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Scottish Education - Schools and University
From early times to 1908 by John Kerr, M.A., LL.D. (1910)


WHEN, at the suggestion of the Syndics of the Cambridge University Press, I undertook to write the History of Scottish Education from early times to the present day, I did so with much hesitation. The difficulty of presenting within comparatively narrow limits such an account of a large subject as would be at once solid enough to be useful to the educationist, and interesting enough to appeal to the general reader, seemed a very serious one. As I have proceeded with my task that difficulty has not disappeared. All important as education is for the well-being of a nation, it cannot be called a generally attractive subject. There is no doubt in every community a small percentage who take a special interest in it, but as a rule, it is only those who are practically or professionally in close quarters with it who give serious consideration to either the history or the details of education. While the admirably accurate, and, for the period and subject covered, exhaustive record in Grant’s Burgh Schools of Scotland is a perfect storehouse of facts accompanied by eminently sensible comments, it is more a book for reference than continuous perusal. In the work which I have undertaken it is not desirable, even if it were possible, to introduce the innumerable details which Mr Grant has with most praiseworthy industry and skill brought together. My aim has been to select from them and other available sources such as are typical of the time and locality to which they belong, and present them—to use the language of Art—in an impressionist or bird’s-eye view.

It can scarcely be said that the historian of education, in dealing with what precedes the 12th Century, is standing on sufficiently solid ground. With that century accordingly our history begins.

The History falls conveniently into four periods.

First (a) Schools from early times to 1560 and the founding of Grammar Schools. (b) The founding of the three oldest Universities.

Second (a) Schools from 1560 to 1696, the Reformation era. (b) The Universities of the same period.

Third (a) Schools from 1696 to 1872, the era of well-established Parish Schools. (b) The Universities from 1696 to the period when, by the Act of 1858, they may be said to have been nationalised.

Fourth (a) Schools from 1872 to 1908. (b) The Universities from 1858 to 1908.

In 1907 when my task up to 1906 was within sight of completion, I was unfortunately seized with an illness which made absolute rest for several months imperative. Recovered so far as to resume work I decided to bring my narrative to a certain extent up to date, and proceeded to deal with what is rather the politics than the history of education—the multitudinous changes which from 1906 to 1908 characterise the subject alike in School and University. We have in schools an entire change in the character of inspection and in the training of teachers; in the universities changes in the curricula, and demands for autonomy arising from the restiveness of General Councils, under conditions which made the framing of New Ordinances, suitable to the varying needs and environments of each university, exceedingly difficult. In these circumstances it was suggested to me that the history might be suitably rounded off up to date by experts giving in short appendixes a condensed account of what has been done, and the outlook of what has been proposed, during these two years. I have been fortunate in securing kind friends who have both the will and the skill required, each appendix appearing under the name of the author.

I have endeavoured to be accurate in the use of quotation marks, and in verification of references in footnotes. I have revised the whole carefully, supplying omissions, and removing what could with advantage be spared, and it is perhaps not unreasonable to expect that a close and practical acquaintance with the school and university life of both Scotland and England for more than fifty years has prevented me from falling into very serious inaccuracy or misconception.

I regret that Mr Strong’s interesting treatise on Secondary Education in Scotland did not appear till the whole of the present work was in type, and so too late for me to profit by it.

I have to acknowledge with hearty thanks the readiness with which my requests for information and for the revision of some of the proof sheets were met by University Officials—J. M. Anderson of St Andrews, J. Coutts and W. Innes Addison of Glasgow, P. J. Anderson of Aberdeen, and Sir Ludovic Grant of Edinburgh. I have also to thank C. Stewart of Gordon’s College, Aberdeen, and Dr Lauder of the Edinburgh and East of Scotland Agricultural College for useful notes. But more than to any other my very special thanks are due to Dr Giles of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, for most careful revision of all the proofs and for many valuable suggestions. Lastly a well-deserved acknowledgment to my daughter for a full Index is probably not out of place.


December 15, 1909.


  • Chapter I - Schools before 1500
    Pre-Reformation schools. Scottish schools not advanced. Students went to England and the continent. Church schools. Grammar schools only in some of the larger towns. Connection between church and education. High reputation of Perth Grammar school. School officials. Desire for higher education. Social position of the Rector. Ayr Burgh school, famous then as now. Emoluments of teachers. Cathedral, Abbey and Collegiate schools religious rather than educational in character. Sang schools. Libraries. Languages taught. Aberdeen Grammar school. Summary.

