In 1824 the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland agreed to set up a committee to
bring forward a plan for increasing the means of school education in Scotland. The following
year the Assembly formally re-appointed this committee as an Education Committee whose
remit was to plant schools to supplement parochial schools in areas where additional
provision was most needed, particularly in the Highlands and Islands. This thesis describes
the work of this committee over almost fifty years (1824-1872) during which time it
established over 280 elementary schools throughout the country and two colleges for training
teachers ("normal schools").
The Education Committee was also answerable to the General Assembly for the oversight
of the Church's statutory management of parochial schools through the supervision of local
presbyteries and kirk sessions. This control of schools by the Church involved these church
courts in visiting parish schools and in examining schoolmasters and ensuring that they were
members of the Church.
The Education Committee's endeavours were soon hampered by the lack of voluntary
funding and it had to rely on government aid, particularly for its teacher training scheme. To
make matters more difficult by the mid 1850s denominational and private enterprise had
created a manifold pattern of education consisting of nine or ten different types of school,
with the Free Church, the Scottish Episcopal Church and the Roman Catholic Church all
engaged in setting up their own schools and all looking to the government for financial
assistance. In this situation the Established Church's control of parish schools was challenged
and in political and ecclesiastical circles a number of questions were raised, principally,
should the management of all Scottish schools (including parochial schools and Church
schools) be transferred to local boards under the supervision of some centralised body and if
so who should be responsible for the delivery of religious instruction presently under the
jurisdiction of the various denominations?
This thesis recounts how the Education Committee responded to these questions by
defending its status with regard to parochial schools and by opposing moves to abolish the
traditional parish school system and replace it with a new national system of school
education in Scotland. Up until 1872 the Church continued to add to the number of its
Assembly schools and to promote the professionalism of teachers by raising teaching
qualifications and standards. I will contend that by pursuing this strategy, which included a
measure of co-operation with the government, the Church of Scotland made a significant and
historically important contribution to Scottish school education in the nineteenth century.