History of Education in Victoria

Victoria’s Education Act 1872 broke new ground. Government, on behalf of the community, took responsibility for educating all children and young people. The largest education building program ever seen in this country began in 1872 when education was proclaimed free, secular and compulsory.

​​​​​​​​​​​​To render the idea a reality entailed purposeful action with limited resources. There were curricula to shape, teachers to recruit, a community unfamiliar with universal education to engage. The challenging job of designing and constructing hundreds of new schools throughout the state was made significantly easier for the Department of Education by the employment of Henry Robert Bastow as Chief Architect and Surveyor. Through his vision, leadership, energy and commonsense, 615 schools were built in just five years.

Confident and ambitious, Henry Bastow completed more than 600 schools in the first half a dozen years, and plenty more in the ensuing decade. He achieved this by creating templates for various sized buildings and adapting each to meet the specific environmental needs of the individual schools.

Bastow listened to communities and teachers. He amended designs, matching school buildings to learning and teaching practice. He learned on the job. His designs were flexible and visually commanding. He wanted the buildings to work, and he wanted them to make a statement: education matters.

Local circumstances mattered, too. Bastow and his team were building a system of schools, but not standardised schools. What construction materials were to hand in the Mallee or Gippsland? How many students were there in Avoca or St Kilda? What was the weather like in Ballarat or Fitzroy?

The endeavour required meticulous organisation, thoughtful delegation and confidence in the skills of others. Millers, quarrymen, carters. Artisans of every stripe – carpenters, stonemasons, glaziers. Contract managers, bookkeepers, site supervisors. Making a school relied on many hands, many minds, many leaders.

Henry Bastow’s legacy is tangible. It stands in wood and stone. More than that, it stands in the spirit of leadership, teamwork and innovation he sparked. Bastow takes inspiration from that legacy. Our vision is nourished by his example.

His designs for hundreds of schools, and his influence over other great public works (as head of the Public Works Department in the 1880s), places him in the upper echelon of influential Melbourne architects.

Just as Bastow’s designs did a century ago, the Bastow Institute of Educational Leadership will encourage exponents of education to consider the connection between the external, the built and the internal environments and learning. The Institute is the cornerstone of the Victorian Government’s continuing and substantial investment in building the knowledge and skill of professionals in the Department of Education and Training.

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Bastow legacy and the development of state education