The educational system in place to the mid-1960s

From 1945 until 1966 (Scottish Education Department Circular 600, 1965), after the age of twelve, Scottish education was a two-tier system based on the courses offered: senior secondary schools provided an academic education geared towards the Higher Leaving Certificate while junior secondary schools offered a more practical education, intended to equip the clerical and industrial workforce. Separate provision was made at this stage (age 12) for pupils deemed ‘educationally backward’.

A child’s placement was determined in the final primary year by an assessment – variously (and erroneously) referred to the ‘eleven-plus’ (all Scottish children sat the test at twelve) test, or as the dreaded ‘Quallie’ (‘qualifying’ examination). Never mind that the Qualifying Examination (introduced in 1903) had officially ended in 1922/3, and had been superseded by the Promotion Test, also known as the Promotion Exam. The tests that children took from about 1943 on included two intelligence (IQ) tests based on the then ‘modern’ ideas of education; their use for the purpose of selection for secondary school was later discredited. Children also sat a Maths test, plus a teacher’s estimate and an English test plus a teacher’s estimate; together these produced a ‘grading quotient’ – which was the basis for selection. The logic behind this was well meant, the intent being to replace selection by class and income with selection by ability. Only later was it was realised that a child’s potential was influenced by many other factors. For the able child, education during the 1950s was a golden age. Taught in selected classes by able teachers, hard work was expected but achievement was recognised. The most academically successful senior pupil was awarded a Dux medal. The less well off could get high school grants. S/he was encouraged to go to university, for which non-repayable grants were available. And jobs in the chosen career were usually plentiful.

For the rest, nevertheless, in spite of the fact that this division was not intended to reflect status; a junior secondary placement was generally considered a failure. The one chance was lost.

Schools such as the Tranent public school (a junior secondary) and the Ormiston junior secondary were often part of a combined primary and secondary school, whereas senior secondaries were usually separate institutions, often highly regarded for their academic achievements. In East Lothian, only Preston Lodge senior secondary school at Prestonpans had no linked primary school, and the town had a separate junior secondary school. The over-stretched Dunbar public school (infants to seniors) was perhaps more typical. New (separate) schools, both primary and secondary, had been planned before the war, but the new primary school did not open until 1951, the grammar school until 1962; the two remained linked with a shared headmaster until 1970 (Glass, L 1997 pp67, 119), even though the two sites were not close together.

In Musselburgh, the largest urban centre, the grammar school took children from infants to seniors and the primary division did not close until 1952. Fisherrow junior secondary school was amalgamated with Musselburgh grammar in 1945, although the Fisherrow buildings continued to be used until the whole school operated from a single site in 1972. In general, the numbers of pupils to be educated in the county were such that separate secondary schools for junior and senior secondary school pupils did not feature in the county once the post-1944 building programme (see below) was underway.

Opportunities for young adults post-school were limited to evening classes in work-related skills at technical institutions located beyond the county boundaries, or training through work. These educational practices reflected the fairly rigid social stratification of the times, as revealed in an audio interview with an ex-Tranent pupil, of his recollections from the 1940s:

Jobs being then a choice between the pits and the fields … for maybe one or two of the brighter ones there was a chance of being an apprentice grocer or an apprentice butcher … That was the limits, that was the scope that you had in your choice, very narrow … As a feature of the times then and the limited education that was available to people and children.

Mr R Stein
(Courtesy of East Lothian Museums Service)