Early Schooling in Dundee

Pre 20th Century


 ‘Dame schools’, where teaching in the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic was given by a lady (dame) were little businesses. The dame made her living by charging fees for the lessons she gave. By the age of seven most boys and a very few girls were ready to progress to the Burgh School where a “Master”, paid by the Town Council, provided more advanced lessons in the “Three Rs” [Reading, (w)Riting and (a)Rithmetic], religious instruction, and good behaviour. The Minister of the City Church and the Bailies visited the school regularly to see that the Master was providing lessons of which they approved. Poorer children could only afford to stay for a year or so unless they won a bursary or their parents found some other way of paying for their schooling. After five years the remaining boys might move on to the Grammar School where lessons in Latin, the ancient language of the Romans which was still used in business and the law, were important and some might also learn some Greek.
The Rules for the Grammar School produced by the Town Magistrates on 19 February 1674 were very strict. The Master, Doctors (other teachers) and the Janitor were to be appointed by the Town Council. The scholars had to come to school at 6 in the morning in summer and 7 in winter, school lasted for 10 to 12 hours, with 2 breaks of 1 hour each, for breakfast and lunch. There were no official school holidays.
Prayers in English would start every morning session and at other times. Religious instruction would include regular examination, in English or Latin, on the Catechism – a set of questions and answers setting out the things citizens of the town should know about Christianity. The Church authorities, assisted by Bailies, kept a strict watch over the teacher to ensure an orthodox teaching.

Summer school – 6am- 6pm., 12 hours.
Winter school – 7am.-5pm., 10 hours.                                   
Dame school was from 5-7 years; 
Burgh school 7-12 years; and
Grammar school 11-16 years;
University from 16 years and upwards.

Poorer children could not afford to stay beyond 8 years, unless they won a bursary, or if some other method of paying for their schooling was obtained.

On what were called “play days” the scholars were to have two hours physical activity on Magdalen Green but they were expected to talk about what they had done when they got back to school. Pupils who had made some progress in learning Latin had to speak to the teachers and the other scholars in that language and not ever in English.

Riding horses at market time, visiting ships in the harbour, swearing, misbehaving, and playing truant were to be punished severely; by being publicly whipped, flogged, or excluded from school. Finally, the scholars in the Master’s class were expected to “harrangue upon some subject prescribed by the Master” at least once a month. So the senior pupils were trained to be confident pubic speakers.

Many girls did not ever attend school. The few who did usually only attended a ‘dame’ school. They were expected only to have the virtues of obedience, modesty and silence.  Indeed, many girls were christened ‘Silence.’  Since it was feared that teaching them more might damage their brains their education concentrated on training in the wifely duties to prepare them for marriage and looking after a home.

After leaving Grammar School, boys, who were clever enough or rich enough, could go to University, probably in St Andrews.

Those who had left school earlier, perhaps at 14 years old, might have become an apprentice to a master craftsman or a merchant. The boy’s family had to pay for the apprenticeship which lasted 4 years, and, if apprenticed to a merchant, it would involve at least three trips abroad.