School records guide

An overview of education in New South Wales 1788-c.1979 and a list of the main record series

Page from Crooybar school file

Search the index 1876-1979

30,000+ entries include administrative files & records such as admission registers, punishment books & inspection books

A group of teachers in training pose for a photo

School teachers guide

Records that relate to teacher employment in the Government sector between 1788 and 1979

School student records guide

These records provide information about the admission of children to Government Schools, Orphan Schools and Industrial Schools in NSW.


The earliest government assisted schools in the colony were established to provide literacy skills, religious instruction and domestic or industrial training for destitute children and those whose parents could not afford to provide them with a basic education.

Orphan Schools

The Female Orphan School was established in Sydney in 1801 under Governor King and the Male Orphan School in 1819 under Governor Macquarie.

Church Schools

Government involvement in education was primarily concerned with the provision of funding for church schools. The establishment of the Clergy and Schools Lands Corporation in 1826 reinforced this link between government and church. Salaries of schoolmasters were drawn from the proceeds of land controlled by this corporation.

Records covering 1788-1848

Colonial Secretary

NRS-1286, Returns of the Colony, 1828-1857

Listed under Education, the returns cover both Sydney and country schools. See the item list

Colonial Secretary's correspondence, 1788-1825

Surviving correspondence concerning schools can be found in the Index to Colonial Secretary's Papers, 1788-1825 using keywords such as School and Education.

Search indexes to the Colonial Secretary's correspondence

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Colonial Secretary's Papers 1788-1825

Arranged by name and subject this is the most comprehensive index of early NSW settlement

Colonial Secretary Letters Received, 1826-1896

This select index, compiled by Joan Reese, Linda Bowman and Aileen Trinder, indexes the Colonial Secretary's main series of letters received for the years 1826-1896. The Colonial Secretary was the pre-eminent figure in public life during much of the 19th Century. The papers of this office are among the most valuable sources of information on all aspects of the history of the Colony and the State of NSW.

Clergy and School Lands Corporation

See the catalogue for information about the Trustees of the Clergy and School Lands in NSW. Search the catalogue for records created by this agency.

NRS 773, Letters received from clergymen, catechists and schoolmasters, 1825-1833

This series of correspondence covers a broad variety of subjects concerning the day to day running of the early government assisted church administered schools.


Between 1848-1866, education in New South Wales came under the joint control of the Board of National Education and the Denominational School Board.

The Board of National Education was responsible for:

  • the establishment of the public school system
  • appointing teachers
  • teacher training and classification, and
  • the setting up of model schools

The Denominational School Board was responsible for the distribution of government subsidies to church schools.


Records covering 1848-1866

Board of National Education

See the catalogue for information about the Board of National Education. Search the catalogue for records created by the Board.

NRS 613, Miscellaneous letters received, 1848-1866

This series includes correspondence concerning the establishment of government schools, the provision of teachers etc.

NRS 619, Letters and Blank cover Memoranda received by the Secretary from the Chief Inspector, 1862-1863

These letters and memoranda are arranged chronologically with indexes at the front of the volumes.

NRS 620, Blank cover memoranda received by the Secretary from District Inspectors, 1862-1866

These memoranda are largely concerned with inspectors' reports as to the suitability of land for school sites.

NRS 637, Fair Minute Books, 1848-58, 1863-66

Indexes to these minute books are available at NRS 638.

Denominational School Board

See the catalogue for information about the Denominational School Board. Search the catalogue for records created by the Board.

NRS 3710, Inspectors' Reports, 1856-1866

These reports are of inspections of Roman Catholic primary and high schools and Church of England primary schools.

NRS 3711, Minute Books, 1856-1866

These minute books contain minutes of weekly and special meetings of the Denominational School Board.


The Council of Education was established under An Act to make better provision for Public Education, 1866 (30 Victoria, Act No. 22) to assume responsibility for the centralised administration of government schools in New South Wales. Both provisional schools and half-time schools were created under the Council of Education. School sites, buildings and furniture for these schools were provided by the parents of enrolled pupils.

The Council of Education controlled:

  • expenditure and government grants
  • the establishment and maintenance of public schools
  • the appointment, training and examination of teachers.

Teacher training was conducted at the Model School, Fort Street and a grading system for the certification of teachers was introduced.


Records covering 1866-1880

Council of Education

See the catalogue for more information about the Council of Education. Search the catalogue for records of the Council of Education.

NRS 2621, Miscellaneous letters received, 1867-1875, Reels 1784-1796, 1798, 1802-1803, 1844-1850

This correspondence is arranged alphabetically by name of school.  See the item list

NRS 2639, Copies of letters sent, 1868-1880

These are arranged chronologically and include letters and memoranda sent to teachers. See the item list

NRS 2628, Letters and memoranda received from Inspectors, 1867-1874, Reels 1798-1799

The arrangement of this series is alphabetical by district and then chronological. 

NRS 2638, Abstracts of quarterly and annual returns of public and denominational schools, 1867

These returns are arranged alphabetically by school district and then chronologically.


