Department for Education (South Australia)

The Department for Education (South Australia) is a state government department delivering school education throughout the state. Education in Australia at school level is managed by each state, though the Commonwealth government makes a significant contribution. The Department was established through the Education Act of 1875 which allowed for the establishment of public schools and contained provisions for compulsory schooling of children aged between 7 and 13.[1] As the state grew quickly into the 20th Century the Education Department expanded across the very large rural areas of the state. Post World War 2, rising birth rates, large scale immigration and increasing demand for secondary education led to very rapid growth in the Department. The number of Private schools grew in this period and with increasing State aid provided growing competition for the State education sector. In the post war period several of large reviews of education have taken place: in particular the Karmel[2] and Keeves reviews.[3] In 2017 there were 514 Schools and approximately 172,000 students within the Department.[4]

Department for Education (South Australia)
Agency overview
JurisdictionState of South Australia
Agency executives


The Minister for Education in the state government of South Australia is responsible to Cabinet for the Department. The CEO is responsible for administration of the Department under the Minister. Until recent years the CEO title was Director General of Education. The list of Ministers below includes Ministers since 1963.

  • Office of the Chief Executive
  • Office of the Deputy Chief Executive
  • Office of Schools
  • Office of Child Development
  • Policy and Communications
  • Finance and Infrastructure
  • Aboriginal, Student and Family Services
  • Teaching and Learning Services
  • Human Resources and Workforce Development


Education Department building, corner of Gawler Place and Flinders St Adelaide, circa 1925

The early settlers believed in a non-conformist tradition of self-help and opposed any State involvement in community services such as schooling where volunteerism could fill the role. They also opposed special privileges being given to the established church.[5] Soon after settlement in 1836 there were moves to set up community schools, often run by a church. They charged fees to support the teacher. One such school opened in 1847 at Mitcham, a few miles south of Adelaide, with Thomas Mugg the teacher, a former cabinet maker.[6] Interest in State involvement in schooling had changed by 1851 when the new Legislative Council passed an Education Act which established a Board of Education.[7] The Act made provision for support for school buildings and a stipend for teachers, paving the way for universal elementary education. However SA was the first state to make a clear separation between church and state in schooling. Only schools that provided non-denominational religious instruction were given support.[8]

In Britain and across Australia the idea of State education grew rapidly during the 1860s and '70s culminated in South Australia with the Education Act 1875 which established the Education Department more or less as it exists today. The act provided for free and compulsory education for children from 7 to 13.[9] By the turn of the century South Australia was becoming more prosperous and the need for a well educated population was becoming more evident. The idea of universal State education was a new concept for society at that time and debate continued about the nature of the education to be provided. A major issue was whether there should be a religious element in the instruction. South Australia dealt with the issue through Australia's first referendum, the 1896 South Australian referendum. The voters decisively supported the existing system, rejecting scripture classes and capitalisation support for religious schools.


There was almost no teacher training and the curriculum was largely devoted to rote learning. The University of Adelaide offered to take responsibility for teacher training and the University Training College opened in 1900. Secondary education at this time was only provided through fee paying private schools.[10] In 1908 Adelaide High School opened, the first free State high school in Australia.[11]

The number of free high schools spread slowly and in 1915 only amounted to 6.2 secondary pupils per thousand people. However this grew to 73 per thousand 1969. The focus of secondary education was strongly academic, following the English grammar-school tradition.[12] The Depression and World War 2 brought significant disruption to the education system. Teacher salaries were reduced during the Depression. The Qualifying Certificate was an important assessment at the end of primary schooling, indicating a standard of elementary literacy and numeracy. The QC was abolished in 1942 indicting that this level of educational achievement was no longer relevant and high school education was the norm.


During the 1950s the school curriculum was standard across the state. In primary schools there the same texts were used in all schools and there was little variation between schools in what was taught. By the end of the decade the greatest problem was the very rapid growth in enrolments due to a higher birth rate, large scale immigration and high school students staying at school longer. The demand for teachers is illustrated by the opening of new Teachers Colleges: Wattle Park in 1957, Western in 1962, Bedford Park in 1966 and Salisbury in 1968.[13]

During the latter part of the 1960s widespread social changes began to impact on the education sector both in schools and tertiary education sectors. There was a growing concern in the school sector for a more child-centred focus and in teachers having greater flexibility in their teaching methods. In 1970 the Director General of Education, Alby Jones released the Freedom and Authority Memorandum which stated quite unequivocally that principals were in control of their schools and had the power to develop a school ethos, interpret how curriculum guidelines were implemented and generally take responsibility for the school's manner of operation.[14] The Memorandum gained nationwide attention as an explicit statement of a change in philosophy in the operation of a major government department - towards more local control and more democratic approaches. It was followed by the establishment of School Councils which increased the authority of parents to oversee the direction of their local school. While the Director General was urging principals to exercise local control there was a matching expectation of principals to share school decision making with their staff.

In this climate of rapid change, the government commissioned a major review of education in the state which was published in 1971. Titled the Report of the Committee of Enquiry into Education in South Australia 1969–70 it was generally known as the Karmel Report.[15] The report of 649 pages was very comprehensive and stimulated widespread reflection and change. Professor Karmel was later commissioned to head a similar review into Australian education which was published in 1985.

