** English school activities specific activities

English School Activities: Specific Activities

Figure 1.--The primary activity at any school is of course classroom instruction. At this chool the everyday school uniform was grey shirts bd ties, an opotional jumper (sweater) short pnts, and knee socks.

English school children engaged in a wide range of asctivities from coming to school in the morning to going to returning home in the afternoon. The hear of any school was the classriom and acdemic work, biut schools also iffered the children many different activites. This varied widely from school to school. Schools had an everyday uniform for most activities. There were special uniforns for certain ctivities, primarily gym and games (sports), but there were a rnge of uniform rules for vsriou sctivitis. But there were many different uniform rules at different schools affecting what was worn for the different sctivities. Boarding school children were involved in even more activities, including prep, games, free time, and goiung to bed at night. The activity included both normal living ctivities like meals and going nack o forth as well as academic school acivities. There wre also a range of leisure activities, sports and arts, as well as activities with academic value.

Coming to School

Most English primary schools children walk to school. English primary schools are mostly neighborhood schools. The children walk from their house to the schools. Most children live wihin walking disance. Children arriving early play in the school play yard. One modern approach for primary children is the Walking Bus. One teacher seeing a New Zealand Walking Bus writes, "An old idea. I used to run a walking bus from where I lived to the school in the UK between 1981 and 1989. Each day I walked to school and children would join me and quite soon I'd a little band of which I escorted.school. It had meeting points after a while as mums would let their children join the processions. The thing was I didn't know I was doing ground breaking things!" We also notice a walking bus in Serbia. Another English reader writes in 2009, "Our local primary school has a walking bus. The children's haversacks are carried in a supermarket trolly." Secondary schools have larger catchment areas. Many children used to ride bikes to school, but in the post-World war II era this began to decline as more parents purchased family cars and traffic increased. Quite a number of children used public transsit (bus, sunwaus, and trains), especially children going to private schools and/or secondaty schools. Many parents now drive their children to school.


The classroom is of course the hear nd aoul of any school and where learning takes plce. A reader writes, "When I returned to UK we were sorted alphabetically, so I was always in the front in my home class room but it was a free for all when we moved to our subject class rooms. In the 6th form we had lecture theatres and had raked seating, but still sat wherever we wished. Again this was an all boys school."

Protective Garments

Some class room activities like art or science might require some sort of protective gear.


Some schools had pecial playwear so boys would not get their uniforms dirty when playing outdoors in their free time. Here boiler suits and wellies were commonly used.


Schools sometimes specified dress for certain events held during the school year. Her boarding schools were commonly the most likely to specify the dress at various occassions. These events included both events requiring the formal dress uniform. Other evenys might entail the ordinary class room uniform. Some of these events included: fetes, games (sports events) with other schools, prizegiving, religious services, theatrical and other presentations, and a variety of other events. Specific requirements ranged from school to school, but the basic convntions were quite common.


Some secondary schools had Cadet units. Let us not assume that military training for boys is peculiar to the old Soviet Bloc countries. The idea of preparing school children for war may in fact be the British cadet program, although HBC does not have avery complete understanding of the program yet. The English program does appear to have been functioning in England during World War I (1914-18), just when the prigram began I do not yet know. Presumably it was the genesis for cadet program in colonial countries like Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. One British contributor reports, "I was trained at school from the age of 13 in military skills, including combat training, firing automatic weapons etc. although not compulsory, pressure was applied by the school to conform and few demurred. This was in Britain in the mid 1970s and is still going on."


Drill was a kind of static PE lesson with the pupil doing various exercises. Often these ther arm exercises designed to build arm strength, good posture, and promote breathing. Both boys and girls did them. We notice numerous images of British children in the early 20th century doing drill. (We assume this was also done in the 19th century, but few images are available.) Drill was also considered to be good discipline for the children. A similar activity was used to teach the children to swim--without going into water. This was a partner activity one child was supported by the other as the swimming stroke was practiced. Then the children would change places. Honest!

Gym and Sports Uniforms

Many schools had a general gym uniform used for a wide variety of sports and athletics. Most schools had a gym uniform for a variety of acttivities. In addition to the the gym uniform, there were also sports uniforms for rugby, football, and cricket. The private schools had elaborate sports uniforms. This was true of both the public and prparatoy schools. Part of the ehos of the public school was an emphasis on sport and even boys of limited ability were encouraged to participate. Sports were not as emphasized in state school, but we note that even state primary schools had some sports teams. We are not sure how common this was.

Morning, Lunch, and Afternoon Break

The British call the end of school going home home time. In between breaks are generally known as morning and afternoon break, what American children call recess. This involves the children in the play ground, playing and supervised with a teacher who would have kept a watchful eye on the children, but for the most part not interfered in the games unless it was endangering the children or some one was misbehaving. Activities vary by age and interest. Younger children rather enjoy games. Older boys go in for sports activities which have to be abreviated because the breaks are only about 15 minutes. There is also a good dealing of frentic activity, running about ad chasing. An enthusiastic teacher might play the games the children played. An English reader writes, "Very rarely the weather was so bad we would not be allowed out at breaks. Today I think the weather decision was more to do with whether the staff wanted to go out and supervise as we would always be outside in the rain and snow etc at other times. 'Wet Play' meant we had to stay in our classrooms or one of the school halls. The halls would always get very noisy and rowdy. Some Scottish schools refer to breaks as 'Peace'. I know of an English senior school which discusses it's three terms as 'Quarters'. There are many such individualities within UK schools with varying names for each year group, particular rooms and so forth." The breaks have remained similar. The lunch pweiod has changed quite a bit as the facvilities at schools have changed.

