80 years ago, on 1 April 1930, two staff members, Ken Cunningham, the inaugural chief executive and secretary Mary Campbell, established ACER's first office in two rooms of the T&G building on the corner of Collins and Russell Streets in central Melbourne. By the end of the 1930s ACER's total staff had expanded to five.
From that humble beginning ACER has grown into one of the world's leading educational research bodies with an expanding national and international presence. Eight decades after the organisation was founded, ACER has more than 300 staff working in offices in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide, Dubai and Delhi. This article briefly outlines the ACER journey.
ACER was established in 1930 with a grant from the Carnegie Corporation, a US organisation created in 1911 to promote 'the advancement and diffusion of knowledge and understanding'. The grants were to benefit the people of the United States, although a small percentage of the funds could be used for the same purpose in countries that were or had been members of the British Commonwealth. The grant to establish ACER was made following a visit to Australia by American James Russell on behalf of the Carnegie Corporation in order to assess the state of education in Australia and investigate appropriate means of assistance.
The official title 'Australian Educational Research Council' was first selected, but then changed at the first council meeting held in 1930 to Australian Council for Educational Research, which has not changed again since.
ACER's early years
Prior to the establishment of ACER there had been no educational institution with an Australia-wide interest. The first research undertaken was: the standardisation of scholastic and mental testing for Australia; a study of the number of children aged 10 to 18 in each school grade or type of occupation; and the fundamental problems of the primary school curriculum.
ACER's early focus was on research as opposed to service activities, and making ACER a clearinghouse of research information. Emphasis was placed on primary and secondary education. It had a policy of functioning through the state Institutes of Educational Research, although this was never particularly successful.
In its early years ACER developed an image as:
During the Second World War, ACER was involved in psychological testing for personnel selection to the Armed Services and government departments. ACER also worked on publications dealing with evacuation possibilities, and advised the Department of Post-War Reconstruction. For the three years from 1942 ACER was mostly concerned with the war effort, with regular work suspended. Its war time work helped lead to government financial support for ACER from 1946 and confirmed it as a significant national institution.
In the post war years, ACER was able to move away from war work to focus on schools again. There was now more emphasis on testing. ACER had become dependent on government finance. ACER work included: a large growth in library work; establishment of a semi-autonomous test division; conferences of test users; research into test theory; Australia-wide curriculum survey; university study to determine predictions of academic success; and the beginning of studies into adolescence and unemployment.
In the 1960s ACER began the Co-operative Scholarship Testing Program (CSTP) for scholarships to independent schools. The program still runs today along with several others.
ACER grew rapidly in the post-war decades outgrowing several premises. Originally located in Collins Street, Melbourne until 1958, then in Lonsdale Street, the company moved eight kilometres from central Melbourne to Hawthorn in 1963 then to its current premises in nearby Camberwell in 1994. A second Camberwell office, on Camberwell Road, was sold in 2007 following the purchase of a building adjacent to the company's head office. The buildings were connected allowing almost all Victorian staff to be housed in the one building. A Sydney office opened in 2002, signalling ACER's efforts to be seen as a truly national organisation. This was followed by offices in Brisbane in 2006, Perth in 2007 and Adelaide in 2009. International offices were established in Dubai and India in 2004.
After an early focus on Australian education, ACER now provides a range of services for an expanding number of international clients. ACER manages the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) project on behalf of the OECD and has been involved in many other significant international studies and is a founding member of the Asia Pacific Educational Research Association (APERA) which links educational research organisations across the region.
Today, ACER is an independent, not for profit organisation. ACER now receives no government funding — it is funded entirely through contract work, fees for services and product sales.
ACER research is organised into seven research programs:
In addition to research, ACER's work includes fee for service testing programs such as scholarship selection, university entrance, psychological and human resources tests. Some of these are available online. Test scoring and administration services are also available. Tests, books and other materials are also published and sold through ACER Press for the education, psychology, human resources, parent education, special needs and speech pathology markets. The ACER Institute (formerly the Centre for Professional Learning) provides a range of professional learning seminars and manages ACER's annual Research Conference.
