A Personal History of the Association

Tony Ferguson

Presented at the VicTESOL Annual General Meeting, 7 December 2017



I wasn’t there at the conception and birth of the association in 1970-71, though my interest in the field was stimulated by the experience of interpreting for three newly arrived French students and their families at Maribyrnong High School in 1970. Many students at the school were staying at the nearby Maribyrnong Migrant Hostel nearby. There was no interpreter service then. As convenor of the French department I was called in to interpret at the enrolment interview and the students were placed in my Form 3 class. The school started an English class for new arrivals in 1970. Small groups had English periods in a cleaners’ storeroom with a new teacher whose qualifications were a double MA (failed) from Calcutta. The Senior Mistress spent much of every day dealing with conflicts between him and his students. My suggestion that the language teaching skills of the French teachers and the language laboratory be used as resources was dismissed out of hand.

In the latter part of 1970, I attended a weekly part-time late-afternoon course in teaching English to migrants conducted by the late Michael Cigler at Monash University. He had been teaching intensive courses for Czech refugees who escaped after the repression of the Prague Spring in 1968 and I met Felicity Murray who was part of the program at Brunswick Technical School.


An outline of the chronology of the formation and development of the association.

I wasn’t aware of it, but according the report for the period September 1970 to May 1972 by Joan Hunter, Secretary, the idea of a specialist association emerged in April 1970. Negotiations with the secondary teachers’ Victorian Association for theTeaching of English resulted in a Steering Committee with a representative each from primary, secondary, technical school and adult sectors in September 1970 and in October a provisional VATESFL committee was elected for 6 months. It was chaired by Noel Will (technical schools), Secretary Judy Caproni (Curriculum & Research Branch) Treasurer J Spain (non-government schools) Hyrell Waten (Principal, Richmond Girls HS). Ms T Christou & Ms N Orr (primary schools), Mustafa Refet (high schools) Helen Tebble (teacher educator, Frankston State College of Victoria) and Lisa Veltjens (AMEP teacher).

The Association formed in October 1970 was originally the Victorian Association for the Teaching of English as a Second or Foreign Language (VATESFL). In March 1971, it voted to become the Victorian branch of the Australian Association for the Teaching of English as a Foreign Language which was formed in November 1970, but in September 1971 AATEFL adopted a constitution with no provision for state branches. We reverted to the name Victorian Association for the Teaching of English as a Foreign Language (VATEFL) with the committee elected in May 1971 presided over by Hyrell Waten and secretary Joan Hunter (RMIT intensive English). VATEFL and the Association of Teachers of Adult Migrants (ATAM) merged in 1972.

Although the Adult Migrant English Program was set up in 1947, it was considered that school students would learn English by osmosis.

By the late 1960s, a few schools in Victoria with high enrolments of students who spoke other languages were running specialist classes.

After 16 years of lobbying which was initiated by the Victorian Teachers Union (of primary school teachers) as far back as 1954, the Commonwealth Child Migrant English Program was finally inaugurated in April 1970. Supernumerary teachers were appointed to schools (the state education departments were reimbursed for our salaries when they submitted quarterly reports). High and technical schools were given sets of the outdated Situational English textbooks for adults & Teacher’s books, a small set of Language Pictures, and some AV equipment. I am not sure promised audiotapes ever materialised. It also funded Child Migrant English Services in each state, a team of consultants/advisory teachers who ran one-day orientation programs for new teachers and occasional more extended inservice training programs. (CMES in Victoria was headed up by Allen Humphries who was appointed to the Curriculum and Research Branch in 1967). I was given three days by a Technical Schools Division inspector to visit other technical schools with programs: Collingwood, Richmond and Brunswick.

There were no on-arrival English centres or schools, no bilingual/multicultural education aides, no interpreters other than a few who worked at Psychology & Guidance Branch.

The states were mandated to provide classroom accommodation, but the Victorian Education Department wouldn’t and many schools couldn’t. In the early 1970s, most of our association members were lone teachers, many of whom had to teach our students in a corner of the library, broom cupboards, corridors, laundries, shelter sheds, the foyer of the toilets in one school. Eventually, the Commonwealth began to supply a few schools with a demountable classroom.

I took up a position of the one teacher of English to newly/recently arrived migrant students at the fearful, hostile and violent Coburg Technical School in February 1971. There had been a teacher in 1970 who left without leaving very much useful material.

