1833 – Factory Act

In 1833 the Government passed a Factory Act to improve conditions for children working in factories. Young children were working very long hours in workplaces where conditions were often terrible. The provisions of the Act included:

  • no child workers under nine years of age • employers must have an age certificate for their child workers
  • children between the ages of nine and 13 to work no more than nine hours a day
  • children of 13-18 years to work no more than 12 hours a day
  • children are not to work at night
  • two hours’ schooling each day for children
  • four factory inspectors appointed to enforce the law

However, the passing of this Act did not mean that the mistreatment of children stopped overnight.

1840 – The first HM Inspector of Schools was appointed (HMIE)

1847 – The EIS is founded – making it the oldest teaching union in the world.

1867Factory Extension Act

No factory or workshop could employ any child under the age of eight, and employees aged between eight and 13 were to receive at least 10 hours of education per week.

1872 – Education (Scotland) Act

Schooling now compulsory for children between the ages of five and 13. Although education is compulsory it is not free. Secondary education is available only in a few urban schools.

1878 – Education (Scotland) Act, Labour Certificate

Provision for a systematic and uniform inspection of higher-class public schools (that is, schools managed by local authorities) by the education department, but other priorities prevented its implementation. Labour Certificate ran from 1878-1901 and permitted children aged between 10-13 to leave school after passing certain tests set by His Majesty’s Inspectors of Schools (HMI).

1883 – School leaving age raised to 14

1885 – The appointment of Henry Craik as the first permanent secretary of the Scotch education department

1886 – Secondary-school inspections by HM Inspectors introduced

1888 – Leaving Certificate Introduced (first formal examinations)

First Leaving Certificate has 972 entrants from 29 schools. Examinations in six subjects – English (which includes history and geography) Latin, Greek, French, German and mathematics (including arithmetic)

Leaving Certificate results were divided into three grades, as follows:

Honours grade corresponding to that required for entrance to the Indian Civil Service (discontinued in 1908 when group certificates were introduced).

Higher grade corresponding to the standard maintained in the examinations preparatory to the degree courses at the Scottish universities – satisfactory completion of at least three years’ post-primary education.

Lower grade corresponding to the standard of the Medical Faculty Preliminary Examinations. Lower Certificate given at age 14 on completion of two years post-primary. The need for such a certificate disappeared when in 1939 the leaving age was raised to 15.

1889-1890 – Education (Scotland) Acts These Acts make funds available, which allow the Board of Education to abolish fees. Although it was not until the 1960s that secondary education became free in all public-sector schools, the expansion of secondary education at the beginning of the 20th century made free secondary education available to all who were judged likely to benefit from it.  

1893 – Universities accept women on to courses.

1901 – Education (Scotland) Act raises the age of compulsory attendance to 14 Qualifying examination at age 12 is replaced by the Merit Certificate as the hurdle that pupils had to cross to enter post-primary courses.

1908 – Medical supervision is now compulsory. School boards to serve schools meals where they think fit.

1910 – The Times Educational Supplement begins publication on 6 September as a free monthly with The Times.

1911 – Consultative committee on examinations in secondary schools report recommends that children take public exams at 16. More than 80 per cent of children aged 14 to 18 receive no education at all.

1915 – The Lewis committee examining plans for post-war education of adolescents recommends leaving age of 14.

1919 – Battle of George Square – UK government fearing that a union-led strike and mass demonstration would result in revolution, sent police, troops and tanks in response

1920 – State scholarships to universities introduced: 200 initially; 360 by 1936.

1921 – Free milk provided for all children in need.

Geddes report on national expenditure leads to 6.5 million cuts in education.

1922 – Crisis hits economy. Teachers forced to accept five per cent pay cut and to contribute five per cent of salary towards superannuation.

1923 – Death of John Maclean, teacher, Red Clydesider and political prisoner.

1925 – Educational broadcasting begins on the radio (John Logie Baird does not begin demonstrating television until the following year).

