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Fifty years of scholarships and entrances

David Black

Black, David 2005, 'Fifty years of scholarships and entrances', in Sphinx Foundation, Perth Modern School: The History and the Heritage, B+G Resources, Cottesloe: 22-50.

For the public at large, the image of Perth Modern School, from within two to three years of its beginnings and lasting until the late 1950s, was of an elite government secondary school. Entry for the full four and then five years of secondary school study was by means of competitive examination only, with the so-called scholarship students (who had the alternative option of taking up their scholarships at selected country and independent schools) and Modern School entrance students, both selected on the basis of their performance in the same annual examination. From 1922, they were joined by a second tier of students admitted on the basis of their results in the Junior Certificate examinations, and these 'new fours' completed at Mod the final two years of high school leading to the Leaving Certificate examination. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the restrictive selection system, which applied for half a century for entry to the lower school classes, meant that the school attracted what might be regarded as more than its fair share of academically talented students, a situation reflected in its output of Exhibition and Rhodes Scholarship winners, and individuals with high profile careers in a wide variety of scientific and non-scientificf areas.

Given this situation, it is important to emphasise the point made by Brian de Garis in Chapter One, that in terms of the concept of restricted and highly selective direct entry from primary school, Mod, in this respect at least, differed markedly from the kind of school envisaged by the school's founder, Cecil Andrews. In fact, as de Garis has pointed out, this situation arose quite simply because, from the outset right through to


the late 1940s and early 1950s, successive state governments, while prepared to build a number of five-year government high schools in important rural centres - Kalgoorlie, Bunbury, Albany and Northam to name but a few - made no attempt to replicate the Modern School experiment in the Perth metropolitan area. To quote education administrator and historian Dr David Mossenson (himself a 'new four' Old Modernian):

With the failure to provide a second high school for the metropolitan area, the scholarship character of Perth Modern School was confirmed and Andrew's high school system acquired competitive entrance features of a type he had consistently opposed. 1

The state's population doubled from half a million to over one million within the first quarter of a century after the end of the Second World War. Not surprisingly then, the decision in 1958 to throw open entry to Modern School to students from surrounding primary schools, meant it became only one of a rapidly expanding array of 'comprehensive' government secondary schools across the metropolitan area.

Whatever the underlying causes however, retention for nearly fifty years of the competitive examination entry system to the one and only metropolitan five-year government high school (one which was free from fees for nearly all its history), meant that entry through the scholarship system became increasingly difficult to achieve, even with some small upward adjustment of the numbers admitted each year. This in turn ensured that Mod had access to an ongoing stream of highly able and talented students while, in theory at least, providing the opportunity for students from relatively impoverished circumstances to be taught by highly skilled teachers, alongside many of the very brightest students in the state.


A full-scale history of the operation of the scholarship system as it applied to Perth Modern School has yet to be written and when it is, will add greatly to the understanding of a number of important factors influencing the outcomes of educational programs and community standards. Those who have already written critiques of the system have attempted to validate such assertions as:

• the development of so-called scholarship classes in particular primary schools meant that many of the students securing entrance to Modern School owed their success to organised 'cramming' and were below average in their subsequent scholastic performance;

• the effect of this situation was to reinforce the advantages for children from particular middle class community groups at the expense of the less well-off whom the scholarship system was intended primarily to benefit; 2

• over the years there were ongoing problems of how to compensate for age differentials among those sitting for the scholarship; and

• the system of selection (as well as the subsequent educational experience at Mod) failed consistently to cater adequately for girls notwithstanding the fact that Mod was coeducational from the outset.

The major difficulty that has confronted those who sought to carry out a statistical analysis of these issues, is that the list of scholarship winners and the names of the primary schools from where they secured their entrance, were until very recently only available for a number, but by no means all, of the years between 1911 and 1958. From 1930 onwards, for example, the Education Department ceased to


publish lists of secondary school scholarship winners in the Education Circular and even before that date, it frequently did not publish the list of those who secured Modern School entrances: The school itself does hold reasonably complete lists of scholarship and entrance winners for the whole of the 1950s; but this has still meant that most of the lists in the 1930s and 1940s could only be compiled in varying degrees of completeness from newspaper records and lists compiled by organisers of student reunions.

Given the above situation, which applied for most of the period during which research for this article was undertaken, it was only by painstaking analysis of the handwritten admission and student record cards held by the school that tables could be compiled as to:

(i) how many scholarship winners actually came to Modern School;

(ii) from which areas of residence primary school students were most likely to take out their scholarship at a private school rather than at Mod or, in the 1950s, even to forgo enrolling at Modern School in favour of alternative government school educational opportunities.

Fortunately, in an important and totally unexpected breakthrough literally only weeks before publication, handwritten Education Department records came to light and these have filled almost all of the gaps in the lists of scholarship winners though not in the entrance lists for some of the earlier years. Honour boards are displayed at particular primary schools (most notably North Perth and Highgate) and these have also been of value in the task of compiling these lists. In the fullness of time, it should be possible to provide complete analyses covering the background and school careers of every student.