During the mid '70s many new schools were built and in the primary sector in particular these were designed on the 'open space teaching' model. Individual classrooms were replaced with larger open spaces of up to 8 classes. They were designed to encourage teachers to work cooperatively and for children to be able to use withdrawal rooms and group work spaces.


In 1981 the Department published a major policy document titled Into the 80s. Our schools and their purposes.[16] It outlined a progressive view of the purposes of schools with eight areas of the curriculum, four priorities and twelve expectations. In continued the emphasis on strong local school influence on the curriculum and education of the "whole child".

After nine years of Labor government, the new Liberal government commissioned a second major review of South Australian schools and its report was published in 1982, known as the Keeves Report.[3] The report recommended greater specificity in the curriculum and observed that Into the 80s gave little indication of the degree of emphasis required for a large number of expectations. It also recommended that the curriculum of each school be reviewed on a regular basis.[17]

In 2012 the Family Services Department and Education Department were combined as The Department of Education and Child Development in an attempt to provide more unified services for children. The arrangement became controversial following highly publicised investigation by the state Ombudsman into the reporting of child abuse incident.[18] The departments were separated in 2016

Education Development Centre

The Education Development Centre in the inner western suburb of Hindmarsh is a conference centre owned by the Department, for use by the Department, the wider education sector and for private hire by the business sector.[19]

Ministers of Education

Minister Tenure Began Tenure Ended Government
Baden Pattinson Dec 1963 Mar 1965 Liberal & Country League (Playford)
Ronald Loveday Mar 1965 Apr 1968 Labor (Walsh & Dunstan I)
Joyce Steele Apr 1968 Mar 1970 Liberal & Country League (Hall)
John Coumbe Mar 1970 Jun 1970 Labor (Hall)
Hugh Hudson Jun 1970 Jun 1975 Labor (Dunstan II)
Don Hopgood Jun 1975 Sep 1979 Labor (Dunstan II)
Harold Allison Sep 1979 Nov 1982 Liberal (Tonkin)
Lynn Arnold Nov 1982 Dec 1985 Labor (Bannon)
Greg Crafter Dec 1985 Oct 1992 Labor (Bannon)
Susan Lenehan Oct 1992 Dec 1993 Labor (Arnold)
Robert Lucas Dec 1993 Oct 1997 Liberal (Brown & Olsen)
Robert Buckby Oct 1997 Mar 2002 Liberal (Olsen & Kerin)
Patricia White Mar 2002 Mar 2004 Labor (Rann)
Jane Lomax-Smith Mar 2004 Mar 2010 Labor (Rann)
Jay Weatherill Mar 2010 Oct 2011 Labor (Rann)
Grace Portolesi Oct 2011 Jan 2013 Labor (Weatherill)
Jennifer Rankine Jan 2013 Feb 2015 Labor (Weatherill)
Susan Close 3 Feb 2015 17 Mar 2018 Labor (Weatherill)
John Gardner 22 Mar 2018 incumbent Liberal (Marshall)


  1. "Education Act 1875". Find and Connect.
  2. "Report of the Committee of Enquiry into Education in South Australia 1969–70" (PDF). 1985. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  3. "Education and change in South Australia: final report". 1982. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  4. Management, Data (2016-02-04). "Statistics and reports about sites, students and staff". Retrieved 2018-05-29.
  5. "Report of the Committee of Enquiry into Education in South Australia 1969–70" (PDF). VocEd: 5. 1985 via Digitised-Collections
  6. C., Cornwall (1997). Mitcham School 150 Years of History: 1847–1997. Griffin Press. pp. ix.
  7. University, Find & Connect Web Resource Project, The University of Melbourne and Australian Catholic. "Education Act 1851 – Legislation – Find & Connect – South Australia". Retrieved 2018-05-29.
  8. "Report of the Committee of Enquiry into Education in South Australia 1969–70" (PDF). Digitised-Collections 7. 1985.
  9. Find and Connect. "Education Act 1875". Retrieved 2018-05-29.
  10. "Report of the Committee of Enquiry into Education in South Australia 1969–70" (PDF). 1985: 16 via Digitised-Collections Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  11. "Report of the Committee of Enquiry into Education in South Australia 1969–70" (PDF). Digitised-Collections 16. 1985.
  12. "Report of the Committee of Enquiry into Education in South Australia 1969–70" (PDF). Digitised-Collections 17. 1985.
  13. "Teachers Colleges 1976-1972".
  14. Thomson, Pat (2016-11-03). Educational Leadership and Pierre Bourdieu. Taylor & Francis. p. 62. ISBN 9781136734595.
  15. "Report of the Committee of Enquiry into Education in South Australia 1969–70".
  16. "Summary: Into the 80s" (PDF). University of Melbourne.
  17. "Summary: Education and Change" (PDF). University of Melbourne.
  18. Ombudsman SA Investigation Report (2014). "Alleged-inadequate-management-of-child-sexual-abuse-incidents" (PDF).
  19. "Education Development Centre (EDC)". Government of South Australia. Dept for Education. Retrieved 23 August 2019.