The reinvention of Scottish liberal education: secondary schooling, 1900-1939

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Scottish secondary education was radically extended in size and social
reach in the first four decades of the twentieth century, bringing
significant new opportunities in secondary schooling to girls, to children
of the lower-middle and upper-working classes, and to Catholics. Most
of the new secondary schools were based on those parish schools that
had in the nineteenth century sent a few boys directly to university,
and so this new secondary sector was a modernising of the mythological
tradition of the lado’pairts. The main reason it succeeded was that it sought to extend to new social groups the benefits of the version of liberal education that had come to be regarded as the foundation of professional careers. Thus the reforms also had the effect of transferring to the senior years of the secondary schools the old undergraduate curriculum that had been replaced by more specialist university courses in the late- nineteenth century. The paper offers an evidence-based critique not only of that strand of pessimism which has claimed that Scottish education was stagnant between the wars, but also of George Davie’s influential view that the tradition of a broad general education was lost.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)96-130
Number of pages35
JournalThe Scottish Historical Review
Issue number1
Early online date30 Apr 2011
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2011


  • secondary schooling
  • seconadry schools
  • liberal education
  • scottish education
  • education


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