In the meantime, the focus of this article will be an attempt to provide a broad overview concerning the


development of the scholarship system over time and of certain aspects of the student population who entered at first year (Year 8) level over the years. Some initial broad conclusions will be offered concerning changing patterns of primary schools which produced significant numbers of scholarship and entrance winners, and changes overtime in the age specifications for those sitting the entrance examination, the extent of take-up of scholarships at Mod and the nature of the scholarship examination itself. Other issues, such as the extent to which Modern School did in fact provide ready access for talented students from less well-off families to obtain a high level education and the gender implications of the whole process, must await more detailed research but the raw material for such research is now readily at hand.

The First Ten Years: 1911 to 1921

When Mod opened its doors for the first time in February 1911, the 250 students (150 boys and 100 girls) had been admitted across all levels in the school. 3 The regulations for admission to Mod stated that boys and girls over twelve years of age could be admitted if they had passed the Sixth Standard in a government primary school or its equivalent in any other 'efficient school'. Fees were £6 per annum and 'ordinary' courses were to be for three or four years. By the end of the first year the school's enrolment stood at 226 but significantly at that time, only 33 of the students were under 14 years of age.

At the time Mod was opened, the Education Department awarded 30 junior monitorships worth £10 per year (providing usually for two year scholarships) and 50 secondary scholarships for three years with £20 per year each for the first 10 winners and £10 each for the remainder. Thirty-five (26 boys and 9 girls) of


the 51 students awarded secondary school scholarships at the end of 1910 accepted the opportunity to enrol in the first intake to Modern School. Of the other 16, almost all went to one of the metropolitan private schools which had been approved for such purposes including Christian Brothers College Perth, Scotch College, Church of England Grammar School in Guildford and Methodist Ladies College. Fifteen of the places in the top 50 had been won by students from Perth Boys Central School, with five from Midland Central School and four each from Fremantle Boys and Northam. In addition to the scholarships, 30 entrances to Mod (21 girls and 9 boys) were also granted, but these students apparently did not receive assistance with fees.

For 1912, 51 scholarships were awarded, of which 19 were won by students from either Perth Boys or Perth Girls schools and 9 from designated country schools. There were also a number of students awarded Modern School monitorships and bursaries. Only 29 (15 girls and 14 boys) of the scholarship holders came to Mod and by the end of the year only 23 of the 267 students were under 14. Of the scholarship holders who came to Mod in February 1912, the youngest had been born in December 1899 and the oldest in July 1898.

Towards the end of 1912, the Scaddan Labor Government announced the abolition of fees at government secondary schools and in so doing ensured that, in the absence of the provision of a second metropolitan full-scale government secondary school, competition for entry to Mod would become increasingly fierce. In 1913, 50 scholarships were awarded along with 66 entrances, and this began what became the settled pattern for several decades, of about 50 secondary scholarship holders being eligible to enter along with 50 plus (usually 60 to 70 to allow for those scholarship winners not accepting entry to Mod) who were offered entrances to Modern School based on results in the same examination. The first priority for


entrance to Modern School was given to scholarship holders and then to entrances selected in order of merit By 1914, the regulations stipulated that students must be over 12 and not more than 13-and-a-half on the last day of the year in which the scholarship examination was held. Up to a maximum of one-fifth of the scholarships were to be reserved for students from country schools which had to have fewer than 200 students each. Those too old to be awarded scholarships could still compete for Modern School entrances provided they were no older than 14 and a half at the beginning of 1914. From 1915, there were income restrictions on the travel benefits obtainable with the award of a scholarship but the absence of tuition fees meant that admission to the school was effectively itself equivalent to a scholarship.

Although the school population from 1913 onwards was increasingly to be filled by scholarship and entrance holders, vacancies were still retained for a time in the older parts of the school for other candidates. Of the 344 students on the roll at the beginning of 1914, the headmaster reported there were 55, 67, 37 and 42 respectively in each of the four years of study. Total new admissions for 1914 by his reckoning included 32 scholarship holders, 72 with entrances and 32 others admitted on application. Perth and Fremantle Boys and Perth Girls School between them accounted for 21 of the 50 students to win scholarships in that year.

Significantly, the move to free tuition at government secondary schools was in line with the previous decision to establish the University of Western Australia without tuition fees 4 and in 1913, the new university commenced to function in temporary premises in the heart of the city. In the same year the Public Examinations Board was established - until that time all the external examinations had been those provided by the University of Adelaide - and by 1914, Modern School students were able to sit for the Junior and Leaving Certificate examinations after two and four years of study. In this regard it is worth noting the analysis carried out by the Headmaster in


his 1915 report, in which he traced the educational progress of 29 scholarship holders admitted in 1911, indicating that 20 of the 29 had stayed for full four years and all but two had succeeded at the end. Detailed analysis of this kind over the years is an important aspect that requires future research.

Details of the actual scholarship and entrance examination used in October 1913 were published in the Education Circular of December of that year (the full text of the exam and of at least two of the later examinations will be included in the CD accompanying this publication. 150 marks were awarded for the Arithmetic section, 50 for Mental Arithmetic, 100 for the Geography section, 250 for the English paper, 50 for Dictation and 100 for the History examination.

