The National Archives of Scotland (NAS) holds a variety of records relating to education. Education has always been considered very important by Scots: indeed, Scotland's first Education Act was passed as far back as 1496, when James IV ordered that the eldest sons of barons and free-holders should study Latin, arts and law, in order to ensure that local government lay in knowledgeable hands. Two hundred years later a further education act ordered that a school be established in every parish, to be provided by the local heritors (landowners). Such schools were established slowly, but by the end of the 18th century most parishes in Scotland had at least one school. Also in the 18th and 19th centuries, some private schools were set up: while some of these provided education for the sons and daughters of gentlefolk, other 'private' schools offered little more than basic education for a few pennies a term.
A useful preliminary to research is to consult the entries for the relevant area in the Old and New Statistical Accounts of Scotland (1790s and 1840s respectively). These detailed descriptions of the economic and social conditions in each of the Scottish parishes, written by the local Church of Scotland minister, often include references to contemporary educational provision.
The Scottish Education Department
The Education (Scotland) Act of 1872, although it set up a system of education for the whole of Scotland, left its overall administration to the Scotch (later Scottish) Education Department in London. Local pressure led eventually to the appointment in 1885 of a Secretary of State for Scotland, but the Education Department remained in London almost in its entirety until the 1920s, and it was not until 1939 that its headquarters moved north. The NAS now holds the surviving records of the SED, which include file series on all aspects of Scottish education.
Records of schools and school teachers
Note that in the records held by the NAS you will find information on individual schools and sometimes on individual teachers but rarely on pupils. For centuries education in Scotland was provided by burgh or parish schools, attended by boys of all social classes. Surviving records of burgh schools are normally with other burgh records, held either by the local archive office, or the National Archives of Scotland (for example, Dunbar burgh records include a small section described as 'Papers relating to education, 1679-1854', NAS ref. B18/46). However, it is unusual for specific education records to survive: most references to burgh schools and schoolmasters especially the appointment of Burgh Schoolmasters lie within the general series of council minutes, which are often un-indexed, and it may take some searching to identify relevant references. The Scottish Burgh Record Society has published extracts from the records of Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Peebles, Stirling, Lanark and Paisley and these are fully indexed.
Heritors were the landed proprietors of the parish, and were formerly liable for the payment of public burdens connected with the parish, including the provision of schools in the parish. Surviving heritors’ records for the whole of Scotland (NAS ref. HR) are held by NAS. These may include items specifically relating to education, or may have references to the provision of a school, schoolmaster and schoolhouse within the general heritors’ minutes. Records of individual kirk sessions (NAS ref. CH2 and CH3) are also worth searching: for example Kinghorn Kirk Session records include a volume of minutes of the Committee of St Andrews’ School 1835-39 (NAS ref. CH2/472/16). References to schools may also be found scattered through the general kirk session, presbytery, or synod records.
The Education (Scotland) Act of 1872 opened formal education to all children, and placed local control and funding of schools in the hands of school boards. Surviving records of school boards are usually held by the archive office of the creating authority. NAS holds the surviving county council records for Aberdeenshire, Dumfriesshire, East Lothian, Fife, Inverness-shire, Midlothian, Peeblesshire, Selkirkshire, Sutherland and Wigtownshire (NAS ref. CO). There is an extensive set of minutes of various school boards in the records of East Lothian county council (eg Borthwick School Board, NAS ref. CO2/105/1).
Current records of individual schools remain with the schools, but older records of local authority schools are often held on deposit by local archives. These mainly comprise schools’ admission registers and headmasters’ log books. The admission registers give information about individual pupils, including confirmation of education for USA citizenship applications. Headmasters’ log books are daily diaries of events, usually recording staff absences, HMI visits etc. Closure periods usually apply to these.
School inspection reports
For centuries, the strongest force in education in Scotland had been the church, and the first school inspections were carried out by representatives of the local presbyteries of the Church of Scotland. They were concerned with the moral tone of a school, especially religious education. Such reports may be found in NAS series CH2. When the committee appointed by the Presbytery of Lanark in 1823 visited the school at New Lanark set up by the mill-owner Robert Owen, they criticised its emphasis on music and dancing (NAS ref. CH2/234/12). Growth in school numbers led to the appointment in 1840 of the first of Her Majesty's Inspectors of Schools, and the series of HMI reports in NAS is one of the best sources of information on individual schools. The main series of school Inspection reports are (NAS ref. ED16, 17 and 18). Two types of reports exist, the commoner consisting of short essays on the subjects taught, and the quality of teaching provided. The second type of report calls for a numerical breakdown of the number of pupils and teachers, the number and size of the classrooms. Sometimes personal details about specific teachers are included such as their age, period of service, qualifications and former employment. Reports on independent and grant-maintained schools are also found in NAS ref. ED32, where a number of kindergarten and nursery schools, such as Kinloss RAF Nursery School (NAS ref. ED32/81), appear alongside Scotland’s major public schools such as Loretto (NAS ref. ED32/302) and Gordonstoun (NAS ref. ED32/310).
