First Australian state to offer public education marks 150 years

By Jackson Graham

March 9, 2022

James Merlino
James Merlino. (AAP Image/Luis Ascui)

Victoria, the first Australian state to introduce free education, this year is reaching the milestone of offering public education for 150 years. 

Education minister James Merlino this week marked the anniversary at Melbourne’s oldest continuously-operating government school, Essendon Primary, and is encouraging schools to share photos, documents or other vintage items online with the education department. 

Although the location of Essendon Primary has moved since it was founded as Pascoevale National School in 1850, original features still stand including the school bell – a relic from 1933. 

Victoria was one of the first states in the world to make education free, secular and compulsory to all children aged six to 15 years old with the Education Act 1872. 

The Education Act led to the creation of the Department of Education, which Victoria’s first Minister of Education oversaw.

“While many aspects of Victoria’s education may have changed, the idea that every child should have access to a free, secular, high-quality education, regardless of their background, will never change,” Merlino said. 

The Department of Education and Training is building a digital time capsule with the help of schools and already has 6,500 archive boxes collected and digitised. 

The government will oversee 62 new schools open in Victoria between 2019 and 2024 as part of a plan for 100 new schools by 2026.


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