Scottish Education in the Nineteenth Century

Scottish education in the nineteenth century concerns all forms of education, including schools, universities and informal instruction, in Scotland in the nineteenth century. By the late seventeenth century there was a largely complete system of parish schools, but it was undermined by the Industrial Revolution and rapid urbanisation. The Church of Scotland, the Free Church of Scotland and the Catholic church embarked on programmes of school building to fill in the gaps in provision, creating a fragmented system. Attempts to supplement the parish system included Sunday schools, mission schools, ragged schools, Bible societies and improvement classes. Scots played a major part in the development of teacher education with figures including William Watson, Thomas Guthrie, Andrew Bell, John Wood and David Stow. Scottish schoolmasters gained a reputation for strictness and frequent use of the tawse. The perceived problems and fragmentation of the Scottish school system led to a process of secularisation, as the state took increasing control. The 1872 Education act transferred the Kirk and Free Kirk schools to regional School Boards and made some provision for secondary education. In 1890 school fees were abolished, creating a state-funded, national system of compulsory free basic education with common examinations.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Scotland's five university colleges had no entrance exams, students typically entered at ages of 15 or 16, attended for as little as two years, chose which lectures to attend and left without qualifications. The curriculum was dominated by divinity and the law. There was a concerted attempt to modernise the curriculum resulting in reforming acts of parliament in 1858 and 1889. The curriculum and system of graduation were reformed, entrance examinations introduced and average ages of entry rose to 17 or 18. There was a revitalisation of the Scottish university system, which expanded to 6,254 students by the end of the century. Major figures produced by the university system included William John Macquorn Rankine, Thomas Thomson, William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin, David Brewster, Fleeming Jenkin, Joseph Lister, William Macewen, Robert Jameson, Edward Caird, James George Frazer and Patrick Geddes.