  • Chapter II - First Period to 1560. Universities Introductory
    A Scots College in Paris. Universities almost strictly ecclesiastical. Meaning of Universities. Wandering life of the Medieval student. Lawless student life in Paris. Goliards. Students privileged persons. Student mendicancy legalised. Ecclesiastics regularly studied Law and Medicine. Scots College documents were lost or destroyed at the time of the French Revolution.

  • Chapter III - First Period to 1560. St. Andrews University
    Foundation. The Schola Illustris the germ of the University. Great rejoicing at reception of Papal Bull. James I Patron. His visit. Proposed transference to Perth. Bishop Wardlaw provides buildings. Rivalry of competing pedagogies. Election of Rectors. Students of every nationality welcomed. Learning encouraged by Church of Rome. Colleges of St Salvator, St Mary and St Leonard. Discipline and regulations monastic rather than educational. Cock-fighting allowed. Famous Professors and Students. Buchanan, Lyndsay, Hamilton, Knox, Major. Great variation in the number of students in different years. The respective aims of the three colleges. Subjects for degree of M.A. Greek when taught in Scotland.

  • Chapter IV - First Period to 1560. Glasgow University
    What led to its foundation. In 1453 the King granted a charter and certain privileges. Modelled on Bologna. Most promising start made the Faculty of Arts prominent. No endowment, the teaching staff being beneficed clergymen. First building lent temporarily. In 1460 an absolute gift, and called a Paedagogiurn. Records of privileges, discipline and members. Little reference to course of study. Gradual decadence in Faculty of Arts and general laxity.

  • Chapter V - First Period to 1560. Aberdeen University
    Foundation. Elphinstone and James IV. Trade and education in northeast of Scotland. Conflicting descriptions as to education and social condition. Elphinstone’s character. Provision for salaries. Subjects taught. Trivium and quadrivium. Members of King’s College. Chancellor and Rector most important. Emoluments. Regents. Dunbar’s Charter and influence. Deterioration after Dunbar’s death. First Bursary competition. Three universities have much in common.

  • Chapter VI - Second Period (1560 - 1696). Burgh and Other Schools
    Greed of Nobility. Church’s attitude to Education. Knox’s scheme. Appointment of Masters. Action of Town Councils. Burgh and Parochial Schools. Examinations thorough. Holidays, bent silver, games. Tenure of office. Discipline severe. Decay of Music. Catechism. Libraries. Endowments.

  • Chapter VII - Second Period (1560 - 1696). St. Andrews University
    Book of Discipline. Attitude of the Nobles. New University regulations. Rector’s duties. Regenting changed. Knox’s ideal not realised. Sad condition of University in 1563. Reformation injurious. Fewer students. Two Colleges were opposed to, one favoured the Reformation. Changes in subjects taught. Professorships of Hebrew. Andrew Melville. His energy successful. Alternation of Presbyterianism and Episcopacy.

  • Chapter VIII - Second Period (1560 - 1696). Glasgow University
    Bursaries first founded. Action of Town Council. Slender means and small staff. Classes broken up. Andrew Melville to the rescue. Changes between Regenting and the professorial system. Snell exhibitions founded. Nova erectio. Increase of graduates. The Restoration and establishment of Episcopacy. Visitations partially effective. Conditions as to Graduation slack. Students riotous.

  • Chapter IX - Second Period (1560 - 1696). Aberdeen: King's College
    Anderson and Leslie forbidden by the General Assembly to preach. Anderson and four colleagues deposed. Eight disastrous years. Arbuthnot a good man but as Principal not efficient. Interchange of students between Scottish and foreign universities. Andrew Melville’s conference with Arbuthnot. Nova Fundatio, its history one of great complexity. Theological Chair founded by Bishop Forbes. Union of King’s and Marischal Colleges in 1641 merely nominal for 20 years. "Aberdeen Doctors." How the student’s day was spent. Great jealousy between the colleges. Reforms, shortened sessions and wearing of red gowns.

  • Chapter X - Second Period (1560 - 1696). Marischal College
    Foundation, endowment and management. Faithlie University. Chairs of mathematics and divinity. College distinctly Protestant. Hebrew lectureships. Bursaries. Lectureship in Humanity. Courses of study.

