History of education in Scotland

History of education in Scotland


During the medieval period, Scotland followed the typical pattern of European education with the Roman Catholic church organising schooling. Church choir song schools and grammar schools were founded in all the main burghs and some small towns, early examples including the High School of Glasgow in 1124 and the High School of Dundee in 1239. The foundation of the University of St. Andrews in 1413 was followed by Glasgow in 1451 and King's College, Aberdeen in 1495. One nameworthy northern renaissance teacher in Scotland was Robert Henryson, associated (c.1470 - 1500) with the grammar school founded by Dunfermline Abbey. The education of barons and wealthy property owners was made compulsory by the Education Act 1496, in an effort to improve the administration of justice and make it more responsive at a local level.

Development of universal education

The Scottish Reformation brought the reshaping of the national Church of Scotland and in January 1561 John Knox and a small group of clergymen set out a national programme for spiritual reform, including the "virtuous education and godly upbringing of the youth of this Realm" with a schoolmaster to be appointed to every church. "For the poor, if need be, education may be given free; for the rich, it is only necessary to see that education is given under proper supervision." Reformation concepts such as the priesthood of all believers, the importance of the individual conscience, and the supremacy of Scripture in all matters of faith and practice, made widespread literacy important. Unlike the Reformation in England which had been imposed by the monarch, the Scottish Kirk had not been reformed under the leadership of the crown, and tensions would continue. Late in 1561 the Privy council made a financial settlement which fell far short of the Church's hopes, but the intent was implemented as resources permitted. Early progress was made in reforming the universities, and new universities were formed, at Edinburgh in 1582, and Marischal College, Aberdeen in 1593. In the burghs the old schools were maintained, with the song schools and a number of new foundations becoming reformed grammar schools or ordinary parish schools. Here and there in the countryside parish schools were set up, often with the minister also serving as schoolmaster, who was commonly called the "Dominie". At their best, the curriculum included catechism, Latin, French, Classical literature and sports.

In 1616 an act in Privy council commanded every parish to establish a school "where convenient means may be had", and when the Parliament of Scotland ratified this with the Education Act of 1633, a tax on local landowners was introduced to provide the necessary endowment. A loophole which allowed evasion of this tax was closed in the Education Act of 1646, which established a solid institutional foundation for schools on Covenanter principles. Although the Restoration brought a reversion to the 1633 position, in 1696 new legislation restored the provisions of 1646 together with means of enforcement "more suitable to the age". The Education Act of 1696, which continued to regulate Scottish elementary education until 1872, could be invoked to set up a school and ensure continuing payment of the schoolmaster's salary. Schooling was not free, but support from the tax on landowners in country districts and municipal funds in burghs kept fees low, with it being left to the kirk-sessions aided by charity to provide the fees for the poorest as well as exerting moral pressure for them to attend.

Golden age

By the end of the 17th century a considerable proportion of the population was literate and the education system had been developed to a point considerably in advance of anything known before, well ahead of England or most other European countries. School life began at the age of five, though many did not arrive until they were seven and may at first have attended an unofficial dame-school. It was meant to continue for five years, after which some pupils would go on to a larger burgh school or possibly straight to university, but many poorer parents could not let their child stay beyond the age of eight unless he won a bursary. School was attended six days a week for ten to twelve hours a day, starting at 6 a.m. with one hour breaks for breakfast and lunch. Two or three "play-days" each week allowed for bodily exercise. When in class all subjects incorporated piety, with the Bible as the reading text. All learnt reading and writing, Latin was taught to some older children and arithmetic was taught in the burghs. Discipline was maintained by the tawse. Though the children of the nobility were often educated at home by tutors, "by far the greatest part" Fact|date=February 2007 of the Scottish gentry sent their sons to the local schools with their tenants' children.Fact|date=February 2007

The 18th century brought a golden age of Scottish education, contributing to the intellectual advances of the Scottish enlightenment and the industrial revolution, as well as allowing significant migration elsewhere of professionally trained or commercially talented Scots. The universities also attracted English students, particularly Nonconformists who were excluded from the two universities in England, Oxford and Cambridge, which required their students to sign up to the Anglican faith. The Scottish universities gained a better reputation in fields like medicine, and the University of Edinburgh grew from 400 students at the start of the century to 2,000 by 1815. Many towns vaunted the quality of their schools, for example Crieff in the Scottish Highlands which grew from a village as parents moved to be near its grammar school. In Edinburgh there was a surge in provision around 1760, with numerous private schools opening, the council founding four supplementary "English schools", and in particular the Royal High School doubling in size to be claimed as the largest school in Britain around 1790.

