The idea that a state department could provide education to children in sparsely populated rural regions became a reality in New South Wales in the early 20th century, for the first time anywhere in the world. Since that beginning, distance education has evolved not just for isolated students but also for a diverse range of students for whom a mainstream or face to face education is not possible.
In 1916, during World War One, the small ‘travelling schools’ which had been the first version of distance education were closed down. The Correspondence School was founded to take their place, in the Bridge Street headquarters of the Department of Education. In 1922, the school had expanded so much that it needed its own accommodation. A secondary school was established in the former Teachers College at Blackfriars in Sydney with 2335 farflung students taught by 47 teachers, with Walter Finigan as Principal. Mr Finigan devised a graded leaflet system, which set the pattern for teaching each child ‘individually and sequentially’. Blackfriars, as it became known, provided a model for other nations as they developed their own correspondence systems.
In 1959, the school reached its peak enrolment with the extraordinary number of 7420 students. The numbers then declined gradually as the educational needs of rural students in NSW were met by other means thanks to improved transport, increased wealth and greater access to boarding schools. However, when the Wyndham Scheme was introduced in 1961, the Correspondence School started to offer single subjects to students who were unable to complete them at their local high schools, and single subject students are still an important part of distance education today.
In 1965 the Correspondence School (‘Corro’, as it was known) moved to William Street, Kings Cross, and autonomous satellite schools were set up in Nyngan, Bourke, Cobar and Walgett. These satellite schools used two-way radio as well as correspondence lessons, a method of delivering education that had been used successfully from the mid 1950s through the much admired School of the Air.
The 1990s ushered in another new era with the establishment of the Sydney Secondary Distance Education Centre, which shared a site with Dover Heights High School. This was under the leadership of Colleen Dagworthy until 1999. The Learning Materials Production Centre was formed in order to create quality and uniform materials for distance education settings.
Soon, distance education was on the move again, and in April 2002 the renamed Sydney Distance Education High School opened for the first time on its current site in Woolloomooloo, with foundation Principal Kathleen Compton.
The new millennium ushered in major changes in the delivery of education in a distance setting, with expanded use of technology for teaching, learning and administration. Our current Principal, Mark Piddington, commenced his tenure in 2008 and since then has overseen continuing innovation as Sydney Distance Education High School provides quality education for its students.