Queensland was the Scholarship examination, which selected students for entry into a secondary school. Pressure from educators mounted from the 1930s to make secondary education freely available to all children, but resistance such that reform did not come until after 1957.

Impact on Brisbane Society

In 1848 the Governor of New South Wales, Charles Augustus FitzRoy, appointed a Board of National Education to undertake the task of creating government schools similar to the National Schools in Ireland. Four National schools were established in Queensland: Warwick (opened in 1850), Drayton (opened in 1851), Brisbane Boys and Brisbane Girls (both opened in 1860). In 1859, for the separated colony, a Board of General Education combined the functions of the National and Denominational Boards of New South Wales, and acquired the four National schools. In 1862 a new building, designated the Normal School was erected within the grounds of the Brisbane Boys and Brisbane Girls Primary Schools, and thereafter those schools were usually referred to as the Brisbane Normal Boys School and the Brisbane Normal Girls Primary School. The most important function of the Normal School was that of a training centre where pupil-teachers could see the best and most efficient teaching methods in operation. In 1869 the Board provided provisional schools. The State Education Act of 1875 made primary education for children aged from 6 to 12 compulsory and a Department of Public Instruction was established to administer the Act.


Fitzgerald, Ross; Megarrity, Lyndon; Symons, David. Made in Queensland : a New History, Special Q150 commemorative edition, University of Queensland Press, St Lucia, Qld, 2009.

Logan, Greg. Education Regions in Queensland: Towards a Philosophy and Practice, 1937-1988. Policy and Information Services Branch, Division of Planning and Special Programs, Dept. of Education, Brisbane Qld, 1988.

Logan, Greg; Clarke. State Education in Queensland: a Brief History, Policy and Information Services Branch, Department of Education, Brisbane, 1984.

Image Citations

External view of the Department of Public Instruction Rail Dental Clinic Car carriage and motor wagon, Roma Street, Brisbane. Archive: Queensland State Archive. []