In coming years ACER intends to continue its role as a major international provider of research-based information, products and services. ACER will also expand on its program of research and development in support of learning in vocational education training and in higher education institutions while maintaining and expanding work undertaken in support of schools and providing ready access to reliable usable research information and research-based materials and services.
Connell, W.F. (1980) The Australian Council for Educational Research 1930-80, ACER: Melbourne.
Williams, B. (1994) Education With its Eyes Open: A biography of Dr K. S. Cunningham, ACER: Melbourne.
1928 James Russell from the United States visits Australia on behalf of the Carnegie Corporation to assess the state of education and investigate appropriate means of assistance.
1929 Representatives from each of the states except Queensland, and Executive meet to form a constitution. Official title ‘Australian Educational Research Council’ accepted.
1930 February. Australian Council for Educational Research established (its name being changed at the first council meeting) with the agreement of a grant from the Carnegie Corporation.
April. ACER commences operation. K.S. Cunningham appointed first Executive Officer, and serves from 1930-1954.
1930 First ACER publication, Educational Research Series No. 1, Individual Education, by C. Fenner and A.G. Paull.
1930s IQ tests gain popularity.
1935 A Library Group established and runs until 1948. ACER is instrumental in setting up free library services in Australia.
1937 ACER hosts the international New Education Fellowship Conference in Australia. The conference begins in Brisbane in August, and concludes in Perth seven weeks later after moving to other capital cities. The conference is a huge success, with more than 8000 people attending.
1939 Funding from Carnegie Corporation ceases. ACER has saved some of the initial grant money, which keeps the organisation afloat during the war years until government support becomes available in 1946.
1940 ACER begins aptitude testing with army recruits.
1945 First full time librarian appointed.
1954 Dr Cunningham retires.
1955 Dr W.C. Radford commences as Director, and serves until 1976. Radford was previously Assistant Director.
1957 ACER establishes the Australian Journal of Education, which is still published today.
1958 ACER office moves from Collins Street to Lonsdale Street, Melbourne.
1962 Co-operative Scholarship Testing Program (CSTP) for testing for scholarships to independent schools begins. The testing program still runs today.
1963 ACER office moves to Hawthorn.
1977 Dr J.P. Keeves appointed Director, and serves until 1985
1985 Dr Barry McGaw appointed Director, and serves until 1998.
1994 ACER office moves to current head office in Camberwell.
1997 ACER Press established.
1998 Dr Geoff Masters appointed Director, the title is later changed to chief executive officer.
2002 Sydney office opens in January.
2003 Government funding to ACER ceases. ACER had been receiving a small portion of its income from the Commonwealth and State governments since 1946.
2003 ACER makes a successful bid to manage PISA 2006
2004 Dubai, India and UK offices open.
2004 ACER acquires Educare business. Educare News is relaunched as Teacher Magazine
2004 ACER acquires Australian Principal Centre, which later becomes the ACER Leadership Centre.
2005 ACER successfully bids to manage PISA 2009
2005 Ken Rowe chairs National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy for the Commonwealth Government
2006 Brisbane office opens
2006 Report on options for an Australian Certificate of Education delivered to Department of Education, Science and Training and released publicly in March.
2006 Over $4.6 million worth of income is collected via the web, compared to $1.2 million in the previous year.
2007 Perth office opens.
2007 Ecommerce turnover during 2006-07 almost doubles compared to the previous financial year, with over $8.4 million worth of income collected via the internet.
2007 Camberwell Road building sold.
2008 Railway Parade building opens. Most Melbourne staff are now based in the main office in Prospect Hill Road, Camberwell, which is connected to the adjacent Railway Parade building.
2008 ACER opens Operations Centre in Mulgrave
2009 CEO Professor Geoff Masters invited to participate in the national 2020 Summit discussions of the Rudd government’s productivity agenda in April.
2009 ACER office in India changes from a ‘liaison’ office to a wholly owned subsidiary – Australian Council for Educational Research India Private Limited.
2009 ACER CEO Professor Geoff Masters reviews literacy, numeracy and science standards in Queensland primary schools.
2009 The number of ACER staff exceeds 300 employees.
2010 ACER celebrates its 80th anniversary
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