As far as I recall, I joined VATEFL in early 1972 and attended monthly general meetings at the Victorian Teachers Union in Bank Place, participated in lively discussions and raised issues. The meetings covered a wide range of topics including TEAL pedagogy but also who our students were, their linguistic problems and their broader educational and settlement needs.

Few of us had any specialist qualifications and I doubt there were any courses other than a Diploma at Sydney Uni to train teachers in TEFL for the Colombo Plan, the Australian government’s overseas aid program for British Commonwealth countries.

I don’t remember any mention of migrant students or their English language learning and broader needs in my Dip Ed course in 1967, though Method of Modern Languages gave me an initial language teaching methodology.

VATEFL meetings gave us practical techniques and tips, information about resources including people whose assistance I drew on in trying to meet the needs of my students who faced many barriers to learning English and studying in schools more generally. VATEFL provided us essential moral support for each other. Most VATEFL members in the early 1970s were the only teachers of English to migrant students in their school, though a few inner city schools had several teachers. VATEFL had a small, but growing library of books and teaching resources which we could consult and borrow. A lovely feature was Felicity Murray’s multicultural super suppers.

In addition to knowledge gained from guest speakers & VATEFL colleagues, the Brotherhood of St Laurence book Two Worlds school and the migrant family published in 1971 gave me crucial insights, including the fact that it took most migrants 10 years to get above the poverty line, a measure that had recently been defined by Ronald Henderson at the University of Melbourne.

I was first elected to the committee in 1973. Joan Hunter sent out a quarterly newsletter. In 1974, I was apprenticed to her. After we produced two issues jointly, I became newsletter editor and we began to publish eight expanded issues a year.

VATEFL members very early wanted the association to act as a pressure group on issues such as finance for materials for schools, consultation with teachers on materials supplied by the Language Education Branch in Canberra and accommodation for our classes. We were considered very outspoken in Canberra.

By late 1972, members Alex McKnight, Morag Loh and Robert Walker at Collingwood HS had developed an 8-page set of Thoughts and Recommendations on Migrant and Remedial English.Their principal Kath Watson gave a talk entitled Toward a Policy on Migrant Education at our April 1973 meeting . The recommendations on curricula and teacher-training were the first formal statements on early conceptions of multicultural education which were mainly about catering for the education (not just English) needs of migrant students, taking into   account their cultural and educational backgrounds, knowledge and skills.

We published the Collingwood HS Thoughts and Recommendations in the VATEFL Newsletter, May 1973.

They influenced the 1973 VATEFL policy document.

I think of VATEFL/VAME/VATME as an important part of a wider social, cultural and educational evolution over the decades.

Federal government policy had moved after the abolition of the White Australia Policy from assimilation of migrants to integration to multiculturalism. Al Grassby, the Minister for Immigration presented an Immigration Reference Paper, A Multi-Cultural Society for the Future at a Cairnmillar Institute Symposium.

The 1970s saw the establishment of the Australian Schools Commission. Its Innovations and Disadvantaged Schools Programs led to the development and funding of further ESL and multicultural education programs in schools.

Migrants were moving from being subject to assimilation and being seen as people with problems to people asserting their rights and dignity as legitimate minorities in an ethnically plural society. From 1973, some VATEFL members were involved in Migrant Education Action which brought together ethnic communities and their allies in organising a conference and further campaigning for better provision at all levels.

In 1974, our guest speakers included Bert Townsend then at La Trobe University who spoke about development of multiracial education in the UK and urged that our school curriculum should reflect the multicultural nature of Australian society and Dr Tony Knight of LaTrobe University who spoke on the sensitisation of teachers to the fact that Australia had become a multicultural society and that the curriculum should be modified accordingly.

Member Alex McKnight, concerned about VATEFL’s small paid-up membership argued that we needed to broaden our appeal and increase our effective achievement of curriculum change to reflect the multicultural reality and that we change our name to Victorian Association for Multicultural Education. This was agreed at the re-convened AGM in August 1974. Alex and Helen Tebble led the discussions that resulted in a more developed policy for multicultural education.

Over the years, the Association regularly updated and developed our policy, with English language teaching seen in the context of empowering learners to participate fully in institutions and public life . Our vision became education for all for a multicultural society. We were one of the groups who played a consciousness-raising role.

