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Health and Education

A brief guide covering resources in the IOE archives that may assist those researching the teaching of health related education, including sex education, from the 1800s to the present day.

Collage of three black and white images from the Institute of Education archives

A brief history of health in education


The rapid population growth that occured during the industrial revolution left many poor living in overcrowded homes in towns, without clean water, and where infectious diseases were widespread. Fortunately, rapid advancements in medical sciences around this time meant that increasingly causes of diseases were recognised and better understood. In the aftermath of a cholera epidemic in 1848 the Public Health Act set up the Board of Health which gave local councils the authority to appoint Medical Officers of Health to monitor the health of the population in their area. Guides on school health were published, aimed at teachers and school managers and some public schools began to appoint medical officers to carry out inspections of their pupils. Guides on sex education were also published and aimed at parents to aid them in educating their children.

The Elementary Education Act of 1870 opened education to young children from poor backgrounds and brought teachers from middle class backgrounds into contact with children who suffered malnutrition, and who lived in unhygienic conditions. Some of the inner city School Boards were shocked about the state of the poorer children in their schools and took measures to care for their welfare, including the introduction of free school meals, improving the sanitation and ventilation of schools, and in some areas, the creation of public baths.


The first half of the 20th century saw great changes in health and education. Between 1906 and 1911 the news that 40% of recruits for the second Boer War were physically unfit to fight pushed the Liberal government to introduce a series of welfare reforms which included the introduction of free school meals, and the creation of the School Medical Service administered by the Board of Education. Medical inspections of elementary school pupils were made mandatory by the 1918 Education Act which also gave local authorities the powers to inspect pupils in their secondary schools. The psychological health of children became an increasingly important aspect of educaiton at this time.

This period also saw changes in school design to promote the health of children, including veranda schools which comprised a series of small classrooms along a corridor which could be no more than an open veranda. Open Air schools were also created where delicate children were taught outside in the open air.

The 1944 Education Act and the introduction of the welfare state saw the government take responsibilty for the welfare of the nation. Medical inspections became mandatory for pupils of all ages and the School Medical Service was transferred to the new Ministry of Education as the School Health Service. Due to the extent of sexually transmitted diseases, which spread during World War II, the Ministry of Education began to publish pamphlets on sex educations for schools and teachers.

Through the 1950s and 1960s lessons about reproduction became more common place, but only in biology lessons. Sex education began to be linked more to health in the 1970s, as part of the personal and social education curriculum. In 1973 the responsibilty for the School Health Service was transferred to the Department for Health and Social Security before becoming part of the National Health Service in 1974.

During the 1980s-1990s the need to train teachers to teach children about HIV/AIDS was recognised. The 1993 Education Act made sex education in schools mandatory, including education about HIV, AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections.


For guidance on how to use our dedicated online catalogue to browse and search archives, manuscripts and records see the archives home page.

Archive collections

Photographs and papers of Brenda Francis

Francis was an advisory teacher in home economics who worked in London. Her papers, 1930s-1980s, mainly contain photographs of domestic science classes and other papers regarding home economics. (RefNo: BF)

Papers of Cynthia Reynolds

Cynthia Reynolds was an inner London Education Authority (ILEA) advisory teacher on home economics, who was involved in the development of 'preparation for parenthood' courses in ILEA secondary schools. (RefNo: CR)

Records of the Girls' Day School Trust (GDST)

The Girls' Day School Trust have opened and operated a group of independent girls' schools in England and Wales since 1873. The records, 1872-2005 comprise the main administrative records of the Trust, including some papers on domestic science lessons, school meals and sex education. (RefNo: GDS)

Papers of Katherine Bathurst

Bathurst was a female school inspector who criticised the welfare of children in public elementary schools. Her papers, in 1891-1931, relate to her work as a school inspector and her involvement in later debates. (RefNo: KB)

Papers of (William) Michael Duane

Michael Duane was a teacher, headmaster and lecturer, known for his 'progressive' educational views, belief in multi-racial approach, encouragement of informal staff/student relationships and opposition to corporal punishment. His papers, 1940-1995, regard his headships of the Howe Dell, Alderman Woodrow, and Risinghill schools, and his writings on sex education. (RefNo: MD)

Papers of Susan Isaacs

Isaacs was head of the experimental Malting House School and the first head of the Department of Child Development at the IOE. Her papers, 1928-1979, contain personalia, correspondence, writings and press cuttings, concerning her role as the agony aunt 'Ursula Wise'. (RefNo: SI)

Papers of Arabella Kurdi

Kurdi worked as School Meals and Domestic Science Organiser for The British Families Education Service (BFES) in post-war Germany. Her papers, 1947-[1971], relate to her work in Germany including material relating to the school meals service. (RefNo: AK)

Records of the National Union of Women Teachers (NUWT)

The NUWT was a union of teachers whose main aim was to obtain equal pay for female teachers but was also interested in other issues affecting teachers, including child welfare and sex education. (RefNo: UWT)

Papers of the Centre for Research and Education on Gender

The Centre for Research and Education on Gender (CREG) was established at the IOE in June 1985 to provide a networking facility for teachers and researchers concerned with gender, sexuality and anti-sexist practice in schools and colleges, also considering variations by class, 'race' and location. (RefNo: CREG)