How Much Has School Really Changed In The Last 100 Years?


Adults often say “you have school far easier these days” to young people like myself. Making me wonder, how much has school really changed in the last 100 years? How does my modern experience of school compare to the general experience of a child in the early 20th Century? Using the Thorpe St Andrew Church of England (formerly National) School Infants’ school logbook from 1904 to 1918 (Norfolk Record Office C/ED 162/1), I have compared lessons, attendance records and school trips in the early 20th Century to those of modern schools.


Many lessons from the early 20th Century are still taught 100 years later. For example, geography, history, reading and scripture (better known as literacy) form integral parts of the curriculum today. Photographed below is a timetable of lessons, all of which still form a vital part of primary education – although recitation (repeating something aloud from memory) is usually conducted within lessons. Yet some lessons are no longer taught in schools – for example varied occupation and criticism lessons were given on a range of topics including coal, the moon, and laying a fire; not lessons you will find in a typical school today! Nowadays, these would either be taught as a project during a lesson, discovered in a club such as Scouts or wouldn’t be taught at all, instead being discovered through individual research/passion. Moreover, advancing technology has allowed for a multitude of new lessons including computing and T levels (a new course available instead of A levels). These lessons couldn’t have existed in the early 20th Century as computers weren’t invented yet!

The timetable of a candidate. NRO, C/ED 162/1, page 20.

Another key difference between lessons in the early 20th Century and modern schools is their timetables. Between 1904 and 1918, the school timetable was constantly changing with extra-curricular activities and other events often cutting lessons short. For example, lesson times were changed to “enable the teachers to attend a garden party” on 18th July 1907. In the photograph below, an entry on 4th May 1911 details that “afternoon school began at 2.15 this afternoon to enable the choir boys to attend a Wedding”. In modern schools, timetables are fixed – lessons aren’t cut short for events unless pre-arranged and school related. Lessons start and finish at consistent times established from the beginning of the year and aren’t moved for social events such as Weddings or Garden Parties. Additionally, the school year ends in July in modern schools whereas in the early 20th Century, the school year ended on 31st January.

An extract from May 4th 1911. NRO, C/ED 162/1, page 112.


However, lessons and timetables aren’t the only parts of school to have changed in the past 100 years – acceptable reasons for poor attendance have also changed. Between 1904 and 1918, wet weather was an acceptable reason for poor attendance. Children were often absent due to the “threatening state of the weather” or “general bad conditions of the weather”. Nowadays, school is only closed due to weather if it is unsafe to travel or the site is unsafe.

Furthermore, whilst illness has always been an acceptable reason for poor attendance, the illnesses themselves have changed over the past 100 years. Whilst colds, chicken pox and fever are still common childhood illnesses, other illnesses such as diphtheria, whooping cough and ringworms are not as prevalent as they were in the early 20th Century.

Yet attitudes to attendances haven’t only changed regarding absence – rewards congratulating good attendance have drastically changed since the early 20th Century. The logbook records half-holidays given at the beginning of some months for good attendance. In a modern school, certificates are awarded at the end of each term to congratulate only those with 100% attendance. This is a stark contrast to the half-holidays awarded to any child with good attendance 100 years ago; it was accepted that children wouldn’t be in school daily in the early 20th Century. The number on the books, attendance and percentage were taken weekly – the photograph below shows two examples of the attendance records being taken – not once between 1904 and 1918 was the percentage at 100%. Sometimes, if very few children have 100% attendance for the year in a modern school, book tokens are gifted as a special reward to children with perfect attendance at the end of the year.

Example of attendance records. NRO, C/ED 162/1, page 126.

School trips and special events

Not all has changed since the early 20th Century, one core element that has remained much the same are school trips. Between 1904 and 1918, the logbook details visits to museums and nature walks, it also recorded the annual outing to Cromer. In modern schools, nature walks and museum trips still form an integral part of the curriculum. Whilst the destination may have changed, an annual outing is still commonplace today. Residentials also form a key part of the calendar in many modern schools – usually weeklong, it’s a time for the children to bond and have fun. Residentials weren’t part of school life 100 years ago; there are no records of overnight trips in the logbook from 1904 to 1918.

Whilst school trips form exciting opportunities away from the classroom, there some special events are celebrated inside the classroom. For example, in the photograph below, November 30th 1904 was St Andrew’s Day, Miss Birkbeck visited the school during the morning and “gave to each child a gingerbread cake and orange”. Whilst cake and fruit are no longer gifted to each child by a visitor, each school has its own way to mark days of importance.

The final verdict – has school really changed?

School has changed a lot over the last 100 years. Thanks to advancing technology, new lessons now exist and lesson times alongside acceptable reasons for absence have changed significantly too. Yet in many ways, school has remained the same to its core. School is a place where children come to learn both inside and outside the classroom, make new friends and have fun. Perhaps not much has changed after all. 

A good example of a typical page in the logbook. NRO, C/ED 162/1, page 79.

Written by Kendra Payne

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Fear of Invasion

“He who would all England win, should at Weybourne Hope begin.” 

Norfolk has always been vulnerable to invasion from the sea, particularly in areas like Weybourne with its steeply shelving beach giving deep-water anchorage close to the shore. A map of 1588, when the Spanish Armada threatened invasion, noted amongst the coastline defences, the ‘Black Joy forte’ at Weybourne. It was also recorded that Blakeney, Cley and Wiveton offered 36 ships for naval service against the Spanish forces, showing the extent of local commitment before the formation of the Royal Navy in 1660. Despite the growing British naval power, coastal communities were still fearful of attack from foreign privateers and possible invasion, given that the French planned, prepared and even attempted several invasions between 1744 and 1805.