  • Chapter XI - Second Period (1583 - 1696). Edinburgh University
    Origin and foundation. Conflicting accounts. Lawson chief promoter. Charter granted, but neither sludium generale nor university mentioned. Without the name it did the work of a university. Building and first Rector humble and unpretentious. Regulations as to work of medieval origin. Graduation recognised as valid. Professorships founded. Subjects of examination. Sands made Principal. Steady advance to University Status. Lord Provost chosen Rector. Relation of Barbers to the Church. Corporation of Barber Surgeons. The "Seal of Cause" and Royal College of Surgeons. Incorporation of Physicians and Apothecaries. Royal College of Physicians. Conditions of patent granted. Summary of 136 years.

  • Chapter XII - Third Period (1696 - 1872). Burgh and other Schools
    Important branches not taught. Academies largely proprietary. Burghs without burgh schools. Holidays. Discipline. Teachers, how appointed. Tenure of office. Pensions. Greek taught. Music. No grants for burgh schools. Poor buildings. Heriot’s and Merchant Company. Primary Schools up to 1872. Educational Institute.

  • Chapter XIII - Third Period (1696 - 1872). S. P. C. K. Schools
    Dearth of education in Highlands and Islands. Origin of S.P.C.K. Its growth and work. Dame’s schools. Steady increase in usefulness. Gaelic societies. Statistics. Effect of Disruption. Number of schools reduced.

  • Chapter XIV - Third Period (1696 - 1872). General Assembly and Sessional Schools
    Six synods unsupplied with means of education. Committee formed. Salaries and qualifications of teachers. Growth in numbers. School libraries. Further development. Gradual discontinuance of church schools.

  • Chapter XV - Third Period (1696 - 1872). Parish Schools
    John Knox’s scheme basis of Scottish education. Original high aim of schools. Want of money. Civil and religious discords. Co-operation between church and school. Desire for education. Institution of Government Inspection and grants. Salaries increased. Small number of inspectors. Revised code. Demoralising effect on teachers and taught. Separate code for Scotland. Reminiscences of old Scottish schools. Schoolmasters’ widows’ fund.

  • Chapter XVI - Third Period (1696 - 1864). Stow and Training of Teachers
    Systematic training of teachers at home and abroad. David Stow. Sabbath schools in Glasgow. System based on experience. Bell and Lancaster. Glasgow Infant School Society. Glasgow Educational Society. Carlyle offers himself as Rector. His view on training. Model schools instituted. Normal Seminary. Spread of Stow’s system. Effect of Disruption. Episcopal Training College. Pupil-teachers. Leaving Certificate Examination.

  • Chapter XVII - Third Period (1696 - 1858). St. Andrews University
    Features common to all Scottish Universities in 17th and 18th centuries. Latin. Regents. Professors. Bursars. St Andrews. Maitland Anderson’s matriculation rolls. Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor. Union of colleges. Course of study. Election of Rector. Chairs founded. French. "Princely Chandos." Bursaries. Prayers. Public worship. Buildings and funds.

  • Chapter XVIII - Third Period (1696 - 1858). Glasgow University
    University staff. Appointment of Professors. Latin teaching. Attempt at improvement. New Chairs. Royal Grants. Patriotism. Degree of M.D. Better regulations. Hutcheson Institution. Salaries. Common table. Reed’s account of the university. Infirmary. Donations. Increase in attendance. Medicine. New Chairs. English versus Scottish medical training. Better times. Management.

  • Chapter XIX - Third Period (1696 - 1858). Aberdeen University
    Unsatisfactory condition in Aberdeen. Dilapidated buildings, negligence, and want of funds. New Chairs. Bickerings. Queen Anne’s gift. Royal commission. Dr James Fraser’s gift. Eminent Scotsmen. Secular rather than religious trend of thought. Regenting. Laxity in Bursars’ work. Residence enforced. Examination paper on medicine. Medical education. Arts curriculum. Election of Rector. Valuable gifts. Permanent union of colleges. Appendix A. Appendix B.

  • Chapter XX - Third Period (1696 - 1858). Marischal College
    Universities become institutions of state. Gifts towards buildings. Chairs founded. Duties of Principal. Progress. Curriculum. Proposed union falls through. Academic activity. Graduation. Parliamentary Commission. Curriculum. College rebuilt. Union at last with King’s College. Appendix. Graduation Thesis. Programme of lectures.

