The Edinburgh School of Social Study and Training


Social work training at the University of Edinburgh has gone through several guises since it was first taught in 1918.  Initially it was established as the Edinburgh School of Social Study and Training, under the auspices of the University of Edinburgh.  The School was established to meet the increasing need for trained social workers, in the broad sense of the term, which had been highlighted during the First World War.  A number of civic minded citizens, including several University of Edinburgh lecturers, came together to form an Association for the Promotion of Social Study and Training in 1917.  The School began teaching students in 1918.  The School operated as a separate body until it amalgamated with the University in 1928 to become the Department of Social Studies and Training.  Archival material gives us rich insights into these early years, and the work that was done to keep the School running and demonstrate that training for social work was both feasible and worthy of association with the University.

Theoretical and Practical training:

The first lecture of the Edinburgh School of Social Study  and Training was given by Miss M. T. Rankin on the subject of ‘Social Economics’ on 8th January 1918  at 4.15pm in the Mathematical Institute, 16 Chambers Street (shown opposite).

The lecture series for the term also included ‘Social Ethics’ and ‘Personal and Public Hygiene’. Students could enrol for the full 2-year Diploma Course or attend individual classes, with public lectures also being given on topics such as ‘The Nature and Duties of Citizenship’ and ‘The Co-operative Movement in Edinburgh’.  By 1927 the curriculum had expanded to include, among others, courses in Elementary Anatomy and Physiology, Social Psychology, Office Work and Moral Philosophy.  As well as attending theoretical courses students undertook practical training for 3 days each week working in a variety of settings for example day nurseries, juvenile and adult courts, the Craiglockhart Poorhouse, and the Welfare Department of the North British Rubber Works.  Additional visits were organised to factories, hospitals and public health departments.


Student and their career prospects: 

Initially numbers enrolling in the School were small, but they gradually grew from 11 full time students in 1918 to 34 in 1927.  The School was training its students for social work, but at this time the field encompassed much broader roles that it does today, including jobs such as Factory Inspectors, Welfare Workers, Labour Organisers and House Management Workers.  Archival material notes that former students went on to have careers in a variety of roles such as the Maternity and Child Welfare Visitor, Stockton-On-Tees; the Industrial Secretary of the YMCA, China; the Police Court Missionary and Probation Officer at Marlborough Street Police Court, London; and the Assistant Welfare Worker in Fry’s Chocolate and Cocoa Works. As well as providing training for social workers the School offered a Health Visitor’s Probation Certificate, which was awarded to 132 students.  Archival material also shows that the School was also approached to offer various forms of training and lectures to other groups including disabled officers following the First World War, Women Police Officers and the Edinburgh Women Citizens’ Association.


Amalgamation with the University:

The Director of the School, Miss Nora Milnes, and the wider Executive Committee of the School were keen that the School and its students be afforded academic recognition on a par with the other social studies courses being run at Universities around the UK.  The School quickly began setting out its case for its relationship with the University to become more integrated.  This was achieved in 1928 when the University Court agreed to the proposed amalgamation and the School became the Department of Social Studies and Training.  Announcing the amalgamation in the 1928 Annual Report Nora Milnes notes that:

“the change which is now to take place is the best proof of the success of the School.  Social Study has won for itself a recognised position not only in the University, but also in the City of Edinburgh.”


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