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How did football come to Carrow Road

On this day in 1935 the first football match was played at Carrow Road. In this blog we will be looking at why the ground was built on this site and some of the changes which have taken place to both the stadium and surrounding area over the following 90 years.

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Entering Australia: The Life of a 19th Century Criminal

Australia, like the rest of Oceania, has been working hard at keeping its borders closed over the past 18 months to stop the spread of COVID. However, this was not always the case.  In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries many, many British people entered Australia- these were as convicted criminals. Between 1787 and 1868 approximately 4000 Norfolk citizens were transported as part of this scheme. For some of these people details of their life before, during or after transportation can be found at the Norfolk Record Office.

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‘Le Strange’ Lockdown Life – Discovering the World of Eric Mackay

A young clerk working for the Steward of the le Strange Estate in North-west Norfolk in 1863 left a diary recording a year of his life, but failed to put his name to it.

The diary, held at Norfolk Record Office (NRO, MC 287/1, 774×5) remained unattributed until it turned out to be a vital piece of a puzzle being worked on by three local historians. When they realised they were working on different bits of the same picture, they teamed up to give personal histories not only to the diarist but also the people he wrote of in his unique record.

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All Quiet. Roof Still On: Jarrold’s Fire Watching Log August 1940-May 1941 (Part 2)

(Continued from Part 1, taken from the Jarrold’s fire watch log book JLD 4/10/16)

Battling the Enemy

Britain went to war with Germany in 1939.  The Jarrold’s firewatchers went to war with the rats in August 1940. Youngman took it upon himself to be the chief ratcatcher while the Jarrold’s cat proved elusive and ineffectual: Austin delivered attack upon Rat No 1 which fell easy victim to his accurate fire . . . .One rat decides to pay us a visit but not for long, as it decides to join the “Home Guards”.  Two dead men buried with full military honours in Alice’s cupboard.

The Rat Battle

The rats would enjoy running up and down the piano in the basement: Investigated – rats playing “Kitten on the Keys”.  “Ratmaninoff”!

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Book of Orders for Dutch and Walloon Strangers: Refugee Week 2021

For Refugee Week, we take a look at the Book of Orders for Dutch and Walloon Strangers (NRO, NCR 17d/9). This is a document containing orders for the regulation of the Strangers’ Hall in Norwich and for ordering the life and business of the Dutch and Walloon Strangers, as recorded in signed minutes of a committee for regulating the city’s relationship with the Strangers community. 

In 1556 the Mayor of Norwich, Thomas Sotherton, with permission of Queen Elizabeth I, invited thirty Flemish families to Norwich, in the hope that they would be able to halt the decline in the city’s weaving industry. The first thirty families were being persecuted for their Protestant religion within their home country and so readily accepted the offer. They worked on improving the weaving industry using new techniques and providing a form of quality control. Very soon, these refugees became known as the ‘strangers’. By 1579, 6,000 ‘strangers’ lived amidst the city’s population of about 16,000.

The Book of Orders demonstrates how they set about improving the standard of weaving in Norwich. Describing the stages of cloth manufacture, quality of yarn and technical expertise, instructions for dying and quality control, checking for the correct width, length and breadth- once the cloth passed these stages it was sealed with a lead cloth seal and sold.  In 1575 council issued a statement saying the city was prospering and it was down to the strangers work.

Strangers also introduced to Norwich introduced rare spices, dried fruits, and canaries.  New words also came to the city, e.g. Norwich has Plains rather than Squares, such as St Martin at Plain.

For more information about the Strangers in Norwich, take a look at our video ‘Welcoming Norfolk’s Strangers‘ on the Norfolk Record Office YouTube channel.

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All Quiet. Roof Still On: Jarrold’s Fire Watching Log August 1940-May 1941 (Part 1)

Jarrold’s department store in Norwich had to adhere to the 1940 Fire Watchers Orders by having firewatchers on duty at all times.  This log begins in August 1940 and ends in May 1941 (JLD 4/10/16).  It records the duties and activities of the Jarrold’s firewatchers who who were part of a city-wide system of supervising the city.  There were four watches a day until 1941.  The date of the watch generally starting at 6pm the previous evening, the second watch at 10pm then 7am to 1pm and 1pm-6pm. 

A Firewatching Fraternity

This log is more about the men than the war itself.  Three key characteristics are evident; comradeship, dedication and humour alongside a fair helping of boredom and grumpiness. Some had witnessed the First World War while others were waiting to be called up. 

The log records 63 men in total.  The 1939 census and Jarrold’s staff records (JLD 2/4/4) identify some. Those of particular note are: 

  1. Barker.  Barker’s name appears on almost every watch and is clearly held in high esteem.  Who was Barker?
  2. Frank Englebright. Stationer’s assistant.
  3. Harry Gaze.  Manager at the store and ARP Warden 677.  He died in December 1942.  Was this as the result of the war?
  4. David Grant.  Store manager and ARP Warden.  The log refers to him as the Director.
  5. Walter Ringer. Stores dispatch manager. 
  6. Jack Trudgill.  A fancy goods buyer.
  7. Sydney Vyse.  Departmental manager of the china and glass department.
  8. Gordon Wasley.  Manager in the book department.  Source of much humour in the log. 
  9. Austin Youngman.  Stationery packer.  Expert rat catcher!
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