Dr Harold Wyndham
Teacher, Researcher and Director General of Education
The career of Dr Harold Wyndham reveals a range of possibilities that became open to graduates in the early-to mid 20th century. He was born in country New South Wales, attending Cleveland Intermediate High and then Fort Street High. Awarded a Teachers’ College scholarship, he majored in History at the University of Sydney and also undertook two years of Psychology. Following a period as a lecturer at the Teachers’ College, Wyndham was awarded a Carnegie Corporation scholarship to study at Stanford University in California, one of the first Australians to undertake educational research overseas.
In Australia Wyndham had already carried out research into Class Grouping in the Primary School (published in 1932). His Doctor of Education thesis at Stanford was a study of Ability Grouping (1933). These studies provided the foundation for his new role in organising research and counseling services in the New South Wales Department of Education. Increasingly, he demonstrated that students should be classified not on scholastic performance but ‘educational science’ based on intelligence testing.
Apart from his research, Wyndham’s career developed through association and work for national and international agencies, including the Australian Council of Education (representing state ministers of education) the New Education Federation, UNESCO, and Commonwealth Education Conferences.
In 1952 he became Director-General of Education in New South Wales, the first ‘academic’ to hold the post.
Wyndham’s greatest achievement was to conceive, propose and then implement the ‘Wyndham Scheme’ for comprehensive education in New South Wales. He built upon earlier proposals formed in Australia and overseas, but the ideas were mostly his own. The Wyndham Report was a slim volume designed for public consumption; what he proposed was a universal secondary school designed for all abilities, rather than different schools for different abilities. The scheme took more than a decade to implement. Since then changing social expectations and political priorities have undermined Wyndham’s ideal of the public comprehensive school based on local neighborhoods, but it still remains one of the most important experiments and ideals in the history of Australian education.