From the 1970s onwards, members working in the government, Catholic and non-government schools and their bureaucracies, TAFE, teacher education settings and tertiary institutions influenced positive developments in TEAL and multicultural education. We worked together in a context of constant change in government policies, many of which were dysfunctional and worse, funding cuts more often than increases and developments in often negative public debates about immigration policies and literacy to keep TEAL and education for a multicultural society on the agenda. As Alan Williams wrote in 2013, this led to a huge workload for our active volunteer members in responding to calls for consultation, writing submissions often at short notice and lobbying with varying degrees of success. Sometimes we were co-opted onto official decision-making bodies and ignored at other times. There was a time after the CMEP was abolished by the Hawke government in 1988, that there was virtually no state bureaucratic support for TEAL in schools other than the on-arrival program. Key VATME members were able to stop it disappearing completely and managed to ensure provision for our students in VCE English and support materials for teachers. Teacher training institutions and the Victorian Ministry of Education implemented recommendations for the qualifications required by teachers of ESL, LOTE, Bilingual Education and Community Languages drawn up by a working party of VATME members from the 1985 State Conference on Teacher Education for ESL, LOTE, BE and CL which VATME co-sponsored.

In 1982, people in the adult sector set up new association, VATESOL to cater mainly for the specific interests of people working in that sector. By 1985-1986, the two associations were organising joint activities until 1988 when there was a VAME/VATESOL trial marriage which was so successful that they merged in November 1988 to form the Victorian Association of TESOL and Multicultural Education.

In the 1990s, VATME set up subcommittees to work on issues and plan professional development activities specific to the schools and adult sectors in collaboration with the executive and then initiated the positions of vice presidents for each.

VATEFL/VAME/VATME helped to put our work on a more professional basis, gave teachers, our students and others in our field a voice through our advocacy work, provided and co-sponsored PD and materials development workshops face to face and through the Newsletter and other publications, kept members informed of a wide variety of resources. We organised miniconferences and VCE English for ESL Students PD days for teachers and student days. We contributed significantly to the establishment, policy and achievements of ACTA and TESOL in Context. We provided a network and became part of significant networks in civil society. The Association did all this on a voluntary after-hours basis before the first funded VATME positions for the schools sector 1991 and the adult sector in1997. I don’t have time this evening to mention more of our Association’s many achievements.

On a personal note, the Association gave me the opportunity to work with and especially to learn so much from an extraordinary range of friendly, dedicated and inspiring people, a highlight of my working life.



Tony Ferguson was a committee member from 1973 to 2000, president for six years altogether, and served terms as vice-president, secretary and acting treasurer.

He was Newsletter editor from 1974 to 1998 and founding editor of TESOL in Context. Together with Jeanette Vadala, he developed the first VATME website in 1998-99.

He was the first Extension Education Officer for the schools sector 1991-2000.

I would like to thank the committee for their enthusiasm, interest, commitment and work throughout the year for VicTESOL and the broader EAL community of educators and students. Without their ideas and input the extensive program of activities VicTESOL has undertaken in 2017 would not have occurred.

Thanks goes to Julia Lippold, Kristy Collins and Freya Dos-Santos who have indicated that they will step down from the committee as of the AGM. We thank Julia for her contribution in the VCE EAL area, Kristy around communications and Freya for her contribution to the adult subcommittee. We wish them well for the future and hope they will be able to take up committee membership in the future

Special thanks to the executive – Shem, April and Mark who have shared their ideas and given much of their valuable time throughout the year in providing support to the undertakings of VicTESOL. They have instigated and sustained a range of initiatives and activities that have added to VicTESOL’s achievements throughout 2017.

Much appreciation goes to April who has indicated that she will step down from the role of secretary. April has shown much initiative especially in the area of making links with Indigenous Education groups. Her energy and enthusiasm will be missed. However, April will still be a valued member of the general committee.


Professional Learning
The past year has been very active for the association in a range of ways.

VicTESOL has worked hard to provide an extensive and comprehensive Professional Learning program. Thanks goes to the Professional Learning coordinator, Catherine McClymont, who has professionally and proficiently organised a range of Professional Learning activities across the Early Childhood, schools, VCE EAL and adult sectors. Also thanks to the Professional Learning subcommittee led by Michelle Andrews.

