At School No.2: The Curriculum and Learning

“I scarcely know how to describe. 26 girls had all their sums wrong, 10 had one correct, 7 did two correctly + 1 girl only had 3 right. The sums were not difficult ones, + I was greatly surprised at the utter failure of the girls to do them. The spelling in this class although very weak was certainly better than math.” [S68/2/1 4.5.1900]

Whilst the logbooks do not often record in detail the subjects studied at school, what they sometimes record are anomalies, successes and failures. Floodgate Street School was in a deprived area of Birmingham and often the academic work of the children reflected this. Reading was as big an issue as maths, with over 20 children in one class unable to manage any word more than three letters. [S68/3/1 25.8.26] The examinations are occasionally recorded, such as the words used for spelling tests (Leather, Cotton, Monkey, Snake, Squirrel, Mole…), and often covered broad skills:

Children at their desks, Floodgate Street Board School. BAH: Floodgate Street Board School misc photos.

“Term Examinations in Reading, Composition, Dictation, Arithmetic, + Drawing are being taken in all classes this week.” [S68/3/1 26.4.1921]

Yet what the logbooks also record are those additional activities that were part of a child’s education. Needle work is often recorded as interrupting the normal pattern of lessons at Floodgate Street Infant’s [S68/1/1 6.5.92], and Class IA of the Mixed Seniors even went on a geographical observation to Lickey Hills [S68/3/1 8.6.1932]. In 1896 the Birmingham School Board received a report from the Special Inquiry Committee which calculated that teachers had 22 ½ hours, or 1350 minutes, of teaching hours per week. [SB/B 1/1/13 p.282] They were investigating whether there were too many subjects for the teachers to cover, although ultimately nothing was changed. However, The Board did feel it necessary to issue an 1895 report on handwriting in schools. This report detailed everything from the style of teaching to the shapes of the individual letters. [SB/B 1/1/13 p.137]

The children at Tinkers Farm grew plants as a project. BAH: Tinkers Farm Road School misc photos.

On one occasion the headmaster found it necessary to record a lengthy report on teaching techniques, which emphasised the correction of common mistakes on the blackboard as well as encouraging maths problems that challenged the child to work out not just the answer but also what operations to use [S68/2/1 3.4.1896]. Other staff would also “criticise” subject lessons of training teachers at the schools, providing feedback to help improve lessons. Clearly the adults as well as the children were learning whilst at school.

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