Some of the most important records in State Records’ 90,000 linear metre-long collection are school admission registers.
Admission register - Templers School [SRSA GRS 12332/1]. Courtesy of the Department of Education and Child Development [DECD].
They might not look too much from the outside, but admission registers are jam-packed full of information that family historians are particularly interested in: students' full names, dates of birth, parents' name, parents' occupation and address. Teachers were given strict instructions about what information needed to be recorded, and these instructions can usually be found inside the admission register.
Most admission registers hold about two hundred students’ details – some schools only had one admission register for the entirety of their history, others went through several registers in the one year!
First page of the admission register for Templers School [SRSA GRS 12332/1]. Left side shows student admission information and right side shows quarterly attendance and remarks. Courtesy of DECD
Since 1876, every public school in South Australia has been required to keep admission registers. That means that every person who has attended a public school in the state will be in an admission register somewhere.
School admission registers are so important that the historical or damaged registers even have their very own storage boxes, designed to fit their unusual not-quite-foolscap size by our conservator.
Admission registers are arranged by school, with each school having its own series for its registers. Most registers are self-indexed, with an alphabetical listing of all students in the register at the front of book, but – currently – there is no master index of students across schools and the only way to find out if a particular person attended a school is to look through the registers manually (some are microfilmed, but most are available only in hardcopy).
Alphabetical Index, listing student names and admission numbers. [SRSA GRS 12332/1. Courtesy of DECD]
To narrow down which school your ancestor went to, it’s best to know where they lived. Children were expected to attend school if they lived within two miles by road of a public school and, generally, the Board/Council/Department of Education didn’t licence schools too close together in country areas. The amount of schools in an area appears to have depended on the amount of students in the area – by the early twentieth century, Adelaide’s heavily populated square mile had one primary school per quarter (Currie Street: north-west; Flinders Street: north-east; Gilles Street: south-east; and Sturt Street: south-west) and a central high school in Grote Street. City schools were also used for teacher training, which might explain why there were so many!
Education wasn’t compulsory until 1875 and, even then, it was only for children between seven and thirteen. The first public secondary school wasn’t established until 1879 and that was only for girls and charged fees (Adelaide Girls’ High School).
Why We Don’t Have Every Admission Register Ever Recorded
Although teachers were required to maintain admission/enrolment records from 1847 (Section IV, Act No. 11 of 1847 “To Encourage Public Education”), it wasn’t until 1876 – when the government became wholly responsible for public education in the colony – that guidelines surrounding the types of records kept were issued. Even if schools had been operating since the 1840 or 1850s, it wasn’t until 1876/1877 that detailed enrolment information was required by the Board of Education (later Council of Education, then Education Department) to be kept. As such, records pre-1877 are very rare.
As you can see from the Templers School admission register (GRS 12332/1), the teacher kept this particular register from the 1880s but included students who had been at school as early as the 1870s, presumably because the school received instruction from the Education Department that they needed to be keeping admission registers.
State Records only collects records that were created by the South Australian government, so we do not hold private school records. If you are interested in a private school’s records and the school still exists, it is best to contact the school to see what they hold.
Public schools transfer admission records to State Records when they are no longer required by the school. If we don’t have any admission records, it’s worth contacting the school to see if they still have them. Another place to try is the Department of Education and Childhood Development, who have a dedicated Records Management Unit responsible for school records.
School records are the responsibility of the Department for Education and Childhood Development (DECD), who have have determined that admission registers are open after thirty years.
About the Author:
Amy is an archivist in the Archive Team. If she were to choose a favourite record type, it would be school admission registers, followed closely by Matron’s journals from gaols and prisons.