Education in Medieval Scotland

Education in Medieval Scotland includes all forms of education within the modern borders of Scotland, between the departure of the Romans from Britain in the fifth century, until the establishment of the Renaissance late fifteenth century and early sixteenth century. Few sources on Scottish education survived the Medieval era. In the early Middle Ages, Scotland was an oral society, with verbal rather than literary education. Though there are indications of a Gaelic education system similar to that of Ireland, few details are known. The establishment of Christianity from the sixth century brought Latin to Scotland as a scholarly and written language. Monasteries served as major repositories of knowledge and education, often running schools.

In the High Middle Ages, new sources of education arose, such as song and grammar schools designed to train priests with emphases on music and Latin grammar, respectively. The number and size of these schools expanded rapidly after the 1380s. By the end of the Middle Ages, all the main burghs and some small towns had grammar schools. Educational provision was probably much weaker in rural areas, but there were petty or reading schools in rural areas, providing an elementary education. There was also the development of private tuition in the families of lords and wealthy burghers that sometimes developed into "household schools". Girls of noble families were taught in nunneries and by the end of the fifteenth century Edinburgh also had schools for girls. There is documentary evidence for about 100 schools of these different kinds before the Reformation. The Education Act 1496 decreed that all sons of barons and freeholders of substance should attend grammar schools to learn "perfyct Latyne". All this resulted in an increase in literacy, with perhaps 60 per cent of the nobility being literate by the end of the period.

Those who wished to attend university had to travel to England or the continent, and just over 1,000 students have been identified as doing so between the twelfth century and 1410. Major intellectual figures produced by Scotland with this system included John Duns Scotus, Walter Wardlaw, William de Tredbrum, Laurence de Lindores and John Mair. This situation was transformed by the founding of St John's College, St Andrews (1418). St Salvator's College was added to St. Andrews in 1450, followed by foundations at Glasgow in 1451 and King's College, Aberdeen in 1495. Initially, these institutions were designed for the training of clerics, but they would increasingly be used by laymen who began to challenge the clerical monopoly of administrative posts in government and law. They provided only basic degrees and those wanting to study for the more advanced degrees, which were common amongst European scholars, needed to go to universities in other countries. In this period, Scottish universities largely had a Latin curriculum, designed for the clergy and civil and canon lawyers. Towards the end of the fifteenth century, a humanist influence and the teaching of Greek was becoming more evident.