RELIGIOUS EDUCATION IN ELEMENTARY SCHOOLS IN THE DUNDEE AREA: 1843 -1893
The main thesis contended for here is that, while it has often been said that up to 1872 the Church was mainly responsible for elementary education, and after that date the State took over responsibility, a truer representation of the facts must take into account not only gradual Government intervention in Scottish education decades before 1872, but also the continuation of a strong Church influence over education for some decades thereafter. So much so that the year 1981 is probably more important demarcation date in some respects than 1872.
The declining influence of the Church of Scotland on religious and educational life.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century the Established Church of Scotland was still secure in its predominant position in educational matters. Yet by mid-century that predominance was greatly reduced. The old parochial system was now seen to be inadequate. In 1824 the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland set up an Education Committee, to extend the means of education, and to give children religious instruction in the schools according to the tenets of their own faith. This committee opened about twenty schools every year. More schools were needed, as can be seen from the findings of a Parliamentary Inquiry of 1834 - less than a quarter of schoolchildren were receiving elementary education in parochial schools.
Government intervention in Scottish education can be traced in five stages. It began in 1834, with a grant of £10,000 for the creation of new schools, a grant renewed annually by the Privy Council Committee. Then in 1837, Parliament passed an act for the planting of schools in new Highland parishes; further evidence that the Established Church's control over education was diminishing. In 1839 Government inspection of schools began, and thirteen inspectors were at work by 1870. Schools were inspected on a denominational basis prior to 1872, often by presbyterial visitation. Inspectors did examine the results of religious instruction, and any non-denominational schools visited would not receive the government grant unless it had daily Scripture readings. In 1861 the Moncrieff Act was passed, as a result of which schoolmasters or university teachers were no longer required to take an oath of subscription to the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Established Church (parish schoolmasters still had to do so). A trend was begun, and so by 1870 only 50 out of 113 teachers in burgh schools, where declaration was not required, belonged to the Established Church. Lastly, with the introduction of the Schools (Scotland) Code on 4 May 1864, it was no longer possible for a licensed minister to spend time teaching in a school while waiting for a call.
By mid century the cause of national education was definitely on the march. 1850 saw the setting up of the National Education Association. The Lord Advocate for much of the period 1851 - 1869, in the Liberal governments, was Edinburgh lawyer, MP, and Free Church elder, James Moncrieff, largely responsible for the drafting and presentation of several major educational bills which sought to provide a full national educational system for Scotland - all failed, meeting opposition from the lairdocracy, the aristocracy, and the Church of Scotland. The Established Church was thoroughly entrenched in its stance on this. Any change in the educational arrangements of the country affecting her exclusive control of the parochial system was intolerable. This was embodied in the General Assembly's "Protest, Declaration and Testimony on the subject of National Education" on 1849. The Church of Scotland opposed the bills which followed in 1854, 1855 and 1869.
Right from its inception the Free Church gave education a high profile. Dr RS Candlish declared at the General Assembly in 1845: "We are in the land a missionary Church. We have a great Home Mission to see to in Scotland. We have doors open all over the land, and we are called upon to go forth and possess the territory; and this is the character of our Church ecclesiastically viewed, so we desire that it should be the character of our Church viewed scholastically and educationally."
By 1850-1 the Free Church had set up around 590 new schools, and by the 1870s between 650 and 700. Yet when the government of Lord Palmerston appointed a Royal Commission to investigate the Scottish educational system, its findings revealed that, despite the expansion programmes of the Established Church and the Free Church, the work of the SSPCK, and the gradually increasing numbers of Episcopalian and Catholic schools, not to mention private endeavours, the lack of co-ordinated effort had left some parts of the country enjoying an embarrassment of schools, and other districts sadly lacking. Of the 510,000 children aged 4-14 in Scotland, only about 418,000 were on the roll of any school, and less than a quarter were in parochial schools. Of those 418,000 less than half were at schools visited by Government inspectors. The Argyll Commission presented voluminous evidence which could not be ignored.
What control did churches have over education prior to 1872 ?
The Education Act of 1696 had established a national system of parochial schools and church superintendence and control. The Act stated:
"All Schoolmasters, and Teachers of Youth in Schools are and shall be lyable to the tryall, judgement and censure of Presbyteries of the bounds for their sufficiencie, qualifications and deportment in the said office."
