Supporting parents, supporting public schools

A brief history of WACSSO

Our Logo
In 1979 a competition was conducted to design a logo for WACSSO. From the forty entries submitted, four tied for first place. From these designs, the logo of three people in three triangles was devised. The interlocking triangles represent Students, Parents and Teachers co-operating in the learning process. The stylised figures also represent Students, Parents and Teachers; while WACSSO, the State Body representing all Parents and Citizens' Associations, is the complementary organisation, helping to provide learning opportunities and ensuring that each student has an equal opportunity to receive the best possible education. The Logo has been re-designed over the years to ensure it remains modern and in touch with today’s generation.

The Early Years of Community Involvement in Schools
Community involvement in education goes back to the earliest years of Western Australia's existence as a colony. Although Perth's first school was established by the government (in a church building in 1830) when the colony was only a year old, State schooling got off to a bad start. Only a few years later, the government grant for education was stopped, and for several years schooling was left entirely to private enterprise.

The colonial government's attitude reflected the general opinion of those times and the difficulties faced by the infant settlement. Even in England, despite a long history of schooling, government played little part in the provision of education. In Western Australia, this disinclination to interfere was reinforced by economic difficulties natural to a small population; difficulties made worse at this time because many settlers were actually leaving for the eastern colonies.

The State school system really began with the creation of a Board of Education in 1847. Community involvement was envisaged from the start. The Board's first report advocated, rather ominously, that as a rule "the establishment of a school in any particular district should in some degree depend upon the exertions and sacrifices which the inhabitants are willing to make".

The money allocated to education was not to be falsely regarded as "a branch of public charity". Nevertheless, the local committees which were to be formed wherever schools were established had very little power. Their responsibility was mainly that (foreshadowed in the extract above) of fund-raising.

Western Australia's first Education Act was passed in 1871. Once again, the Government announced its desire to "encourage voluntary efforts in support of the schools". In each educational district, a district board consisting of five elected members was established.

These boards had enviable powers. They were to inspect and supervise schools, and - subject to the Central Board's approval - could appoint and even dismiss teachers. Unfortunately, attendance fell off and interest in board membership declined. There was dissatisfaction with the amount of money allowed for minor school repairs, and the enforcement of school attendance placed a heavy burden on board members. The Board's appointment of teachers was apparently another cause of friction, and teachers often resented board members' inspection of their work.

In 1893, when the Education Department was created, the boards were weakened still further. Deprived of power to make by-laws, and of authority to appoint and dismiss teachers, they were left with only an instruction to "inspect and supervise" the schools in their district and to make recommendations to the newly-appointed Minister for Education.

The District boards were now in a parlous condition. On one hand, legislation had made them almost powerless. On the other hand, their occasional attempts at exerting some influence were often met with hostility from teachers. Indeed, in 1913 and 1915, the Teachers' Union annual conference called for the boards to be done away with. The effect of all these developments was to undermine interest in board membership still further. In 1922, the boards were abolished.

The Rise of Parents and Citizens Associations
The Act of Parliament which abolished the district boards also authorised the creation of Parents and Citizens' Associations, the function of which was, however, to be virtually limited to fund-raising.

The Education Department had encouraged the formation of associations of parents and teachers for many years before 1922. Unlike the now defunct boards, each of which had to cover an entire educational district, these associations were attached to individual schools.

The first association to be formed may have been at Toodyay in 1916 or 1917. The August 1919 Education Circular mentions one at the Buckland Hill State School (Mosman Park) which was "in active operation" and was expected to "have a far-reaching effect on the attitude of parents towards the State school in their midst..." "The citizens of Buckland Hill", it went on, "have realised that it is just as much their duty as that of the teachers to see that the children are instructed in attractively decorated class-rooms and have a playground...". The Circular notes with evident satisfaction that, though the Association had been in existence for only two months, "the improvements to the school are worth 35 pounds.

Similarly, the Education Department's Annual report for 1919 observed that "Parents' and Citizens' Associations have been formed during the last year in connection with many of the schools..(and) the number of these Associations is increasing rapidly". It commended the associations for "promoting the welfare and efficiency of the local schools in many directions, instead of leaving everything to the Government". It said the benefit to the children was obvious, the encouragement to the teachers was great, and schools were becoming "valuable social community-centres".

The Annual Report for 1920 hoped that such associations would soon be found in connection with most of the schools. "Pianos, pictures, library books, magic lanterns, and gymnastic apparatus" were among the equipment being provided by the associations.

These associations were obviously a product of the times. One of the world's smallest populations was rapidly spreading over one of the largest land areas. Governmental authorities shouldered the tremendous burden of providing roads, railways, water supplies and other services. Yet parents naturally wanted the best possible education for their children.

The First State Conference
By 1921, enough Parents and Teachers' Associations (as they were called at the time) had been formed for a State Conference to be warranted. The first conference was held at James Street School, Perth, on Saturday, 13 August. It was attended by representatives of 37 associations, some of whom came from as far away as Pemberton or Doodlakine.
The Conference was addressed by the Director of Education (Mr Cecil Andrews), Chief Inspectors Clubb and Klein, and the Teachers' Union President and Secretary (Messrs Blair and Milligan). The Minister for Education (Mr Hal Colebatch) had intended to be present but was prevented by illness.

