The History of Distance Education
The idea of correspondence lessons for children originated in Australia as part of the quest to provide educational facilities to sparsely populated areas of the country. New South Wales was the first to adopt the method at least in theory during the 1880s as part of their operation of half time schools. Teachers in their absence from their two respective schools were required to leave lessons for 'the continuance of learning'. It was not until 1908 with the emergence of travelling schools that correspondence lessons were incorporated as part of a learning regime.
Arthur Biddle, the first appointee to the travelling schools, devised a workable correspondence method and co-opted the services of literate adults to assist in the implementation.
Walter Finigan, the first Principal, put in place some insightful methods. He devised a numeric and graded leaflet system, each leaflet covering most prescribed subjects and by doing so set the pattern for teaching each child 'individually and sequentially'. In 1933 Correspondence Schools Broadcasts were introduced courtesy of the ABC.
In 1935, the Correspondence School magazine Outpost was first published, providing a progressive account of the school's development. Its high ideal was to unite enrolled students who then totalled 5778, and former students in the camaraderie of overcoming isolation. In 1938 Blackfriars, as it was affectionately known, gained international renown when Mr Finigan delivered the opening address at the First International Conference on Correspondence Education in Canada.
Indeed, Blackfriars became the model on which other nations based their own correspondence systems. By 1959, under the leadership of Harry Kellerman, the school reached its peak enrolment of 7420, the 1960s bringing steady decline in numbers together with increased wealth allowing children to go to boarding schools and improved roads linking families with larger country schools. During this period, Australian students living overseas and travellers were permitted enrolment.
With the introduction of the Wyndham Scheme in 1961, single subjects were offered to students who were unable to complete elected subjects at their local schools. The Department prided itself on the success of the Wyndham Scheme which had been made possible by the Correspondence School's ability to offer its services to the wider student population. It represented the exhaustion of correspondence school services which had been historically preceded by the supply of leaflets to subsidised schools from1932 and to the army in 1941.
The new millennium also ushered in an expansion in the use technology to improve administrative duties and the quality of teaching and learning. Every teacher received access to a computer and a centralised student database from their workstations. A computer lab was developed for study days. Videoconferences were held regularly with other staff at Distance Education Schools and students in ‘feeder schools’ such as Rivendell and Flametree SSPs. Online learning went from a few basic webpages about different courses to fully interactive and dynamic lessons where teachers are able to track and record each student's progress.
A changing of the guard began in the mid ‘noughties’. At the end of 2005 Steve Murray was appointed Principal at Open High School and in 2006, Alan Wright was appointed as our new Deputy Principal. In early 2007 Kathleen Compton was appointed Principal at Denison College of Secondary Education and at the beginning of 2008 Mark Piddington’s tenure as the new and current Principal commenced.
Since establishing itself at Woolloomooloo, the school has experienced a rapid growth in students and staff. During 2011, our enrolments grew to 1478 students. Fulltime equivalent student numbers have grown from 673 in 2007 to 820 by September 2011, a 22% increase. We are entitled to over 158 teachers and 23 support staff and now employ more than 200 fulltime and part time staff.
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