School and education history in Victoria

Research Victoria's primary and secondary schools, text books and readers, past exams and results, curricula


School readers and textbooks offer insight into educational standards, values and behaviours taught in schools, and the social, political and cultural issues of a particular time period.

Our Children's Literature research guide gives an excellent overview of instructional books for children over time.

From 1848, the most commonly used readers in Australia were the Irish National Readers, which were cheap and readily available but did cause concern amongst Protestants because of their Catholic content. After the Education Act 1872 called for the provision of free, compulsory and secular education, the main readers used to educate Victorian primary school students in reading and literacy became the Royal Reader Series. Introduced in 1877 these readers were designed to provide a non-denominational religious education and a focus on literacy and moral values.

The Royal Readers included English literature and poetry, tales of British history and expansion, and facts about geography, food and animals. Later editions contained some content relating to Australian history, flora and fauna.

Our Library holds some Royal Readers. An advanced search for the series title Royal school series will list our holdings.

Deakin University has digitised some Royal Readers.

Victorian school papers and readers

The School paper, a monthly publication of the Victorian Education Department, was first introduced into Victorian schools in 1896 for Class III, in response to a perceived need for locally edited and published schoolbooks on Australian topics. A School paper for the Fourth Class was published in June 1897, and a third for the Fifth and Sixth Classes in September of the following year. The readers were core reading for schoolchildren and contained local content and material written by local authors.

The School papers were compulsory reading for children until 1928 when the Victorian readers became compulsory and the School papers supplemented them. The three grades of School papers were renamed in the late 1960s to become Meteor, Comet and Orbit.

The State Library holds all school papers and readers. To view our holdings, see our family tree chart.

Deakin University has digitised a number of school papers.

Victorian Readers

The Victorian Readers were a series of school readers (eight in number) produced between 1927 and 1930 for school children in Victoria and used (with revisions) until the 1950s.

The preface to the eighth book noted:

'Though it was recognized that the local production of a series of reading-books to compare favourably with those issued by leading British publishers would not be easy of accomplishment, yet it was believed that the effect of the use of such a series in the schools and in the pupils' homes would make the effort well worth while'.

This series was more distinctively Australian, although still within the context of British imperialism.

The State Library holds all Victorian readers, including the two editions produced 1928-29, and the second edition (produced in the 1940s with quite different content). The Library also holds the 1980s reprints of the first edition, issued by the Education Department.

See also the School papers family tree chart for title variations.

Accessing readers

School papers and readers are held in our Children’s literature collection in closed storage.

Items listed as in onsite storage can be ordered via our catalogue with your Library membership number. If you do not have a Library membership you can either sign up in person at the Library, or you can register online.

Items which are listed in the Rare collection must be viewed in the Heritage Collections Reading Room, see the Ask a Librarian desk or phone 03 8664 7002 to arrange delivery. Before ordering a rare book copy to view, see the index on the Autslit database below.

Searching within readers

20th century readers

Refer to our Children's literature research guide.

The book Bottersnikes and other lost things: a celebration of Australian illustrated children's books, by Juliet O'Conor, is based on the Library's Children's Literature Collection and the first chapter gives examples of well known and lesser known examples of Australian 20th century education books for children.

Further reading

To learn more about researching educational books for children, or any other aspects of children's literature see our Children's literature research guide.

Items held by other organisations

Deakin University has an Australian Schools Textbook Collection. It comprises of textbooks used in Australian primary and secondary schools wherever published.

Also see Deakin University's online exhibition: Learning to read - a sample from the Australian Schools Textbook Collection.

The University of Melbourne also has an extensive collection.