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Scottish Education - Schools and University
Chapter XXIII - Fourth Period (1872 - 1906). S. P. C. K. Schools


WHEN, a few years after the passing of the Act of 1872, the action of the school-boards made the schools hitherto maintained by the Society for the propagation of Christian Knowledge unnecessary, the Directors with the funds thus released established a system of bursaries open to competition, and tenable at secondary schools. A large number of the bursars entered the university, many of whom highly distinguished themselves. Any unused surplus was devoted to assisting youths at the university who knew Gaelic. In 1877 this surplus amounted to 250. Long before this the Society had practically ceased to have subscribers, and were only the Trustees of the accumulated funds.

This scheme was found to work on the whole well, and it was decided to withdraw the salaries from all Society schools, unless special reason could be shown for their continuance. There were however in sparsely populated districts, for which school-boards could hardly provide, many children who could be taught in their own homes, and for these itinerating teachers were temporarily supplied. In 1882, when the Educational Endowments Commission commenced their labours, the number and attainments of the competitors for school and university bursaries were very satisfactory.

During the sitting of the Commission for six years, there were no noteworthy changes in the operations of the Society. In November 1889 the number of its candidates for bursaries was 179. Its stock amounted to 185,330, four-fifths of which passed into the hands of the "Trust for Education in the Highlands and. Islands of Scotland," one-fifth being left at the disposal of the Society for strictly religious purposes.

The area to which the scheme of bursaries established by the Governors of the Trust applies, covers six districts, viz. (1) Orkney and Shetland, (2) Caithness and Sutherland, (3) Ross and Cromarty, (4) Inverness, (5) Argyll, (6) Bute and specified parishes. The administrative body is admirably representative of educational interests, comprising men of eminence in the Church, University, Law, and chairmen of school-boards.

While the main aim of the scheme is the promotion of advanced education, the original intentions of the Society for the propagation of Christian Knowledge have not been overlooked. Satisfactory provision is made for the payment of the Society's bursaries awarded before the date of this scheme; and for the encouragement of Gaelic teaching, 5s is paid for every child who is taught to read Gaelic, provided the school is in other respects efficiently taught. We have evidence of the impulse given to higher education by the Trust in the fact that, in 1904, six pupils went straight from what was formerly a parish school in Inverness-shire to the university, and that, in 1905, the first place in the bursary competitions of Edinburgh and Aberdeen Universities was taken by bursars of the Trust. Further the Governors of the Trust have selected 14 schools in the Highlands and Islands at which free education will be given to all holders of bursaries awarded by the Trust, and to all candidates for bursaries who decide to compete and who gain not less than 50 per cent. of the possible marks.

In view of the decision of the House of Lords in the appeal of the General Assembly of the Free Church and others versus Lord Overtoun and others, changes were made in 1905 in the body of Governors. A number of the old Governors were reelected, and among the new ones the Universities of St Andrews, Aberdeen and Edinburgh were represented and Sir William Turner was re-elected chairman.

Grants of 60 were paid to each of the 14 centre schools, except to two from which they were temporarily withheld for further consideration; and in one case the grant was discontinued. In the administration of the grants the Governors made sure that they were satisfactorily earned, and made careful notes of the reports of examiners and inspectors.

In 1906 the Governors decided to offer a bursary of 30 tenable for three years at the Duchess of Sutherland's Technical School at Golspie. In 1905, 78 boys and 106 girls entered the competition for school bursaries. The examination papers covered, besides the ordinary English subjects, Latin, Greek, French, German, Mathematics, Gaelic, Physics, Chemistry and Botany.

The statement and scheme submitted by the Governors for the future management of the Society were marked by wisdom, foresight, and breadth of view, characteristics recognised by their being largely adopted in the completed scheme of the Commission. Oliver Wendell Holmes in his history of the " Wonderful One-hoss-shay" remarks

"Little of all we value here
Wakes on the morn of its hundredth year
Without both feeling and looking queer."

Christian and philanthropic schemes are no exception to this rule. While the Act of 1872 made changes not only desirable but imperative, there are few institutions that have stood the tear and wear of 180 years so well, or can point to a record so clean, an aim so unselfish, and an accomplishment so beneficent, as the Society for the propagation of Christian Knowledge in Scotland.


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