Part 4: The 1872 Education (Scotland) Act

This act marked a watershed in Scottish education and had an immediate effect on teacher training.

For the first time elementary education was made compulsory for all children aged between 5 and 13. The existing parish and burgh schools were taken over by the state and managed by locally elected School Boards.

The new system was co-ordinated nationally by the Scotch Education Department with the curriculum emphasising the teaching of reading, writing, and arithmetic (the three ‘Rs’). The churches made a crucial contribution to the new system by handing over their schools without charge to the School Boards. At this time the Free Church supported 548 schools across Scotland together with 584 teachers.

The impact of the Act on teacher training

Whilst the Act did not deal directly with teacher training, it had an immediate effect. The new School Boards had confidence in the existing Training Colleges such as Moray House, but there was an urgent need for more trained, certificated teachers. By 1876 the Training Colleges (now their official title rather than that of Normal Schools) had responded by increasing the number of students to over 1000.

At Moray House a new Training Department facility was opened in session 1878/9. The main floor of this building had four classrooms and the upper floor included a large Hall. There were later additions for Art and Science including a model kitchen for practicing cookery lessons. At the Church of Scotland Training College a new building was opened for men students in Chambers Street, Edinburgh, with the women students based at Johnston Terrace.

The curriculum of the training colleges was extended and remained exceptionally demanding. ‘Criticism’ lessons were a central feature with each student giving several such lessons in the session commented on by the Rector and other members of staff. Students developed a greater community and social spirit at this time. In 1877/8 former students founded the Moray House Club “to testify their regard for their Normal School” and to provide an opportunity to meet with former friends. The Club also established a library and collected funds to support the awarding of prizes. At the Church of Scotland Training College in Edinburgh a Currie Club was established, named after the Rector, James Currie. A Currie prize is still awarded at Moray House to this day.

By 1901/2 the Training Colleges had achieved greater autonomy from the government, being able to organise their own syllabuses and examinations, although the approval of the Scotch Education Department (SED) was still required and individual students were still inspected.

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