Assistants at Events

We notice English boys in school uniform appearing in a variety of events. This includes both school and civic events. Occassionaly the event or group may have a special uniform. An example here are the Wilbondon ball boys who have a special uniform provided by the Wilbodon Trennis Club. In many other occassions the boys wear their school uniforms. We have noted several such images. We are often not aware of the particular event involved. The boys are oftren used to carry placards or banners. Sometimes they help with escoring visitors, manning booths, parking, or a variety of other assignments.


School outings have come to be one of the most popular school events. Children look forward to them not only for the activity planned, but for a welcome break from the sdchool routine. We are unsure just when schools first began to organize outings. A factor here is that Britain did not begin to create a state school system for all children to attend fee free until the second half of the 19th century. This probablyv depended on the type of outing. There are two basic types of outings. We know that there were outings for celebratory events such as school picnics in the 19th century. These events were a little more complicated in the cities, but of course there were parks. We are less sure when educational outings called field trips were first scheduled. We do not yet have any evidence from the 19th century or even the early-20th century. England like most European countries have a wide range of fascinating plsaces that school children can visit. Not only are there the standard work plsace sites and wonderful museums, but there are fascinating historical sites from stone-age Stonehenge to the war eoom where Winston Churchill oversaw the British World War II effort. Of course no place has more possibilities than London, but there are fascinating site located all over England. Many school outings are fairly standard. Some teachers use more imagination than others in organizing interesting field trips.

Other Activities

Schools sponsir a wide range of other activities, including basketry, carpentry, chess, choir, computers, cooking, debate, dramatics, electronics, fishing, model building, music, railroading, rilfelry, and much more. The activities offer depend in part on the type of school. Some of these activities are associated with the academic program. Other activies are extra-curricular activities which are given varying degrees of emphasis at different schools. Some of these events required some specialized gear. The boys for others more associated with classroom activities commonly just wore their everyday school uniform. Some classess such as sciuence or art may require some sirt of smock or protective clothing.

School Youth Group Units

Many schools sponsored youth group units. The most common were Boy Scout Cub Packs or Scout Troops. Some schools, especially Church schools, may have also sponsored other groups such ads the Boys' Brigade or the Church Lads. These groups, however were more commonly sponsored by Churches than schools. We notice some of these units were particularly well uniformed. A HBC reader writes us, "I remembered a photograph of my secondary modern school Scout Troop that appeared in the local evening paper in July, 1999. The photograph was was taken around 1951. The gentleman in civilian clothes looks to be the headmaster, and the person to his right wearing glasses was one of my teachers at the school, he also became District Commisioner for Scouts. His father was my family doctor. It would be another 7 years before I would attend the school, and although I knew of the Scout Troop, I wasn't interested in joining it, as I was never one for mixing with my peers. I much prefered adult company at that time of my life."

Going Home

After School

Some boys walking home may have taried a bit to play with mates. What happened once the boys got home varied quite a bit. This depended a good bit on whether the boys attended a school that required a uninform. Many boys were anxious to change out of their uniforms into more comfortable clothing. Many boys wearing uniforms wanted to chsnge out of them. Other boys weren't really bothered about such matters and just wanted to get on with a little after school play with their mates. Here a factor was the age of the children. Primary schools varied as to uniforms, but most secondary schools with the older boys diod have uniforms. Older boys were more concious of the uniform and thus more anxious to change into casual clothing. Of course mum was a factor here. Most mums wanted their sons to keep the uniform nice for school and thus wanted them to change out of the uniform after school. Some mums were more insistent on this than others. It also depended a bit on what the boys did. Some mothers took the boys shopping. At home nothing might be said if the boys waned to watch telly or have a snack. The same might be the case if the boy sat down to do his home work (prep). If he wanted to go out and play, most mums put their foot down and he had to change. Of course not all mums stayed at home at home and there were there to enforce the family rules. Of course here again age was a factor.

Boarders After Classes

Boarders actvuties are much different. They engage in a range of activities after classes. This varies somewhat seasonally as because of the northerly lattitude in get dark rather quickly during the winter and stays light quite late suring the summer term. There are a lot of sports activities which are particularly important for the older boys. And there are free time activities. This can include both outdoor and indoor activities depending on the season and the interests of the children and the facilities at the school. In addition to sport facilities there are facilities for croquet, skating, skateboards, bicyles, swiming, fishing, building forts, playgrounds, comando courses and much more. There are also range of indoor activities such as ping-pong, pool, board games, legos, model building, electric tains, pets, and much more. Most schools have prep (homework) sessions. There is also the evening meal, which tends to be lighter than lunch. Many schools have the children watch the evening news on television. At some schools if there is aarticularly popular television program the children are allowed to watch, but basically television viewing is very restricted.


Related Chronolgy Pages in the Boys' Historical Web Site
[Main Chronology Page]
[The 1880s] [The 1930s] [The 1940s] [The 1950s]
[The 1960s] [The 1970s] [The 1980s]

Related Style Pages in the Boys' Historical Web Site
[Long pants suits] [Short pants suits] [Socks] [Eton suits]
[Jacket and trousers] [Blazer [School sandals]

Navigate the Boys' Historical Clothing School Uniform Pages
[Return to the Main English school activities]
[Return to the Main English school uniform]
[Return to the Main School Uniform Page]
[Australia] [France] [Germany]
[Italy] [Japan] [New Zealand] [Scotland]
[United States]

Navigate the Boys' Historical Clothing Web Page
[Activities] [Chronology] [Clothing styles] [Countries] [Debate] [Economics] [Garment] [Gender] [Hair] [History] [Home trends] [Literary characters]
[School types] [Significance] [Transport and travel [Uniform regulations] [Year level] [Other topics]
[Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Return to the Historic Boys' School Home]

Created: 5:33 AM 11/27/2014
Last updated: 11:43 AM 6/7/2019