How to look for Education history records held by other archives

1. Why use this guide?

Use this guide if you are researching the history of education in the UK and are interested in collections which are held by archives other than The National Archives. For research guides specifically on The National Archives education records please see our Social and cultural research guidance category.

This research guide briefly describes:

  • how to start searching for records
  • the principal relevant repositories with significant collections relating to the history of education in the UK
  • useful addresses, links and general works of reference

2. How to search for records

Search Discovery, our catalogue, to find records from over 2,500 archives across the UK, as well as from The National Archives itself. Your search results will include details of which archives currently hold the records.

Click on the title of a result for the contact details of the archive which holds the record – you will need to contact this archive for further information about the collection or the record itself.

Where the keywords you searched for appear in the description of a record, the search results are displayed under the ‘Records’ tab.

Where the keywords you searched for appear in the name of the institution or person that originally created the record (often not the same as the institution or person that currently holds the record), the search results are displayed under the ‘Record creators’ tab. For further tips on searching, see our Discovery help pages.

If you are looking for the records of a particular state-funded school you should, in the first instance, contact the nearest local archive. Use the Find an archive tool to find contact details for county and other local archives.

3. Records recently collected by other archives

Many archives regularly take in new records to add to their collections – this process is known as accessioning. Every year, The National Archives collects information about new accessions from 250 archives across Britain and Ireland. This is known as the annual Accessions to Repositories’ survey.

This information is added to Discovery, our catalogue. It is also edited and used to produce thematic digests, including one relating to education history. The digests are made available through this website and distributed for publication in a number of learned journals and newsletters. Further information is available at Accessions to Repositories.

4. Major collections

Below are details of archives and institutions that hold major collections relating to the history of education. They have been divided into two groups:

  • those holding collections that relate to various aspects of the history of education
  • those educational institutions of significance to the history of education, mainly schools, that hold their own records

This list does not include universities and colleges of higher or further education which retain their own archives and do not collect other records relating to the history of education.


Bodleian Library, Oxford University In addition to the relevant archival collections in the Department of Western Manuscripts, which include the central records of the University of Oxford and papers of the Student Union and Graduate Union, the Bodleian holds the Opie Collection, a large and wide ranging collection of children’s books. (For records of individual Oxford Colleges, contact the College librarians direct.

British and Foreign School Society Archive Centre The Society was founded in 1808 by the supporters of Joseph Lancaster (1788-1838) and his system of non-conformist popular education. Collections include the records of the Society, secretaries’ letters and papers, overseas correspondence, annual reports and records of the Society’s schools and colleges. Major collections include correspondence of Joseph Lancaster and his contemporaries 1810-1812. Detailed reports of the archive’s holdings are given in Journal of Educational Administration and History (July 1980), History of Education (October 1981) and The Local Historian, xiv/4 (1984).

Children’s Society Records and Archive Centre Founded in 1881 as the Church of England Waifs and Strays Society to contribute to the late nineteenth century child saving movement. It operated a large number of residential homes for children on a voluntary basis, and also under the auspices of the Industrial School Acts and the Poor Law. It holds the records of some, though not all of these schools, the Society’s central records and case papers relating to thousands of individual children.

Church of England Record Centre It acts as a clearinghouse for information on all central records of the Church of England. It holds the records of the National Society, founded in 1811 by the Church of England to promote elementary education, and a large number of individual National Society schools.

Froebel Archive for Childhood Studies The Froebel Society was founded in 1874 to promote kindergarten education, the Education Institute followed in 1892. Holds records relating to the Society including material on child development and infant education.

Girls’ Public Day School Trust The Girls’ Public Day School Trust was founded in 1872 as the Girls’ Public Day School Company to provide junior day schools. Holdings include records of the Trust, including minutes of council and committees, financial and legal papers, correspondence, pupils admissions registers, inspectors’ and headmistresses’ reports.

Institute of Education, University of London The Institute has an active collecting policy covering the history of education of all kinds. Collections include records of the Association of Assistant Masters, National Union of Women Teachers and World Education Fellowship. See also Guide to the Institute of Education Archives (1997) and Special Collections and Archives of the Institute of Education Library (1991).

Leeds University Museum of the History of Education Established in the 1950s, its main aims are the documentation of the history of education and the promotion of research and publication. Collections include children’s exercise books (17th century onwards), trainee teachers’ work and records of their progress, records of education societies and material concerning education in the former West Riding of Yorkshire. It also publishes the Journal of Education Administration and History.

Liverpool University: Special Collections and Archives The archive has an active collecting policy focusing on the papers of children’s welfare organisations. Major collections include Barnardo’s and the Fairbridge Society.

The National Archives Holds the records created or inherited by the Department of Education and Science and related bodies, relating to the administration and provision of education in England and Wales, from nursery to university level.

Also included are records relating to the administration of teachers’ employment and conditions, science and art, libraries and museums, technical education, youth services, awards and scholarships, wartime educational services, educational buildings and architecture, liaison with international education bodies, finance, statistics and planning, legal matters, health and medical concerns, and inspections of educational establishments.

Warwick University Modern Records Centre Collections include the 20th century records of the National Union of Students and the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education.

Schools and colleges holding their own records

Many educational institutions retain their own records. A preliminary letter should be sent to the appropriate officer at each, indicating the scope of proposed research and ascertaining the likelihood of access to the records being granted. The following are a few examples. Others can be found using the Find an archive tool.

