Victorian School of Languages
Initially named Saturday School of Modern Languages (SSML), Victorian School of Languages (VSL) was established in 1934. Its initiator respond to the demands of the school population of the MacRobertsons High School for girls to study Japanese and Dutch. Such were the beginings of a Saturday school structure in a 5 day week school system. Language classes were offered on Saturday mornings, which was traditionally a school free day in Australia. They continued during World War 2, and then began to broaden to other languages. By 1958 the school held classes in Japanese, Italian, Dutch and Russian. With the arrival of major waves of immigrants the number began to grow. In 1976, when we approached the school regarding the introduction of Slovenian, there were 20 languages offered.
The Saturday school was ideal to meet the language needs of the children of newly arrived immigrants and developing ethnic communities. It appointed from the available teachers the best qualified. With the exception of languages taught in the Australian school system – French, German, Latin – the teachers were themselves immigrants. The school set the standards of professionalism and curriculum requirements that it expected to be fulfilled. The efforts to integrate the teachers and ensure common standards increased in the eighties along with the educational reforms of the school system.
It proved a successful model, in time adopted by other Australian states in their efforts to provide for all the languages required by a growing, linguistically and ethnically diverse immigrant population. With its flexible structure it was able to provide for the language requirements of the Australian multicultural society. In Victoria it expanded progressively in response to Victoria”s language needs in the city and country areas.
In 1986 it was renamed Victorian School of Languages, and was given support to develop programs appropriate to its function as a language provider in the school system of Victoria. A school in an area of high local demand for language classes was designated a VSL Centre for a number of languages to be taught on Saturday mornings during the school year.
Supervisors of the Centres were appointed. They answered to the central Headmaster, in 1987 appointed as Principal. They were initially Australian senior teachers, sympathetic to their multi-ethnic school population. From the seventies, the number of senior staff with ethnic background increased significantly. The ideal appointee had administrative experience and language teaching qualifications. Ethnic background was considered an advantage, particularly in the case of large enrolments of newly arrived migrant groups with limited knowledge of English.
Between 1975 and 1981 the school tripled in size, the enrolments rising from 2,200 to 6,200. The number of large centres tripled from four to twelve, the number of instructors increased from 110 to 260. New school centres were opened to accommodate the increasing number of classes in the areas where the student population lived.
Slovenian classes opened in Box Hill High School Centre, taking in the student population living in the south-eastern part of Melbourne, including Springvale, Dandenong, Clayton and Mulgrave districts. University High School in the centre of Melbourne took in students from around Melbourne and Geelong, who could easily arrive by train. Maribyrnong High School was attended by the students who lived in the north-western part of Melbourne, the St.Albans, Sunshine and Footscray districts.
In 1982 Joe Abiuso took over as the Headmaster of the SSML. He introduced an integrated approach to the administration of the school. He particularly concentrated on upgrading of the SSML with the status equal to that of the other schools in the system.
In order to achieve this aim he established the SSML Advisory Council, which included representatives of all the major language groups. Aleksandra Ceferin, elected Vice-President, represented Slovenian and smaller language groups offered by the School. The Advisory Council remained in place till 1986, making representations to the Department of Education regarding the status of the school, assisting the Headmaster in making administrative, curriculum and professional development decisions and participating in Council elections.
While steadily increasing the number of enrolments, the school was gaining strength, but the Principal and senior staff continued to make representations to the Minister of Education. In a major submission to the Australian Senate Standing Committee “Towards a National Language Policy” dated 2nd February 1983 were listed all the issues which needed to be addressed by the government. VSL wanted to achieve equal status with other schools of the state school system, representation of the school population by setting up a VSL School Council, adequate support for the study of languages through provision of professional development, resourcing of languages and HSC accreditation.
A “Working Party to examine Saturdays School of Modern Languages” was established by the Minister for Education in 1986. A report was completed in March 1987. A delay prompted the School’s Advisory Council to seek a meeting with the Minister.
At the annual staff meeting of the SSML held on 5 December 1987 at Maribyrnong High School, the staff of 400 instructors was addressed by the Minister for Education Mr. Ian Cathie, who announced that most of the 29 recommendations were accepted. Some of the highlights were:
1. The School would be known as the Victorian School of Languages
2. The School would be classified with an A school status
3. That full School Council status within the meaning of the Education
4. That minimum face to face teaching would be increased to three hours
5. That extra in-service training for the instructors would be approved
6. That the expansion of service to country areas and to the primary level was likely to be introduced The VSL is also responsible for language provision through Distance Education. French, German, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Modern Greek and Latin are the languages offered to students unable to attend face-to-face classes.
The school has provided a most valued and memorable part of the participating students” education for the last 30 years. With its many languages and mixed student and teacher population it reflected the multicultural and ever changing nature of Australian society. It also served as an example of the tolerance of Australian people to welcome and accept a broad variety of peoples and cultures
In 2007 the VSL offers 40 languages in 38 centres to 13,000 students. VSL Distance Education offers courses to a further 1600 students. It has completed another major curriculum and professional development program and is in the process of publishing CSF Course Outlines for levels 1 to 10, for all its languages and incorporating the most recent language education reform.