Scottish School Uniform: Chronologies

Figure 1.--Scottish private schools often had uniforms with colored kneesocks, unlike English schools which usually had grey knee socks as part of the school uniform.

Scottish education has a unique history of its own, initially separate and in many ways more progressive than that of England. The United Kingdom as a result, has two closely related education systems, which operate in England and Scotland. Scotland was an independent kingdom until the Act of Union in 1707. As a small country with very limited natural resources Scotland historically placed great emphasis on education including free public education than did England. We have very limited information on schoolwear in early Scottish schools. Scottish school uniform trends in recent years have primarily folowed the lead of English schools, both state schools and private schools. While are chronological information is limited, we have begun to acquire some information on Scottish school wear and uniforms over time. While the trends are quite similar to English trends, there are some destinctive aspects of Scottish school uniform--the most obvious being the kilt. Unfortunately we do not at this time have good information on kilts in the 19th century. The kilt, however is not the only difference. The more traditional outlook of Scotland has also resulted in some differences. While the kilt and assocaited garments is the only destinctive garment, the time line of uniform trends is sloghtly different in Scotland than England.

Medieval Era

The Church founded some schools in the Middle Ages. King David in the 12 century also founded schools

The 16th Century

Scottish burghs (towns) by the 16th century had also begun founding schools. Protestant reformer, John Knox, in 1560 called for setting up elementary schools in every parish and providing a fixed salary for the teacher and financial arrangements to cover the cost of education for those children not educated privately. The Protestant Revolution had a significant impact on education and literacy. Protesabt sects encouraged individuals to read the Bible themselves and editions in modern languages appeared. Previously literacy rates were very low and Bibles were only available in Latin. Thus the a\dvent of protesantism in Scoland meant a substantial attention to providing basic free education.

The 17th Century

Scottish schools in the 17th century were largely organized around the kirk. The modern Scottish school system began to develop in the late 17th century well before the Act of Union. Elementary schools were established throughout Scotland by churches in the late 17th century. The Scottish Parliament in 1696 passed the Eduaction Act, adopting a program for settling schools. As a resut, free public education was more available to Scottish children than Ennglish children. We do not yet information on schoolwear during this period, but there was no specifically children's clothing at the time. Nor do we know of any school uniforms.

The 18th Century

The Act of Union in 1707 united the Scottish and English crowns, tieing the two countries together as never before. Scotland already had four universities. After the Union and even after the dissaster at Cullodon, Scotland retained control over important aspects of its cultural and civic life including the church, the education system, and legal system. Scotland has destinctive gepgraphic and demographic patterns. There are both large urban areas as well as large areas of sparsely populated rural land--especially after the Clearances. There are also island areas. Scotland's relative autonomy within the United Kingdom combined with Scotland's destinctive geography, has led to the Scottsh education system retaining some distinctive aspects. With the Scottish Eduaction Act (1696), Scotland expanded the system of Parish Schools. Here during the early 18th century most children received a good basic education. The Industrial Revolution began to reach Scotland by the mid-19th century. Some authors maintain that as a result of the Industrial Revolution children were put to worn in the developing new factories rather than to school, thus reducing the level of education among the working class. Another problem was that adequate did not exist in the cities and towns where the factories were built to accomodate the influx of population from the rural areas.

The 19th Century

Some authors report that by the early 19th century, in part because of the Industrial revolution, many Scottish towns and villages were without schools. Children from wealthy families were instructed by tutors in their homes. There were some charity schools for poor children. Unlike England there was no prestigious private (called Public) schools. Some new schools were founded using the Bell and Lancaster systems. Here older children acted as ‘monitors’ to instruct the younger children. This kept the cost of running the schools low. Most working-class children received only the most basic reading, writing and religious instruction. As in England, few in Scotland attached any importance to educating poor children. Given the importance attached to teaching children to read in the 17th and 18th century, this prevailing early 19th century attitude is interesting. During the 19th century the Church of Scotland became almost entirely disassociated from the schools. Voluntary associations and by the late 19th century the Government became the major factors in public education. The Secretary of State for Scotland was made responsible for Scottish education in 1885, in effect becoming the equivalent of the British Minister of Education. The Education Act (Scotland) of 1872 was the counterpart of the English VEducation Act of 1870 which had placed public schools under the authority of locally elected school boards. Scotland carried out its own educational reforms in the late 19th century and by the turn of the 20th centurt every locality maintained free primary schools. Many localities also maintained free secondary schools which was not ye the case in England. Scottish schools maintained by charitable groups were never as widespread as in England. We have not yet been able to develop information on Scottish schoolwear and uniforms during the 19th century. We have little information at this time, but we do know that Scotland tended to lead England in terms of free public education. We do not believe that uniforms were worn by Scottish school children, except in the private schools.

The 20th Century

I do not have any historical information on what Scottish boys wore to school during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Mamy schools during that period, especially the state elementary schools, did not require a school uniform. As a result the children came in their regular clothes. Further clues can be obtained by assessing the clothes worn by English boys at the time. It certainly would have been expected for the children to wear more formal clothes than is currently customary. School uniforms in Scotland during the inter-war era appear to have been quite similar to England. Children in satre primary schools did not wear a uniform, but many boys wore caps with suits to school. I'm not sure about state secondary schppls, but assume they had uniforms that paralleled those of Scottish and English public (elete private) schools. I do not know to what extent kilts were worn at public schools. The uniform at Scottish private schools consisted of a blazer, school tie, and short pants. There were major changes in the British educational system after World War II, although the economic devestation of the War prevented the immediate implementation of those changes. Educational opportunity was widened throuhout Britain. The Education Act (Scotland) of 1945 applied the provisions of the Education Act of 1944 to Scotland. It required fewer inovatins to implement in Scotland because many of the reforms such as free secondary education was already availoable in Scotland. School uniforms in Scotland continue to be worn at most schools. There had been few changes in the styles. Elementary boys generaly wear sweaters to school while secondary boys commonly wear black blazers. The few changes that have occurred include caps and short pants. Caps as in England have disappeard. Since the 1980s most Scottish boys now wear long pants rather than shorts.

21st Century

At the end of the 20th crntury, the Scottish people voted for "Devolution", by a 75 percent majority. As a resukt, a new Scottish Parliament and Executive was established on July 1, 1999. This will give Scotland it's own parliament, not tied to English parliamentary systems, for the first time nearly four centuries. The new Scottish Parliament has legislative and executive responsibility for a wide range of devolved matters, one of the nost important being education. Thus Scotland now has even more authority over it schools than before. Educational policies are set by the Scottish Executive Education Department (SEED) and the Scottish Executive Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Department (SEELLD). As well as the Scottish Executive, many of the executive powers for school education are devolved to Scotland's eduction authorities, and in some cases to the schools themselves. It is not yet clear if authorities will pursue in major educational initiatives in the 21st century.


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Created: December 5, 2001
Last updated: 3:37 AM 8/1/2004