‘Life at School: Then & Now’ Archive Workshops

This post was initially featured on our Archive Education blog, found here.

When we initially started education outreach within the archives, we expected to work primarily with Key Stage 2 to 4 pupils. However, we’ve had a fair bit of interest from Key Stage 1 classes, and it has been fantastic seeing younger students interact with history in a new way.

Prior to the holiday break, I delivered several ‘Life at School: Then & Now’, workshops to Year 2s at schools in Fulham and Westminster.  Using a variety of our archive collections, we explore the differences between life at school in the past and present, particularly investigating the differences for boys and girls.  The second main learning goal for this workshop is to know different ways we can learn about the past.  The afternoons went by quickly, but here are a few of the sorts of activities we get up to in ‘Life at School: Then & Now’ workshops…

We first use the archives to look at the traditional differences of school in the past and now, that students are often already familiar with:

– Victorian schools with students in rows versus tables arranged in groups
– Blank walls versus colourful artwork, posters, etc.
– Stern looking teachers in formal clothes versus smiling teachers in more modern fashions
– All the while, thinking about how our classrooms are now arranged in comparison (the students immediately observed the absence of computer stations and carpet areas in photographs from the early twentieth century)

Hard at work drawing birds-eye views of their classroom in 2013, and classrooms in the past.

Children then explore archive collections including photographs, timetables, and documents depicting gender-specific learning… domestic science classes for girls, and woodwork classes for the boys.

This photograph was featured in a magazine about School Home Economic classes; taken at Mayfield Comprehensive School in London in 1953, ‘the girls learn to use household (items) and equipment’. Document Reference: BF/1/1/21

Male students in a Craft, Design and Technology class, from the 1970s. Document Reference: ABB/A/75/10

Finally, we take a look at progressive schools and later decades (like this primary school in East London), as both male and female students were included in domestic science & craft, design, and technology classes. Document Reference: BF/1/1/9

Following an afternoon break, we use the National Union of Women Teachers collection to look at the differences for male and female teachers in the past.  Two students volunteer act as male and female teachers in 1914, and come up and collect their annual pay (in the form of highly coveted Monopoly money – £82 for women, £139 for men) to illustrate the pay inequality.  Shock from the female students naturally ensued.

Taking care with the archives, the Year 2s were particularly interested in the old handwritten notes jotted on the backs of the photographs.

Investigating photographs from the Brenda Francis collection, which depict ‘ironing… making tea… cutting the fish’.

In small groups, taking a look at the NUWT archives with their white gloves on. The document of choice for most was an old ticket from a demonstration at Royal Albert Hall. The Year 2s had been learning about London landmarks and were excited to see the familiar Royal Albert Hall. One student paused and asked, ‘… Did the ladies we learned about go there for a meeting?!’

It was great to see how well the NUWT collection can lend itself to other themes and topics, in addition to the campaigning workshops we’ve done thus far.  In the upcoming weeks, we’ll be using the NUWT papers to create workshops focusing on historiography, in addition to an adult learning day around the theme of ‘Education for Peace’ during the war and inter-war period.

For ‘Life at School: Then & Now’,  we drew from a few of our other archive collections, in addition to the NUWT, including:

The papers of Brenda Francis.  Francis was a London County Council / Inner London Education Authority (ILEA) Advisory Teacher in the field of domestic science.  Throughout her career, she collected a a large collection of photographs which captured domestic science from the 1930s to the 1980s, and a range of supporting papers.

I also brought along photographs from the photographic archive of the Ministry of Education’s Architects and Buildings Branch.  The A&B Branch collection contains photographs and slides which depict a range of features of school life from the 1940s to the 1990s.  The collection is amazing in its breadth, illustrating a wide range of subjects which reflect both the Branch’s activities, the consturction of schools, and also records of changes in styles of education, concepts of child-centred learning, planning, furniture, colour in schools, landscape, sociology, social history, post-war changes in secondary education, the secondary modern, vocational/technical education, gender stereotypes, and many more.

A big thank you to the wonderful teachers we worked with: Ms Casey, Ms Murphy, Ms Vandepas, their T.A.’s, and each of their engaged and enthusiastic Year 2s.

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