The Beginnings of the EIS

Created on: 13 May 2022

On September 18th, 1847, around 600 teachers, from all parts of the country, attended a meeting in the Hall of the High School, Edinburgh, to give birth to the Educational Institute of Scotland.

Although several local teacher associations predated this event, the creation of a national teacher union, the Educational Institute of Scotland, a global first, was a momentous step.

In the sole written history of the early days of the EIS, “A Centenary Handbook of the EIS” by A.J. Belford, the year is described in the following terms:

“1847! A year when men and women were suffering and brooding; when wild passions were fermenting under a peaceful exterior. Politicians and statesmen failed to gauge the destitution and despair of the population; in vain the plaintive voices and wasted forms of people appealed to despots and monarchs. Hardly had 1848 opened when the streets of Europe were streaming with blood.

It was in those days that the Educational Institute of Scotland was founded… but not merely for mutual benefit did those teachers associate; believing in the worth of human personality, they wished to proclaim the necessity for education and to establish the value of sound learning.”

175 years later the validity of those founding principles remains as current as ever. The very choice of “Institute” in the title, as opposed to association or federation, was a conscious decision to align with the European trend for such named bodies to be concerned with the advancement of a cultural endeavour, in our case “the promotion of sound learning”, still emblazoned on our banner, as well as the mutual benefit of its members, teachers.

Over the course of this year, we will celebrate our 175th anniversary in a number of ways, but rather than simply dwell on historic tradition, we hope that our various activities will actively engage and inspire members and strengthen our collective will and resolve to continue to campaign for those twin ambitions of the “promotion of sound learning and the benefit of teachers.”