Also known as school magazines, school papers were originally developed in late 19th century Australia as a way to provide reading material to school children beyond the restricted readers and primers then in use. The first school paper, the Children’s Hour, was produced by the South Australian Education Department in 1889.
At that time in Australia, school reading lessons were dominated by the use of the Irish National Books, a series of readers originally developed for the Irish population that featured (Protestant) Christian scripture and lessons. These texts were a problem for the state after the establishment of compulsory primary schooling in the 1870s, which emphasised a secular education and—at least in South Australia (the colony that most insisted on the separation of church and state)—banned the use of the Bible as a basis for lessons. While the import of reading series from England such as the Royal Readers published by Thomas Nelson (introduced in South Australia in 1878) did address some of this need for secular content, the reading material they contained was becoming dated by the 1880s, and there were objections to the fact that local Australian children couldn’t relate to the focus on the English countryside, flora and fauna.
A new wave of educational reform, which would become known as the ‘New Education’, was calling for greater ‘interest’ in lessons and relevance to pupils’ lives. Such needs were referred to by Inspector-General John Hartley when the Children’s Hour was launched. He emphasised that reading should not become ‘tiresome’ to children, and that it was hoped that local teachers ‘would use their own literary powers’ to contribute local pieces. Importantly, in the Australian colonies, the production of a school paper would allow Education Departments to provide a variety of reading material at low cost to children spread thinly across vast distances, often without access to commercial reading materials.
This first school paper was an immediate success, with many families subscribing to take a paper in addition to those supplied to each school (at a cost of a halfpenny per issue). There were 3741 subscriptions by 1890 (out of approximately 45,000 children enrolled in total) and 6672 by 1891. It was used alongside the official Royal Readers until 1900, when it became the only text for the school examination for children in Class III and IV. In 1894, five years after its establishment, a second concurrent edition was published for Class III (approximately mid-primary), with the original being designated for Class IV—the then Compulsory Standard established as the goal for all primary school students. Eight years later, in 1902, a Class II (approximately lower-primary) edition was added.
The success of the Children’s Hour did not escape the attention of educational leaders in the other colonies. The colony of Victoria established its own school paper in 1896, followed by Western Australia in 1899. New South Wales first adopted a commercially published paper, the Commonwealth School Paper, in 1904 before establishing its own in-house School Magazine in 1916. The Queensland School Paper was introduced in 1905 and, around the same time, a Tasmanian School Paper, produced by the Victorian Education Department, was also introduced. The school papers of this period were focused on creating citizens and nation-building. School papers or magazines remained a mainstay of many school reading lessons for at least the first half of the 20th century. The Children’s Hour, for example, was published continually for 76 years before being discontinued in the mid-1960s.
School papers represented an important innovation in publishing for children in Australia. The foremost innovation was the conscious inclusion of local content featuring recognisable landscapes (the bush and the beach), climate (dust storms and drought), social settings (Christmas in summer), and flora and fauna. Its naming as a school ‘paper’ signalled that the Children’s Hour, for example, would feature a very broad range of text types, including puzzles, facts and figures about the colonies, poetry and stories, songs, current events and even sports reports. While the local material was written by teachers and inspectors, much was also sourced from the then burgeoning international commercial magazine market for children. Morally improving material was borrowed from magazines produced by religious societies in England and North America. In this way, the Education Departments found a way to introduce properly Protestant moral instruction without the use of the Bible.
Overall, school papers are an example of a successful local Australian innovation developed in response to particular demands of distance and restrictions on content.
REFs: P. Cormack, ‘Children’s School Reading and Curriculum Innovation at the Edge of Empire’, History of Education Review, 42(2) (2013); B. Green and P. Cormack, ‘Literacy, Nation, Schooling: Reading (in) Australia’, in D. Trohler, T.S. Popkewitz and D.F. Larabee (eds), Schooling and the Making of Citizens in the Long 19th Century (2011).