In 1880 the Minister for Public Instruction assumed responsibility for education in New South Wales. The Public Instruction Act, 1880 (43 Vic. No, 23, 1880) which repealed the Public Schools Act of 1866 provided for:

  • the establishment of Public Schools, Superior Public Schools, Evening Public Schools, Provisional Schools
  • separate high schools for boys and girls, and
  • a system of teacher training

The Department of Public Instruction was responsible for both the introduction of compulsory education and the withdrawal of government funding from denominational schools.

Department name changes

  • 1915: the Department of Public Instruction changed its name to the Department of Education
  • 1989: the name changed to the Department of School Education
  • 1997: the Department of School Education amalgamated with the Department of Education and Training Coordination to form the Department of Education and Training.
  • The Department is now known as the Department of Education

See the catalogue for information about the Department of Public Instruction / Department of Education and its successor the Department of Education and Training.

Page from Crooybar school file

Schools & related records 1876-1979

30,000+ entries include administrative files & records such as admission registers, punishment books & inspection books

School files (NRS 3829) include:

There are also records related to school students and the day to day running of schools listed in the index

building plan from the Broken Hill Public School file

Schools: what the files can tell you

School files very strongly reflect the growth or decline of towns and are an excellent source for your local history research

School files

Archives behind the scenes - school files

We hold NSW School Files from 1876 to 1979. They are an amazing source of information, not only for school history but also for the history of a local community

School records

Find out about the wealth of information in school records about students, teachers and school buildings and sites in NSW

Records covering 1880-c. 1989

Department of Education

Search the catalogue for more records of the Department of Education.

NRS 3829, School files, c. 1876-1979

These files are arranged by the name of school. They contain information about the establishment of schools, their progress and physical provision, teachers and a variety of aspects of a school's operation. Some correspondence relating to proposed schools and sketches and plans of schools are included. School files are indexed by the Index to Schools & related records. Some files in this series are digitised and can be viewed in our catalogue.

NRS 3830, Subject files, 1876-2006

These cover a diverse range of administrative matters from cadet training, milk supply to schools and violin classes. See the item list for files 1876-1948. See the catalogue for a list of later files.

NRS 15051, Photographic collection, 1850-1991

The History Unit of the Department of School Education collected these photographs when preparing school histories, research for public relations, or giving presentations. The collection consists mainly of photographic prints showing school buildings, pupils, teachers, or educational activities. Most include an identifying caption and date.

Pre-1955 photographs have been digtised and can be viewed in the catalogue.

NRS 3850, Copies of letters sent, 1880-1915

These letters cover administrative areas such as the establishment of new schools, buildings and their upkeep and general financial matters.

NRS 3851, Copies of letters sent concerning the administratin of public schools, 1880-1896

This series contains correspondence concerning general administrative matters such as applications from teachers and promotion and classification of teachers, as well as admission of children into the orphan schools.

NRS 3852, Copies of letters sent by Chief Inspector, 1880-1896

These letters concern certificates of classification, fees, examinations, applications for the establishment of schools, repairs and additions to schools and other buildings, results of inspections, appointment and resignations of teachers, school requisites etc.

School sites

The following selection of records may provide useful information for those researching particulars of school sites.

Surveyor General

NRS 13859, Crown plans, 1792-1886

Many plans for the sites of early schools c. 1831-1853 are listed under the headins Church Lands and Church and School Estate. The Select List and Supplement of the Crown plans are available in the reading room.

Search the Index to the Surveyor General's Crown plans, 1792-1886

NRS 13875 Catalogue of plans of land for national and public schools, 1849-87

This list of plans is in rough chronological order.

Colonial (Government) Architect

NRS 4338, Plans and Specifications of Schools and School Residences, 1861-1910

Listed in the Colonial (Government) Architects Index. Location of school, description of plan and date. Arrangement is alphabetical by school.

Department of Education

Search the catalogue for records of the Department of Education School Sites Branch, the Properties Division and the Properties Directorate.

NRS 3965, Registers of deeds of school sites, 1850-1896 

These registers are arranged by name of school. They give a description of the site, a sketch plan and date of deed. A good site plan normally accompanies the entry.

NRS 3969, Register of school sites, 1900-1968

This register gives name of school, location of site, area and portion, date of acquisition and how obtained.

NRS 3968, Card catalogue of leased properties, 1923-1949

This catalogue provides the name of school, type of building, area of site, name and address of lessor, term of lease, expiry date and annual rental.

NRS 3988, Site register cards, 1930+

These cards record details of school sites purchased and disposed of after 1880. Some give details of buildings constructed and generally include a site plan. The cards are listed in the catalogue.

Family history guides

Liverpool State Hospital & Home guide

Patient records in our collection for Liverpool Asylum for the Infirm and Destitute (1862-1933) and Liverpool State Hospital and Home (1933-1961)

Naturalization & citizenship guide

Naturalization records are a good source of information for tracing details of an immigrant's arrival and native place. This guide lists the key records in our collection relating to naturalization, 1834-1903

Aboriginal resources: a guide to NSW State archives

A listing and description of records in our collection which relate to Aboriginal people

Aboriginal resources: an overview of records

A brief overview of the State archives that document the NSW government's interaction with Aboriginal people from 1788 until today