A total of 10 hours and twenty minutes was allowed for completion of all the sections of the examination. Over the next few years the examination was along the same linii, but there were constant references in the Education Circulars to the provision of alternative history questions, such that students could answer without special preparation beyond their normal class work.

At the beginning of 1915, 40 of the 50 scholarship winners chose to come to Mod. 14 of the original 50 had won their scholarships from Perth Boys, and 13 of the rest from either Fremantle Boys or Girls, Perth Girls or Claremont Central, with 4 from Albany and 3 from Kalgoorlie. 69 entrances were granted and a further 27 were admitted on application. In the following year, it was announced that commencing in 1917, the length of the courses leading to the Junior and Leaving Certificates would be extended to 3 and 5 years respectively and the scholarship age limited to candidates of 12 to 13 years of age. In the meantime, in May 1914, in response to local demand, and reflecting its electoral reliance on the goldfields, the Scaddan government had opened Eastern Goldfields High School, situated between Kalgoorlie and Boulder, which also catered for students through to Leaving Certificate level. By 1917, Northam and


Geraldton provided three-year courses up to Junior Certificate level, and to these were added Bunbury and Albany in 1918. Northam was opened as a full High School in September 1921, Bunbury in February 1923 and Albany in February 1925, but Geraldton not until 1939. As Kaye Tully has pointed out, these latter schools, commencing as what were known as District High Schools, were 'established in response to departmental requirements, rather than to local initiative', 5 and the regulations made it clear that scholarship and entrance winners were to take up their awards at the district high school nearest to their homes rather than at Perth Modern School, a regulation which it might be suggested was often honoured in the breach rather than the observance.

Notwithstanding these developments in country areas, the metropolitan area continued to have only one government secondary school catering for the full course up to Leaving Certificate level. By the time students were being selected for entry to Mod in 1916, the only vacancies higher in the school for boys were for a few who had reached Junior Certificate standard, although there were some for girls aged over 14 and a half, provided they had studied Algebra and Geometry for one year. The gradual reduction of alternative methods of entry to the school was clear from the headmaster's 1916 report that 37 students were admitted as secondary scholarship holders, 69 with entrances and only 15 others on application.

In 1917, 490 candidates competed for scholarships and for entrance to Mod. Those metropolitan government secondary school students who did not attain entry to Mod went to a number of so-called central schools, first established in 1909 with the reclassification of a number of the larger existing elementary schools - Perth Boys, Perth Girls, Fremantle Boys, Fremantle Girls (Princess May), Claremont and Midland - to absorb older students from surrounding districts. As


has already been seen, students who completed their primary education at these central schools won a significant proportion of scholarships in the early years. This pattern began to change when growth of numbers in the post-primary classes at Perth Boys and Perth Girls Central Schools led to the decision to locate their primary level students elsewhere and cater exclusively for the first three years of post-primary study. This then meant that the only students to win scholarships from either of these schools were those who had been promoted ahead of their peers, or who, because of a birthday late in the year, were too young to sit for the scholarship at the time of their last year in an ordinary government primary school.

If the success of Perth Modern School greatly increased the demand for secondary education at the various government schools - the numbers enrolled aged 14 years and upwards went from 1589 in 1911 to 3462 in 1918 - it is important to note that the numbers attending non-government schools were likewise rising steadily - from 1159 to 2065 in the same period. 6 Even so, a deputation of secondary school headmasters approached the Minister for Education, expressing their concern that scholarship winners were not made aware that they could take their scholarships at private schools and seeking financial compensation for the state's entry into the secondary education field. 7

The next phase occurred in the immediate post-war years. Modern School was increasingly unable, due to lack of accommodation on its Thomas Street site, to provide the additional places required to cope with the growing demand for post-Junior Certificate level education. (In 1920, 533 sat for the entrance examination.) This led to a short-lived experiment, whereby Perth Boys and Perth Girls schools were allowed to operate fourth and fifth year classes with the first such students sitting for the Leaving in 1920. 8


This situation lasted until 1922, when the Modern School classroom accommodation was expanded to absorb additional students from the central schools who had been successful in the Junior Certificate examination. A new gymnasium and workshops were built and the existing rooms converted into science buildings, with the old science rooms then becoming ordinary classrooms.

The reaction of the existing students in 1921 to the proposed entry of about 150 fourth and fifth year students can be gauged from the editorial in the Sphinx:

We feel sure that the present students will extend a cordial welcome to these strangers and that after a few months in our congenial surroundings they will feel thoroughly happy and at home. These changes, however, make it incumbent on every present student to maintain the old identity of the school with its high ideals in play field and in classroom. 9

As already indicated, the changing nature of the Perth-based central schools meant there were corresponding changes in the pattern of schools from which scholarships were won. In all, 52 students won scholarships in 1920 for entry in 1921, including 6 country scholarships, most of which went to students who would not otherwise have been in the first 50 ranked places. 31 scholarship winners came to Mod, 5 went to Eastern Goldfields High School, 2 to Bunbury District High School and the remaining 14 to private schools in the city. While 7 scholarship winners had attended Fremantle Boys, the number from Perth Boys and Perth Girls combined dropped to 4, while Sacred Heart Convent in Highgate and Subiaco Primary School (which apparently at this stage did offer postprimary classes) 10 now provided 6 scholarship winners,


following on from 5 and 3 respectively in both 1918 and 1919. Students from Subiaco also won 6 entrances in 1920.

