19927: Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge

Initially set up in 1709 in Edinburgh as a charitable endeavour to improve the Highlands and Islands, the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge (SSPCK) established schools that provided the first opportunity for formal education for the children of ordinary Hebrideans. Prior to this only sons of the gentry and tacksmen were educated.

Education in SSPCK schools had to be strictly in English and teachers were forbidden to preach; teaching in Gaelic resulted in instant dismissal. The primary objective was teaching pupils to read the Bible in English; subjects taught were religion, reading, writing, arithmetic and psalm tunes. In 1738 agriculture, manufacture, trades and housewifery were included.

Within the Uist Presbytery, SSPCK schools were established on St Kilda in 1710, Benbecula in 1725, and in Borbh, Scarista (Harris) and Bellamore (presumably Balmore) in 1732. There was an SSPCK school on Berneray by 1850.

The first SSPCK schools in Lewis were established at Barvas and Keose in 1737. Provision to be made for the teacher, besides a salary of £6 or £9 respectively, was a dwelling house, schoolhouse, kailyard, fuel and grazing for a cow.

The schools provided education which was, for the most part, gratuitous and in the old accounts, they are generally spoken of as charity schools. On the whole, all the standards of the charity schools were low – inefficient tuition, poor equipment, inadequate buildings. They were established primarily for evangelistic and religious reasons.

A school in Bernera closed after 27 months without pupils, and at Shawbost one was established to mitigate the effects of the very popular ceilidh house that had been built there. They also operated at Stornoway, Knock, Bayble, Coll, Swainbost, Carloway and Baile na Cille, but were never widely supported and were replaced by the much more popular Gaelic Schools. By 1833 there was a single SSPCK school on Lewis, in Stornoway.

This 1748 list on the Am Baile website provides some interesting detail on the early SSPCK schools.

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