This field study examines the changes in primary schooling in New South Wales from 1904 to 1922 in an attempt to provide an historical perspective on contemporary schooling. Two distinct phases are identified. The first of these is a settlement (1904-1916) dominated by the eclectic concerns of the New Education movement. It is argued that this settlement was a fragile arrangement held together by the rhetoric of prominent educationists but that it did not operate effectively at the classroom level. The contradictions inherent in it, and the bureaucratic resistance to which it was subjected, as well as the practical difficulties faced by teachers, meant that the settlement disintegrated into crisis when teachers’ frustrations were further aggravated by the effects of the Public Instruction (Amendment) Act of 1916 and popular perceptions of declining standards. The hardships caused by the First World War heightened the difficulties under which teachers were expected to work, adding to the turmoil. The crisis which began in 1916 and continued until Peter Board resigned, was characterized by a preoccupation with retardation and a growing interest in intelligence and achievement testing. The third and final chapter examines the wider social, economic and political concerns of the period and explores the connection between events in society and those in the schools.
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