Fred Schonell

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Sir Fred Joyce Schonell (3 August 1900 – 22 February 1969) was an Australian educationist, and vice-chancellor of the University of Queensland from 1960 to 1969.


Schonell graduated from the University of Western Australia in 1925, at the same time as his wife-to-be, Florence Eleanor de Bracey Waterman; the couple married the next year. Eleanor, as she was always known, was a close collaborator with Schonell, and a noted educationalist in her own right. In 1928 they left for England. Schonell studied at Kings College London and the London Day Training College, University of London; his Ph.D. thesis was on the diagnosis and remediation of difficulties in spelling. In 1942 he was appointed professor of education at the University College of Swansea, University of Wales, where he is noted as having brought new life to a department suffering from the effects of wartime privation. His research interests focused on reading difficulties, primarily but not exclusively in primary school children. Two books date from these years: Backwardness in the Basic Subjects (Edinburgh, 1942) and The Psychology and Teaching of Reading (Edinburgh, 1945).

Schonell was appointed Professor of Education at the University of Birmingham in 1947, where he established a remedial education centre.[1] His research interests at this time were many and various: methods of teaching English to boys, the library borrowings of children, children's reading interests, selection criteria for entrants for the teaching profession, and English and history teaching methodologies. A particular interest was always 'the backward reader'; he was founding director of a remedial education centre in the city, where research and student training took place alongside remedial teaching. In 1948, he established a journal, Educational Review.

In 1950, Schonell returned to Australia, where he became founding professor of education at the University of Queensland. In 1952 facilitated the opening of a remedial education centre with a former student from Birmingham. Research interests included the language of Australian labourers, the education of young Aborigines, the failure of above-average intelligence children in school, and the social and educational problems of migrants' children.

He wrote two series of books for children. The Happy Venture series, noted for the characters Dick and Dora, and the Wide Range series, were written from the late 1930s till the early '50s. Both were widely used as school books throughout the British Commonwealth for many years. Schonell's wife Eleanor and others contributed to the series, and it has been claimed[by whom?] they were plagiarised by the US based Dick and Jane authors. From the late 1940s, Schonell worked with English teacher-turned-author Phyllis Flowerdew on several primary school readers, including the very successful Wide Range Readers.

From the late 1940s onwards, Schonell worked on a reading test which became one of the most widely used in the English-speaking world; the ability to read a range of words of increasing difficulty was translated into a reading age, which would then be taken as a score reading ability. The test is still in use (2017).

He was knighted in 1962.[2]


Many buildings on the University of Queensland campus are named after him and his wife, Lady (Eleanor) Schonell. St Lucia Road, which leads to the university campus, was renamed in his honour as Sir Fred Schonell Drive.[3]


  1. ^ Elkins, John. "Schonell, Sir Fred Joyce (1900–1969)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. National Centre for Biography, Australian National University. Archived from the original on 26 December 2014. Retrieved 12 December 2014. 
  2. ^ "It's an Honour - Honours - Search Australian Honours". Archived from the original on 3 March 2016. Retrieved 5 March 2018. 
  3. ^ Queensland Places: St Lucia Archived 7 March 2011 at the Wayback Machine., accessed 8 March 2011.

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