Other government records
Other interesting series in the Scottish Office Education Department files include the Second World War series (NAS ref. ED24) on such topics as Evacuation Schemes (NAS ref. ED24/7-14) and Air Raid Precautions in Schools (NAS ref. ED24/17-24). NAS even holds a series of files on the School Meals Service (NAS ref. ED52). On the date of one inspection visit to Caithness in 1959, the children were enjoying brown stew, potatoes, carrot and turnip, with jam roly poly and custard to follow. The report also contains the scathing observation “To maintain a satisfactory standard of cleanliness the floor requires to be scrubbed more frequently" (NAS ref. ED52/503). Educational matters can also come within the remit of other Scottish Office departments. Home and Health Department files include two on Education in Sanatoria, 1920-1948 (NAS ref. HH65/108), in which civil servants debate whether the education of convalescent children is part of the normal education system, and thus the responsibility of the local education authorities, or part of the children’s convalescent and remedial treatment. The Agriculture and Fisheries Department Miscellaneous Files series includes School Gardening Scheme, 1914 (NAS ref. AF43/48) and Agricultural Labour: Employment of Schoolchildren, 1917-1939 (NAS ref. AF43/76).
Results of the Leaving, Senior Leaving and Scottish Leaving Certificate Examination Registers, 1908-1965 (NAS ref. ED36) and Results of Senior Leaving Certificate Examination Results during the war years, 1940-1945 (NAS ref. ED40) are held by the NAS and are available to consult, to anyone who holds a valid reader’s ticket. The Scottish Qualifications Authority operates a service for the issue of replacement certificates (from 1995 onwards). All other qualifications achieved prior to 1995 from predecessor award bodies will be provided as Certified Statements (on SQA certificate paper). There is a standard administrative fee for this service. You can find out about current fees and other information from the SQA website or you can apply in writing to the Scottish Qualifications Authority, The Optima Building, 58 Robertson Street, Glasgow, G2 8DQ.
Aside from the various documentary sources noted above, NAS holds plans of school buildings, although by no means a comprehensive collection of all Scottish schools. Many come from private collections (perhaps the local landowner had an interest in education and endowed or otherwise benefited a school) and from heritors’ records. Architectural plans usually define intended usage of rooms and may even show the proposed placement of desks or forms. The later the date of the plan, the more accurate, detailed and informative it is likely to be. An 1853 plan for a school at Darnick in Roxburghshire shows separate rooms for boys and girls, and separate playgrounds behind: the boys’ playground is twice the size of the girls’ (NAS ref. RHP5525).
Educational organisations and endowed institutions
Some gifted and deposited collections are of particular interest to education researchers. The Dick Bequest, whose records begin in 1727 and end in 1990, provided grants to augment the salaries of schoolmasters in the north east of Scotland (NAS ref. GD1/4). The registers are a useful source of information on the careers of individual teachers, as are the records of the Scottish Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge (SSPCK), founded 1707 (NAS ref. GD95). Teachers also feature in the records of the Educational Institute of Scotland (NAS ref. GD342). Records of this organisation begin in 1785, so it is, with the SSPCK and Dick Bequest records, a good early source on the lives of teachers. These records deal with individual schools and schoolmasters, though not pupils. Records of individual schools include Edinburgh’s John Watson’s (NAS ref. GD352), Dean Orphanage (NAS ref. GD417) and George Heriot’s (NAS ref. GD421) schools.
A useful introduction to the subject is the chapter on ‘Schools’ in Cecil Sinclair’s 'Tracing Scottish Local History' (HMSO, 1994), and the more recent article 'Sources for the study of education in the Scottish Record Office' by Alison J Lindsay, in 'Scottish Archives: the Journal of the Scottish Records Association', vol 3, 1997, pp61-68. Detailed source lists on the NAS's education records can be consulted in our search rooms.
James Craigie’s, 'A bibliography of Scottish education before 1872' (Scottish Council for Research in Education, 1970) has as its Appendix C a note on manuscript sources and a list of material relating to schools in private records in the NAS compiled by Donald Withrington.
For lists of schoolmasters check David Dobson’s, 'Scottish schoolmasters of the 17th century (St Andrews, 1995) and 'SSPCK Schoolmasters, 1709-1872' edited by A S Cowper and published by the Scottish Record Society (1997).
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