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Science, it's not just for boys

Posted in This months highlight on 06 Mar 2023

For this month’s highlight we focus on this volume of photographs entitled 'Reading Schools at Work a Pictorial Survey in 1934' captured by The Berkshire Chronicle (ref. 89/SCH/2/26). 

Front cover of a pictorial survey of Reading schools, 1934 ref. 89/SCH/2/26

The album consists of 40 black and white photographs of lessons captured across different schools in Reading and was presented to the Chairman of the Reading and District Head Teachers Association by the Berkshire Chronicle which suggests it was possibly showcasing the quality and development of education in Reading schools.

The album presents a snapshot into education and social history in Reading in 1934. The photographs display students taking a variety of subjects including ‘Safety First’ lessons, Eurythmics and even personal hygiene with Queens Road having its own school clinic for minor ailments and dental treatments.

Girls in a eurthymics class, 1934 ref. 89/SCH/2/26

Classrooms typically look like larger multipurpose rooms with two-person wooden desks which epitomises the ‘chalk and talk’ style of teaching you often associate to this period in schools.

Boys sit in a classroom making model plane4, 1934 ref. 89/SCH/2/26

There does however also appear to be an emphasis on object-based learning, field trips and the study of nature. For example, boys at Newton Junior School can be seen modelling airplanes after seeing an Air Display in WoodleyThere was also a trend towards open-air schools in 1930s and you can see this influence with many lessons being taken outside. The image below shows the Senior boys from Norcot School, Tilehurst tending to the school garden. 

Boys tend to the school garden, 1934 ref, 89/SCH/2/26

The National Curriculum was not introduced into schools until 1989 with its implementation to primary and secondary schools carrying on until the mid-1990s. Within the pictorial survey, boys and girls can be seen studying French, geography, country dancing, physical education, art, and model drawing.

Girls in a cookery class, 1934 ref. 89/SCH/2/26

There does appear to be a visible division of subjects between genders with girls seen to be studying needlework/embroidery, making garments/dress making, weaving, domestic science, and cookery. The image of the cookery class is even captioned "Future Housewives" at cookery! Boys appear to study handiwork, modelling airplanes, basket making, carpentry, gardening, architectural/ geometrical construction, land drills, engineering, and mathematics. 

Girls in a chemistry class, 1934 ref. 89/SCH/2/26

You can however perhaps see the beginnings of changing perceptions of women's occupations with girls taking science and lessons in business methods such as telephone practice and typewriting. Whilst still perhaps being geared toward roles such as secretaries, the move towards girls taking traditionally more male subjects is most likely a result of the First World War.  

Girls in a typing class 1934, ref. 89/SCH/2/26

It is difficult to say how frequently girls undertook typewriting classes or boys weaved baskets as there could be an element of the press visiting and wanting to show a large variety of subjects, not just the usual mathematics class. Whatever the reasons behind it, it is a fascinating album showing school life in the 1930s. It is also the only record we hold which captures Shinfield Road School and one of the few records we hold for Kings Road Meadow Baths.

For interest, the schools featured in album are as follows (in alphabetical order):  

  1. Reading Education Authority; Caversham Primary (previously Caversham Council Senior and Junior), Hemdean Road

  1. St Anne’s RC Primary (previously Caversham RC), Washington Road

  1. St John’s CE School (previously St John’s National), St John’s Road

  1. Alfred Sutton Primary (previously Alfred Sutton, Wokingham Road Junior Mixed and Infant, Wokingham Road Board), Wokingham Rd

  1. Alfred Sutton Secondary Boys (previously Alfred Sutton Central), Crescent Road

  1. All Saints Infant, Brownlow Road

  1. Battle County Primary (previously Battle Junior, Battle Council, Battle Board Kensington Road (previously Cranbury Rd)

  1. Battle Infant, Kensington Road

  1. E P Collier Primary (previously Collier Junior, Swansea Road), Swansea Road

  1. George Palmer Central (previously Palmer Senior), Basingstoke Road

  1. Grovelands Primary (previously Grovelands Board Mixed), Norcot Road (previously Oxford Road)

  1. Katesgrove Primary (previously Katesgrove Junior Mixed, Katesgrove Girls and Infant, Katesgrove Council, Katesgrove Board), Katesgrove Lane

  1. Katesgrove Secondary Modern Mixed (previously Katesgrove Senior Boys Council), Dorothy Street

  1. New Christ Church CE (previously Christchurch CE Primary, Christ Church National), Milman Road (previously Grove Road)

  1. New Town Primary (previously New Town Infant and Junior, New Town Council, New Town Board, Reading and Earley Board), Cumberland Road

  1. Oxford Road Primary (previously Oxford Road Girls, Oxford Road Junior Mixed and Infant, Oxford Road Board), Oxford Road

  1. Redlands Evening [Lydford Road]

  1. Redlands Primary (previously Redlands Infant and Junior, Redlands Mixed, Redlands Boys and Girls, Redlands Board), Lyford Road

  1. St John’s CE Primary (previously St John’s Junior Mixed, St John’s National), Queen’s Road/ Orts Road

  1. Shinfield Road Council Shinfield

  1. Westwood, Wilson Road

  1. Wilson Primary (previously Wilson Junior), Wilson Road

  1. Norcot County Primary (previously Norcot Secondary Modern, Norcot Council, Norcot Elementary), Norcot Road (previously Reading Road/Norcot Lane)

  1. Park Lane Primary (previously Park Lane Council), School Road