Presbyteries thus had the right to test schoolmasters before appointment, and to inspect schools regularly; and with town council co-operation, burgh schools as well. Assembly and sessional schools were also visited. A common formula in Dundee Established Presbytery and Free Church Presbytery records is a reference to a presbyterial committee appointed for the examination of the schools "within the bounds", with the task of examining the schools and making full inquiries regarding the general management of the school and the conduct of the teacher. A few weeks after the visit of the presbyterial committee a report was read to the presbytery, approved, and sent to the Secretary of the Education Committee in Edinburgh, on special schedules sent to them for the purpose
(not all reports by any means reached Edinburgh).
The Free Church took the presbyterial oversight of its schools very seriously. It was certainly not a routine affair
"The standing committee for the examination of schools gave in a verbal report anent the mode of conducting the examination of Schools, in which they recommend a more equitable distribution of work, among the examining committees, and that these Committees should be so arranged as that each minister shall have the opportunity in a series of years of seeing all the schools in the Presbytery."
The appointment of the schoolmaster had earlier been done conjointly by the heritors and the minister. Now schoolmasters were examined by the Presbyterial Committee, not only on entry to office but also periodically during their career. Another way in which close control was kept was by presbyterial management of schools. Presbyteries exercised strict control over the erection and management of schools. Once a school was opened in connection with a church, all legal responsibilities connected with the management rested with the minister and elders of that church. Yet presbyterial superintendence remained. Thus, when the minister and elders of East Church had all the legal responsibilities for the management of Wallacetown school, it was added "the Presbytery also reserving power to themselves to make sure changes in the management as may seem right to them". Once a school was erected, choice had to be made of a suitable schoolteacher. Orthodoxy was a matter of some importance. A common entry in records is that with regard to Mr Thomas McDonald, elected schoolmaster of Abernyte:
"he was required to sign in the presence of the Presbytery the Confession of Faith and Formula of the Church of Scotland."
A fuller entry concerns the newly elected schoolmaster of Monifieth parish school:
"whereupon the Presbytery having caused the said Minute and Certificate to be read to them, proceeded to examine and take trial of his proficiency in the several branches of education commonly taught in the said parish school, and being satisfied with the same, they required him to sign in their presence the Confession of Faith and Formula of the Church of Scotland, and the said William South having subscribed his name thereto in token of his assent to the doctrines therein set forth, the Presbytery found, and hereby find him duly qualified, and did, and hereby do declare him legal Schoolmaster in the said parish ..."
With the passing of the Moncrieff Act of 1861 such signing, of course, came to an end. Teachers in any case were coming more into their own as they became more organised as a profession. In December 1847, a "friendly conference" of the Free Church Presbytery was held with twelve of their teachers. The subject of the conference - the best means of communicating religious instruction. This was followed by a conference devoted to prayer and psalmody in the schools in February 1848. Yet even with the emergent professionalism of teachers (the EIS was set up in mid century), church and schools remained closely linked. Part of the "Presbyterial Superintendence of Congregations" was education.
Under this heading the following questions were asked by the Free Church Presbytery in 1859:
"Are there any week day schools connected with your congregation? If, how many and what is the attendance at each? Whence do the emoluments of the teacher arise? What are the principle hindrances to the children of your Congregation continuing at School till they are thoroughly educated?"
Kirk-Sessions appear to have had a free hand in the election of their schoolmaster. In December 1863 the Session of St Paul's Church South, which had the responsibility for Meadowside Male Sessional School, calculated that the following teachers would be necessary: a Head teacher, salary £75 pa, an assistant master on £40 pa, and two pupil teachers with a salary of £10. They went ahead and engaged three men from Edinburgh.
The closeness of the link between a schoolmaster and the church can be seen in the fact the schoolmaster often served as Session Clerk as well. While, however, it was quite common for children to attend any weekday school, regardless of denominational ties, the schoolmaster did not have such liberty. When an Established Presbytery committee visited Lochee School in November 1843, no fault was found with the conduct of the school, which had 120 scholars on the list. The schoolmaster, Mr Campbell, however, was noted to be attending Free Church worship on a regular basis. The Presbytery resolved that Mr Campbell "is not a fit person to be employed as a teacher by the General Assembly's Committee on Education". Not a surprising decision, perhaps, after the exodus earlier that year in Dundee.