All Professional Learning activities have been well attended and received positive feedback. In 2018, we will continue to develop the Professional Learning program and aim to broaden our partnerships across the sectors so as to provide a relevant and current Professional Learning agenda. We will continue to develop a funding partnership with the Department of Education and Training (DET).

A key Professional Learning activity worth noting was one which was co-hosted with La Trobe University in November. Patsy Lightbown, an internationally renowned teacher and researcher in the field spoke of TESOL theory and practice from the past which is still very relevant in current times. Special thanks to Shem Macdonald for organising this event.

The highlight of VicTESOL’s Professional Learning calendar in 2017 was the one-day symposium at the Bastow Institute for Educational Leadership in August. The keynotes addresses presented by Associate Professor Jane Wilkinson (Monash University) and Dr Jenny Barnett (University of South Australia) stimulated us all in our thinking around community responses to EAL learners and who we are as professional EAL teachers.

Thank you to all the presenters who shared their practices and ideas. The presentations inspired discussion and had us questioning our current professional knowledge and practices. Special thanks to the VicTESOL subcommittee who supported the planning and operational aspects of the event.

Thanks to Jessie and the communications subcommittee who have put together the e-bulletin during the year and promoted VicTESOL activities through the VicTESOL website, facebook and twitter. A new VicTESOL brochure was designed and is now being distributed. We look forward to further developments in the communications area in 2018.

Adult Sector
VicTESOL has had an active adult sector subcommittee this year. We look forward to their ongoing support and ideas in 2018.

VCE EAL is a priority area for VicTESOL. A number of activities are planned for early 2018. VicTESOL will continue to host twilight sessions for this group of TESOL educators to encourage networking and the sharing of resources.

Membership and Policy
Thanks goes to the membership and policy subcommittee who have worked tirelessly throughout the year. A healthy and active membership is crucial to the ongoing work of VicTESOL. It assists us to improve and consolidate our service. Therefore, I encourage you to consider membership at an individual level and at an institutional level for your organisation. Membership provides you with the opportunity to have a voice in the EAL community and advocate for the needs of educators and learners. Being a VicTESOL member provides you access to EAL networks and professional learning activities. It is a means of professional as well as personal enrichment.

Research Grant

Alan Williams will talk more about the VicTESOL research grant which was instigated in 2016. We would like to congratulate the successful applicants. Our thanks go to Shem Macdonald, Alan Williams, and Mark Melican for adjudicating the research grant process.

VicTESOL would also like to acknowledge the research work of Katrina Tour and Maria Gindidis (Monash University) who in partnership with Blackburn English Language School have created a website based on their work into ‘transmedia’.


VicTESOL has worked closely with the national body ACTA (Australian Council of TESOL associations) throughout the year. ACTA has been very active in the area of advocacy including writing submission for:

  • Inquiry into Migrant Settlement (May 2017)
  • Supplementary submission to the Inquiry into Migrant Settlement
  • Proposed English language proficiency test for citizenship
  • Productivity Commissions Inquiry on the National Education Evidence Base
  • Review to Achieve Education Excellence in Australian Schools (Gonski review) (Nov 2017)

In 2018, Margaret Corrigan (Committee Member) will be taking on the convener role of the ACTA adult sector committee.

In October 2018, ACTA International conference will be conducted in Adelaide. The call for papers is open. Please see the ACTA website for further information. VicTESOL is providing four scholarships for the conference for vicTESOL members who will be presenting at the conference.


Administration Officer

Jack Madin has completed his fourth year in the role of Association Officer and has indicated he will continue in 2018. Jack is the face of VicTESOL and keeps the organisation on track – managing memberships, professional learning activity registrations, communicating with subcommittees and members and working closely with the executive and the PL coordinator.

We value his knowledge of VicTESOL processes and practices, and his competence in managing the numerous tasks which come his way. In 2017 he has assisted VicTESOL to become a virtual association.


VicTESOL is an avenue to connect with the broader TESOL field and the community in general. It provides up to data information about activities and events and is a means for sharing what’s happening in the EAL field at a state level. Finally, VicTESOL would like to thank its membership for their ongoing support. The strength of any association is with its membership base.

Anne Keary, President VicTESOL 2017

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