How to look for records of... Historical education policy and administration: inspection reports

How can I view the records covered in this guide?

How many are online?

  • None

1. Why use this guide?

This guide is primarily for advice on finding records created by and about Her Majesty’s Inspectorate for Schools (HMI), including the inspection reports themselves. It can also help you find other inspection reports on schools and other types of educational institutions. It covers records from 1839, when inspection became a condition of all educational grants, until 1993. For reports after 1993 please visit OFSTED’s website.

The National Archives holds surviving records, up until 1993, of the five divisions that were created within the inspectorate:

  • Elementary
  • Secondary
  • Technical
  • Teacher training
  • Art

The reports vary in frequency, scope and content, reflecting the requirements of the government of the day.

2. How to use this guide and search for records

A search for documents at The National Archives usually begins in our online catalogue. The following sections of this guide provide links to key series that you can search within our catalogue, helping you to target your searches more precisely. By clicking on the series links (for example, ED 156) you will arrive on the respective ‘series description’ pages from where you can search the series, using keywords (such as the name of a school or county in some cases) and/or dates/years. Series description pages provide information on the arrangement of the records and sometimes some of the historical context in which they were created, as well as suggesting related series you could explore.

Use the advanced catalogue search to restrict your search results to all the records of a specific government department, including its predecessors (for example, Department of Education) – departments are identified by a letter code (the code for Department of Education is ED).

Catalogue search results provide short descriptions of our records and a document reference for each one – you will need the document reference to see the record itself. The records covered in this guide are not available to view online so to see them you will have to either visit us in Kew or order copies. Bear in mind that a search in our catalogue will also search for records in other archives around the country – keep your eye on the ‘Held by’ field to establish whether the records are here or elsewhere.

A copy of the full inspection report should always have been sent to the school (and after 1902 the Local Education Authority). If records survive, you might find them at the respective county record office. You can search our catalogue to search for these records too, using the search filters to target ‘Other archives’.

3. Elementary and primary school inspectorate reports (1839-1993)

From 1840-1899 HMI reports were printed for Parliament as part of the annual report of the Committee of Council on Education’s. Search ED 17 by year to find a set of these early reports.

These are general reports by inspection district. Until 1870 the inspectorate was organised by religious denomination so early reports are arranged by denomination as well as by district. The National Archives does not hold the original manuscripts.

You can use the table below to find other series relevant to your research.

Please note HMI did not inspect London elementary schools before 1943. Instead they wrote general subject reports based on sampling in elementary schools (ED 23/269).

Series Information Date Search by
ED 2, ED 21, ED 16 and ED 3 (for London) Reports of inspection following the census of school accommodation 1871 ED 2: parish
ED 21: school
ED 16: borough
ED 3: parish via metropolitan division
ED 21 Abstracts of the inspectors’ reports 1899 -1944 School
ED 161 School digest files which can contain inspectorate reports Mostly 1944-1966 School
ED 156 Full reports 1946-1993 County and county borough

4. Secondary school inspectorate reports (1850-1993)

In 1902 inspection was extended to state-aided secondary schools. For independent schools compulsory inspection was not fully effective until 1957.

From 1899 the Board of Education could inspect any school supplying secondary education that wanted to be inspected, including independent schools.

Before 1899 endowed schools were inspected by the Charity Commissioners.

Series Information Date Search by
ED 27 and ED 35 Secondary institutions administered by the Charity Commissioners before 1899 School
ED 109 Full reports including notes of meetings between school governors and inspectors 1900-1993 Partly by school, partly by county so be prepared to search in both ways
ED 162 Digest files which include inspectors reports 1879-1984 School
ED 35 Abstracts of reports 1899-1946 School
ED 172 Full reports on independent schools 1938-1989 School

5. HMI reports on other institutes

HMI reports covered many different types of institutions. Use the table below to help identify these reports:

Series Information Date Search by
ED 50/9 Education of the blind in the metropolis and the training of their teachers 1872-1893 n/a
ED 17/65-69 Schools for the blind and deaf 1894-1899 Browse by date
ED 195 Special education establishments 1947-1992 School and county
MH 32/108-117 Poor Law schools inspectors’ correspondence 1863-1904 District or inspector’s name
MH 12; MH 27; ED 132 Poor Law school reports 1833-1953 Various
ED 70 Practical instruction centres 1906-1957 County, borough or authority
ED 82, ED 90, ED 98 Technical schools and colleges 1907-1951 Institution
ED 83 Art schools 1897-1949 School
ED 41 Evening institutes 1901-1954 Institute
ED 114, ED 197 Further education institutes 1909-1993 County or borough
ED 115 Teacher training colleges 1907-1959 College
ED 193; ED 121/904-948 Ministry of Defence schools:
including the education of children abroad and of junior soldiers
1957-1989 Institution or service command
ED 149 Youth welfare services 1946-1970 Borough
ED 194 School meals service 1954-1965 Borough
ED 271 Higher education provision 1988-1992 Institution

6. Welsh schools

You may need to look in several different places for reports on Welsh schools.

Before 1970 they were filed with their English equivalents (as above.) BD 50 also contains additional material for Welsh schools from 1912-1992.

The following series contain a limited number of post-1970 inspection reports:

  • BD 16 for secondary schools
  • BD 72 for independent schools
  • BD 71 for special schools
  • BD 15 for further education establishments

You can also search by county for surveys and reports on various aspects of education provision in Wales in BD 19.

For information about the running of the Welsh inspectorate search within BD 60 (1967-1973). Here you can find material on the teaching of Welsh, and teaching in Welsh.

7. Working papers of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate (1902-1965)

In ED 23 you can find papers on

  • the organisation of HMI
  • recruitment
  • functions relating to the education of children of British service and civilian families overseas

In ED 233 you can find regional office papers covering many topics, including:

  • the reorganisation of secondary education
  • employment of graduate teachers
  • educational provisions for ethnic minorities
  • juvenile delinquency

Similar reports from local offices are in ED 272 and include:

  • surveys of curricula
  • the raising of the school leaving age
  • religious education
  • teaching of groups with learning difficulties

You can find confidential reports in ED 9/14 and ED 251.

8. HMI circulars and memoranda (1878-1989)

These papers kept the Inspectorate informed of current educational policy and departmental procedure.

Search within ED 22 (1878-1941) and ED 135 (1941-1989). ED 22 contains a separate series of Welsh inspectorate memoranda 1907-1940.

9. Inspectorate staff lists (1839-1986)

For staff lists consult ED 270. School lists are also included within this series.

10. Further reading

Use our library catalogue to find a recommended book list.

The books are all available in The National Archives’ reference library. You may also be able to find them in a local library. You can buy from a wide range of history titles in our shop.