This is a brief guide to researching schools. The National Archives holds the administrative and policy files of the government departments concerned with education, but is not the best source of information about individual schools. Where these survive, they are most likely to be held by local libraries and archives.
Search Find an archive to locate relevant archives.
School registers and log books (1870-1914)
Search by school name school registers and log books on findmypast (£). They include church, board, elementary and some secondary schools in England and Wales.
The log-books are diaries recording the daily occurrences at the school, including absences, illnesses, visitors and holidays.
Inspection reports (19th century)
Search the Parliamentary Papers (institutional subscription required) for précis of inspection reports from 1840 to 1899.
Records available only at The National Archives in Kew
To access these records you will either need to visit us, pay for research (£) or, where you can identify a specific record reference, order a copy (£).
Secondary education endowment files (1850-1945)
Search Discovery, our catalogue by name of school or town for secondary education endowment files in ED 27.
Elementary school files (1854-1984) and secondary school files (1818-1946)
Search our catalogue by name of school or town for records of elementary and secondary schools in ED 21, ED 35 and ED 161.
After 1944 the term ‘elementary’ was replaced by ‘primary’. Records relating to many individual primary schools established before 1966 are in ED 161.
Building grant applications (1833-1870)
Search our catalogue by name of school or town for building grant applications in ED 103.
Records in other archives and organisations
Records held locally
The National Archives’ catalogue contains collections and contact details of local archives around the UK and beyond. To locate these records, search our catalogue with keywords and refine your results to ‘Other archives’ using the filters.
Many public schools have published histories, which should be available in local libraries or through online booksellers. Some public school archives are listed in Education history records held in the UK. School inspections began in 1839 and eventually came to cover issues such as quality of the building, efficiency, teacher training and provisions for the disabled.
Read Education and the State from 1833, Ann Morton (PRO 1997).