In 1921, the number of scholarships won by students from Subiaco rose to 10 (plus 5 who secured entrances) and Sacred Heart to 8. Interestingly, while all but one of 10 Subiaco school winners came to Mod, all of those from Sacred Heart remained with the same school or attended CBC Perth for their secondary education. Over the decades which followed, the number of Catholic students who came to Mod was well below the pattern of the Protestant denominations: perhaps the most well-known student to win a scholarship (and rank first in the State) from a Catholic primary school but choose to remain within the Catholic system was Dorothy Tangney, who in 1943 became Australia's first woman senator.

It is interesting to note in passing that in the early years scholarship and entrance results were always published in the order of merit, but from the mid-1920s onwards, the results were published alphabetically, though the rank order can be ascertained in many instances from alternative sources.

The 1920s and 1930s

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, the continuation of the government's emphasis on secondary education for country students had the effect arguably of denying 'to most members of a future generation of metropolitan students that access to secondary schools which was so much more freely available to their rural counterparts'. 11

Thus in 1933, there was one five-year government high school serving 52 per cent of the State's population, compared with six catering for the 43.5 per cent living in the rest of the State, other than the north and remote


outback areas. While private schools met some of the demand, the strong competition for entry to Mod was the obvious manifestation of the situation.

For the Modern School headmaster, however, the greatest sources of dispute during the 1920s arose over the new policy of admitting post-Junior Certificate students from central schools. Several areas of contention arose over the next few years, even after proposals had been rejected from the Perth Boys School headmaster, which would have provided some role for his school in the post-junior education of his students. In 1931, Parsons

apparently complained about a 'flood of applicants' for upper school admission. Four years earlier, Andrews had clarified that those admitted must have passed at least four subjects, including English at the Junior Certificate level, and have studied French successfully for two years, and selection would be confined to students from Perth and Fremantle Boys and Girls School, Claremont Central and Geraldton District High School (which at that stage still only offered courses up to Junior Certificate level).12 Other clarifications suggested that students from Midland Junction Central would also be eligible for entry to Mod, as the nearest five-year school available to them. Andrews' successor, Wallace Clubb, introduced further restrictions embodying special requirements in mathematics and sciences, with those not admitted to Mod referred to a full-time day matriculation course being established at Perth Technical College.13 By 1940, almost 30 per cent of all full time upper secondary students in government schools throughout the State were in fact in matriculation classes at Perth Technical College. 14

Similar arguments were aired from time to time concerning regulations requiring that non-scholarship students seeking entrance to Modern School would be obliged to attend their nearest district high school. Thus, a formal query from the Education Minister to the


Education Department Director on 28 June 1927 followed complaints that country students were occupying places at Mod, at the expense of city students, when a nearby country high school had places available. In these instances, assurances were offered that such students must attend the nearest available high school, but there is little doubt that the parents of many country students did all they could to secure entry to Mod, rather than a local district high school.

The most significant debate about the scholarship system during the 1920s and 1930s, however, focused on two issues concerning the selection process, namely the age requirements for the scholarship and entrances respectively, and the alleged 'coaching' and other class preparation factors which enabled students from certain primary schools to win entry to Mod, at the expense of potentially more talented students at other schools.

In 1936, the Education Department 15 announced a major revision of the age requirements to apply for the first time to those seeking entry for the 1938 school year. Under the new regulations, students could only sit for the scholarship/entrance examination in the year in which they turned twelve. As before, scholarship winners would receive a grant towards the cost of their books plus travel allowances if they lived more than two miles from school and, in some instances, a living away from home allowance subject to an income test. One-fifth of the scholarships would be reserved for students attending country schools (schools with not more than four teachers and not within two miles of a larger school). From 1938 onwards, the regulations further provided that students awarded an entrance could also receive a living away from home allowance subject to an income test, and for almost all purposes (other than the option to take out the scholarships at a private school) the distinction between the two levels of entry seemed to have disappeared.


The new age regulations for the examination seem to have emerged in response to a sustained agitation by the Teachers' Union, and specifically the findings of a report by W H Anderson undertaken for the Union's Education Committee. 16 Anderson's report is stated in the State Library catalogue to have been produced circa 1938, but much of the data contained therein relates to the scholarship examinations in the first half of the 1930s. Indeed, in the Education Circular for September to October 1941, reference is made to a ten-year survey of Modern School records by 'Mr Inspector W H Anderson MA'. In the preface to his study, Anderson indicates that future Modern School headmaster and Union president Noel Sampson was originally to have participated in the study, but was then promoted to inspectorial level.

