If your school was built during the Victorian period or earlier you have a wonderful resource to use. If your school is modern then it will still have a history and may have replaced an earlier building that you could also research.
Step 1 Explore your school building
- Is your school building old or new? Look at the building - does it look modern or old fashioned?
- What is it made from, stone or brick?
- Is there any sort of plaque or date stone on the outside?
- Is there a plaque inside - it may be just inside the front door and record the opening of the school, often by an important local person
- Was all of the school built at the same time? Are some parts built from a different colour or type of brick or stone or in a very different style?
- If there are no clues then search Heritage Explorer for schools in your county and see if there are other similar looking schools that will give you an approximate date.
- When you have a date or the original name of the school then find out more from the Teacher Notes: A Brief History of Schools.
Step 2 Talk to local people
- Contact people who have lived near the school for a long time or who used to go to the school and ask them about their memories of the school. Was it a new school when they went there?
- Make contact with a local historian or Local History Society who may be willing to come and talk to you (ask in your local library for contact names)
- Ask local people for old school photographs, school magazines etc - an advert in a local newspaper may work! Offer to scan and return items
Step 3 Do some research on the internet
It is best if you do some searches yourself and then direct pupils to specific pages on selected websites
- Do a 'google' search on the name of your school. It may bring back photographs and memories of past pupils. It should also give you bits of information from general sources, including family history and local history websites
- Visit the Historical Directories website. Local Trade Directories were produced throughout the nineteenth century either based on the county or town. Even small villages were described and schools were always mentioned, frequently with a small amount of information including the date it was built.
Step 4 Do some research with primary sources
Research using primary sources is a bit like detective work. You have to follow clues and leads and sometimes there are gaps in the information. Children enjoy this type of work so let them become expert researchers.
- If your school records are still at school then use school log books to find out when the school opened, what type of school it was, names of teachers, events that happened and what lessons were taught.
- Other useful sources are admissions registers, old photographs, programmes, school magazines etc
- If the records are not at school then they may be in your local archives.
- Contact them for help and ask if they have an education officer. If so they may be able to do some of the initial research for you.
- Either the archives or a local studies library will probably have copies of old local newspapers. If you have the date that the school opened to pupils or the date of the official opening (which was often a bit later) and can find an old newpaper for that date then it is likely to have an article about the school, maybe an illustration.
- Local newspapers also generally included the minutes of the school board meetings and you can find information there regarding the building and opening of schools
- Check out local history books and original trade directories while you are there.
- The archives should also have full school board and education committee minutes that will contain references to your school, particularly relating to the buildings.
- They may also have inspectors' reports on your school or surveys of all local schools.
- They may also have plans of the school.
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