Biographical entry: Neale, William Lewis (1853 - 1913)



William Lewis Neale, educationist, an Inspector of Schools in South Australia, was asked in 1904 to report on Tasmania's primary education system. Neale, an advocate of the reformist ideals of the 'New Education' movement, saw little to please him in Tasmanian schools. One newspaper summarised his report: 'our teachers can't teach, our inspectors can't inspect, our Director can't direct, our copybook contractor cheats us, and our Public Works can't build schools'. Although his report was not universally welcomed, Neale was appointed as Director of Education to implement his own recommendations. He introduced reforms to the curriculum, the training and registration of teachers, superannuation for teachers, health and hygiene in the schools, and achieved the abolition of school fees. He attracted many critics, chiefly from conservative, mainly rural, interests, and from teachers who felt threatened by the changes and offended by his brusque manner.

Neale's most significant act was to import 25 teachers from South Australia to speed the reform process. There seems little question that this was beneficial to the system, but it outraged local teachers, who took it as a slight on their abilities and accused Neale of favouring the imports in pay and appointments. As complaints mounted, the government was persuaded to call a royal commission into the administration of the department. It brought down a damning verdict against Neale. He resigned and returned to South Australia, although the policies he introduced remained, and were progressively implemented by his successors, who were more patient and better able to persuade the teachers, the public and their political masters of the merits of reform.

Michael Sprod

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