  • Chapter XXI - Third Period (1696 - 1858). Edinburgh University
    "Cardinal Carstares" royal grant. Legal instruction. Town Council and Professors. Educational progress during Restoration and Revolution. Arts curriculum. Graduation steadily declines. New Chairs. Incorporation of Surgeons and Physicians. Great activity in Edinburgh medical world. Medical graduation. Science. Industrial museum. Faculty of Divinity. Relations between Town Council and Senatus. Foundation of new building. Hamilton and Wilson. Royal Commission. New ordinances. Many disputes. Entrance examination. Effect of Disruption.

  • Chapter XXII - Fourth Period (1872 - 1908). Primary and Other Schools and Code Changes
    Many changes. Area of educational field widened. Universities training versus secondary and higher grade schools. Dick Bequest. Competition and presentation Bursars. Latin. Graduation in Aberdeen and elsewhere. James Dick. Object of Bequest. Important changes introduced. High standard attained. Professor Laurie and the Bequest. Satisfactory results. Milne Bequest. Original conditions altered. Philip Bequest.

  • Chapter XXIII - Fourth Period (1872 - 1906). S. P. C. K. Schools
    Bursaries. Study of Gaelic. Area covered by scheme of Bursaries. Schools in Highlands and Islands. Changes effected in body of Governors. Grants and bursaries. Society’s high aim, and good record.

  • Chapter XXIV - Fourth Period (1872 - 1907). Training Colleges
    Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen. Roman Catholic College for women in Glasgow. St George’s College for secondary teachers in Edinburgh. Pupil-teachers and training-college students before and since 1873. University teaching combined with normal school training. Sources for supply of teachers. Provincial committees. Junior and senior students. Pupil-teacher system.

  • Chapter XXV - Fourth Period (1872 - 1908). Secondary Schools
    Burgh and grammar schools under school-board management. Parish schools and secondary education. Lord Balfour and higher education. Anomalous position of secondary schools. Merchant Company of Edinburgh pioneers in reform. Monastic system condemned. Hospitals converted into day schools. Steady growth, good results. Allan Glen’s school in Glasgow. Glasgow and West of Scotland Technical College. Robert Gordon’s Hospital and School of Art, Aberdeen. Edinburgh High School, Academy etc. Fettes College. Bursaries. Educational Endowments Act. Craik and secondary education. Leaving Certificate Examination. Success due to Sir Henry Craik. Dr Struthers’ report in 1906. Training of teachers. Technical Schools Act of 1887. Equivalent grant and its distribution. Character and functions of higher grade schools. Residue grant. Local Taxation account (Scotland) Act of 1892. Distribution of funds. Science and Art. Central institutions. Continuation classes. Links with central institutions. Over-pressure checked as far as possible.

  • Chapter XXVI - Fourth Period (1858 - 1908). Universities
    Two landmarks in the history of Scottish universities. Act of 1858, its aims and results. Degree of M.A. New Chairs. Junior classes. Preliminary examination. Widened curriculum. Subjects for M.A. degree, and Science degrees. New constitution of university court. Students’ representative council. Affiliation of new colleges. Privy Council. Act of 1889, extensive investigations. New method adopted. Passing of ordinances difficult. Medical course lengthened. Classes for women in arts and medicine. Degree of LL.B. Degree of B.L. Graduation in Divinity. Degree of B.D. Honorary degrees of D.D. and LL.D. Increase in students and subjects of instruction. Additional lecturers and assistants. Bursary regulations. Double marks for English, Latin, Greek and Mathematics. Patronage of Professorships. Pensions and compensations. Fees and emoluments. New Chairs. Graduation in Music. Queen Margaret College, Glasgow. Original research. Carnegie’s gift. Degrees of D.Sc., D.Phil. and D.Litt. St Andrews and Dundee. Degrees in applied Science. Extension of universities by affiliation. St Mungo’s College, Glasgow. Heriot Watt College. Agricultural Education. Agricultural Colleges. Edinburgh and East of Scotland. West of Scotland. Aberdeen and North of Scotland. Statistics concerning University of St Andrews, University of Glasgow, Queen Margaret College, University of Aberdeen, University of Edinburgh.


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