Normal School - Times Past

Posted on 19 April 2023

In partnership with the Glasgow Times, our archivists are exploring Glasgow's fascinating history. This week, Irene O'Brien writes about the Normal School.

Built in 1837, the Normal School in New City Road was the creation of David Stow, a leading figure in the Glasgow Educational Association.

He had worked in Thomas Chalmer’s Sabbath Schools and established a school for poor children in Drygate which had outgrown its premises.

Designed by David Hamilton the new premises at Dundas Vale included sixteen classrooms, a gallery, playgrounds, a library and a museum and had a capacity for 1000 children and 100 students.

It included four model schools for different age groups and a Normal Seminary (or School) for teacher training. Stow was prominent in the campaign to provide professional training for teachers, which led to the establishment of the Normal School (the name was borrowed from the French Ecole Normale).

It was the first institution in Britain specifically for the professional training of teachers.

The student body, like the pupil body, was co-educational and anybody who wanted to attend the Normal Seminary as a trainer required a ‘sufficient amount of elementary knowledge’ and a certificate of character from the minister.

Only Glasgow Presbytery could decide if the person was fit to act as trainer.

The student body was non-residential but, like the pupils, they had to be saved from the ‘contaminating influences of a large city’.

They were lodged in boarding houses kept by persons of known moral and religious character who could be trusted to report improprieties unbecoming to the profession.

In 1841, the working week for the students was 40 hours and they spent sixteen and a half hours of their time on study (receiving instruction on music, geography, natural history, physics, arithmetic and algebra, sacred history, drawing, elocution and gymnastics) and the rest of the time on training in teaching and in explanation of education.

The students initially trained for six months which was later extended to a year. The tutors would ‘model’ lessons and there were criticism lessons.

Every Wednesday afternoon, four students would each deliver a lesson to either the senior or junior children in the gallery for 15 minutes in succession.

The school’s management was entrusted to the Church of Scotland in 1841, but Stow did not remain for long - after the Disruption in 1843, he joined the Free Church of Scotland and established the Free Church Normal College (later renamed Stow College) in 1845. Dundas Vale College was merged with Stow College in 1906 and in 1922. Glasgow’s teacher training was transferred to the new Jordanhill College of Education. In the early 1970s the Cowcaddens building still housed a Teachers’ Centre.