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Howell, Maxwell Arthur (Max) (1926–2011)

Max Howell, n.d.

Max Howell, n.d.

photograph privately sourced

Max Howell's journey as a teacher and educational visionary started in 1943, at the early age of 16, as headmaster of a one-teacher school for 20 children of forestry workers at Upper Delatite, at the base of Mt Buller in Victoria.

Not much older than his students, he studied and slept in a hut with no electricity or water and learned on the job.

At 18 he joined the RAAF and saw service in Borneo and the Pacific during World War II. After his discharge, he was a recipient of the government's CRTS resettlement scheme, under which he attended Melbourne University to study arts, and later education.

It was in those years that he was inspired by many of the teaching staff and visiting orators. He also became actively involved in extracurricular life at university, playing lacrosse for the university and state teams and joining the Student Representative Council (other members were Ivor Greenwood, who became a federal senator, and Lindsay Thompson, later a premier of Victoria).

His first job out of university was with the Victorian Education Department teaching in Geelong, after which he was appointed Camberwell Grammar's Master of history, English and geography.

While there he became actively involved in school life, coaching most sports and acting in many of its drama productions, including a leading role in Henry IV.

Dr Howell's capacity as a teacher and school leader quickly became recognised and within a few years he was appointed deputy headmaster of Camberwell Grammar.

In 1958 he was awarded an Imperial Relations Trust Scholarship and moved to England with his young family for 18 months, teaching in several secondary schools and studying the British education system.

On his return to Camberwell Grammar, he was fired up with new ideas on education.

His next appointment was as headmaster of Brisbane Grammar in 1964, at the age of 38, a position he held for 25 years (he became the second longest serving headmaster of the school since its founding in 1868).

Dr Howell had three core beliefs in education:

  • The self-esteem of all students should be nurtured and developed by every teacher.
  • The true purpose of education was the development of intellect, not merely of memory for exam purposes.
  • Students must be encouraged to pursue excellence in, and beyond, the classroom without fear or limitation.

He was not only a pioneer for the development of Brisbane Grammar into one of the premier secondary schools in Australia, but a key founding member of the Radford Committee.

Supported by the State Government, it reviewed secondary schooling, including how the curriculum was set and how students were examined.

The ultimate result was the abolition of the external examination system, controlled by the University of Queensland, in 1972, and the pioneering of a school-based assessment and moderation approach that now has international credibility.

Dr Howell was subsequently appointed deputy chairman of the newly established Board of Secondary School Studies, the precursor to the current Board of Studies.

Aside from transforming BGS with vast improvements in school facilities, academic, sporting and cultural achievement, he was active both during and after his tenure there on the national education scene.

At various times he chaired the state chapter of the Australian College of Education and Headmasters Conference Australia and was a member of the Griffith University Council.

He also served as deputy chairman of the National Council of Independent Schools and a member of the Commonwealth Schools Commission.

And in retirement he was a member of the governing body of Canterbury College and was appointed acting-head of Ormiston College.

Dr Howell is survived by his wife Betty (nee Page), whom he married in 1950, his children David and Bronwen, and six grandchildren.

Original publication

  • Courier (Brisbane), 9 September 2011

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Citation details

'Howell, Maxwell Arthur (Max) (1926–2011)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/howell-maxwell-arthur-max-16651/text28550, accessed 20 November 2019.

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