Henry Stewart Noel McFarland was born in Perth on 25 December 1924. He attended the Western District school in Perth between 1929 and 1936 and then went to the Central Secondary, Aberdeen, from 1936 until 1942, where he was advised to leave his studies due to his very bad eyesight. McFarland never heeded this advice, and studied for the degree of MA in Aberdeen, graduating with honours in English Language and Literature in July 1946.
McFarland then came to Edinburgh to study Education, where he was a student of Godfrey H Thomson's, and graduated from Moray House with the Dip.Ed in July 1947. He was then a member of the Thomson B.Ed group in 1948, graduating in July 1948. Having become a close friend of Thomson, who recognised his talents and capabilities, McFarland joined him in a project on University teaching and learning.
Initially, McFarland had been proposed by Thomson for a post in the Schools Inspectorate, which he didn't get because he was too young. McFarland worked for Thomson for about three years, from 1949 until 1951. It is possible that Thomson was intending to develop university entrance tests, through his Moray House ‘brand’; tests like these had been used in the US since 1901, first as an achievement test and then, by the 1920s, as an aptitude or intelligence test, but they were not used in the UK.
McFarland published several books and articles, as well as contributing to the Hale Report, which is regarded as one of the foundations of the study of university teaching methods. McFarland was a lecturer in the Education department St Andrews University until 1966, when he accepted the post of Professor of Education at the University of Durham. He passed away suddenly in 1973, aged 48.