School of Social and Political Science

Lindsay Paterson

Job Title

Professor Emeritus of Education Policy



Summary of research project: Education and Society in Scotland

This project was funded by the Leverhulme Trust, 2018-2021.

Education is now the basis of social success in liberal societies, the key to occupational opportunity, civic participation and fulfilling leisure. Failure in education now greatly increases the risk of social marginalisation. The project aims to explain how that role of education has come about using the uniquely rich set of educational surveys of Scotland that date back to 1932 and extend to the present century. Scotland pioneered the use of high-quality national surveys in education. It led the world in the use of statistics as a means of explaining students' learning and understanding how their learning relates to their social context and opportunities. That distinctive history attracted international admiration, and was sustained as a highly creative though often tense partnership among government, school teachers, and academic researchers.

Secondary education in the second half of the twentieth century

Secondary education expanded massively in the second half of the twentieth century, transforming the opportunities available. Inequality with respect to sex, social class and religion changed fundamentally. Pupils were treated with unprecedented consideration and respect. These changes were partly due to policy - notably the ending of selection into different kinds of secondary school, and the resulting reforms to curriculum, assessment and child guidance. The reforms thus gave an unprecedented range of pupils access to the European cultural legacy. But the changes owed more to slow social evolution than to deliberate political action, and the traditions of schools shaped the ways in which pupils had access to new opportunities. Through these traditions, and despite the intentions of more radically disruptive kinds of reformers, the changes maintained until the end of the twentieth century the core Scottish liberal premise that secondary education for all meant academic education for all.

The main results from the project are published in: 

Paterson, L. (2023), Scottish Education and Society Since 1945: Democracy and Intellect, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. 

The electronic version of the book may be downloaded free of charge from the publisher's website.

Examples of publications on the themes of the project are:

Paterson, L. (2021), ‘Higher education expansion and the secondary school curriculum in Scotland in the second half of the twentieth century’, Oxford Review of Education. doi: 10.1080/03054985.2021.2002291.

Paterson, L. (2021), ‘Higher education and school history in Scotland in the second half of the twentieth century’, British Journal of Sociology of Education. doi: 10.1080/01425692.2021.1962245

Paterson, L. (2021), ‘Participation in science in secondary and higher education in Scotland in the second half of the twentieth century’, Research Papers in Education. doi: 10.1080/02671522.2021.1931951.

Paterson, L. (2020), ‘Schools, policy and social change: Scottish secondary education in the second half of the twentieth century’, Research Papers in Education. doi: 10.1080/02671522.2020.1849370.

Paterson, L. (2021), ‘School leavers and educational reform in Scotland in the second half of the twentieth century’, Journal of Education and Work, doi: 10.1080/13639080.2021.1996544.

The historical context of educational change in the second half of the twentieth century

This work investigates some aspects of the historical background to these educational changes. Examples of publications are:

Paterson, L. (2021), ‘The relationship of the 1918 and 1872 Education (Scotland) Acts’, Scottish Educational Review, 53, pp. 88-103. doi: 10.51166/27730840-05302007

Paterson, L. (2018), ‘The significance of the Education (Scotland) Act, 1918’, Scottish Affairs, 27, pp. 401-424.

Paterson, L. (2015), Social Radicalism and Liberal Education, Exeter: Imprint Academic.

Paterson, L. (2015), ‘Democracy or intellect? The Scottish educational dilemma of the twentieth century’, in R. D. Anderson, M. Freeman and L. Paterson (eds) (2015), The Edinburgh History of Education in Scotland, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, pp. 226-45.

Paterson, L. (2009), ‘Universities and nations in Britain in the twentieth century’, in F. Bechhofer and D. McCrone (eds), National Identity, Nationalism and Constitutional Change, London: Palgrave, pp. 163-188.

Paterson, L. (2011), ‘The reinvention of Scottish liberal education: secondary schooling, 1900-1939’, Scottish Historical Review, 90, pp. 96-130.

The long-term effects of educational reform

Working with Professor Ian Deary and colleagues in the Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology, Department of Psychology, University of Edinburgh, Lindsay Paterson has used the long-term follow-up of birth cohorts that were first surveyed in the mid-twentieth century to study the effects of educational reform in the early years of the twentieth century, thus linking archival statistical data from the period 1900-1939, survey data from the late-1940s, and follow-up data from several decades since then. The techniques have included multiple regression and path analysis. The follow-up data collection was funded mainly by the MRC, Age UK and the Chief Scientist Office of the Scottish Government’s Health Directorates.

Examples of publications from this work are:

Paterson, L., Pattie, A. and Deary, I. (2011), ‘Social class, gender and secondary education in Scotland in the 1950s’, Oxford Review of Education, 37, pp. 383-401.

