Elementary School in UK

How to look for records of... Elementary and primary schools

This guide will help you find records on elementary and primary schools at The National Archives.

These are largely records of administration and policy covering individual institutions established since 1833 and do not include records of individual teachers or pupils.

2. Essential information

Before 1944 primary schools were called ‘elementary schools’ because that was the only education most people needed. The term ‘primary school’ only came into use as a result of the 1944 Education Act.

State financial involvement in education began in 1833 when annual grants were made available to support the building of schools. Before this date educational initiative was essentially private and often religious and, for these reasons, most of the records of elementary and primary schools at The National Archives date from after 1833.

The records were created for the use of central government departments and continue to be arranged and catalogued not by subject, but as they were originally used. To find information on an individual school or area, therefore, you may need to look across a number of different record series.

When searching for records of a school it is important to remember that many school names change over time.

3. Getting started

There are tens of thousands of records on primary and elementary schools at The National Archives. Most of them were written and created by the Department for Education (reference code ED) and its predecessors.

You can use Discovery, our catalogue, to search for a school by name and location, but you should treat the results with caution. Not all records of schools can be found this way as they have not all been catalogued by school name.

Use the guidance below to identify particular records series that you want to search. The guidance will tell you what to search by, for example school name, county or place name. Then use the advanced search page to create a search restricted to the relevant series.

4. Key records

Below are some of the most useful and significant records series for finding information on elementary and secondary schools. You can browse each series by clicking on the reference codes or search within the series using a keyword by going to the advanced search page in our catalogue and restricting your search to the relevant reference code.

School files 1857-1945

Search for school files in ED 21 by school name and by place. Each school in receipt of an annual grant has at least one ‘school file’ with correspondence from and about the school. The files include correspondence about school premises, trusts, inspection and organisation.

School digest files 1854-1984

Search by school in ED 161 for records relating to primary schools established before 1966. The information in these files is similar to that in ED 21, though on the whole later in date, much of it covering the period 1944-1966. These files have been heavily weeded, meaning many documents do not contain all their original information and are often very slim.

Local Education Authority Development Plans 1945-1966

Search by county in ED 152 for Local Education Authorities’ (LEAs) development plans for post-war education in their area, as well as plans for future expansion. These were required under the stipulations of the 1944 Education Act.

Trust deeds and other property records

The National Archives holds various kinds of records of the establishment and foundation of schools. If you are looking for a trust deed, consult the list below, covering the following dates:

  • 1736-1925 – trust deeds in C 54 and J 18 (see our guide, Conveyances of land for charitable uses in trust deeds 1736-1925 for advice on how to search these record series)
  • 1926-1963 – enrolments with the Charity Commissioners in CHAR 13 (separate place name index in CHAR 13/483-492 and on microfilm at The National Archives at Kew)

Building grant applications 1833-1871

Between 1833 and the Education Act of 1870, local patrons and charities, acting as sponsors to a proposed school, could apply to the Treasury for financial assistance towards school building costs.

Preliminary statements 1846-1924

Annual parliamentary grants to schools were available from 1846. In order to receive a grant each school had to provide information about its income, expenditure, accommodation, staffing, fees and number of pupils.

Using our catalogue, search surviving preliminary statements for 1846-1924 in ED 7 by county or borough, and after 1924 in the school files in ED 21 by school name and place.

Parish files and the educational census of 1871

The 1870 Elementary Education Act established a national system of elementary education. To ensure that there would be a place for every child, a census was taken of school places. Search educational census returns in:

School history sheets

The Board of Education introduced school history sheets in the 1920s, recording, in summary form, details about each school in England maintained by Local Education Authorities. Details include:

  • date of establishment
  • status and size of the school
  • the sex and age range of its pupils

Interesting facts:

The International School of Kigali (ISK) is co-educational, pre-school through grade 12, international school, located in Kigali, Rwanda. The school was established in 2009, growing out of desire for additional educational options in Kigali. ISK follows an...

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