Bedford School Archive The school is a Tudor foundation with extensive archive material. Collections include administrative material concerning the school, its pupils and staff and papers and memorabilia of old boys.

Eton College Retains the records of the College dating from the 12th to 20th century.

Harrow School Collection includes Headmaster’s papers, masters’ papers and school lists.

North London Collegiate School Collection includes admissions register, governors’ minutes, headmistresses’ reports and school magazines.

Rugby School Retains deeds and papers relating to the school and its properties from the 16th century. Collection includes school records, registers, governing body papers, collections of boys’ letters and so on.. The earliest date from 1670s but most from 1750. Major collections include Dr Thomas Arnold’s papers.

Winchester College Archives Retains records of the College to 20th century. A three volume catalogue of the muniments has been published.

5. Other useful resources

For advice about oral history and information on existing oral history resources, you should first approach the Curator of Oral History at the British Library Sound Archive.

Archives Hub The Archives Hub provides descriptions of collections held at archives in UK universities and colleges. At present the descriptions are primarily of the broad themes and subject matters of the collections, although where possible they are linked to more detailed descriptions of the records that make up each collection.

Archives in London and the M25 area (AIM25) AIM25 provides online descriptions of collections held at the archives of over fifty higher education institutions and other academic and cultural organizations within the greater London area.

History of Education Society The Aim of the Society is to further the study of the History of Education by providing opportunities for discussion among those engaged in its study and teaching. The History of Education Society Bulletin (twice yearly) usually carries a digest of major accessions to UK repositories, prepared by The National Archives, in its autumn edition. The Society also produces the quarterly academic journal History of Education and organises an annual conference.

History of Education Project at Durham University The History of Education Project is housed in the The Miners’ Hall, Red Hill, Durham City. It exists to further the knowledge of history among people of the region. It also offers opportunities for volunteers aged 16-60 plus to learn office skills and to share in some exciting work, including in-house publication. A new database is to be prepared of 5000 outdated history textbooks – the largest collection in the UK. These books are held at Durham University School of Education, but enquiries concerning them should be addressed to the History of Education Project at Miners’ Hall.

Ragged School Museum The purpose of the Ragged School Museum is to make the unique history of the East End of London, and in particular of the Copperfield Road Ragged School, accessible to everyone. In a re-created classroom of the period, visitors can see how Victorian children were taught.

Scottish Archive Network (SCAN) The project aims to revolutionise access to Scotland’s archives by providing a single electronic catalogue to the holdings of more than 50 Scottish archives.

Victoria & Albert Museum of Childhood Contains one of the world’s largest collections of children’s toys, including dolls, teddy bears, toy soldiers and trains. The museum also traces the development of children’s furniture and equipment, costumes and fashions, as well as housing the Renier Book Collection and the Book Trust Collection.

6. Further reading

Guides to Sources in the History of Education (History of Education Society)

M Argles, British Government Publications in Education during the Nineteenth Century (1971)

J Vaughan, Board of education Circulars: A Finding List and Index (1972)

JM McCarthy, An International List of Articles in the History of Education, Published in Non-Educational Serials, 1965-69 (1973)

DW Thomas, The History of Technical Education in London 1904-40 (1976)

SM Parkes, Irish Education in the British Parliamentary Papers 1801-1920 (1978)

VF Gilbert and C Holmes, Theses and Dissertations on the History of education Presented at British and Irish Universities between 1900-1976 (1976)

M Argles and JE Vaughan, British Government Publications Concerning Education during the Twentieth Century (1982)

JS Hurt, Education and the Working-Classes from the Eighteenth Century to the Twentieth Century (1985)

R Szreter, The History of Education in Non-Education Learned Journals 1939-1984 (1986)

AR Allan, University Bodies: a Survey of inter- and Supra- University Bodies and Their Records (Liverpool c1990). Includes an extensive bibliography of sources useful for the history of higher education

MC Britton (ed), Improved Visibility: An International Bibliography on the Education of Women and Girls 1978-1989 (Librarians of Institutes and schools of education 1991)

JD Browne and GRN Smart, Colleges of Education: A Checklist of Archives (History of Education Society c1981)

CR Chapman, The Growth of British Education and its Records, (Dursley Lochin 1992)

J Craigie, A Bibliography of Scottish Education before 1872 (University of London Press 1970)

D Crook ‘Net gains? The Internet as a research tool for historians of education’ in D Crook and R Adlrich (eds) History of Education for the twenty-first century (London, Institute of Education) pp 36-49

JC Davies, ‘Documents relating to the History of Education,’ in Durham Research Review, 2 (Sept 1951), pp 1-10

History of Education Society, Archives and the Historian of Education (1975)

A Morton, Education and the State 1833-1966 (PRO 1997)

TA O’Donoghue, ‘Sources for the Study of the History of the Secondary School Curriculum: A Survey of the Irish Scene, 1921-62,’ in HES Bulletin, (Autumn 1990), pp 46-51

Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, Guide to Educational Records (1993). Includes an appendix listing all state schools with surviving records held at PRONI

Sources for Tracing School Teachers in the National Society Archives and Library (Church of England Record Centre, Guide no 5, nd). Available from the Centre

G Sutherland, ‘A View of Education Records in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries’, in Archives (Oct 1981), pp 79-85

DH Thomas, Reformatory and Industrial Schools: An Annotated List of Schools Certified by the Home Office, 1854-1933 (1986)

Guide reference: Domestic Records Information 119