Chapter 62: Overview
The 1970s was a period of major education reform. During this time there were significant changes to teaching and learning pedagogy, school design and the way education was managed by the department.
The Whitlam Government, elected in 1972, established several commissions into education. One key initiative arising from these was the allocation of education funding on a ‘needs’ basis. Decentralisation of education into regions was also instituted in Victoria.
Changes in the design of schools and curricula occurred together reflecting modern teaching philosophies that included flexible teaching spaces, greater focus on students with special needs, and indoor-outdoor learning. Desks gave way to tables and chairs, often modular, fitting together to encourage circular discussion groups.
This period of educational reform saw the merger of technical and high schools, initially according to need, then later by dictate following the Blackburn Report in the 1980s. These amalgamations led to the formation of post-primary schools, later known as secondary colleges. Schools offered more subjects and were equipped to technical school standards in the practical subjects. Students progressed to TAFE to complete vocational education.
Chapter 63: Feature Leader: Don Matters and the EARL of Education
An understanding of the need to design for effective teaching and learning in the 1960s initiated the formation of an independent organisation – the Educational Architecture Research Laboratory – known simply as ‘EARL’.
EARL was headed by Don Matters who set about designing the perfect school, one that suited modern teaching, learning and school curriculum, that met a particular budget, was flexible in classroom organisation and could be adjusted to suit medium to large school populations.
From this brief the Courtyard 800 design was developed and catered for schools with more than 800 students. The design was simple but clever. It created hubs or pods of classrooms that opened onto courtyards. In fact the entire school was designed around large central courtyards.
Main facilities were linked to these pods. Additional classrooms could be housed in newly designed ‘portables’ that matched the design of the school.
One of the most striking Courtyard 800 schools was Heatherhill High School in Springvale.
Chapter 64: Feature School: Heatherhill High School
Heatherhill High School was a stunning example of the EARL at work. The main shape of the school was rectangular with a hexagonal pod in the centre. Rooms lined the edges of inner landscaped courtyards.
The hexagonal pod housed classrooms serviced with light from the sides and clerestory windows. Each room opened to the exterior for outdoor learning providing teachers with relief from stifling heat in summer, and an opportunity to offer small group work in or out of their classroom.
This was seen as a first in government architecture because it; “responded to researched educational specifications and was to meet the educational needs of staff and students. The curriculum that developed responded to the perceived needs of the community and changes in educational philosophies and practices of this period”. K. Wong: Heatherhill High School, an example of the Courtyard 800 system: Monash University thesis document.
Rooms were furnished with modular tables, trapezoid in shape and able to be joined to form squares, rectangles, semi circles or circles.
Chapter 65: Feature Leader: Ron Reed
By the time the EARL (Educational Architecture Research Laboratory) was designing schools, the focus of Unions and the community turned to teachers and teaching practices and they began agitating for better-qualified teachers (in some cases teachers were still able to work without teaching qualifications). This time administrators were in full support.
Many of these administrators were former teachers and inspectors. One was Ron Reed, who was Inspector of Secondary Schools from 1950, Chief Inspector from 1963 and later Director of Secondary Education. Reed was a tireless leader who played an important role in progressing Victorian education by advocating for better teacher training, financial support for underprivileged students and schools, control of curriculum given to individual schools, and for a General Studies curriculum - one that would provide a basis for all students, regardless of gender or completion level.
One of Reed’s greatest achievements was opening the doors to Collingwood Education Centre, a secondary school that was designed to support underprivileged students (later classified as ‘students with special needs’). The school opened in 1975 and provided progressive education facilities with several cutting edge architectural statements; elevated outdoor walkways doubling as outdoor recreational spaces and rooftop ‘chill out’ zones.“Learning should, in his view, be done in a co-operative situation, encouraging intellectual independence without competitive assessment, and not necessarily uniform throughout Victoria.”
Bill Hannan writing about Ron Reed.
Chapter 66: Feature School: Cohuna Consolidated Primary School
Despite advances in school design, the unpopular LTC (Light Timber Construction) was still being constructed in the 1970s.
The rural town of Cohuna steadfastly refused the public works design declaring, “there was no way that Cohuna would accept that type of school!”
This determination to have a school that better suited their community’s needs resulted in, “the development of new trends in construction, planning and design for new State Primary Schools in Victoria.” Peter Burrows, Architect
Completed in 1976, Cohuna Consolidated Primary School was designed for 600 students. The inner core offered a multipurpose area (an innovative addition for the time), arts space, library, offices and storerooms. However it was the styling of the 16 learning areas (no longer called classrooms) that gave the school its reputation.