1926 – General strike: 1.5 million workers went on strike in support of coal miners

1930 – Undergraduate population (UK) reaches 30,000 as more state university scholarships provided.

1931 – House of Lords defeats bill raising leaving age to 15.

Teacher pay slashed by 10 per cent.

1933 – Children and Young Persons Act

Britain adopted legislation restricting the use of children under 14 in employment. The Children and Young Persons Act 1933, defined the term “child” as anyone of compulsory school age (age 16). In general no child may be employed under the age of 15 years, or 14 years for light work.

1934 – Cyril Burt’s interpretation of intelligence tests refuted by research at the London School of Economics.

1936 – Education Act calls for raising of leaving age to 15 in September 1939 (postponed by the outbreak of war)

1937 – Handbook of Suggestions for Teachers emphasises the need for child-centred primary education.

1938 – The Spens Report on secondary education recommends: expansion of technical and vocational courses; a leaving age of 16; a tripartite system of grammar, technical and secondary-modern schools.

1939 – Evacuation after the outbreak of the Second World War in September means that, by the end of the year, a million children have had no schooling for four months.

1941 – Gas-mask practice is held for children every week or fortnight. Around 425,000 London children now evacuated.

1942 – A call to schools to keep rabbits for food. Plus Labour proposes leaving age of 15, multilateral schools, free lunches, and nurseries for under[1]fives. Paper shortages force The TES to discontinue publication of School Certificate results.

1944 – The Butler Education Act creates a Ministry of Education; ends fee-paying in maintained schools; organises public education into primary, secondary and further; and introduces the tripartite system.

1945 – Education (Scotland)

The Act states that all forms of education, within education-authority schools, should be free unless the authority judges that charging fees would not restrict the number of free places available.

Transfer of pupils from primary to secondary school now compulsory at about the age of 12. School[1]leaving age should be raised to 15 on 1 April 1947 and to 16 as soon practicable (although this does not come about until 1972). Practical subjects come into prominence.

1945 VE Day (8 May)


1945 – The Minister of Agriculture calls for 100,000 older schoolboys and girls to help in the fields. 1945 – SNP wins its first parliamentary seat.

1946 – Free school milk is introduced, and free school dinners postponed. Ninety per cent of university places reserved for men of HM Forces.

1947 – Leaving age raised to 15; Advisory Council on Education in Scotland report on secondary education.

The Advisory Council Report on Secondary Education (Cmd 7005) was, for a time, the most famous official report on Scottish education of the 20th century, anticipating by two or three decades the move to comprehensive secondary schools and proposing the end of external examination as interfering with true education (a point that remains controversial to this day). The council was chaired by William Hamilton Fyfe, principal of the University of Aberdeen.

1948 – A five-year plan is launched to train 96,000 teachers, 60,000 of them women, to reduce secondary classes to 30 and primary to 40 by 1951.

1949 – The Conservative Teachers’ Association asks the government to act on teachers alleged to be spreading communist propaganda.

1950 – A Schools Code (for Scotland) reduces maximum primary class to 45 from 50.

1952 – The BBC launches pilot schools television scheme.

1953 – The Labour manifesto, Challenges to Britain, proposes abolition of selection at age 11. Middlesex education committee bans known communists and fascists from headship.

1954 – The 11-plus is said to be wrongly allocating one in three pupils

1956Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme for boys launched (girls begin in 1958).

1957 – Britain’s first schools’ TV programmes are broadcast by Associated Rediffusion in May, with the BBC following in September.

1961 – ‘O’ grade introduced – which becomes the basic entry qualifications for university study. Highers continue essentially unchanged (as they had done since 1888).

1962 – Education (Scotland) Act. Lower grade disappears and Ordinary grade was established as a certificate to be taken in fourth year of the secondary course.

1964 – TES Scotland launches.

