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The Children's Story

Documentary about the Scottish education system from 1938

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This film from 1938 about the history of Scottish Education was made under the supervision of John Grierson for screening at the Empire Exhibition. The film looks at primary and secondary schools and further education.
Includes shots of a school classroom, playground and school assembly; nursery school children at play; shots of girls in typing class; parenting and cookery classes; pupils at rural school learning how to use a butter churn; keep-fit classes in the playground, shots of pupils playing cricket, golf, swimming, racing, playing netball and performing gymnastics; young children learn road drill in the school playground. This film depicts changes in school education similar to the Curriculum for Excellence and promotes the need for children to become responsible citizens.

Questions & Activities


  • What do we see the children doing at school?
  • What does the teacher use to help the children learn?
  • What effect does the music have?
  • Where did the Curriculum for Excellence come from?
  • What kind of a tone do you think this film has (e.g. optimistic)?
  • What world event happened shortly after and what impact will this have had on Scotland?
  • Primary School: Watch the first five minutes of the film. How are the classrooms in the film different to your classroom?
  • How do you think the children feel?
  • Look at the clothes the children are wearing, what differences do you notice from your own school uniform?
  • Secondary School - typist section - how does the director create the optimistic tone of this extract?
  • Would you like to learn in a school like this?
  • Compare & contrast school life then and now?
  • Which subjects and activities are no longer taught in Scottish schools? Should they be taught now?
  • Did you notice anything about the language used to describe some of the people in the film?
  • Did you notice any difference between what boys and girls were doing?
  • Did you notice any bad behaviour?
  • Did you think the test sounded fair? Do you think modern tests and exams are fair?
  • Who made the film and why?


Teacher's Activity - Watch and discuss with other teachers with reference to Curriculum for Excellence.

Media Studies: Produce a shorter version of the film to show life at school in 1938.

Social Studies: Run a day's classes as if it was the year 1938.

Modern Studies: How should the school day, week, year, and curriculum be redesigned for today's modern world?

Media Studies / Social Studies: Make a film (or digital presentation using still images and voice-over) about school life today.

Media Studies: Make a film about the way you would like your school to be and what it would do differently.

Art and Design: Produce a collage/artwork contrasting today's schools with those of the 1930s and 1940s.

Social Studies / History / Geography: Research the Empire Exhibition of 1938.

Media Studies / Modern Studies: Create a film that shows "A Day in the Life" of your school. This could be given to new pupils, or used as part of a buddying system for transition from primary to secondary.

Clip Details

Record Id 007-000-000-193-C
Resource Rights Holder National Library of Scotland
Project Ref 1059
Date 1938
Genre Documentary, Sponsored
School Subject Social Studies, Health and Wellbeing, Media Studies, Modern Studies, Art and Design, History, Geography
Subject Matter Education, Curriculum, School Days
Who Alexander Shaw (director), Films of Scotland (sponsor), Strand Film Company Ltd. at the Marylebone Studios Ltd (production company)
Where Edinburgh, Glasgow
Event Empire Exhibition
Clip Length 14:35
Film Length 14:35