The library's general British history collection includes many matriculation lists for both UK schools and universities. In the local history collections you can also find published diaries and logbooks of UK schools from the eighteenth century to the late twentieth. With these sources it is possible to piece together glimpses of how science was taught, if at all, and who it was taught to.
The absence of science teaching is a particular feature of the sources, particularly for the earlier period. Reading and scripture dominated in many schools, although even those that taught Latin and a little Greek sometimes overlooked science writers from the classical period: from a 1707 reading list of classical authors from the Queen Elizabeth Grammar School in Penrith, the emphasis is on works on history, drama and rhetoric with Aristotle and Pliny the Elder being absent. With this omission even in an elite school it is perhaps unsurprising that schools serving rural and working class communities strictly adhered to the three 'Rs', even though there does seem to have been a curiosity and a little regret in being taught so narrow a curriculum. In 1882, the Scottish publisher, William Chambers recalled:
I was not fated to receive more than a plain education in the place of my birth, a small country town in the south of Scotland. Matters there were still somewhat primitive. In schools I passed through, there was not a map, nor a book on geography, or history, or science. The only instruction consisted of the three Rs, finishing off with a dose of Latin
Scots at School: an anthology
The prevalence of science lessons mentioned in the sources does increase, especially from the late nineteenth century but this was not uniform. As universities were only just beginning to admit women during this period, girls were still excluded in some schools from science lessons and there was an anxiety that teaching some subjects, such as science, would be dangerous to their mental well-being. The journalist, Laurie Magnus, in defending the creation of more high schools noted arguments against their creation:
Rather higher in scale of argument came the reasoned doubt as to the superior advantages of High Schools. Were they likely to turn out a generation of girls made to pattern, and, haply, to the pattern of boys? Chemistry, mathematics and the humanities might prove perilous, defeminizing studies.
Thankfully these arguments were not heeded for too long and, although subjects like scripture, reading and writing and practical subjects like book-keeping still featured heavily in the sources from the twentieth century, science teaching in various forms does slowly become more prominent. Sometimes it would be known as Nature Study or Object Lessons, as shown in the logbook from the Weston School, Hertfordshire, were a random list of objects and animals formed the basis of regular lessons. These included items such as coal, iron or silk as well as themed lessons on basic botany and human anatomy.
In contrast to the attitudes of the early twentieth century, one of the richest sources in the library at present are the Records of Holton Park Girls' Grammar School from 1948 to 1972. Science teaching was a regular feature of the curriculum: during the period covered by this source the school employed a total of 28 science teachers with the highest proportion teaching maths (8) and biology (9). The pupils throughout this time also had the opportunity to attend not only a science club, which was established in 1966, but also a regular programme of lectures on a range of subjects including atomic physics (May 1958), atomic energy (February 1963) and energy flow in ecosystems (May 1971).