The learning areas enclosed the core facilities with each room allowing access to an undercover outdoor teaching space. The internal walls were lined with bleached burlap to provide a pin-up area from floor to ceiling. A central wall was hinged to allow for one space to become two.
The entire school was diffused with daylight through long banks of pyramid shaped raised ceiling windows while also enjoying the comfort of becoming the first fully air-conditioned school in Victoria.
Chapter 67: Feature Leader: Dr Lawrence Shears
In Victoria, the findings from the Whitlam Government’s commissions into education renewed confidence in schooling. Dr Lawrence Shears, Victoria’s Director-General of Education between 1973 and 1982, is partly responsible for this renewed profile.
Shears brought to his role a pride and respect for teaching and learning that came from a deep belief and thorough understanding of the value and wonder of the educational process. He had been in education for decades; teacher, principal and facilitating the massive education rebuilding program in the mid fifties.
Shears was inspirational with the capacity to engage and interest people and utilise their skills. He pushed education forward, gaining the respect and approval of both government and unions. He decentralised education declaring: “Put power where the people are!”
Under his leadership the state was divided into education regions, each with an appointed Director. These people would interpret the specific needs of their communities and district. Regional communities now had a stronger voice in education.
His skills and talents for coordination, cooperation and consultation catapulted education into a new era.
Chapter 68: Feature Leader: Shears and Teacher Training
Throughout the seventies and early eighties Victoria’s Director-General of Education, Dr Lawrence Shears was resolute in his determination to improve education. He wanted theoretical research and training to drive education training in Victoria.
He envisaged a future where education was studied as thoroughly as medicine or engineering and delivered with the same passion, skill, knowledge and respect. If our children’s educational experiences were as important as the medical treatment they received, or the stability of the buildings they lived in, then our teacher training should be just as thorough.
Shears was founder of the Australian Association for Research in Education and the Australian College of Educators. Through the Victorian Institute for Research in Education he drove the study of teaching and learning, and established the Australian Journal of Education.
He invigorated the trainee teacher’s program ensuring that both theory and practice were given equal weight. Teacher training went from a two-year certificate level to a three-year diploma or four-year degree status.
Chapter 69: Alternative Education
Alternative education styles were debated throughout the 70s and a handful of state funded schools offered access to ‘progressive’ schooling.
Creating a fully rounded person was deemed more important than skills development – which would appeal only when the student showed interest in the world around them. This style put major emphasis on personal development, life-skills, community responsibility and creativity.
Self-expression, freedom and self-motivation were nurtured with teachers acting as facilitators and friends. There was no clothing code, teachers were addressed by their first names and classes were not compulsory.
Progressive education demanded parent, student and teacher involvement in school management and curriculum development. Parents and students found themselves contributing to the hiring of staff and even assisting in building new rooms – or renovating old ones.
Alternative education had many detractors, but like it or not, progressive teaching and learning left its mark on mainstream education. State education adopted student councils, peer support groups and home-groups.
Chapter 70: The Architect’s Point of View
“Buildings can enable the learning processes by providing the appropriate physical environment. Education buildings can also have the opposite effect and inhibit learning and deny their purpose of existence … The progress in education depends in part on the ability of architects and their ‘education’ building clients to work together creatively.”
Kenneth Edmonds, Editor, Architect magazine, September 1984
The 1984 Architect
magazine dedicated a special publication to the question: ‘What makes a good learning space?’ It was the first specialised publication produced by the Victorian chapter of the Australian Institute of Architects and illustrated the keen interest that the industry and the community were now placing on designing for education.
The magazine featured 29 architectural firms offering progressive plans for core plus schools and the new tech-highs.
The magazine highlighted the tension that sometimes occurred between community expectations, the department’s budget and the fundamental needs of school operation.
Chapter 71: Core Plus Community
Good design inspired teaching and learning; poor design hampered it. But what was ‘good design’? In the 1970s one of the most popular designs to emerge from this debate was the ‘Core Plus’ model.
Core Plus schools were designed by the Public Works Department in association with Reid Partnership Architects. They aimed to provide one highly adaptive system to suit variable terrains, climate, school sizes and individual learning needs. Built into the design was the capacity to be enlarged or downsized in the future.
