Last night I went to Hester Barron’s talk at Senate House about her research on parent-teacher relationships in the interwar period. I found it very interesting, and while it would be daft to recount the whole thing here, there were a few points she made that especially grabbed me.
The first of these was the idea of the school having an environment which benefitted children and was different from home. Many of the children who went to the schools Barron researched came from poor families, and the authorities saw it as their task to create an environment of ‘civilising influence’ and ‘homeliness’ - that is, an idealised middle-class home of cleanliness and good manners. Teachers intervened morally and hygienically, which some parents weren’t always happy about. This idea of ‘environment’ struck a chord with me, as my own research relates to new ideas that children could be moulded by their experiences of home and school, as opposed to previous ideas that there were ‘good’ and ‘bad’ people whose personalities were set in stone from birth.
Changes in relationships over time was another issue that particularly interested me. Barron highlighted the importance of the idea that parents’ relationships with the school were not static, and a parent might have a harmonious relationship with a child’s teachers for the majority of the time that the child was at the school, but at some point have a brief conflict if, for example, a teacher had punished the child in a way the parent objected to. This relates to my own work as I have been careful to note how only children’s lives were different at different points, with particular reference to their feelings about school (as I wrote here last week) and their relationships with their parents.
I was also interested to hear about Barron’s sources. I harbour a germ of an idea for a future project about how children felt about school, and while the school logbooks she used might not be the ideal thing for finding children’s voices (they are definitely geared towards teachers’ voices), it has got me thinking a little more about whether there are any school records available that do record children’s thoughts about school. And I suppose that punishment records/maybe records of certain children being particularly kind or well-adjusted might provide some indication of children’s attitudes towards their schools and possible prejudices on the part of the teachers. Barron’s research shows a consistently condescending attitude towards the working-class parents from them!