The “special experiment” in languages

Catherine Bryant (Swinburne University of Technology, Hawthorn, Australia)
Bruno Mascitelli (Swinburne University of Technology, Hawthorn, Australia)

History of Education Review

ISSN: 0819-8691

Publication date: 4 June 2018



The Victorian School of Languages began on the margins of the Victorian education system in 1935 as a “special experiment” supported by the Chief Inspector of Secondary Schools, J.A Seitz. The purpose of this paper is to present a historical analysis of the first 15 years of the “special experiment” and it reports on the school’s fragile beginnings.


The historical analysis draws on archival materials, oral sources and other primary documents from the first 15 years of the Saturday language classes, to explore its fragile role and status within the Victorian education system.


The Saturday language classes were experimental in nature and were initially intended to pilot niche subjects in the languages curriculum. Despite support from influential stakeholders, widespread interest and a promising response from teachers and students, the student enrolments dwindled, especially in the war years. As fate would have it, the two languages initially established (Japanese and Italian) faced a hostile war environment and only just survived. Questions about the continuing viability of the classes were raised, but they were championed by Seitz.


To date, this is one of few scholarly explorations of the origins of the Victorian School of Languages, a school which became a model for Australia’s other State Specialist Language Schools. This paper contributes to the literature about the VSL, a school that existed on the margins but played a pioneering role in the expansion of the language curriculum in Victoria.



Bryant, C. and Mascitelli, B. (2018), "The “special experiment” in languages", History of Education Review, Vol. 47 No. 1, pp. 54-66.

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