Plus they allowed individual architects freedom to imbue each school with a distinctive. Facilities were divided into ‘Core’ and ‘Plus’.
The ‘Core’ facilities included library, administration, multi-purpose hall and specialist facilities, split into separate buildings and linked via covered walkways. ‘Plus’ were the general learning spaces, housed in relocatable (portable) classrooms and supplied as needed.
A brief for a Core Plus included the following:
- Buildings are designed on a scale that relates to their suburban context
- Schools can choose what they need with future upgrades or downgrades possible
- The semi-protection provided by the design offers private areas for outdoor learning, play and shelter
The central area formed by the core facilities can double as an assembly area.
Chapter 72: Design by Timetable
An institution must have a clear educational strategy, future enrolment projections and a master plan of possible/desirable facilities to cater for any significant changes.
Ted Ballieu, Architect (later, Premier of Victoria), 1984
Ballieu identified the timetable as the biggest hurdle to the design process in schools. An unbalanced timetable could result in under-utilised rooms, increasing demand on other spaces.
An expansive curriculum was great for learning, but all these new subjects began to lengthen a student’s curriculum ‘week’ from 5 days to between 7-10 days. A single period extension on any of these days could equate to a 14% increase in room demand – placing undue pressure on all facilities. If a new school design proposed large, roomy classrooms, an increase in the number of electives would result in smaller classes in cavernous rooms, or classes sharing the one space.
Concertina doors between open spaces was one popular seventies solution for dividing large spaces into smaller workable areas, although Ballieu argued that forward thinking and careful planning was the main key to a successful and frustration free design project.
Chapter 73: Feature School: Hoppers Crossing Post Primary School
Hoppers Crossing was an expanding suburb in the eighties. The community wanted a modern school that complemented the new housing developments, and one that would meet their growing needs.
The new post primary school was built by the Public Works Department with community School Planning Committee representation. Hoppers Crossing Post Primary School was a Core Plus design offering all the flexibility of this new system.
Permanent facilities designed to accommodate 500 students were situated around the perimeter. Relocatables brought the possible accommodation to 800 and space was allocated for future portables that could bring this student figure up to 1,000.
The community wanted a place that was available beyond school hours, so coveted facilities such as hall, gymnasium and arts centre were grouped to allow easy after-school access.
Chapter 74: Feature School: Whittlesea Technical High School
Dr Shears envisaged that decentralising the Education Department into regions would put power where the people were. In 1975 a group of 10 Whittlesea volunteers, frustrated at school overcrowding, put that to the test.
Calling themselves the Shire of Whittlesea Education Action Committee they united an influential group of regional heads, shire councillors, local principals, members of parliament, teacher unions and the press.
They were highly successful and were awarded not one, but two new secondary schools - one each for Epping and Whittlesea. It would take another decade and more lobbying before Whittlesea was awarded permanent buildings – but when it was, the 4.2 million dollar project became the largest single school improvement scheme granted in Victoria and one that combined the ‘core-plus’ design with quirky creativity.
Architects Norris and Partners envisioned a small ‘village’ of interesting buildings – a way of extending the rural town and farm atmosphere. Furthermore the construction of the core buildings would relate to their key function:
- The metalwork building was constructed in steel.
- The woodwork building was of timber with plywood cladding.
- Home Economics was given ‘domestic’ décor.
Arts, Graphics and Fabrics were designed as shops with shop-fronts for display.
Chapter 75: A Technical Change
When post-war confidence in the manufacturing sector began to fade, retention rates in our technical schools dropped. Technical schools had enjoyed a level of autonomy unknown in high or primary schools.
Subjects could be taught by trade-teachers, some of who did not hold a teaching certificate but offered trade experience. Courses, discipline and teaching methods were adaptable to cater for variable learning needs. In fact technical schools often catered for students that could not be taught elsewhere.
The 1974 Kangan Committee Report into Technical Education recommended that TAFE facilitate technical education at the senior level. By the early 1980s 110 secondary technical schools still operated, many having senior technical colleges offering TAFE subjects.
Despite the introduction of TAFE and a general curriculum in the lower years, retention rates in technical schools for the 15+ year olds continued to drop. Solutions canvassed included mergers of gender-defined technical schools or splitting schools so that high schools absorbed the lower years and technical schools became senior technical campuses.
