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Reed, Ronald Atkinson (1905–1989)

by Bill Hannan

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Ronald Atkinson Reed (1905-1989), schoolteacher and educationist, was born on 20 September 1905 at Brunswick, Melbourne, third of nine children of Victorian-born Henry Melmoth Reed, clerk, and his wife Rose Rachel, née Atkinson, who was born in England.  Ron was educated at Brunswick West State School, Coburg and Williamstown High schools, Melbourne Teachers’ College and the University of Melbourne (B.Sc., Dip.Ed., 1928).  His small build gave no hint that he was an accomplished sportsman; he opened the batting for Carlton Cricket Club with Bill Woodfull.  A member of the Victorian Teaching Service, he taught mathematics and science in high schools at Essendon (1927-35), Nhill (1936-38), Coburg (1939-43), Numurkah (1944-48) and Mildura (1949).  For some seventeen years he was also a sports master.  On 30 September 1939 at St George’s Church of England, Nhill, he married Alice Elizabeth Bond, a schoolteacher.

In 1950 Reed was appointed an inspector and in 1963 he became chief inspector of secondary schools.  By the early 1960s the education department was overcoming the building crisis caused by the rapid increase in enrolments in the postwar period, but was still employing large numbers of untrained and unqualified teachers.  Holding progressive views on the purpose of education, Reed argued that schools should help the growth of 'identity and security' in young children and give rein to the 'intelligence and altruism' of adolescents.  He believed that a generation rationally educated by family, school and society 'to replace fear, timidity and self-interest with courage, tolerance, sympathy, understanding and kindness towards others' could transform the world.

As an inspector Reed habitually invited teachers to stay on after the inspection to talk about education, an unusual practice.  When he became chief inspector he turned these informal meetings into an official process for all schools.  He held seminars to discuss the secondary-school curriculum and in 1966 set up the Curriculum Advisory Board, involving all groups concerned with secondary schooling.  In 1968 the CAB proposed several principles as the basis of curriculum in years 7-10:  a general, non-vocational education for all students, abandonment of competitive assessment, flexible organisation of subjects and groups, and encouragement of intellectual independence.  Reed asked schools to put these principles into practice as they saw fit.  His invitation to act immediately precipitated a period of school-based change and experimentation never before seen in Australian schools.

A founding member (1965-70) of the Victorian Universities and Schools Examination Board, Reed was keenly interested in examination reform.  He was especially impatient with external examinations directed by and towards university entrance; the Intermediate examination was abolished in 1967.  Having set school-based curriculum development in train, he turned to questions of school design and structures.  He envisaged that buildings would embody modern ideas of teaching and that complexes of junior schools feeding senior colleges would take students through to the early tertiary years.  The concept generally lacked support.  At Collingwood Education Centre, however, Reed brought together all levels of education from kindergarten through to adult, in what he believed was 'the most . . . significant educational project undertaken in Australia this century'.  In 1967 a change of title saw him become the first director of secondary education in Victoria and in 1969 he was named acting assistant director-general.

A fiercely determined reformer, Reed pursued the highest ideals of state education.  On his retirement in January 1970 he was disappointed that his ideas had been only partially enacted.  He need not have been.  Certainly university-oriented examinations at the senior level would grow in importance, but the essence of his views on curriculum persisted in the junior and middle school and his basic ideas on school structures became more widely accepted.  His recollections of curriculum reform in the late 1960s were published in Melbourne Studies in Education (1975).  He was elected a fellow of the Australian College of Education.  Survived by his wife and their daughter and four sons, he died on 29 December 1989 at Blackburn South and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • L. J. Blake (ed), Vision and Realisation, 1973
  • J. Bassett, Matters of Conscience, 1995
  • D. Holloway, The Inspectors, 2000
  • B. Hannan, The Best of Times, 2009
  • Herald (Melbourne), 18 February 1965, p 7
  • Herald (Melbourne), 25 January 1967, p 30
  • Herald (Melbourne), 5 September 1967, p 9
  • Sun (Melbourne), 6 September 1967, p 7
  • Sun (Melbourne), 9 January 1970, p 11
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 15 January 1970, p 8
  • Sun (Melbourne), 16 June 1970, p 8
  • Education Gazette and Teachers' Aid, 13 April 1970, p 128
  • Secondary Teacher, July 1970, p 5
  • private information

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Citation details

Bill Hannan, 'Reed, Ronald Atkinson (1905–1989)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/reed-ronald-atkinson-14410/text25489, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 12 December 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

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