The presbyteries set a good standard for their schoolmasters to attain to.
In 1844 the Established presbytery, in looking to appoint a teacher to the Kinnaird Parish School, recorded:
"... the meeting are of the opinion that the Schoolmaster of the Parish (Kinnaird) should be qualified to teach English Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, Geography, mathematics and the elements of Latin as to all which they remit him for examination before the Presbytery of Dundee as well as his morals and religious qualification and adherence to the principles of the Church of Scotland..."
That these qualifications, and particularly religious interests, were not to be taken lightly can be seen from an entry for Kinnaird of the later date of May 1858, where the teacher, Mr Robertson, was found to be remiss in not opening and closing the parish school day with time of prayer, which was his "duty" and which he was instructed to attend to in the future.
With such close control of their institutions of learning, the churches were able to prescribe what religious content they desired. The Dundee Sessional schools, of which there were six in town in 1850, were conducted along the line of John Wood's Sessional School in Edinburgh. We can surmise that the parochial schools and others would have had no less of a religious content:
"Religion played its usual part in the work of the schools. There was prayer at the beginning and end of each day. All class books contained a large proportion of religious and moral instruction. On Mondays the children read a chapter from the Old Testament, on Tuesdays one from the Gospels or the Acts, on Thursdays one from the Psalms, Proverbs or Prophets, on Fridays one from the Epistles. Wednesday brought a lesson on the Catechism or Scripture biography, while every Saturday contained an examination of the week's work. In general, however, there was no public examination of the subjects studied."
The Bible was also used as an invaluable reading aid, as well as for Scripture lessons; for example, Proverbs would be read as "appealing to the moralising spirit of the age".
Religious Instruction, then, was an integral part of elementary education, and while the local church records do not reveal much, we can see from the following how religious instruction was part and parcel, a good part we might say, of the life of a church school. When a scheme was drawn up for the erection of a new school in connection with St John's Free Church Parish in 1843, the second point of the scheme was:
"The School shall be for the instruction of children and adults or children only of the labouring, manufacturing or other poorer classes in the said district in religious and useful knowledge - such religious education being according to the principles of the Westminster Confession of Faith and Shorter Catechism."
What provision was there for schooling in the Dundee area ?
Dundee was a rapidly expanding city in the nineteenth century. The .population in 1821 was 30,575. In 1818 a Select Committee of the House of Commons had asked the General Assembly to report on educational provision for the poor (who numbered just over 1,000). At that time there were 12 parochial schools. Dundee was able to cater for the education of the poor quite well. Half a century later the population of Dundee had quadrupled. The number of parochial schools had only increased to fourteen by 1860, with 1,114 on the roll. The Free Church was to add significantly to this with 22 schools in 1865. The General Sessional School at that time had about 500 pupils. Figures laid before the General Assembly in 1843 showed that, taking all kinds of schools into account (including the eight Sessional Schools which had 1,629 pupils on the roll), 9,077 were attending some place of schooling, 7,146 were not. That is, 44% were attending no kind of school! The statistics, of course, do not specify the ages in question, and this could alter the percentage quite a bit. Nevertheless it is high. The fact is the population in Dundee was fast outstripping educational provision. In the debates that ensued in the early 1870s, as the Education (Scotland) Bill was put before the country, repeated reference is made to the "5,000 in Dundee who are running wild through the streets", those unchurched "street arabs". The church was facing its greatest external crisis of modem times: increasing industrialisation and urbanisation of society. This is the single most vital, background issue which comes up time after time in the pamphlets and debates of the mid nineteenth century. Callum Brown has summed this up well:
"The growth of cities had a dramatic impact upon religion. The urbanisation of the British population which fell mainly between 1780 and 1900 has been identified with the secularisation of habits and popular philosophy, turning attention from God-made countryside to the man-made industrial centres, and has been associated more directly with the forces which undermined the role of the churches ... The new industrial proletariat became for the Protestant churches the "lapsed masses" and "home heathens" of slum tenements, out of reach of all agencies of civil society."
Non-church going was developing at an alarming rate.
The debate over the "religious question".