Mr R.H Hall was elected chairman of the conference, and Miss E Hooton secretary. Together, they successfully moved and seconded that "the time is now opportune for the formation of a Federation of Parents' and Teachers' Associations". Accordingly, a suggested constitution was submitted by an agenda committee which had been convened some weeks before the conference.

The proposed constitution was debated and amended. It was ambiguous about the name of the State body. At one time, it was a "Federation of West Australian Parents' and Citizens' Associations (sic)"; at another `The West Australian Parents' and Citizens' Association." The individual associations were referred to as branches.

Whatever the name, its aims were clear cut and comprehensive: "To promote in conjunction with the Education Department, the moral, physical and social welfare of the scholars past and present of State Schools throughout the State". To help in the achievement of this aim, annual conferences were to be held, and fees of from five shillings to one guinea were to be collected from each "branch". A proposal that the conference "does not deem it advisable for the government to assume any control of the Parents' and Teachers' Associations" (as the branches were called in this instance) was defeated. Various specific motions for the improvement of facilities and education for children in government schools were then submitted and discussed.
The Federation of Parents’ and Teachers’ Associations

After her election in 1921, Miss Hooton remained in office until 1954. During this period of 33 years, the Federation (as the State body soon came to be called) grew steadily to a membership of nearly 400 branches (by now called associations).
During the same period, great progress was made towards the accomplishment of aims enunciated at the first annual conference. Examples of these achievements are government subsidies towards purchases of equipment, school medical and dental services, free milk for school children and special film programs.

The Federation was represented on the Good Neighbour Council, the Visual Education Advisory Committee, the National Safety Council, the Health Education Council and other organisations which included the welfare of children in their aims.

At the 1973 Conference, changes to the Constitution were made. Two significant changes lead to important changes in the organisation. As a result of affiliation with ACSSO, it was deemed at the time that there was a greater need for uniformity between the Federation and the national body. In line with this thinking, a change in name to "The Western Australian Council of State School Organisations" was made.

The second significant change was the phasing out of the Committee of Management and the establishment of a State Council. The State Council was to consist of Councillors elected by Associations on the basis of one councillor for each State Legislative Assembly seat. It was possible then for 51 Councillors to be elected to the State Council. In January 1974, 43 Councillors took office. Thus there was a departure from a conference-elected Committee of Management to a Council elected by Associations to manage the affairs of the organisation. In 1978 the electoral boundaries were changed, reducing the numbers of possible Councillors to 41.

At the 1979 Annual Conference, the Constitution was amended to provide for a "Special Schools" electorate. Subsequently a Councillor was elected to fill this vacancy. 1988 saw another major reorganisation with the electorate boundaries being varied to coincide with the 29 Ministy of Education school districts. A similar reorganisation occured in 1997 when the district boundaries were changed by the Education Department. There are currently 31 WACSSO electorates that largely coincide with the Departments education districts.

After a decline in membership during the 1990’s, WACSSO has seen renewed growth in the post millennia. It has consolidated its position as WA’s peak parent body. WACSSO now has 21 Councillors plus the President, demonstrating the continued importance of the role that the organisation plays in school communities and education in general. WACSSO currently employs 4 full time equivalent staff and maintains a pool of casual workers. We are currently represented on 21 external committies and boards; an indication of the trust that many other organisations and groups place in professionalism, expertise and dedication of WACSSO.

2011 was a year of celebration for WACSSO and P&C’s across the state. At the 2011 Annual Conference, WACSSO celebrated its 90th year of operation. David Forrester, WACSSO Life Member, spoke on the history of education and the important role of WACSSO. Mr Forrester, along with President and Life Member Betty Green, cut the cake in front of over 220 P&C delegates from around the state. Robert Fry, the longest serving President, was also awarded Life Membership for his dedication and commitment to the organisation.

Despite the many changes in society and social roles, the aims of the parent movement remained unaltered. It will be concerned that no child should be disadvantaged educationally. WACSSO recognises (as declared in the Declaration of Human Rights) the need for each person's complete development; increasing respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms; and expanding awareness of each individual's potential.

State Presidents

R H Hall 1921-22 E O Lange 1960-63
A W Richardson 1922 C F Gladwin-Grove 1963-64
H H Truman 1922 P H Harrison 1964-66
H J Kicke 1922 H P Jensen 1966-72
T E Ford 1922-27 C R Bridge 1972-79
A W Richardson 1927-33 E B Bingley 1979-81
Miss M Holman 1933-39 V D Gronow 1981-87
Miss E Hooton 1939-44 D A Forrester 1987-91
F Gillet 1944-45 Mrs A Spencer 1991-95
C A Cornish 1945-48 Mrs D Guise 1995-99
C H Young 1949-51 Ms S Norrish 1999-2003
C A Cornish 1949-51 Mr R Fry 2003-2011
J W Bridge 1951-58 Ms K Catto 2011- present
V E Leggatt 1958-60