Our archive collections in East Renfrewshire contain many old photographs of the schools in the area. It is interesting to see how large some of the classes were many years ago and the way children dressed for school compared to now.

We also have photographs of some of the old school buildings, some of which were later demolished or burned down and are now rebuilt.

Early Days

By the end of the 17th century school life began at the age of 5, although some children did not start until age 7. School was attended six days a week for ten to twelve hours a day, starting at 6 a.m., with one-hour breaks for breakfast and lunch. Two or three "play-days" each week were allocated to physical exercise. Morals and religion were an important part of lessons, with the Bible used as the reading text. Many poorer families, however, could not afford the luxury of school, with some children never attending or only attending for two or three years. In those days attending school was not compulsory.

Much of daily life for children in the villages and towns, in the early 19th century, centred around work and school. The early part of the century saw children spending most of their day at work in the mills or factories. As the century progressed and Government Acts were passed to improve education provision for children, the balance of work and school changed with more time being spent at school than at work. At the beginning of the Victorian era most children from poor families worked and their earnings were an important part of the family income. If they attended school, the family would lose this money.

Classes in those days would have been very different from today; the children would have sat in rows facing the front and would have written on slates with chalk, mostly copying from the blackboard. Lessons were repetitive with children learning through writing the same thing over and over or repeating verbally.  

Boys and Girls

Boys were generally thought of as more important than girls; boys got technical subjects such as maths, woodwork, technical drawing; girls got subjects that would be useful in the home, such as sewing and housework.

Government Acts

Education Act of 1496 - made schooling compulsory for the first time in Scotland since it forced all nobles and freeholders to educate their eldest sons in Latin, the Arts and Scots Law.

1805 Act - stated that children must not work longer than 12 hours a day, the last two hours should be spent in reading, writing and arithmetic.

1844 Factory Act - the purpose of the Act was to improve the educational provision of children working in factories. It laid down that child workers from 8 to 13 years must receive 3 full days, or 6 half days, schooling each week, i.e.12 hours schooling each week. Inspectors would be able to order mill-owners to deduct money for schooling from the wages of children without parents. Children from 8 to 13 could still work for 6 and a half hours a day up to a maximum of 12 hours a day.

1870 Education Act - this was an English Act which said there has to be a school in every town and village.

1872 Elementary Education (Scotland) Act - obliged Scotland to come more into line with the 1870 English Act, which made it compulsory for all children to go to school until they were at least 13. The Act also included the statement that "Every school under the management of the school board of a parish shall be deemed a parish school, and every school under the management of the school board of a burgh shall be deemed a burgh school, and all such schools are hereby declared to be public schools within the meaning of this Act." The term "public school" in Scotland, therefore, had a different meaning from that in England, where it meant a kind of private or "fee paying" school.

1883 - the leaving age was raised to 14.

1888 - the Scottish Education Department introduced a Leaving Certificate Examination to set national standards for secondary education. This continued until 1962, when it was replaced by Scottish Certificate of Education O'Grade and Highers.