School’s out!

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The classroom experience for students has evolved over generations, due to developments made in technology, and changes to curriculum and teaching methods. In the mid-1850s, paper was a valuable commodity which could not be wasted, so was not provided to students for them to practice on.[1] A cost-effective alternative to paper was slate, a fine-grained rock used for roofing, flooring, paving, and creating writing boards and pencils.[2] Slate pencils were made from a softer slate and allowed students to practice handwriting and complete sums.


1980.1857 – Slate pencils

By the end of the 18th century, the slate board and pencil was at the forefront of classroom technology.[3] Each student would use a slate board framed with wood throughout their lesson, as this was more economical than using paper and ink. This also required the teacher to write on each individual student’s slate boards.[4] The understated blackboard is one of the most revolutionary educational tools invented as it erased the need for this and increased school room efficiency.[5] The invention of the blackboard is credited to James Pillans, headmaster at the Old High School in Edinburgh, Scotland, who in 1801, erected several slate boards in the front of his classroom.[6] This helped cement the traditionally formal method of teaching where a teacher would lecture from the front of the classroom, sometimes referred to as ‘chalk and talk’. By the 1860s, as paper became more readily available, slate boards were used by younger grades to practise on before graduating to paper and ink.[7]

ink well

1980.301 – Glass ink well

‘It was a typical primary school of its time… Desks screwed to the floor in rows, tilt up seats, inkwells, and nothing on the wall except for the Queen at the front, and… the map of the world at the back’.

– Stephen Gard, Oatley Public School, 1950s.

Some other objects from local schools in the Georges River area include:


School reports from Kogarah Boys High School from Robert Andrew dating from 1935 – 1936. Hurstville Museum & Gallery collection.


Hurstville Central Technical School pin. Georges River Council Local Studies collection.

Hurstville Central Technical College was built in 1928 at a cost of £32,863 and officially opened on 18 May 1929. The building was one of the largest junior technical and trade school in the State and catered solely to boys who wished to learn the practical skills needed to find a trade. The school catered for years 7 to year 9, the school later changed its name to Hurstville Boys High and then went on to become Georges River Senior College.

school magazine

The first issue of The Illawarra Magazine of Central Technical School Hurstville. Georges River Libraries Local Studies collection.

The latest exhibition at Hurstville Museum & Gallery, School days invites you to connect with your school experiences while exploring stories and objects from early school days to more recent times.  On until 6 October 2019.

What’s your favourite memory of the classroom from when you were at school?


[1] Peter Davies, ‘Writing slates and schools’, Australasian historical archaeology,

[2] Peter Davies, ‘Writing slates and schools’, Australasian historical archaeology,

[3] ‘The history of the classroom blackboard’,

[4] ‘The history of the classroom blackboard’,

[5] ‘The history of the classroom blackboard’,

[6] Lewis Buzbee, ‘The simple genius of the blackboard’, Slate,

[7] Peter Davies, ‘Writing slates and schools’, Australasian historical archaeology,

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