Celebrating 175 years of learning in public schools

NSW public schools will throw open their classroom doors to families and communities during Education Week 2023.

The Ed Week 2023 logo. The Ed Week 2023 logo.

NSW public schools will throw open their classroom doors to families and communities during Education Week 2023, the annual celebration of teaching and learning in government schools.

Education Week this year has special significance as the NSW Department of Education marks 175 years of public education – focusing on learning from our past, celebrating our achievements and embracing the future with confidence.

Education Secretary Murat Dizdar said Education Week had been a highlight of the NSW public education calendar for more than 60 years. #EdWeek23 runs from 31 July to 4 August.

“Education Week celebrates the excellence that occurs every day in our 95,000 classrooms – the achievements of our students, teachers and school staff, and the support of our parents, carers and school communities,” Mr Dizdar said.

“The history of public education reflects the development of our State, from the slab hut schoolhouses in the Colony of New South Wales, where parents paid for teachers, to the free and modern schools we now build in high-growth areas in the State.”

In 1848 the Board of National Education was tasked by Governor FitzRoy to set up a system of public schools. Before that time schools were operated by religious denominations and charities.

The town of Kempsey was the birthplace of public education, with the establishment of the Kempsey National School in 1848 by the Board of National Education.

By 1851 there were 37 public schools in NSW educating 2,300 students. By 1900 – when there were only a handful of secondary public schools – students typically left school at age 12 to start work.

Today the NSW Department of Education is one of the largest education systems in the world, with nearly 800,000 students learning in 2,200 schools. The school leaving age is 17 and two-thirds of students finish 13 years of education in Year 12.

Mr Dizdar said Education Week was an opportunity to reflect on the value of public education, where every student was known, valued and cared for in a range of school settings to suit every learner.

“We want parents and carers to actively choose a NSW public school and be confident their children will receive an education of the highest quality from talented and committed teachers,” he said.

“Public education welcomes all students and proudly embraces equity and inclusion. All students, regardless of their postcode and life circumstances, deserve the same opportunities.”

Mr Dizdar was educated at Summer Hill Public School and Fort Street High School, one of the oldest public schools established in 1849 as Fort Street National School.

Fort Street High alumni include Australia’s first Prime Minister, Edmund Barton, Antarctic explorer Douglas Mawson, artist Margaret Preston, former High Court judge, Justice Michael Kirby, and golfer Jan Stephenson.

Other notable public education alumni include:

  • Former prime minister John Howard (Earlwood Public & Canterbury Boys High)
  • Former NSW Governor Dame Marie Bashir (Narrandera Public & Sydney Girls High)
  • Reserve Bank Governor Michele Bullock (Armidale High)
  • Lawyers Larissa Behrendt (Kirrawee High); Jennifer Robinson (Bomaderry High)
  • Writer Clive James (Kogarah Public & Sydney Technical High)
  • Actor Nicole Kidman (Lane Cove Public & North Sydney Girls High)
  • Sporting legends Don Bradman (Bowral Public & Bowral High); Evonne Goolagong Cawley (Barellan Public School & Willoughby Girls High); Marjorie Jackson (Cooerwull Public School & Lithgow High); Ian Thorpe (Milperra Public & East Hills Boys Technology High); Kurt Fearnley (Blayney High School); Mark, Glen and Gary Ella (Matraville High School) and nine members of the Matildas’ squad.

Education Week 2023 starts with a statewide livestream to all public schools on Monday 31 July at 10am.

Students can celebrate the history of their school or community in the ‘My History, Your History, Our History’ competition, with entries open until 15 September 2023.

Want to find the oldest schools in your region? Visit the school history database.

More information on #EdWeek23:

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