Matters for the record

9th February 1996 at 00:00
Gerald Haigh on a good guide to keeping school archives in order.

I recently met a retired inspector who is writing a history of education in his county. School log books, of course, make up an important resource for such work, and he confessed to being surprised at the casual way in which these irreplaceable documents were kept and handled.

I felt a frisson of guilt at this, because when I was a head I had in my room a set of log books which set out, in the handwriting of successive heads, the complete history of our school from 1870. I knew that really they should have been in the county records office, and yet I just could not bear to be parted from them.

Often I sat with groups of pupils, reading about events of a hundred years before, and enjoying the children's fascination with the handwriting of Amos Jaques - an Edwardian predecessor of mine who wrote his entries in classic copperplate, with beautifully decorated capital letters and the judicious use of red ink and carefully ruled underlinings.

Later entries were interesting too, including those proudly written in 1946 by Alex Wilson, straight out of the RAF, armed with a new fangled and expensive Biro. The problem was that these documents (and others, such as the registers of pupil admissions, with their lists of local families and addresses) were frighteningly vulnerable to vandalism, burglary, fire, burst pipes, even spilled coffee.

There are other records, too, the security of which may not even be considered by busy staff in a school - staff meeting minutes, annual calendars of events, newsletters to parents. Papers like this are boring for a year or so, and then gradually become first interesting and then historically important.

Most schools, too, have building plans and diagrams. In our case, because our site was susceptible to flooding, we often had to seek out the original plan of the drains, discovering every time yet another ruse by which the presumably loosely supervised builders had managed to circumvent the intentions of the architect

What heads and governors need, therefore, is some guidance about what to keep and what to throw away, which is where School Records - their management and retention comes in. Produced by the Society of Archivists, this 100-page A4 handbook sets out to help heads, secretaries and governors to devise management systems for their records - how long to keep things, which ones to discard, which should be passed to the records office. All of this is clearly explained, and also summarised in a useful chart.

Thus you learn, for example, that the school development plan should be kept in school for three years, then transferred to the records office, but that governor training manuals can be destroyed when no longer needed. A useful section sets out the principles which should govern the preservation of essential computer data.

The ultimate head's record-keeping guilt, however, is caused not by failure to look after interesting documents but by forgetting to add entries to the log book. Put up your hand if you guiltily write up a year of entries over each summer holiday. This is a real shame, because the head's handwritten log represents a fine tradition, and offers a real feeling of continuity with those who have gone before. As HMI were instructed, 130 years ago, in a rubric quoted in this handbook: "A teacher who performs this duty simply, regularly, and with discrimination, will find it a powerful help in mastering his profession, as well as an honourable monument of his labours."

Society of Archivists, Information House, 20-24 Old Street, London. EC1V 9AP

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