Oral histories of education

Black and white photograph of school children interviewing a veteran about VE day. Image courtesy of Tim Smith.
School children interviewing a veteran about VE day. Image courtesy of Tim Smith

Among the interviewees in our collections are teachers at schools and universities, apprentices, trainees, students and schoolchildren.

About the collection

Memories of school, college and university occur in almost all recordings made by National Life Stories. Some focus on particular aspects of education and training. Artists’ Lives, for example, looks at art schools, Crafts Lives includes recollections of apprenticeships and informal education, and Lives in the Oil Industry explores shifting in-service training as the industry developed.

What is available online?

What is available in our Reading Rooms?

General school education

  • The Millennium Memory Bank, one of our major national oral history projects and surveys, included aspects of education and schooling and teachers’ reminiscences under the themes ‘Growing Up’ and ‘Getting Older’.
  • Family Life and Work Experience Before 1918 , also known as 'The Edwardians', contains life story interviews with a cross-national sample of people born before 1918 in the UK. The interviews were conducted thematically, and included questions on school institutions and boarding schools.
  • The Television History Workshop collection comprises original videotape recordings, editing and viewing copies made for broadcasts mainly on Channel 4. The collection includes material relating to the programmes ‘Critical Eye: What did you learn in school today?’ (1990) and ‘From Butler to Baker’.
  • Woodcraft Folk’s 90th Anniversary Heritage Project conducted 28 oral history interviews with current and former Woodcraft Folk members aged between 16 and 93 years in 2015-2016. These life histories provide a broad understanding of the organisation and the people who have chosen to participate in it. The interviews present the lives of Woodcraft Folk members within the wider perspectives of social issues and world events of the past 90 years, and reflect their impact on members’ lives. Interviews were mostly undertaken by volunteers drawn from the Woodcraft Folk membership, all of whom received oral history interview training.

Primary and secondary education

  • Out of Sight is a collection of video and audio tape material about the experiences of disabled people as children in special schools and in their later lives. It was recorded for a Channel 4 television series.
  • A Century of Childhood is a collection of video and audio tape material recorded for a Channel 4 television series about the changing experience of childhood since the beginning of the 20th century. One of the programmes focused on school (‘A Century of Childhood: School’, broadcast originally in April 1989).
  • The Paul Mersch orphanage interviews were recorded with people brought up in orphanages in the early 20th century. The interviews cover education, staff, discipline, food and religion.
  • The History in Education Project Interviews aimed to create and publicise a historical record of history teaching as it has developed over the past century in English state schools.
  • Social Change and English: A study of three English departments, 1945-1965 aimed to produce a history of developments in the teaching of English in three London secondary schools in the 20 years after the war. The three English departments were selected because they influenced the way English developed in the UK and beyond.

Higher education and training

  • The Brian Harrison Interviews were recorded by Brian Harrison between 1961 and 1992 for his History of the University of Oxford. Interviewees include: Christopher Hill, A.J.P Taylor, Sir Henry Phelps Brown, Roy Jenkins, Dr David Butler, Raphael Samuel, Fred Jarvis, Sir Tom Hopkinson, Richard Cobb, Dorothy Hodgkin, Sir Isaiah Berlin, Denis Noble, Lord Blake and Sir Douglas Veale.
  • Interviews with Librarians comprises interviews recorded in 1974-76 by David Gerard and Mary Casteleyn. The interviews were used in the Drake Education publication ‘Librarians Speaking: tape recordings of David Gerard in conversation with various librarians’ (Wales: College of Librarianship, 1974-77).
  • The Society of Archivists Oral History Project comprises 72 interviews with archivists and conservators. The project focused on the development of the Society of Archivists and the profession, though archival education was a key topic.
  • The Hornsey College of Art Oral History Project comprises interviews with students of Hornsey College of Art in the 1960s. The interviews focus on the Sit-In of 1968.
  • The Royal College of Nursing History Group interviews are with nurses trained between 1910 and the 1950s. Interviewees discuss their nursing education as well as careers. Nurse training also features in the Wellcome Trust Course Oral History Interviews and medical training for doctors features in the Oral History of General Practice 1936 – 1952 collection.
  • The Work-based Apprenticeship interviews is a collection of 30 interviews with individuals discussing their experiences of apprenticeship in a wide variety of British industrial sectors.
  • Pioneers of Qualitative Research is an ongoing project initiated in 1997 to record life story interviews that document qualitative research techniques and practice in the 20th century. Over 40 interviews are available in the reading rooms; interviewees include Ann Oakley, Stuart Hall and Jack Goody. Professor Paul Thompson is the Principal Researcher for the project and he has carried out the majority of the recordings. Extracts from the interviews are available at the UK Data Service website.