At the time Anderson was preparing his report, the regulations provided that children over 12 on 31 December and under 13 on 31 October could compete for scholarships which provided books. Junior and Leaving entrance fees and travelling and living away from home expenses where such were required. Older children under 13 years and 6 months of age on 31 December could sit for entrance to Mod but not for the scholarship, while younger children who did not secure a scholarship would still be eligible for an entrance. Effectively, Anderson argued, students with birthdays in November and December could sit the scholarship examination again in the following year if they failed at the first attempt; those born between July and October could sit for the scholarship in one year and try again for the entrance only on a second occasion; while those born between January and June would have one opportunity only. He did, however, then go on to point out that if a one-year spread was adopted this would give a permanent advantage to those born earlier in the year and hence older at the time the examination was undertaken. The existing 18 months time spread did the effect of removing


the advantage to the older students, but in the process had overcompensated in the opposite direction.

Anderson's findings based on scholarship exams in 1932, 1934 and 1935, were that a significantly higher number of younger students (219 compared with 151) were successful under the existing regulations. Indeed, of all the students enrolled at Perth Modern School in 1936, 293 were born in the second half of the year compared with 193 in the first half. However, he also argued that if the regulations were adjusted so that all students could sit only once, namely in the year they turned twelve, this would give an even greater advantage to those born in the first half of the year. Anderson's solution to the problem reflected the views of the Teachers' Union Education Committee which, following the Union's 1934 Conference, had been pressing for a 'weighting-for-age' scheme to be applied to the examination results. 17 His proposed solution was to alter the regulations so that each student would only have one opportunity for sitting the examination, while at the same time adding to the score achieved a weighting of 3/4 per cent per month of birth of possible marks (i.e. add 1.5 marks for those born in January rising to 18 for those born in December) to compensate for the disadvantages then facing younger children. (In this regard the present author is aware that when he sat for the scholarship in 1948 there was a differential of 1.5 marks out of 200 for each month in the year a student was born, that is exactly in line with Anderson's recommendations, though there is some suggestion that this weighting may have increased during the 1950s.)

Anderson had also argued that his weighting system would remove any arbitrary advantages to either gender, and, to improve the situation further, he urged that intelligence tests be included in the examination


each year as had been the case in the 1936 examination, both to enable verification of the selection process and also to be used in deciding between borderline cases. Again, from the author's own experience in 1948, it seems that intelligence tests were frequently administered, and Modern School and scholarship records indicate that IQ scores were regularly used in the 1940s and 1950s in the process of selecting additional candidates for entrance, beyond those who secured automatic places from their ranking in the examination.

The other issue which Anderson addressed in his report and which was subsequently highlighted by the Teachers' Union in 1939 and then by the Education Department itself in 1940, was the claim that the selection process was being distorted by 'coaching' in scholarship classes at certain primary schools. In the section on Western Australia in an Australiawide survey of state educational systems published in 1927, reference was made by the author (future Director-General Wallace Clubb) to the problems arising in 'determining the right of a child to secondary education', given that between 500 and 600 students were sitting the Scholarship examination each year. 18 Of especial concern was the notion that 'crammed' pupils would oust others of higher intelligence, and that it was difficult to set examination papers that would be 'proof against the crammers' art'. For this reason, it was stated the decision had been taken to remove the examinations in history and geography from the scholarship test, which was subsequently confined to arithmetic, English and dictation tests (an intelligence test from the mid-1930s onwards). The English papers were said to be set to test the capacity for 'understanding the language and of using it freely' while the arithmetic questions were to be according to the 'ordinary course'. Interestingly, Chubb argued that an experiment in 1924 provided evidence for


the proposition that older-style Composition and Essay papers and Arithmetical problem papers sorted out candidates better over a greater range of marks than was the case with mere intelligence test papers.

As is discussed further in Chapter 4: Polities for Change - Changing Mod, Anderson's work reflected the growing concern by the mid-1930s over cramming and its logical corollary, coaching. Kaye Tully has referred to a letter from the Inglewood Parents and Citizens' Association written in 1934 which expressed the Association's concern that the examinations were essentially testing the coaching skills of the teachers, rather than the abilities of the students. 19 In his report, which presumably arose out of the Union's conference in that year, Anderson provided scholarship entry results from four schools (only identified as Schools A, B, C and D) which between them, according to his figures, provided 14 per cent of the candidates, but won 34.5 per cent of all the awards in aggregate in 1929, 1932, 1934 and 1935: one school alone (School B) provided only 3 per cent of the candidates but won 15 per cent of the awards. The Inglewood parents suggest that the dominant schools in 1932 and 1933 were in fact North Perth and Highgate Primary Schools and Perth Boys and Perth Girls central schools. In endeavouring to explain these statistical discrepancies, Anderson rejected such explanations as the size of the enrolment deliberate culling of weaker candidates and special school organisation, concluding that the critical factor was fundamentally the provision of special teaching aimed at winning scholarships. He suggested that an analysis of scores from an intelligence test administered to candidates in 1936 confirmed his finding.

In terms of the consequences of this situation, Anderson argued that over 40 per cent of those students who left the school in less than three years came from the four


'scholarship schools', while the same schools provided 14 per cent of exhibition winners i.e. about the same percentage as they had sitting for the exam in the first place. From this, he concluded that 'excess awards due to special scholarship teaching bring into High Schools no students of superior capacity, while they do account for the majority of those manifesting maladjustment'.