The position which the three main Presbyterian churches took as the debate hotted up (going back before 1850) was governed by their understanding of the relationship between Church and State. Both the Established Church and the Free Church held to the Establishment Principle. Put simply it said that the State had a responsibility to provide, amongst other things, an adequate educational system for the nation. The United Presbyterians, on the other hand, held to Voluntaryism, the underlying principle of which was that "the province of the civil magistrate in religion is to have no province at all".
As early as April 1847 the Free Church Presbytery of Dundee commended the Government's desire to "build on foundations already laid by the churches of the country, supplementing, extending, and perfecting what has been begun and stimulating voluntary and local zeal and liberality". They expressed concern, however, over what might be taught in the name of religious instruction:
"... We feel impelled to enter our protest against the minutes of council on education for 1846, in so far as they require a certificate of religious instruction from the managers of all Schools aided by Government irrespective of the character of the religious instruction communicated, as this would indicate, on the part of Government, a disposition to regard as religious instruction, whatever may be taught under the name, however contrary to the truth of God."
The Free Church, therefore, encouraged members to prosecute their own education schemes. The Established Church opposed early bills for different reasons, pleading the excellent state of their own parochial schools and the perfectly unsectarian nature of them (all could attend), indicating they were resolutely opposed to change:
"That this court will resist by every competent means, any change ia the constitution of these schools, the tendency of which would be to alienate them in their connection with the Church, or to divest them of their character of Bible Schools, as it appears to this Court, that the religious element now sought by many to be excluded has been, for ages, their honour, their glory, and one great cause of their success; and moreover essentially necessary for the highest aim of all schools - the godly upbringing of children."
Schoolmasters of the Established Church echoed the same reasons three years later. When in 1854 another education bill was put forward, this prompted Rev William Wilson of Free St Paul's, Dundee, to put out a pamphlet in which he insisted "Education is a matter with which the Church is bound very especially to concern herself. He went on to express fears about who the populace might elect as schoolmasters:
"Are such parents, whose personal religion is mere form, and the godly instruction of whose families is neglected at home - are they likely to take much interest in the election of a schoolmaster? ... In Dundee, at least, he would be a bold man who would affirm that the religious character of the schoolmaster would be secured by the parentage and the ratepayers."
The Free Church Presbytery continued to oppose the education bills proposed, insisting in January 1868 "it would be highly inexpedient to have the religious instruction separated from the other work of the school".
By the end of the 1860s a noted impatience with churchmen enters the records. In May 1869, a Report was read to the General Council of the Dundee Institute in which it was stated that "toleration of religious opinion is now a settled article of our political faith", and that:
"... your Committee are, therefore, strongly of the opinion that, Ministers and Schoolmasters, though able enough to estimate the educational deficiencies of Scotland, are not to be trusted in providing a remedy; and while they would gladly cooperate with them as citizens, they hesitate to acknowledge the authority they arrogate to themselves, and question alike the wisdom and justice of the decisions at which they have already arrived."
In the run up to the 1872 Education Act the church records, and increasingly so two local newspapers, record the intensity of the debate, and the gradual shifting of ground and bowing to the inevitable. It was no longer a matter for the churches alone. In March 1871, the Magistrates and Town Council of Dundee had resolved to petition Parliament in favour of the Lord Advocate's Bill generally, and, if there was to be a Scotch Education Board, they wanted Dundee to be directly represented by one member of the Board. As interest mounted, and as other bodies such as the Scottish National League held their meetings in Dundee to promote secular education; as letters to the editor flowed in in favour of secular education, or for retaining the existing system, the Editor of The Courier and Argus devoted one editorial to giving the reading public a synopsis of the leading protagonists in the religious question. He wrote with rare insight and sympathy:
"The Lord Advocate has in this matter chosen to take a middle course. In doing so, we venture to think he has done wisely, but consequence is that he has failed to secure the support of the extreme men, either on what may be called the Religious or the Secular side. Dr Begg and his associates are perambulating the country just now protesting against any godless measure of education for Scotland being passed. That is the description which their party, both in the Free Church and the Establishment, applied to the Bill last year, and the description would be equally applicable, or, as we would put it, inapplicable, to the Bill brought in this year. Then there are the Secularists or Separists, those who would divorce religious teaching from secular teaching in the common schools of the country, and who are so anxious to guard against the possibility of even the most infinitesimal part of the rates going towards the instruction of a child in Bible or Catechism, that they would prohibit the national schoolmaster from teaching religion in the national schools, even although the instruction were to be given after ordinary school hours. This is not a strong party in Scotland. The Established Church is of course in favour of religious instruction being given in schools, according to the use and wont of the country; the Free Church takes up the same position, though Dr Begg and Mr Nixon find it necessary to protest boldly against some backsliding in this matter on the part of Sir Henry Moncrieff and his followers that is quite inappreciable by lay on-lookers. Then there is the United Presbyterian Church. Whether it be that, consciously or unconsciously, the leaders of the United Presbyterians are influenced by the Union negotiations with the Free Church in which they are engaged, the fact is certain that they have not considered it necessary to put in appearance as strong opponents of the religious clauses of the Bill.
