Record entries

11th June 2004 at 01:00
A log book spanning several decades of life in a Norfolk school offers a wonderful resource for historical enquiry, says Karen Keddie

When I was asked for my thoughts on using an edited school log book as a resource for a primary historical enquiry, I was a little wary, as thinking of ways to use documents is never easy. Accessing the personal and formal language is usually the first hurdle children come across. Then there is the added trouble of differentiating the activities - especially the reading - and recording the findings.

But a source containing entries such as the ones that follow is too valuable to leave gathering dust on a bookshelf:

31 May 1867 - 3 MERRISONs amp; L MALE left school on account of wearing crinolines 17 Jan 1872 - G ROBOTHAM left. Gone to serve the Bricklayers. Returned again, not big enough.

28 Nov 1911 - 2 boys Walter BUCKENHAM amp; Frank FENN were thrashed this morning for impudence.

Here are a few starting points for a class enquiry using the Stibbard School Log Book 1863-1934, edited by Shirley Howell.

For Years 5 and 6, it provides stimulating learning opportunities for the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority unit on Victorian children and it leads up to the lives of children during the Second World War. Documents and diaries must be explored with older children as we can rely too heavily on photographs and neglect developing their enquiry skills.

Although this book is not in its original format, the transcription should enable pupils to act like historians. Teachers may even encourage them to undertake a longitudinal study focusing on what we can, and cannot, find out about the past from written sources, rather than learning about defined eras.

Before any deep analysis of the evidence can get under way, pupils need to become familiarised with the format and purpose of the text. A big issue when using a record as extensive as this 192-page illustrated log book is having enough copies - Jthe mass photocopying involved had an effect on my ideas for class activities.

Allow pairs of children to read the pages that refer to a specific year from any period without telling them what they are reading. They can then establish what sort of text it is and when it was written.

In classes where pupils write individual journals, children will be able to relate to the record and will begin to realise that their own journals could be the history of the future. This discovery of the past lends itself to speaking and listening skills; they can discuss who they think wrote the book and comment on the records they found the most confusing or shocking.

To begin to record and analyse the information, ask them to cut up the daily entries and sort them into categories: punishments, lessons, school buildings, teachers, illnesses and so on.

Evidence from a variety of years can then be collected and displayed as categorised posters, which they could then annotate as a class.

A comparison of periods in time could be applied here, maybe to analyse trends and differences in schooling between the late Victorian and the post-Victorian periods.

The class photographs can also be used to explore the text further. Use them without the given names, asking pupils to search for possible identities. This allows them to search for answers, and the uncertainty of historical evidence - even when there are two different forms together - can be emphasised.

The photographs can be displayed with quotes from the log book, annotating the possible identities of each child and teacher.

The use of deduction from what is written about each person will encourage deep thinking and will highlight that deduction and inference is all that most historians can do.

If nothing else, read this to your class: the reality of it will fascinate them. If you are a teacher in Norfolk, you will think all your Christmases have come at once, as this will benefit your local history enquiry as well.

Your pupils may even be able to write to the local records office for further remains, evidence and even artefacts that are mentioned in the book.

Karen Keddie teaches at Deer's Wood Primary, South Gloucestershire * Stibbard School Log Book 1863-1934pound;9 + pound;1 pamp;p from Shirley Howell, 73Meadow Rise Road, Norwich, Norfolk NR2 3QF


For plenty of examples see the Stibbard School pages at

* Shirley Howell is a transcriber of local records for the use of Norfolk Records Office and local family history societies. Her father and his parents went to school in Stibbard and Shirley went to the school for a short time when she was evacuated to Stibbard from Essex during the Second World War.

Her edited transcription of the Stibbard School Log Book covers more than 70 years, with entries from the later Victorian period to the 1930s.

Former teacher and museum educator Rachel Young has written introductory notes and Shirley Howell has added a preface and notes about the school's teaching staff over the years. A selection of school photographs from 1891 to 1947 is also included.

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