Chapter 76: The Blackburn Report
In the early eighties, amidst school amalgamations, an investigation into education and training arrangements for 15 to 19 year olds was commissioned. Headed by Jean Blackburn this became known as the Blackburn Report.
In 1985 the Blackburn Report recommended major changes to secondary schools. Firstly, secondary education would be the sole domain of secondary schooling, not related to TAFE or any other training sector. Secondly technical and high schools would amalgamate in their entirety and provide a comprehensive curriculum for all – the new Year 12 certificate. Thirdly there would be the formation of separate senior secondary colleges.
Separate senior colleges were not accepted at the time, but other recommendations were, particularly allowing delivery of secondary school curriculum where it belonged – with the secondary schools.
After 75 years of technical schooling, which in its earlier days was expansive and had included agricultural school and the domestic arts, were amalgamated into high schools at the lower levels and TAFE at the higher levels.
Chapter 77: Feature Leader: Joan Kirner
Joan Kirner was an impressive leader of education governance; most significantly since her start in leadership was fuelled by the most concrete of desires – to see a better and fairer future for her children.
Kirner started as a teacher in the 1960s, and after the birth of her children she became president of their Kindergarten Association, president of their State School Parent Club, then president of their High School Council.
Many parents clubs were concerned with only raising funds for their schools, but Joan wanted her clubs to agitate for reduced class sizes and better conditions for disadvantaged students, particularly those with disabilities. She didn’t want to be, ‘serving the decision-makers, rather than being part of the decision’.
Collaborative decision-making, a process of discussion-based decision-making that included the community was one of Kirner’s visions. She became President of the Victorian Federation of State School Parents Clubs, and in 1975 was the first woman to be elected President of the Australian Council of State School Organisation.
Kirner entered the Victorian Parliament in 1982 and in 1988 was appointed Minister for Education. After a lifetime of desiring educational reform she was now in a position to implement such change. During this time she established the new Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE), oversaw the implementation of new post-primary schools, and changed their title to Secondary Colleges.
She was also instrumental in bringing about the signing of a Partnership in Education agreement with the Victorian Aboriginal Education Association Incorporated - setting out a historic and comprehensive commitment to assisting Koorie education from pre-school to tertiary.
Chapter 78: What’s in a Name?
During the amalgamations of technical and high schools in the 1980s, and the building of new post-primary tech-high schools, a new school title was required. ‘Technical-High School’ was briefly tried, as was ‘Post-primary School’ but Joan Kirner, Minister of Education in 1988 and later Victoria’s Premier, desired a title that elevated the schools’ standing in the community. She supported ‘Secondary College’ which was broadly adopted.
Where there were no amalgamations the communities felt that the new title did not adequately reflect their school, or were concerned that the loss of name was a loss in heritage. Warrandyte High School was one such school.
After an arduous battle waged by parents, councillors and local media preceded by an incident where the Warrandyte students were housed in a tent due to overcrowding at local regional secondary schools, Warrandyte High School opened its doors in 1978.
It wasn’t until the mid 1980s when the building was fully completed that attention was drawn to the clever education and conservation design. The site was steep and well treed – so the brief given to Clarke Hopkins Clarke was to retain the natural environment as much as possible and enable indoor-outdoor learning.
The result was a building that nestled into the hillside while allowing for as much natural light as possible to be gained through artfully placed pyramid styled ‘dormer’ windows.
Chapter 79: The Emergence of TAFE
During the 1970s technical schools or high schools offered TAFE subjects through senior technical branches. With the establishment of the Board of TAFE in 1981, the role of opening new Colleges of TAFE throughout Victoria changed.
A snapshot of the Box Hill suburb illustrates the evolution of TAFE.
Box Hill Technical School for Girls was opened in 1924 offering domestic arts courses with dressmaking, cookery and housewifery (domestic practices like laundry, ironing, sweeping and mopping). In 1941 Box Hill opened a new technical school for boys that included training in technical drawing and career related trades like carpentry and metal-work.
In the late 1960s both schools offered post secondary courses including the first business certificate course in 1967, available through the girls’ technical school.
By the 1970s the schools had dropped the references to gender. The girls’ school became the Whitehorse Technical College and the boys’ the Box Hill Technical School, which eventually offered a TAFE campus as the Box Hill Technical College.
1981 saw the newly established TAFE Board opening Box Hill College of TAFE, closely followed by Whitehorse College of TAFE.
By 1984 the two TAFE colleges had amalgamated and today we have the multi-campus Box Hill Institute.