Sixteenth Century

Humanism and Protestantism
The civic values of humanism, which stressed the importance of order and morality, began to have a major impact on education and would become dominant in universities and schools by the end of the sixteenth century. King's College Aberdeen was refounded in 1515. In addition to the basic arts curriculum it offered theology, civil and canon law and medicine. St Leonard's College was founded in Aberdeen in 1511 by Archbishop Alexander Stewart. John Douglas led the refoundation of St John's College as St Mary's College, St Andrews in 1538, as a Humanist academy for the training of clerics, with a stress on biblical study. Robert Reid, Abbot of Kinloss and later Bishop of Orkney, was responsible in the 1520s and 1530s for bringing the Italian humanist Giovanni Ferrario to teach at Kinloss Abbey, where he established an impressive library and wrote works of Scottish history and biography. Reid was also instrumental in organising the public lectures that were established in Edinburgh in the 1540s on law, Greek, Latin and philosophy, under the patronage of the queen consort Mary of Guise. These developed into the "Tounis College" of the city, which would eventually become the University of Edinburgh.

In the mid-sixteenth century, Scotland underwent a Protestant Reformation that rejected Papal authority and many aspects of Catholic theology and practice. It created a predominately Calvinist national church, known as the kirk, which was strongly Presbyterian in outlook, severely reducing the powers of bishops, although not initially abolishing them. This gave considerable power within the new kirk to local lairds, who often had control over the appointment of the clergy and would be important in establishing and funding schools. There was also a shift from emphasis on ritual to one on the word, making the Bible, and the ability to read the Bible, fundamental to Scottish religion.

Reformation of schools
The Humanist concern with increasing public access to education was shared by the Protestant reformers, who saw schools as vehicles for the provision of moral and religious education for a more godly society. After the Protestant party became dominant in 1560, the First Book of Discipline set out a plan for a school in every parish, but this proved financially impossible. In the burghs the existing schools were largely maintained, with the song schools and a number of new foundations becoming reformed grammar schools or ordinary parish schools. Schools were supported by a combination of kirk funds, contributions from local heritors or burgh councils and parents that could pay. They were inspected by kirk sessions of local elders, which checked for the quality of teaching and doctrinal purity. There were also large number of unregulated private "adventure schools". These were often informally created by parents in agreement with unlicensed schoolmasters, using available buildings and are chiefly evident in the historical record through complaints and attempts to suppress them by kirk sessions because they took pupils away from the official parish schools. However, such private schools were often necessary given the large populations and scale of some parishes. They were often tacitly accepted by the church and local authorities and may have been particularly important to girls and the children of the poor. Outside of the established burgh schools, which were generally better funded and more able to pay schoolmasters, masters often combined their position with other employment, particularly minor posts within the kirk, such as clerk. Immediately after the Reformation they were in short supply, but there is evidence that the expansion of the university system provided large numbers of graduates by the seventeenth century. There is evidence of about 800 schools for the period between 1560 and 1633. The parish schools were "Inglis" schools, teaching in the vernacular and taking children to the age of about 7, while the grammar schools took boys to about 12. At their best in the grammar schools, the curriculum included the catechism, Latin, French, Classical literature and sports.

The widespread belief in the limited intellectual and moral capacity of women came into conflict with a desire, intensified after the Reformation, for women to take greater personal moral responsibility, particularly as wives and mothers. In Protestantism this necessitated an ability to learn and understand the catechism and even to be able to independently read the Bible, but most commentators of the period, even those that tended to encourage the education of girls, thought they should not receive the same academic education as boys. Girls were only admitted to parish schools when there were insufficient numbers of boys to pay an adequate living for schoolmasters. In the lower ranks of society, girls benefited from the expansion of the parish schools system that took place after the Reformation, but were usually outnumbered by boys and often taught separately, for a shorter time and to a lower level. Girls were frequently taught reading, sewing and knitting, but not writing. Among the nobility there were many educated and cultured women, such as Mary, Queen of Scots.

Reformation of universities
After the Reformation, Scotland's universities underwent a series of reforms associated with Andrew Melville, who returned from Geneva to become principal of the University of Glasgow in 1574. A distinguished linguist, philosopher and poet, he had trained in Paris and studied law at Poitiers, before moving to Geneva and developing an interest in Protestant theology. Influenced by the anti-Aristotelian Pierre Ramus, he placed an emphasis on simplified logic and elevated languages and sciences to the same status as philosophy, allowing accepted ideas in all areas to be challenged. He introduced new specialist teaching staff, replacing the system of "regenting", where one tutor took the students through the entire arts curriculum. Metaphysics were abandoned and Greek became compulsory in the first year followed by Aramaic, Syriac and Hebrew, launching a new fashion for ancient and biblical languages. Enrollment rates at the University of Glasgow had been declining before his arrival, but students now began to arrive in large numbers. He assisted in the reconstruction of Marischal College, Aberdeen founded as a second university college in the city in 1593 by George Keith, 5th Earl Marischal, and, in order to do for St Andrews what he had done for Glasgow, he was appointed Principal of St Mary's College, St Andrews in 1580. The "Tounis College" established in the mid-sixteenth century became the University of Edinburgh in 1582. Melville's reforms produced a revitalisation of all Scottish universities, which were now providing a quality of education equal to the most esteemed higher education institutions anywhere in Europe.