Teaching practices in the early 1900s
Magic lantern slides
The Royal Pavilion and Museums has recently digitised a small collection of magic lantern slides that provide a glimpse of early twentieth century school life in Brighton. The slides appear to have been produced by the Municipal Training College in York Place, and probably date from shortly after the College’s foundation in 1909. The college specialised in the training of teachers, and these slides were presumably used to demonstrate teaching practices of the day.
The slides are mostly taken from the York Place Elementary and Secondary Schools, and annexe sites such as the Pelham Street School for Infants. The images showing other schools are usually exterior shots, such as the playground drills in Ditchling Road School (now Downs School).
A lot has changed in schools in the last 100 years. These photographs all present the pupils in rigid, disciplined environments, and there is not a smile to be seen. While this has certainly been exaggerated for the camera, it probably represents the culture of the time.
Emphasis on practical skills
But what is surprising is that there is little emphasis in these photographs on the traditional skills of reading, writing and arithmetic. These slides show the teaching of practical skills, including art, physical education, cookery and manufacturing. It’s easy to think that early schools taught little other than the ‘three rs’, but these photographs suggest that this was not always the case.