THE RICH 90 YEAR HERITAGE OF THE NSW INSTITUTE FOR
Address in celebration of the 90th anniversary of the formation of the NSWIER in 1928. Presented on the occasion of the 2018 Sir Harold Wyndham Lecture on 28/11/2018. Kenneth E. Sinclair, Patron
We are “The First of its Kind” as proclaimed in the title of the book published by Rebecca Fleming chronicling the first 75 years of our Institute’s history. Yes indeed, we are the first professional society of educational researchers established in NSW and probably Australia. And as I will try to demonstrate that history parallels in many ways the development and contribution of education in NSW and Australia. The founding group who met in 1928 to establish the Institute was called together by Professor Alexander Mackie who had recently been appointed Professor of Education at Sydney University and Principal of Sydney Teachers College. Other members of the group included representatives from the Teachers College, the Kindergarten College, the University and the NSW Department of Education. And in the course of its history those groups of institutions have provided the majority of the membership, Presidents, Patrons and Executive. Of the 15 people present at the inaugural meeting at STC on the 13th April 1928 were Professor Mackie who was to be appointed the President, Professor Wallace, Vice-chancellor of the University of Sydney and SH Smith, the Director of NSW Education who became Patrons, Professor Lovell the foundation Professor of Psychology at Sydney University, and Miss Dumolo Principal of the Kindergarten College. Our Institute was originally named the National Institute for Educational Research, however, within 2 years of its founding, Professor Mackie and Professor Lovell, with a grant from the Carnegie Foundation were to set up another national body. It was called the Australian Committee for Educational Research (ACER) which was also to have a very significant role in Australian education which continues to this day. To distinguish between the very different purposes of the two new bodies our Institute was renamed the NSW Institute for Educational Research which was soon to be followed by similar institutes in most other Australian states. Looking at the lists of Presidents and Patrons for our Institute they include in the early years Mackie and Prof Chris McRae who succeeded him as Professor and Principal, and then distinguished professors and educators from many different Universities in Sydney and Newcastle down, more recently, to Ralph Rawlinson, Don Spearritt, and Ray Debus (Patrons 1989-2007), and to our own current President, Professor Christine Grima-Farrell. Directors from the NSW Department of Education have also played an important role. Represented in the lists are SH Smith and Peter Board. Peter Board (patron from 1941-1948) was to have a very strong role in the early development of public education in NSW including the establishment of Sydney Teachers College, introduction of the leaving certificate, and even the reconstitution of the University of Sydney senate. Later there was Harold Wyndham who was a long-term member and was Patron from 1973-1988, and David Vircoe. Finally, from Teachers Colleges and Colleges of Advanced Education we have Ivan Turner, Anna Hogg, Vic Couch, Dawn Thew, Joan Fry from the Kindergarten Teachers College, and Ralph Rawlinson who was a College Director and a NSW Commissioner of Education. My career which began in the 1950s spans some sweeping changes and developments in the last 60 years of education and educational research in Australia. The 1950s 60s and 70s were periods of particular change with consequential impact on the role and work of our Institute. For me it was Bathurst Teachers College in 1954-5, followed by an appointment to Auburn West Public School where I taught for 6 years while completing a BA degree as an evening student at Sydney University. Graduating BA with Honours in Education in 1962, I spent a year as a tutor in education at Sydney. I proceeded, then, on to the University of Illinois for Masters and PhD studies and, after a superb program of advanced coursework and research training, was appointed to a Lectureship at Sydney University in 1965. This career path was not uncommon for becoming a university lecturer in those days as university departments were still building a capacity for providing such training themselves. Huge transformative changes were also occurring in school education through this period as well. The Wyndham Scheme in the early 60s which was to be Sir Harold Wyndham’s legacy transformed a system of three-year junior high schools and a small group of highly selective five-year high schools leading to a Leaving Certificate, into a single system for all students of a six-year comprehensive high school education with a Higher School Certificate. I have my own story of meeting Harold Wyndham. Just before leaving for Illinois, Wyndham invited me to join him for afternoon tea in his office in Loftus Street. It was an engaging and very pleasant meeting. He spoke about his time at Stanford University studying for his doctorate where he formulated many of his ideas for a comprehensive secondary education system. I spoke about my goals and expectations and he gave me very good advice about getting the most out of my experience at Illinois – for me it was a very beneficial and memorable meeting. Then came the Whitlam years of the early 70s which saw more significant developments in school education as well as educational research and its funding. A Commonwealth Schools Commission was established which, among other programs, commissioned research investigations into education. Even more importantly a research funding body specifically for educational research, named The Education Research and Development Committee (ERDC), was established. Educational research took a huge step forward and received another boost in the early 1970s when an Australian Association for Research in Education (AARE) was formed at a small meeting at Newport Beach, which I attended. Through this period the State Institutes for Educational Research also grew stronger. In Sydney we met at the Sydney Teachers College on a monthly basis. Around 30-40 members would attend each meeting which usually included a research presentation by a member or guest. I was President in 1976. However, the sweeping changes taking place in education and educational research created some challenges as well, especially for the State Institutes. In 1978 the government withdrew funding from the ERDC and we lost our main research funding base. The success of the AARE (as a peak educational research institution in Australia) led to a decline in membership of our State Institutes and over time fewer general meetings took place. The NSW Institute responded by replacing the regular monthly meeting format and put its efforts into sustaining and strengthening the research focussed programs which it had established over the years. The regular meetings were replaced by a meeting of an executive committee, taking care to draw from as many universities as possible in Sydney and sometimes Newcastle and Wollongong. That process has taken time but fairly accurately sums up where our Institute is today as we celebrate our 90th birthday. Let me finish by briefly summarising our current programs. From its very early years our Institute has sought to provide special support for student researchers. Three programs are particularly concerned with this objective.