Their Voluntaryism is not carried out to this extent. Although the contrary has been alleged, we daresay the Union matter has nothing to do with that. At all events, it is the case that the United Presbyterians very freely send their children to the parish schools, where religious instruction is given, and to denominational schools receiving State aid, without its apparently ever occurring to them that any question of conscience is involved in their so doing. ... The use and wont of the country in this respect has been determined (in the past) by the will of the people, not by legislative enactment. We have no doubt that the people will it to be so still. Something, it is true, is occasionally heard as to the absurdity of whipping the Bible and Catechism into children. It is easy to put the matter in that way, but it is a considerable demand on one's belief to argue that because a child is punished for negligence in the preparation of a lesson from the Bible or Catechism - though we are rather averse to the Bible being used as an ordinary "task" book - that he will have an abhorrence of one or other ever after.... What the Lord Advocate proposes to do in the matter of religious instruction does not satisfy the extreme men on either side, but it fairly meets the circumstances of the country. Religious teaching is not enforced, and it is not to be paid out of the Parliamentary grant ... the Education Bill presents a fair settlement of the religious difficulty. It has the advantage, which we think is a considerable one, of not treating religion as a thing to be taught only by the clerical profession. No other settlement than such an one as is proposed by the Lord Advocate is possible, unless the large majority of persons who wish to have combined religious and secular instruction in the elementary schools as at present, are to yield to the ministry who are crying out for separation."
Lord Advocate Young, at a meeting of UP ministers in late January 1872, justified his stance. What he was proposing, with regard to the time-tabling of Religious Instruction, was what was common practice already - "a short time for religious instruction at the beginning of the day, varying from ten minutes to .three quarters of an hour, but generally half an hour on average". The only change in the matter which the Bill would bring was this:
"... that whereas heretofore the will of the people has been expressed and given effect to by the valued-rent heritors and the parish ministers, it will hereafter, according to the proposal of the Bill, if it should be repeated in the Bill of next session, declared and given effect to by the people themselves through School Boards elected by themselves ..."
Early in February 1872 two bills were introduced in Parliament: Lord Kinnaird's Bill, which proposed to retain the parochial school system, and the Lord Advocate's Bill. The Established Presbytery at once petitioned against the Advocate's Bill. A meeting of teachers in Dundee High School favoured Lord Kinnaird's Bill, as did another meeting in March. At a meeting in the Watt Institute Hall in early March Dr Archibald Watson, minister of the Parish Church, said that "the time has come when they all found it necessary to make some mutual concessions on the matter". The Rev Knight of the Free Church said that "it only required a little corporate self-denial amongst the religious bodies of the land". Churchmen were beginning to realise that a compromise was now really inevitable. One of them wrote an anonymous letter to the Advertiser, printed on 5 March 1872. In it he distinguished helpfully between religion and denominationalism:
"The religious work in the old parish schools was expressed by commencing the work of the school with prayer, and with reading a few verses of Scripture. The denominational element in these schools was represented by teaching catechism etc. The new Bill proposes to retain the former and omit the latter - that is, it retains the religious part, which it is blamed for taking away, and omits the denominational part, which though not particularly named as its great sin, nevertheless really appears to constitute the head and font of its offending."
The Established Presbytery continued to protest against the Bill. The people in the parishes had not been circulated and asked whether they wanted the Bible put out of schools or not, and if they were prepared to sign a petition against the Lord Advocate's Bill. The Established Church was not alone, however, in seeking to recruit support for the cause of Religious Instruction. The Advertiser printed a brief note on May 10th, under the heading 'The School and the Bible", of a number of gentlemen, not of the Established Church, who issued the following declaration to which they wished signatures:
"The School and the Bible:- As strenuous efforts are being made to exclude the Bible by law from public elementary schools, we, the undersigned (not connected with any Established Church) believing that such exclusion would be a great national evil, feel it to be our duty publicly to record our disapproval thereof."
