The School Board of Glasgow

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The Education (Scotland) Act of 1872 brought about compulsory and free elementary schooling for 5 to 13 year-olds and gave national control of education to the state rather than the Church of Scotland. Catholic and Episcopal Church schools did not come under state control until the Education Act of 1918. Locally, education was administered by parish and burgh School Boards to which members were elected. Boards were supported financially by government grants, local school rates set by Boards and, until 1892, by fees. 1 Boards and the curriculum across Scotland were governed by the Scotch Education Department (SED) in London, which until 1885 was a committee of the Privy Council and subsequently answered to the Secretary for Scotland. The Education Act of 1918 ended the School Board system. 2

The first elections to the 15-member Glasgow School Board were held on 25 March 1873. These were popular elections with several points of interest: there was a much increased electorate; anyone paying an annual rent of over 4 was entitled to vote; the ballot was secret – unlike parliamentary elections of the time; and women had an equal vote. 3 Each elector was given 15 votes to cast as they wished. Elections in Glasgow were held triennially. In 1911, new burghs were incorporated into the Glasgow School Board area and the number of members increased accordingly to 25.

A long-standing member of the Glasgow School Board, W. Martin Haddow, described the 'unwritten rules of candidature' thus: 'three from the "Auld Kirk", three Free Church, three Catholic, three Labour, and another three for independents'. 4 Despite chronic differences of theological opinion, Board members did work together to improve educational opportunities and facilities in Glasgow. Their work was organised by a variety of sub-committees for property (building programme), welfare, teachers and teaching, pupil teachers, school attendance, evening and science classes, industrial classes, finance, educational endowments, religious instruction and physical training. Board members each sat on several sub-committees in addition to the main Board committee.

From the outset an urgent task for the Glasgow School Board was to provide places for around 35,000 extra children of compulsory school age – about 40% of the school-aged population – who at that time received no schooling. 5 Between 1873 and 1918, the Glasgow School Board built over 75 schools, each accommodating 800 to 1000 children for reasons of efficiency and economy. 6 The SED provided loans for their construction and imposed strict regulations pertaining to design: for example, separate entrances and stairs for girls and boys; the provision of a hall; the location of toilets, or 'offices', outside the main building; space per pupil, etc. 7 While the SED regulations, a tight budget and a frequently confined site did not offer a great deal of scope for architectural originality, Glasgow, unlike other Boards, appointed a range of architects thus bringing a variety of character to the three-storey utilitarian school buildings. 8 Developments in classroom layout and desk design were led by teachers' experience. 9 The last school built by the Glasgow School Board opened in 1916.

Notes:

1: James M. Roxburgh, The School Board of Glasgow 1873–1919, London: University of London Press, 1971, p. 13; Joe Fisher, The Glasgow Encyclopaedia, London & Edinburgh: Mainsream Publishing, 1994, p. 104.

2: James M. Roxburgh, The School Board of Glasgow 1873–1919, London: University of London Press, 1971, p. 227.

3: James M. Roxburgh, The School Board of Glasgow 1873–1919, London: University of London Press, 1971, p. 13; Joe Fisher, The Glasgow Encyclopaedia, London & Edinburgh: Mainsream Publishing, 1994, p. 104.

4: William Martin Haddow, My Seventy Years, Glasgow: Robert Gibson, 1943, p. 60.

5: James M. Roxburgh, The School Board of Glasgow 1873–1919, London: University of London Press, 1971, pp. 52–3. Need was measured by a census of school-aged children in 1873 undertaken by the Glasgow School Board to present to the SED.

6: James M. Roxburgh, The School Board of Glasgow 1873–1919, London: University of London Press, 1971, p. 65.

7: James M. Roxburgh, The School Board of Glasgow 1873–1919, London: University of London Press, 1971, pp. 54–5, 65–8.

8: James M. Roxburgh, The School Board of Glasgow 1873–1919, London: University of London Press, 1971, pp. 65–6.

9: James M. Roxburgh, The School Board of Glasgow 1873–1919, London: University of London Press, 1971, pp. 68–9.