By the end of the century the legal requirement of a school for each parish had largely been met, but was proving inadequate because of the physical extent of some parishes, or because of large and increasing populations. Each parish school usually had one schoolmaster, who would take fifty or sixty pupils. Under these circumstances the kirk-session would bring little pressure for children to attend school for more than four years or even, sometimes, for girls to attend school at all. The gap was increasingly filled by private schools funded entirely by fees per pupil, known as "adventure schools", which could be shut down by the kirk-session for incompetence or doctrinal unorthodoxy. Even in the 1690s such schools were being used to supplement the parish schools, with the kirk paying the fees for poor pupils. An "adventure school" opened in Alloway in 1765 taught Robert Burns to read and write. There was also a contribution from charitable endowments, often from local landowners, some providing cheap schools for girls to learn to read, spin, sew and knit. In the Scottish Highlands as well as problems of distance and physical isolation, most people spoke Gaelic which few teachers and ministers could understand. Here the Kirk's parish schools were supplemented by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, and after 1811 by the Gaelic Societies of Edinburgh, Glasgow and Inverness. Their aim was to teach English language and end Roman Catholicism associated with rebellious Jacobitism. Though the Gaelic Society schools taught the Bible in Gaelic, the overall effect contributed to the erosion of Highland culture.

Many of the teachers in private and charitable schools were female, and the introduction from England of the pupil-teacher system in 1846 also facilitated the entry of women into teaching, but was resented by dominies and in 1847 the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) was set up to bolster their professional status.

Compulsory education

Education finally became compulsory for all children aged between 5 and 13 with the Education (Scotland) Act 1872. The Scottish Education Department in London took over from the Church of Scotland. Burgh as well as parish schools now came under School Boards run by local committees, many new Board schools were built, and larger School Boards established "higher grade" (secondary) schools as a cheaper alternative to the burgh schools. The Act included the statement that "Every school under the management of the school board of a parish shall be deemed a parish school, and every school under the management of the school board of a burgh shall be deemed a burgh school, and all such schools are hereby declared to be public schools within the meaning of this Act.", a usage of the term "public school" that has continued in Scotland despite awareness of the English usage of the term to mean a kind of private school.

The leaving age was raised to 14 in 1883, and the Scottish Education Department introduced a Leaving Certificate Examination in 1888 to set national standards for secondary education. Until 1890 school fees still had to be paid. In 1904 it became possible to learn Gaelic as a subject in its own right rather than as a means of acquiring English.

Roman Catholic schools were set up funded by charity, remaining outwith the national system. The Education (Scotland) Act 1918 renamed the Scottish Education Department and introduced state funding of Catholic schools which kept their distinct religious education, access to schools by priests and requirement that school staff be acceptable to the Church. The same Act gave Gaelic a statutory place as a "subject", though not as a language on an equal footing.

The Leaving Certificate instituted in 1888 continued in secondary education until its replacement by the Scottish Certificate of Education, "O grade" and Highers, in 1962. Discipline by the tawse was outlawed in 1986. In 1999 the new Scottish Executive set up an Education Department and an Enterprise, Transport and Lifelong Learning Department, which together took over the work of the Scottish Education Department.

The current education system

For a description of the current education system in Scotland, see Education in Scotland


* [http://www.scottishhistory.com/articles/highlands/gaelic/gaelic_page2.html Decline of Gaelic]
* [http://k1.ioe.ac.uk/schools/efps/HistoryOfEducation/HEEHJaneMcdermid.doc. Social Change in the History of Education] (.doc format)
* [http://www-groups.dcs.st-and.ac.uk/~history/Education/scottishleaving.html The setting up of the Scottish Leaving Certificate]

*Smout, T.C., "A History of the Scottish People", Fontana Press 1985, ISBN 0-00-686027-3

See also

*Comprehensive school
*School Board
*Education in England
*Education in Northern Ireland
*Education in Scotland
*Education in Wales
*Education in the United Kingdom
*List of further and higher education colleges in Scotland
*English medium education#Scotland

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