It is now taken for granted that everyone should have access to education so that educational success or failure is the result of individual talent, ability and effort. However, this was not always the 'official' policy. In the early 1900s, there were few state secondary schools. Most children went to primary school, but the 'gifted' then went on to fee-paying private secondary schools and universities, the fees effectively barring the working-class from entry to further education. The first state secondary schools also charged fees that were only abolished in most states after World War I1 (Ely, 1978; Hyams and Bessant, 1972). Therefore, the origins of the Australian schooling system have deep class roots, many of which can still be seen today in the dual education system of state and private schools, and the division between vocational and academic high schools. The introduction of 'free, compulsory and secular' state education, ' the story goes, change the education system from a 'class reproducer'to a 'great equaliser'. Equality of opportunity and meritocracy are meant to be the foundations of the modern education system, where success is simply the product of individual effort and ability. There is no doubt that access to free public education has benefited many people, however such a rosy picture is debunked by opposing arguments that expose the education system as still reproducing class inequality because so many working-class students do less well.
Sociology of Education: Possibilities and Practices p. 250-269