Scottish School of Educational Research

The ‘Scottish School of Educational Research’ [1925 - 1950] is a way of thinking about the profound and enduring influence on world educational and psychological research produced by Scottish researchers in the early 20thC.

This was an astonishingly rich research period of intellectual and practical activity, focused on questions about intelligence and its place in education. In the field of education in Scotland, the use of intelligence concepts, the new technologies of testing, the combination of conceptual advance, substantive discovery, and practical application was astonishingly impressive.

Until now, this rich period of Scottish theoretical, methodological and policy innovation, in psychology and educational research, has not existed as a subject of study in itself. It is a substantial historical-scientific phenomenon that has never been recognized as an entity, because its elements have never been brought together. With the help of newly discovered books, ledgers, pamphlets, tests, files, correspondence, images and objects, in this country and abroad, Professors Lawn, Deary and Bartholomew are reconstructing the idea of a distinctive ‘Scottish School’, the complex and interwoven relations of people, ideas and methods which created Scotland’s leading edge in Europe in the mid 20th century.

Nationally, the research focuses upon the catalytic effects of the Scottish Council for Research in Education, the interest of the Educational Institute of Scotland and its members, expert skills in the professorate and the key financial support of the Carnegie Foundation in New York. Educational research was internationalized at the same time as it was created nationally.

In particular, the project will analyse the influence of Professor Sir Godfrey Thomson. He was Principal of Moray House College of Education and Bell Professor of Education in the University of Edinburgh for 25 years in the last century. An archive of his work and papers is being constructed in the University Special Collections. He was one of the principal nodal characters in this network of Scottish educational research, and in intelligence theory and its applications, along with Robert Rusk and William Boyd in Glasgow, and William McClelland in Dundee, and others.

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Black and white photo of Godfrey H. Thomson reading a book Godfrey THOMSON

Man is par excellence an animal that learns. It is far more important to be able to learn than to have learned. Progress in evolution is like finding the center of the maze. It is better for each generation to re-enter the maze with the power of learning than to start at the point, possibly in a blind alley, at which the previous generation finished. Inheriting acquired characters would involve blind alleys.

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Also see: Edinburgh University Library Special Collections: Projects

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