Anderson's recommendations for remedying the situation included abolishing the scholarship/entrance distinction to reduce the incentive for coaching, awarding scholarships on the basis of results at the first year of high school (a move which would only have exacerbated the selection problem given the failure of successive governments to provide a second five-year government high school in the metropolitan area) and transferring successful scholarship winning teachers to central schools to teach 'higher classes'. He included reference to the notion of having awards made by head teachers and district inspectors on a population basis for each district after 'consideration of students' general academic performance', a policy initially favoured by the Union, which then however turned its attention to improving the reliability of the examination. 20 As it was, the coaching issue remained a live, with the Teachers' Union running a front page story in the October 1939 issue of the WA Teachers Journal headed 'Sweat-Shop Education for Scholarship Examination', with the writer quoting extensively from the findings of a Professor Valentine in England and his studies as reported in the Primary School. The Union's writer claimed that coaching and 'this nefarious practice of cramming' was even rife for the intelligence test component of the examination, and that the teacher who indulged in such practices was admitting 'either that the ordinary class work as conducted in his school is inefficient or that the pupil's natural ability is below scholarship standard'. In the same month, the


Education Department issued instructions to its headmasters that they were to ensure that 'no special scholarship classes were formed in their schools' and that 'no training aimed at winning scholarships was given'. 21 There were, however, divisions amongst parents with that 'teachers were to be complimented for showing such concern and for their pupils'.

The Education Department returned to the attack in the Education Circular of September-October 1941, citing resolutions against coaching for winning scholarships that had been passed at the Conference of the Institute of Inspectors earlier in the year. Amongst the practices condemned were:

(i) conducting special classes before and/or after school hours;

(ii) segregating particular students for special work in Arithmetic and English;

(iii) retaining in scholarship classes students of scholarship age who should have been promoted; and

(iv) 'worst of all if true', coaching children in intelligence tests.

The short article concluded with the suggestion that if it were true that 'such intensive training - aimed at outwitting examiners - frequently results in the award of children of inferior mental capacity, who are thus unable to profit by the academic curriculum of Perth Modern School', and that 'one of the most potent factors in reducing the predictive value of scholarship examinations is special teaching directed at scholarship winning ... then to suggest that teachers should refrain from conduct which might be deemed unethical must be quite unnecessary'.

Obviously substantial research is called for, not only to validate Anderson's conclusions, but also to


discern whether there was any significant change to this situation in the 1940s and 1950s. Nevertheless, some preliminary detail can be provided concerning certain specific trends in the range of schools from which scholarship winners came, and also the extent to which scholarship winners chose to attend Modern School, given that until the 1950s, scholarships could be taken up at a range of approved non government schools.

For a time in the mid-1920s, the most successful school in winning full scholarships (as distinct from entrances) continued to be Sacred Heart High School in Highgate, which produced 11 scholarship winners in 1923, 8 in 1924 and 10 in 1925, though the pattern continued whereby only two of these students per year chose to attend Modern School. In 1924, Highgate School won 5 scholarships, followed by 5 in each of the next 4 years, plus many entrances (for example, 9 in 1926, 13 in 1927 and 7 in 1928). Over the same period, 5 to 6 scholarship winners per year came from each of Perth Boys Central and Perth Girls Central; 3-5 winners per year came from Subiaco Primary School; while from 1927 onwards for a few years, Cottesloe won on average about 6 scholarships a year plus a number of entrances. The number of winners from country schools was steadily dwindling, perhaps not surprisingly with the changing population distributions, but the trend was possibly exacerbated by the Depression, as Jenny Gregory has suggested. 22 Then, in 1929 came the emergence of North Perth, presumably School B in Anderson's study, which won 11 scholarships and went on with Highgate to dominate the scholarship and entrance winning lists in the 1930s (see Table 1 opposite). Perth Boys and Perth Girls were also prominent in the early part of the 1930s, but the number of winners from those two schools fell away towards the end of the decade, and it needs to be remembered that all scholarship and entrance winners from the two central schools were students who had completed their primary education before the year in which they turned twelve.


By comparison, Cottesloe won 20 scholarships and 20 entrances during its most successful period between 1927 and 1930; Claremont Central students secured 4 scholarships a year on average for much of the period from 1933 to 1936 and 32 entrances in total from 1935 to 1938; and Inglewood produced 5 scholarship winners in each of 1937 and 1938 and 7 in 1939. Nedlands School, which was to become increasingly prominent in the 1940s and 1950s, won 4 scholarships and 9 entrances in 1937, 3 scholarships and 10 entrances in 1938 and 2 scholarships and 5 entrances in 1939.

Interesting fluctuations, to which reference has already been made, concern the number of scholarship winners who chose to enrol at Modern School, with the alternative options


being a country government high school or city based independent in the three years from 1923 to 1925, 30 or less of the 50 scholarship winners came to Mod, whereas from 1926 onwards, right though the Depression years, the number was close to 40 or even higher. Then in 1934, the number choosing this option dropped to 32 and stayed at that level or even lower for most of the rest of the decade, with a small one-off increase in 1937.