1965 – Circular 10/65 requires LEAs to propose schemes for comprehensive reorganisation on lines laid down by the DES. The General Teaching Council for Scotland is established.

1967 – The Plowden Report advocates expansion of nursery schooling and introduction of educational priority areas.

1968 – The Newsom Report on public schools calls for integration with state schools and an assisted-places system. 1969 – The first of the “black papers” published, which criticises what the authors believed was excessive progressivism in education.

1970 – Margaret Thatcher is appointed education secretary.

The Conservative government replaces Circular 10/65 with Circular 10/70, leaving LEAs to decide future of secondary education in their areas

1972 – The school-leaving age is raised to 16. Pupil governors are appointed in Hounslow, Brighton and Wolverhampton. UK schools have 570 video recorders.  

1974 – The Houghton Report increases teachers’ pay by 30 per cent.

1976 – Prime minister James Callaghan’s Ruskin College speech launches the “Great Debate” on education.

1978 – The Warnock Report on special education gives rise to the 1981 Education Act requiring local authorities to assess pupils and identify the provision they require.

The TES and other Times newspapers suspend publication during strike action.

1970 – Devolution referendum fails.

1975 – Inflation hits 25 per cent in the UK.

1979 – Strikes during the Winter of Discontent cause some school closures and 280 million is cut from education.

The Clegg Commission is set up to look at pay and avoid more industrial disputes.

1980 – Assisted places at independent schools are introduced.

Anti-corporal punishment group STOPP criticises The Beano for its preoccupation with caning. Rupert Murdoch buys Times newspapers, including The TES.

1981 – The Government launches a programme to put a computer in every school. The Rampton Report blames teachers for ethnic underachievement and calls for more black teachers

1982Sir Keith Joseph, education secretary under Margaret Thatcher, demands that “ineffective” teachers are sacked.

1983 – The Schools Council is replaced by the Secondary Examinations Council and School Curriculum Development Committee.

1984-1985 – The miners strike.

1985 – Schools are disrupted by a teachers’ pay dispute.

1986 – Sir Peter Main publishes his report on teacher pay and conditions.

Debate with Donald Dewar in UK Parliament on the Main Committee Report.

1994Tony Blair is elected leader of the Labour Party and faces controversy over he and his wife, Cherie’s decision to send their son Euan to the London Oratory School, a high-performing faith school a long way from Downing Street.

1996 – The Dunblane massacre: an assailant shoots dead 16 pupils and their teacher at a Scottish primary school before turning the gun on himself.

1997 – Consultative referendum in Scotland recorded a decisive ‘Yes’ vote in favour of the proposals set out in the “Scotland’s Parliament” White Paper.

1997 – CPI introduced as a measure of consumer inflation.

1998Scotland Act.

1999 – The first Scottish Parliament elections are held.

2001SNCT created. The 2001 teachers’ agreement, A Teaching Profession for the 21st Century, introduced a new negotiating framework for teachers’ pay and conditions of service.

2004 – The new Scottish Parliament building is opened in Holyrood.

2009 – The Charity Commission issues first reports on independent schools, examining how well they meet tests for public benefit. City workers who have lost their jobs as result of the global financial downturn are targeted to become teachers.

2010 – The Equality Act. The Equality Act ensures that all pupils are held with the same regard no matter the race, gender, disabilities and sexual orientation.

2010 – Curriculum for Excellence introduced as the new curriculum in Scotland .

2012 – The Scotland Act.

2016 – The Scotland Act. 2016 – The Education (Scotland) Act.

The Act introduces measures to improve Scottish education including: improving the attainment of pupils from poorer backgrounds; widening access to Gaelic-medium education; giving children a voice in matters that affect them; and extending the rights of children with additional support needs. It will also streamline the process of making a complaint to Scottish ministers.

2020 – Exams in Scotland cancelled for the first time ever.

2020-2022 – Covid education recovery group (CERG) oversees Scottish education response to global pandemic