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Best Days of Your Life? A School in Every Parish

The Reformation of 1560 had a significant impact on the development of schooling in Scotland.  The reformed church wanted to ensure everyone could read the Bible.  John Knox’s Book of Discipline outlined a system which included parish schools, burgh grammar schools, high schools and universities. Sixteenth Century Scotland was a relatively poor country which made achieving this ideal difficult.

However, in 1696, an “Act for Setting Schools” meant that every parish which didn’t already have a school had to provide a schoolhouse and teacher.  The church played a central role in running these schools and Scotland gained a reputation for providing a first class education.

By the 19th Century, population growth had put the education system under severe strain.    Private or ‘adventure’ schools competed with parish schools. Attendances were poor and the quality of education varied.  In 1872, the government finally acted.  The Education (Scotland) Act moved schools from church control to locally elected school boards.   By the end of the 19th Century schooling was universal with free places for all children.


Aggie Forret and Class, North Berwick, c1905

Miss Forrett had a reputation for being strict – she wasn’t afraid to use the strap – but she was also remembered as an excellent teacher.

John Knox

John Knox

John Knox is thought to have been born in Haddington sometime between 1505 and 1514 where he might have attended the grammar school.

Extract from Dunbar Kirk Session, 1820

Extract from Dunbar Kirk Session, 1820

Extract from the Minutes of the Presbytery of Dunbar, January 1820, emphasising the importance of reading the Bible in school.

Courtesy of the National Records of Scotland.

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