The Education (Scotland) Act 1872 and its significance for the Church of Scotland.

In: Scottish Educational Review
John Stevenson Retired Church of Scotland Minister, formerly General Secretary of Church of Scotland Education Department.

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During the 1850’s and 60’s there was increasing discontent regarding the provision of school education as controlled and managed by the Church of Scotland. This led to a number of Parliamentary Bills being brought forward proposing a new national system. The Church opposed these mainly on the grounds that there was no guarantee that Religious Instruction would continue to have a place in the school curriculum. In February 1872 Lord Advocate George Young presented in the Commons an Education Bill ‘To extend and amend the provisions of the law of Scotland on the subject of education’ in order that ‘the means of procuring efficient education … may be furnished and made available to the whole people of Scotland.’ This was passed on 2nd August as The Education (Scotland) Act 1872 and transferred the full control of schools from church to state. The Act included a Preamble allowing for Religious Instruction to be taught according to ‘use and wont’. The removal of its management of school education may be seen as a major blow for the Church of Scotland, removing a historic contribution to national life. In actual fact, the consequence was the revitalising of the Church enabling it to concentrate its energy on strengthening its influence in the community and in outreach to its parishes with a new sense of social mission. Although the Church had lost its direct control of the school curriculum it continued to support Religious Instruction through its Teacher Training, its Sunday schools and its ministerial representation on school boards.

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