During the summer of 1872 the papers were silent, except for an entry which showed the Established Church tabling its objections to the Education Bill. But the churches seem to have given ear to the timely warnings of the Duke of Argyll, early in 1872, aimed particularly at those determined to fight on against the Education Bill, rather than agree to some form of compromise solution on religious education:
"I should regard any further delay in settlement of this question with considerable fear, lest it should result in the adoption of a purely secular system of education."
In the end the Gordon amendment, slightly modified by the Lord Advocate, read:
"And whereas it has been the custom in the public schools of Scotland to give instruction in religion to children whose parents did not object to the instruction given, but with liberty to parents, without forfeiting any of the advantages of the schools, to elect that their children should not receive such instruction, and it is expedient that the managers of public schools shall be at liberty to continue the said custom."
Provision for Religious Instruction under the School Boards.
Election for Fifteen places on the Dundee Burgh School Board took place on March 18th 1873. There were 38 nominees, eleven of them clergy. This was the first election in Dundee by secret ballot, and the first to allow women ratepayers to vote. The turnout of electors was only about 33%.
The Roman Catholic party was extremely well organised. Rome had urged a higher profile upon the Catholic Church in Great Britain. If compulsory education came in, some Roman Catholic children would be at non-Catholic schools. Dundee had a fast-growing Catholic population, for example as much as 13.9% in Lochee in 1861. It is, however, more correct to say that the Irish came to Dundee, not just to Lochee. The Courier and Argus commented on how the cumulative vote would effect results, for Catholic voters would "go to a man for their nominees". Here is a lightheaded insight into this:
"Illiterate Irish tended to go to the polling sheriffs to mark their papers, so there would be no mistake. In one case the following colloquy took place:- An old woman entered the booth and asked for a voting paper. Sheriff - 'Can you read ?' Old woman (as loud as she could shout) - 'No sure I can't.' Sheriff -'Well, who are you to vote for ?' Old woman - 'Put down eight for Father Macmanus and seven for Doctor MacDonald; that's who I'm to vote for."
These two gentlemen topped the poll at the triennial election, which indicates an efficient campaign.
A low percentage of voters was not a vote against the clergy who stood. The two main Presbyterian churches had joined to form, in 1871, the Scottish Educational Association, which encouraged Free and Established Church candidates to stand in the elections of 1873 as advocates of "use and wont". It was a successful manoeuvre, and Dundee was only one of many towns where the use and wont party was swept into power. This effectively secured the place of religious instruction in the board schools of Dundee. The clergy remained strongly represented on the School Board, being in a majority for the next four triennial elections, after which, in 1888, the number dropped to six as the merchant class became more predominant on the Board, and some clergy did not make the cut.
With regard to the implementation of use and wont, a very amicable transition took place:
"By a resolution of the Board, the Bible as a religious book, is alone taught in the new schools erected by the Board - all previously existing schools being allowed to continue the practice that had previously prevailed ... absence of denominational feeling which has been so marked in some other Boards..."
At the end of the first Board's life, testimony was given to the harmonious working of the members, in an article entitled 'The Religious Difficulty Escaped":
"The Board must be gratified to record that what has been termed the religious difficulty has not arisen during the administration. The members have wrought most harmoniously. They very early resolved that, subject to the provisions of the Education Code, the use and wont in all transferred schools should be continued, and that as regards all new schools religious instruction should be confined to the Scriptures. No difficulty has arisen in carrying out this simple and reasonable solution of a question which, under other circumstances, might have caused conflict of opinion."
The only discord which appeared in early years was when certain Free Church Board members tried unsuccessfully to have the Catechism imposed on schools.
The Dundee Landward School Board, of five members, was one of about 40% of boards in Scotland nominated without election. Dr Watson was chairman of this Board also. Monikie School Board also had five members, three of them local ministers. The Chairman at the outset gave notice that he would, at the next Board meeting, make the following motion:
"Monikie School Board That in all Schools which may come under the management of the School Board, the "use and wont" in the matters of religious instruction and observance be continued, it being understood that in accordance with the Education Act (1872) a time-table be prepared and submitted for approval by the Scotch Education Department, and that any child may be withdrawn from such instruction and observance by parents or guardians no approving of the same."