There is the Student Research Grants Scheme in which students in university research programs apply for grants to support their investigations. On average around 5 projects are funded each year. Records show that that in the past 10 years more than 60 students have received awards with a number of them going on to significant university careers. Grants have been awarded to students in a variety of subject areas – Educational Psychology, History of Education, Comparative Education, Educational Policy Studies, School Curriculum Studies, Human Development and Sociology of Education. Recently a generous donation has enabled us to offer a grant each year for an indigenous student researcher in education (the Maria Lock Award). Funding has also been supported over recent years by a grant from the Teachers Bank, one of our Institute sponsors.
Another long-standing initiative is the Student Research Forum at which student researchers gather to hear and give their own research presentations . This year that forum was held earlier this month at Macquarie University. In most years the forum attracts around 20-30 participants.
Along with the student research grants an award for outstanding post-graduate theses is also a long-standing program. That program honours Beth Southwell’s service to the Institute as its Secretary for many years.
We also publish an electronic research journal which attracts contributions from academic researchers around the world. It can be found on the internet under the title iIER.
As this evening, there is the annual Wyndham Lecture honouring Sir Harold Wyndham’s service to our Institute as a long-serving member and Patron, and his contributions as Director-General of Education in NSW.
Finally, we have sought to provide a voice for educational researchers by sponsoring large-scale conferences on topics addressing educational and community issues in education. Alan Watson, one of our current Patrons has been a strong force behind this initiative. There have been conferences on topics such as the teaching of reading and on educational measurement dating back to the 1970s. In 2016 and 2018 we sponsored highly successful conferences on the contentious literacy debate entitled “Literacy: What Works and Why”. The conferences took place at the University of NSW with distinguished national and international speakers and attracted 500 delegates in 2016 and a further 300 in 2018.
This evening we are announcing a very special new initiative in the appointment of a Distinguished Scholar to the Institute. We are pleased to announce that the first educational researcher to hold that appointment is Professor Andrew Martin, our speaker this evening and a very distinguished scholar indeed.
For our small and hard-working executive committees this is quite an ambitious program that is commendably delivered with a strong sense of commitment and purpose each year. But what lies ahead? As we are all well aware, we are engaged in a quite turbulent and often divisive debate about issues and changes proposed as to the purposes and structure of education.
There is the Gonski Report that has been widely embraced but facing serious problems in achieving its full and fair implementation and funding;
There are measurement issues relating to NAPLAN and the HSC;
There are proposals to expand early childhood education, which could become a tool for increasing educational opportunities and readiness of all children as they begin the later years of more formal education;
There is wide support for reviving our once highly respected Technical and Further Education system.
And the list goes on and on:
Most recently, for research, there are threats of ministerial veto over our peer review processes for ARC grants, of which educational research is a part. Our peer review process for grant selection and publication of research articles is of world standard and is a key component for establishing the very high world-wide reputation that our universities enjoy.
Many of the proposed changes are full of promise for enhancing our education system and enabling it to better meet the social and economic demands of the years and decades ahead. There are, however, threats and alarming possibilities as well. Judicious leadership is needed and educational research has an important voice to be heard in the debates. Well, it has been 90 years, 90 years of quite sweeping changes and progress in education and educational research. 90 years that we, as an institute, have not only survived, but survived well. And for the future, may our institute continue to prosper with an enduring sense of purpose and commitment to supporting education and educational research through to our centenary and well beyond. Thank you
Reference: Fleming, Rebecca THE FIRST OF ITS KIND: A history of the New South Wales Institute for Educational Research, New South Wales Institute for Educational Research, 2008. The use of material from t