Paterson, L., Pattie, A. and Deary, I. (2010), ‘Post-school education and social class destinations in Scotland in the 1950s’, Longitudinal and Life Course Studies, 1, pp. 371-93.

The effects of education on people’s civic values

In this connection, Lindsay Paterson has used several large UK social surveys, especially the National Child Development Survey, the British Birth Cohort Study, the British Household Panel Study, and the British Social Attitudes Survey. The techniques are mainly multiple regression of various kinds, including linear, standard nonlinear (such as logistic) and highly non-linear (such as diagonal reference models).

Examples of publication in this connection are:

Paterson, L. (2023), ‘Independence is not going away: the importance of education and birth cohorts’, Political Quarterly, doi: 10.1111/1467-923X.13306.

Paterson, L. (2021), ‘Education and support for Scottish independence, 1979-2016’, Journal of Education Policy, 38(3), pp. 521-42. doi: 10.1080/02680939.2021.2005148.

Paterson, L. (2014), ‘Education, social attitudes and social participation among adults in Britain’, Sociological Research Online, 19 (1).

Paterson, L. (2008), ‘Political attitudes, social participation and social mobility: a longitudinal analysis’, British Journal of Sociology, 59, pp. 413-34.

Educational expansion and social mobility

Working with Professor Cristina Iannelli in the School of Education, University of Edinburgh, and others, Lindsay Paterson has studied developments in social mobility and their relationship to educational expansion during the twentieth century. The data sets have been the UK Household Longitudinal Study, the Scottish School Leavers Survey, and the Scottish Household Survey. The statistical techniques are loglinear modelling and various non-linear elaborations of it. Examples of publications in this connection are:

Paterson, L. (2022), ‘Social class and sex differences in absolute and relative educational attainment in England, Scotland and Wales since the middle of the twentieth century’, Research Papers in Education. doi: 10.1080/02671522.2022.2089213.

Paterson, L. (2022), ‘Social class and sex differences in higher education attainment among adults in Scotland since the 1960s’, Longitudinal and Life Course Studies, 13(1), 7-48. doi: 10.1332/175795921X16140986832835.

Paterson, L. (2022), ‘Educational expansion and high-status occupations since the middle of the twentieth century’, British Journal of Sociology of Education. doi: 10.1080/01425692.2022.2026763.

Iannelli, C., Gamoran, A. and Paterson, L. (2018), ‘Fields of study: horizontal or vertical differentiation within higher education sectors?’, Research on Social Stratification and Mobility, 57, pp. 11-23.

Iannelli, C., Gamoran, A. and Paterson, L. (2011), ‘Expansion through diversion in Scottish higher education, 1987-2001’, Oxford Review of Education, 37, pp. 717-41.

Paterson, L. and Iannelli, C. (2007), ‘Social class and educational attainment: a comparative study of England, Wales and Scotland’, Sociology of Education, 80, pp. 330-58.

Public debate

Lindsay Paterson contributes regularly to public debate on topics relating to education policy and to Scottish politics, in the broadcast and print media and through invited lectures at public events. 

Most recently - since December 2023 - he has contributed extensively to debate about Scotland's declining attainment in the OECD's regular Programme for International Student Assessment. The evidence is summed up in:

Paterson, L. (2024), ‘Scottish performance in the Programme for International Student Assessment, 2006–2022: falling attainment and rising inequality’, Scottish Affairs, 33(2), pp. 131–56. doi: 10.3366/scot.2024.0497

Examples of blogs on this topic are:

'PISA 2022 in Scotland: declining attainment and growing social inequality' (December 2023)

'Lost opportunities to last a lifetime' (December 2023)

'The knowledge we need' (January 2024)

During the Covid-19 health emergency, he contributed in several ways to debate about its impact on educational opportunities, particularly its effect on socio-economic inequalities. Examples are:

Analysing Scottish attainment data’ (February 2020):

The need for educational data’ (June 2020):

Vocational education needs general education’ (August 2020)

'The return to home learning' (January 2021)

'Critique of the OECD report into Scotland’s school curriculum' (August 2021)

'The Inadequacies of the Independent Review of Qualifications & Assessment' (June 2023)



Lindsay Paterson’s undergraduate education was in Aberdeen University (where he studied mainly mathematics and English literature). He then did a PhD in statistics at Edinburgh University. He gained postdoctoral experience working as a statistician for the Agricultural Research Council, after which he was a lecturer in the Department of Actuarial Mathematics and Statistics at Heriot-Watt University. While there, his research was mainly in epidemiological work in medicine. Since the late 1980s he has taught and carried out research on topics in educational sociology, education policy and Scottish politics. He has served on the Research Resources Board of the UK Economic and Social Research Council, and has been an adviser to the Scottish Parliament’s Education Committee, and to several government departments since the early 1990s. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 2004 and a Fellow of the British Academy in 2013.

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