1940s and 1950s

The 1940s began with a new headmaster, Noel Sampson, at the helm in Modern School, but the scholarship system continued to produce a consistent stream of winners from particular schools. Formal complaints concerning coaching seemed to fade away, notwithstanding the very high achievement rate in particular schools, most notably North Perth. In this instance, anecdotal evidence points to a major contribution by one teacher, Ernest Smith, who taught at the school from 1923 to 1949 during the tenure of three different Headmasters, and in his later years became Deputy Headmaster. Comments from former students and colleagues in the North Perth school history, suggest that 'he was strict, relentless in his pursuit of excellence and a first-rate teacher', 'firm and kind, like a strict loving father figure', 'he taught all subjects and his scholarship results were the fruits of his brilliant teaching', and 'the most dedicated and hard working teacher of my experience'. By contrast, one former student suggested that because he was not interested in joining the scholarship class, he was left out of the school football team, notwithstanding Smith's passion for sport. 23

Smith's teaching may have been critical, but even after he left the school, the high rate of achievement


continued at least until the mid-1950s. Certainly, from the author's own experience and discussions with colleagues, it can be argued that whether or not there were special classes before or after school, the presence of a highly experienced teacher for the main scholarship class was a major factor in the various schools' success rates, but peer group pressure was also significant. Thus, the author himself was in a class which produced twice as many scholarship and entrance winners from his own schoool, than was the case in any of the ten surroundingyears, and this despite the fact that the same teacher was involved for most of this period. South Perth (Forrest Street) School was to have the same experience with a stellar performance in 1954.

While there were few modifications to the scholarship system during this era, one sign of the times was the introduction in 1948 of a preliminary (qualifying) examination conducted and assessed within each of the contributing schools, to lessen the numbers sitting for the main examination later in the year. From the mid 1940s onwards, too, many male students including scholarship winners, found themselves posted to. buildings previously occupied by neighbouring Thomas Street Primary School, whose own enrolment had dropped away, even as the pressure on Modern School for admission continued to increase. Indeed, in 1944, for a short time, Perth Boys was once more allowed to admit students at the post-Junior Certificate level but, as in the 1920s, this experiment was shortlived.

By the 1950s, as the pressure for entry built up, those granted entrance to Modern School at first year level included not only scholarship winners and those initially offered entrances on the basis of their results in the scholarship examination proper, but also others picked from a so-called IQ list, where the students were ranked by their scores on the concurrently administered intelligence test. To these were added a number of students from a so-called emergency list.


The fact was, however, that the distinction between the various categories of entrance had almost no impact or significance beyond a grant for books and number of cases and, within the school, those who attended for all five years found that their original status of entry very quickly faded into insignificance.

During the 1940s, North Perth (see Table 2) continued as the highest achieving school in terms of total scholarships and entrances, with Nedlands taking the place of Highgate as the second most prolific source of students. As far as can be ascertained, the 28 scholarship and entrance winners from North Perth in 1949 is the highest total from any school in any one year. Interestingly, of the 28 a total of 9 (5 scholarships and 4 entrances) were won by Jewish students, an aspect which deserves further analysis. Subiaco was very prominent in the mid-1940s, winning a total of 30 scholarships and entrances in 1945 and 1946 alone, but thereafter produced an average of 4 to 5 a year, as did South Perth and West Leederville, rising to 8 or 9 in their best years.


During the first half of the 1950s North Perth and Nedlands continued to win numerous entrances but from 1955 changing demographic patterns and the growth of schools such as North Inglewood and Mount Lawley led to the intake from North Perth fading away. In 1955 students from Mount Lawley Primary School (and on occasions the High School) won 4 scholarships and 7 entrances, in 1956, 9 entrances and in 1957, 6 scholarships and 3 entrances. Floreat Park also emerged from 1955 winning 22 entrances in the first three years.

One school where a particular peer group had high rates of success was South Perth with 6 scholarships and 8 entrances in 1954, while West Leederville won 6 scholarships and 9 entrances in 1952, 5 scholarships and 10 entrances in 1953,3 scholarships and 15 entrances


in 1954, 4 scholarships and 8 entrances in 1955 and 1 scholarship and 9 in 1956; an average of 14 awards a year compared with 6 a year in the second half of the 1940s.

In terms of the number of scholarship students electing to come to Mod, it is not easy to determine a regular pattern in the period from 1940 to 1958, when the last group made their choices against a background of the announcement by the Hawke Labor Government that Perth Modern School's days as a selective school were over. Over the years, when 40 or more of the 50 scholarship winners opted to come to Mod, this was a high figure, while around 30 or less was at the other end of the spectrum. In the early years of the war there was a high entry rate with a peak of 45 in 1941, but then there was a decline to the mid-30s in the second half of the decade except in 1946. In 1951, the figure again reached 40, but dropped again through the mid-30s to very low figures of 27 in 1955 and 30 in 1957, but with an aberration in 1956, when 40 of the scholarship winners accepted the invitation to come to Mod. Then came 1958, and with the Education Department itself advising students only to accept scholarships at Mod if they lived in the vicinity, only 16 of those who won scholarships after the government had announced the school's change of status, still opted to make the traditional choice. A total of 15 students with scholarships or entrances followed the department's advice and enrolled at Kent Street, their nearest school geographically. Those choosing the Modern School option came from primary schools in suburbs ranging from Floreat Park, Doubleview and Graylands to Bayswater, Inglewood and Mount Lawley.

