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FROM THE ARCHIVES: High Life Highland's archive service looks at how the passing of the Education (Scotland) Act 150 years ago transformed the provision of eduction for young people but also caused substantial damage to the Gaelic language

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A photograph of Moy School, circa 1890.
A photograph of Moy School, circa 1890.

The Education (Scotland) Act celebrated its 150th anniversary on August 6 this year. This was a huge turning point in the provision of education, following on from the passing of the Education Act in England in 1870.

Before 1872 there was no centralised state education in Scotland for all children; education in the early days was often mainly for the wealthy in society and predominantly for boys. Initially, it was administered mainly by the Church of Scotland (and the Free Church of Scotland) with input from charities and societies, burgh councils and private subscriptions or endowments.

When the Education (Scotland) Act came into force in 1872, it formalised Scottish education, bringing it under the control of the state. It made schooling compulsory for children aged between five and 13 and led to the opening of hundreds of new schools. In addition, the Act formalised record-keeping, which had been inconsistent in those schools that had existed prior to it. Admission registers became widely used to record pupils’ personal details as well as school log books written usually by the head teacher to detail weekly events in schools.

The admission register from Merkinch School in 1873.
The admission register from Merkinch School in 1873.

The Act also established school boards which consisted of elected members who were responsible for supervising all aspects of schooling. This included the provision of appropriate school accommodation, pupil attendance and the appointment of teachers with the proceedings of school board meetings recorded in minute books.

The fact that the keeping of admission registers, log books and school board minute books now became a requirement means that there is a wealth of useful and interesting records from 1872 onwards that relate to Highland schools and are available at the Highland Archive Centre. However, it is important to remember that as with all archives, not all records that were created have survived or been passed to the centre’s care.

Admission registers list every pupil who attended the school, giving the pupils name, date of birth, name and address of parent or guardian and can show which school a pupil had previously attended or where they moved to. They can also list different exam results and levels achieved by pupils.

Log books act as a diary detailing the weekly goings on as noted by the teacher. They can give us an idea of curriculum content, the impact of seasonal agricultural labour on pupil attendance levels and the day-to-day concerns regarding the running of a school such as structural maintenance and repairs.

Although the Education Act had huge benefits it also brought with it some controversy as it repressed Gaelic and caused substantial damage to the language. Gaelic medium education was not established until the 1980s.

These records are a fascinating resource for family historians in particular, but for social and local historians also.

A Boleskine School log book from 1874.
A Boleskine School log book from 1874.

Please note that due to the personal information they contain admission registers are closed for 100 years and log books are closed for 50 years.

• An online exhibition commemorating the Education (Scotland) Act will be available on the Highland Archive Service’s website where you will be able to find out more about the act and its impact.

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