Scotland in the Age of the Disruption

By Stewart J. Brown; Michael Fry | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FIVE
Adrift among the Reefs of Conflicting Ideals?
Education and the Free Church, 1843-55

DONALD J. WITHRINGTON

TO DETERMINE JUST WHAT the Free Church contribution was to Scottish schooling, or to Scottish education in general, is not the simple matter it may seem at first. By 1847, we are told, there were in operation in Scotland over 500 schools which were supported in some form by the Free Church Education Committee1; in 1850-1, by varying accounts, that number had risen to at least 640 or to just over 700. 2 With about 950 legal parishes in the country, this seems to represent a remarkable addition to educational provision. But the returns to the religious and educational census of 1851 show that at least 124 of the Free Church schools had been in existence before -- some well before -- the Disruption, and had been taken over, ready-made as it were, in or since 1843. 3 Also, since nearly 200 teachers on the Free Church payroll in 1847 had previously been employed on their own private adventure or in private subscription schools, the number of transferred schools may well have been even larger. 4 Perhaps over a third of Free Church schools in 1847 and a fifth or even a quarter in 1851 -- when their numbers were at an all-time high -- had been taken over into the Educational Scheme and were not, therefore, additional to the national provision. The contribution in schooling was still remarkable, but not so substantial as has so often been made out.

The 1851 census returns gave details of school numbers, and enrolled pupils, according to their religious and other affiliations. Comparatively, how did the Free Church stand in these? The census noted 719 schools which claimed Free Church connection, accounting for 13.7 per cent of the Scottish total, teaching 17.1 per cent of all Scottish pupils. The same lists show 1,094 parochial and side schools in the legal system, representing 20.1 per cent of schools and 24.5 per cent of scholars. More surprising, and revealing, are the 914 schools which declared a direct connection with the Church of Scotland as a sect -- Assembly schools, schools of the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge (SSPCK), Gaelic and other society schools, sessional and other schools supported by congregations, etc. -- in all, 17.4 per cent of the total, enrolling 16.9 per cent of all pupils in the

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