The scholarship system, in its old form, lingered on for another year or two, but it no longer had any special application to Modern School. The last preliminary (qualifying) examination for secondary school scholarships was held on 20 May 1960 and the main examination a few months later. In the December 1960 Education Circular, it was announced that 'the present system of scholarships awarded at the end of primary education' was to be discontinued, with a new system of scholarship awards available from 1962 onwards. The 50 new scholarships for Years 1, 2 and 3 would be available to those students 'eligible for a boarding allowance when attending high school' and would be awarded by a Board chaired by the Superintendent of Secondary Education, and based on recommendations from District Superintendents. 50 additional scholarships were to be awarded for Years 4 and 5, with these based on marks earned in the Junior Certificate examination.


More than forty ears later, the wheel turned once more, with the announcement by the Education Department in 2005 that entrance to Perth Modern School would once more be based on a selective system designed to promote academic excellence. In such an environment, further research on issues raised in this chapter seems both desirable and inevitable.

Extract from From the Principal, Perth Modern School Newsletter, March 2005:

The recent announcement that Perth Modern School will become a school of excellence in the arts, sport and academically, follows a meeting of our school P&C executive with the Minister's assistant in April 2004. At that meeting, our parent body provided strong arguments in favour of the restoration and improvement of the school's grounds and buildings. However, the announcement extends well beyond their request. As well as providing $17 million for the upgrade of the site, Year 8 students entering the school from 2007 will undergo a selection process so that by 2011 (our centenary) the school will be refurbished and totally selective in enrolment.


1. David Mossenson, State Education in Western Australia 1829-1960, Nedlands: University of Western Australia Press, 1972, p.116.

2. This has been argued by Jenny Gregory in her article 'Education and Upward Mobility in Interwar Western Australia: the Case of Perth Modern School', Studies in Western Australian History, Vol. XI (1990) (Western Australian Between the Wars, 1919-1939), pp.83-95. Gregory describes (p.89) her article as an attempt to provide preliminary evidence for a 'major longitudinal study of the ultimate career paths of Perth Modern School students'.

3. For the first six years of Modern School's existence a report from the Headmaster was included with the Education Department's annual reports and these are the source of much of the information in the next few pages as well as the actual departmental reports and items from the Education Circular produced by the Department throughout each year.

4. Mossenson, State Education in Western Australia, p.114.

5. Kaye Leolene Tully, An Historical Study of the Emergence of the 1958 Comprehensive Secondary Education Policy within the Education Department of Western Australia. (MA thesis, Curtin University of Technology, September 1993, p.68.

6. Dorothea Bennie, A Brief History of Perth Modern School from 1911 to 1977, p. 27 (copy obtained from the author).

7. Education Department File No. 6/17 cited in ibid.

8. Mossenson, State Education in Western Australia, p.116.

9. Sphinx, Vol. 5 No. 2, p. 5 cited in Bennie, A History of Perth Modern School ..., p.28.

10. Gregory, 'Education and Upward Mobility in Interwar Western Australia', p.91.

11. Tully, A Historical Study of the Emergence of the 1958 Comprehensive within Western Australia, p.72.

12. Letter from Andrews to the head teacher, Perth Modern School dated 11 December 1927 and located in Education Department File A1444-27.This is cited in Tully, A History of the Emergence of the 1958 Comprehensive Secondary Education Policy ..., p.77.

13. ibid.

14. ibid. p. 116.

15. Education Circular, May-june 1936, pp.179ff.

16. W.H. Anderson, 'Scholarship: Weighting and Grouping for Age', being, an investigation into (a) the incidence of Scholarship and Entrance distribution in Western Australia, as It affects places in Perth Modern School (b) proposals for more equitable distribution of sucb places conducted for the Education Committee of the Teachers' Union of Western Australia, c1938.

17. Tully, An Historical Study of the Emergence of the 1958 Comprehensive Education Policy, p.113.

18. Wallace Clubb, 'Western Australia', in G.S. Browne, ed., Education in Australia: A Comparative Study of the Educational System of the Six Australian States, London: MacMillan and Co., 1927, pp.353-354.

19. Tully, An Historical Study of the Emergence of the 1958 Comprehensive Education Policy, p.113.

20. ibid.

21. Minute dated 12 October 1939 Included In Education Department File 1411/39 and cited in Bennie, A Brief History of Perth Modern School, p.120.

22. Gregory, 'Education and Upward Mobility in Interwar Western Australia', p.91.

23. The First One Hundred Years. North Perth School 1899-1999, Alpha Pilpel and Susan Levy eds), North Perth: North Perth Primary School Parents and Citizens' Association, 1999, p.39

Garry Gillard | New: 22 March, 2023 | Now: 24 March, 2023