What was decided was that the first three-quarters of an hour in the forenoon and the last quarter of an hour of the afternoon should be set aside for religious instruction. There was, therefore, a victory for "use and wont" in the Dundee area.
What standing would Religious Instruction have in Board Schools as a non-schedule subject?
This was a further concern at the time. The evidence that we have suggests no significant change from pre-1872 days. Before 1873 was out a system of inspection of Religious Instruction was in full operation, burgh Board Schools offered prizes and certificates for oral proficiency in religious knowledge of both Old and New Testament. By 1883 written examinations were being held. From 1886 a detailed Syllabus of Scripture Instruction, often a whole typed page, was included in Board minutes, and laid out at all seven levels from Infants to Standard VI. Common to all levels was the requirement to learn the Lord's Prayer and the Ten Commandments (not all ten for the first two levels), something that had not changed from parochial school days.
School Log Books are another useful source of information, though the content is very much at the whim of the schoolmaster. What they do show, however, is Religious Instruction continuing much as usual. At Drumgeith, Mr Keith the schoolmaster was taking senior pupils through the books of the Old Testament in what was termed "Bible Class" activities. Ancrum Road School Log Book had regular examinations in religious knowledge. The Rev Connell, chaplain to the school, noted in 1887 - 'Visited the school, conducted oral examination in religious knowledge; signed the registers and compared them with the actual number in attendance and found everything in a satisfactory condition". Lift Road School has records going back to 1864. Throughout the 1860s there is ample evidence of Religious Instruction being taught, including the Shorter Catechism with Scripture proofs. After 1872 there is still good evidence of a similar amount of Religious Instruction, but the Catechism was no longer read. As the use and wont party prevailed in Dundee, Religious Instruction in schools was secured for a generation at least, even though it may not at times have been much more than rote and regurgitation, and not the more effective learning and teaching of today.
Far from the churches' influence on education declining after 1872, the advent of State education can be seen as galvanising the churches into greater activity to reach the non-church going population, and in particular the young. Church going in Dundee had dropped drastically from 58.9% in 1851 to 15.9% in 1891. If it were not for the better attendance of Catholics and Episcopalians the percentage would have been even lower. Not that the Church was unconcerned. The problem of Dundee was raised in the Free Church Assembly of May 1872, where in a section on the state of religion and morals, reference was made to the deplorable condition of Dundee:
"In Dundee there is an alarming and increasing amount of Sabbath desecration. in some of the rural districts, while a nominal church connection is maintained, a large number go very rarely to any place of worship. One minister says the erection of public works has introduced an immigrant population amongst us that to a considerable extent is non-church going. Almost all of these, however, have a nominal connection with the Established Church."
While, however, the population of Dundee had in large measure drifted away from the churches, it can nevertheless be argued that the churches did continue to exert a strong influence over the religious life of the young. This is so for the following three reasons. Firstly, "use and wont" Board Schools, like those in Dundee, now had a captive and larger audience (even allowing for the ongoing attendance problem) than before. While the amount of time devoted to Religious Instruction as a non-schedule subject was less than many churchmen and board members may have wanted, this could be said to be compensated for by the much greater numbers of children receiving that instruction. Secondly, not only for Dundee but for Scotland as a whole, it is of great significance that the teacher training colleges, the Normal Schools, remained in Presbyterian hands till 1906. The colleges selected entrants who did well in the religious test, there was a substantial amount of religious knowledge in the timetable. In this way the next generation of the country's educators was carefully groomed. Lastly the Presbyterian churches in particular made greater use of their Sunday Schools, dropping their original educational purpose, and seeing them now as a recruiting ground for new church members. Many Sunday School teachers were, in any case, school board members as well. Both the Established and Free presbyteries tightened up their Sunday School programmes after 1873, keeping careful schemes of lessons, providing teacher aids, and holding examinations. Pastoral letters were issued, and a regular note was kept of who went on from Sunday School to become church members. For these reasons, therefore, the churches in the Dundee area were still able to exert a considerable influence on the religious instruction of the young, an influence which remained quite strong until the turn of the century.
The substance of a talk presented by Bruce McLennan on the 4th July 1996