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Archives In Brief 26 - Schools, 1788-c1979

Filed under: ,
Outlines the main records relating to schools, covering the period 1788-1979.

Item lists and microform copies of the records are available in the reading room.

Researchers using uncopied material should contact State Records prior to their visit to confirm the current location of the records.

All of the records listed in this AIB are open to public access (OPA). For records less than 30 years old please contact:

Department of Education and Communities
Records Management Unit
Level 11, 2-10 Wentworth St
Parramatta NSW 2150
Phone: (02) 8633 1044

Online indexes to school records

The Index to School records, 1876-1979 is available to search. We will be progessively adding other school-related indexes to the website.

Other online indexes may also be of interest when researching schools. These are discussed in more detail below.

Historical Background

The earliest government assisted schools in the colony were established to provide literacy skills, religious instruction and domestic or industrial training for destitute children and those whose parents could not afford to provide them with a basic education.

Armidale School for Boys, AIB 26The Female Orphan School was established in Sydney in 1801 under Governor King and the Male Orphan School in 1819 under Governor Macquarie.

The growing number of government assisted schools established under Governor Macquarie were supervised by clergy of the Church of England. The relationship between church and government was reinforced by the establishment of the Clergy and School Lands Corporation in 1826. The building and maintenance of schools and the salaries of schoolmasters were drawn from the proceeds of land controlled by this corporation.


During the period 1848-66 education in New South Wales came under the joint control of the Board of National Education and the Denominational School Board. The Board of National Education was responsible for the establishment of the public school system, teacher training and classification and the setting up of model schools. The Denominational School Board was responsible for the distribution of government subsidies to church schools. The Boards were abolished under the Public Schools Act 1866.


The Council of Education was established from 1 January 1867 under the Public Schools Act of 1866 to assume responsibility for the centralised administration of government schools in New South Wales. The Council of Education controlled expenditure and government grants, the establishment and maintenance of public schools and the appointment, training and examination of teachers. Both provisional schools and half-time schools were created under the Council of Education. The school sites, buildings and furniture for these schools were provided by the parents of enrolled pupils.


In 1880 the Minister for Public Instruction assumed responsibility for education in New South Wales. The Public Instruction Act, 1880 provided for the establishment of Public Schools, Superior Public Schools, Evening Public Schools, Provisional Schools and separate high schools for boys and girls. The Department of Public Instruction was responsible for both the introduction of compulsory education and the withdrawal of government funding from denominational schools. The Department of Public Instruction changed its name to the Department of Education in 1915, and on 15 December 1989 the name changed to the Department of School Education. On 3 December 1997 the Department of School Education was amalgamated with the Department of Education and Training Coordination to form the Department of Education and Training. The Department is now known as the Department of Education and Communities.


Index to Colonial Secretary's Papers, 1788-1825 *ARK
Surviving correspondence concerning schools is to be found under the headings: Schools and Education. This index is also available in the reading room.

NRS 1286, Returns of the Colony, 1828-57 *ARK
Fiche 446-613
Listed under Education, the returns cover both Sydney and country schools.

Surveyor General

NRS 13859, Crown plans, 1792-1886
Many plans for the sites of early schools c.1831-1853 are listed under the headings Church Lands and Church and School Estate. The Select List and Supplement of the Crown plans are also available in the reading room.
» Search the online index

Clergy and School Lands Corporation

NRS 773, Letters received from clergymen, catechists and schoolmasters, 1825-33
This series of correspondence covers a broad variety of subjects concerning the day to day running of the early government assisted church administered schools.


Board of National Education

NRS 613, Miscellaneous Letters Received, 1848-66
Reel 4001-4038
This series includes correspondence concerning the establishment of government schools, the provision of teachers etc.

NRS 619, Letters and Blank cover Memoranda received by the Secretary from the Chief Inspector, 1862-63
These letters and memoranda are arranged chronologically with indexes at the front of the volumes.

NRS 620, Blank cover memoranda received by the Secretary from District Inspectors, 1862-66
These memoranda are largely concerned with inspectors' reports as to the suitability of land for school sites.

NRS 637, Fair Minute Books,1848-58, 1863-66
Indexes to these minute books are available at NRS 638.

Denominational School Board

NRS 3710, Inspectors' Reports, 1856-66
These reports are of inspections of Roman Catholic primary and high schools and Church of England primary schools.

NRS 3711, Minute Books, 1856-66
These minute books contain minutes of weekly and special meetings of the Denominational School Board.


Council of Education

NRS 2621, Miscellaneous letters received, 1867-75
Reels 1784-96, 1798, 1802-03, 1844-50
This correspondence is arranged alphabetically by name of school.

NRS 2628, Letters and memoranda received from Inspectors, 1867-74
Reels 1798-99
The arrangement of this series is alphabetical by district and then chronological.

NRS 2638, Abstracts of quarterly and annual returns of public and denominational schools, 1867
These returns are arranged alphabetically by school district and then chronologically.

NRS 2639, Copies of letters sent, 1868-80
These volumes are arranged chronologically with indexes at the front of each volume.

Government Architect

NRS 4338, Plans and Specifications of Schools and School Residences, 1861-1910
The listing gives location of school, description of plan and date. Arrangement is alphabetical by school.

Surveyor General

NRS 13875, Catalogue of plans of land for national and public schools, 1849-87
This catalogue is in rough chronological order.


Department of Education

NRS 3829, Schools files, c.1876-1979
A listing of these files is available in the reading room. The publication Government Schools of New South Wales is a useful companion to these files.
See also the online index to Schools and related records.

NRS 3830, Subject files, 1875-1948
See Short Guide 6: Department of Education Subject files, 1875-1948.

NRS 15051, Photographic collection
Most photographs show school buildings, pupils, teachers, or educational activities.

NRS 3850, Copies of letters sent, 1880-1915
These letters cover administrative areas such as the establishment of new schools, buildings and their upkeep and general financial matters.

NRS 3851, Copies of letters sent concerning the administration of public schools, 1880-1896
This series contains correspondence concerning general administrative matters such as applications from teachers and promotion and classification of teachers, as well as admission of children into the orphan schools.

NRS 3852, Copies of letters sent by the Chief Inspector, 1890-96

School sites

The following selection of records may provide useful information for those researching particulars of school sites.

NRS 3965, Registers of deeds of school sites, 1850-96
These registers are arranged by name of school. They give a description of the site, a sketch plan and date of deed. A good site plan normally accompanies the entry.

NRS 3969, Register of school sites, 1900-68
This register gives name of school, location of site, area and portion, date of acquisition and how obtained.

NRS 3968, Card catalogue of leased properties, 1923-49
This catalogue provides the name of school, type of building, area of site, name and address of lessor, term of lease, expiry date and annual rental.

NRS 3988, Site register cards, 1930+
These cards record details of school sites purchased and disposed of after 1880. Some give details of buildings constructed and generally include a site plan.

Other Sources

The following sources are available for use in the reading room:

For information on teachers researchers should also consult Archives in Brief 19: Teachers 1788-c.1979.

*ARK signifies that a copy of the record or guide is part of the Archives Resources Kit and is held by the community access points.

© State of New South Wales through the State Records Authority, 2003.
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