Growing up in Scotland, BBC 1, director and writer Liam McArdle.


This is fantastic viewing. I wasn’t about in the 16th Century when John Knox thought it a good idea that every village and every Kirk should have a schoolteacher, and every child should be able to read god’s word in the bible as a bastion against Popery. Until fairly recently that was the model of schooling for many children in Scotland and can be viewed through the prism of novels such as Sunset Song and characters like Chris Guthrie. The people that owned the land, owned the people on the land, then as now, but they added value to their subjects by education. This is not a new idea. Sam Wilkin, Wealth Secrets of the 1%, shows how around 115BC Roman slaves were educated to what would be considered nowadays ‘professional’ level and ran the equivalent of vast conglomerates, because educated slaves could be sold for more and gave greater value to their owner. This may explain how Scotland, a little drip of land in the Atlantic, produced so many wealthy and world leaders, but let’s not forget the role of British Empire, with many Scots as administrators.  Andrew Carnegie is another example, born and in Dunfermline in 1835, his upward trajectory to becoming one of the richest men in the world from humble beginnings has its roots in village schools, but also in the decline of handloom weavers and the movement from the land of the majority of the population to urban centres. This is shown graphically in a number of ways. Legislation dating back to 1872 that all children between the ages of 5 to 13 must attend school and must receive an education, which would be provided by the parishes and later by local authorities. With the population of Glasgow growing faster than that of London or any other metropolis, Tureen Street accommodating 1200 pupils was built in Carlton’s East End in the nineteenth century, but before the school was finished an even bigger school, St James’s was being built 150 yards away. These were ‘temples of learning’. But the writer James Maxton, the son of two schoolteachers, noted something that was picked up by recruiters in the Boer War and The First World War, out of 60 youngsters Maxton took for physical education lessons, only 30 could push their knees together. Rickets and disease was the bed companions of the urban poor and this was reflected in the school intake.

Richard Holloway remembers school as being something done to you. Rote learning and the tawse. Every teacher had one and the programme takes a step back into history and visits Lochgelly, were tawse making was an industry. I must admit I couldn’t quite work out how schools would work without pupils getting the belt. It seemed to me then a rather stupid idea to outlaw it. I’m sure if the current 680 000 pupils in Scotland had their phones and tablets taken off them and were made to walk to school and thrashed soundly every day we would have a more disciplined society. Don’t think North Korea, with more rain, but my schooling forty years ago.

The darker side to education is also touched upon Holloway and by the former Machar Liz Lochead. Protestants went to one school, Catholics went to another. This to me is an anomaly that needs to be changed. And private schools which feature here (a measly £36 000 per annum, per pupil) those social carriages of the rich, should be shut down, not expanded. But I understand why there were Catholic and Protestant school. Hate. In 1918 there were 450 000 Catholics in Scotland, most of them if propaganda was to be believed, living in a single end in Glasgow. Kirk run schools didn’t want them and Catholic charity schools tended to be substandard and their pupils received substandard teaching. The riches of local authorities were thrust upon Catholic schools and they have flourished, and their pupils have flourished, having a better educational record than their Protestant counterparts. But I’d argue their time has past. We are a secular society. No more Catholic or Protestant schools. Certainly no more tax breaks for the private Edens of the upwardly mobile. Just schools. And anybody that suggests that we should go back to testing and the eleven plus, really should watch this programme.  Didn’t work then. Won’t work now, but as we know it’s not about that, it’s about saying my children are better (and more deserving) than yours.  In the competition for top university places and jobs every little bit does help. That saddens me, but I can see through it. It’s here. Watch this programme.