As we move into 2018 we can all champion a special landmark, the 130th birthday of the National Society for Education in Art and Design.

The Society was founded in 1888 and its inauguration, as the Society of Art Masters took place on 25 July at the South Kensington Museum, initiated by Edward. R Taylor, Head Master of the Municipal School of Art, Birmingham. Its objectives were to ’preserve the interests of Art Education, of Schools of Art and of Art Masters, regarding the former as a subject of the highest national importance.’

The history of trade unionism, alongside the history of subject associations, positions the Society at the forefront of change, and mirrors its inception and development. The legal status of trade unions in the UK was established by a Royal Commission on Trade Unions in 1867 which agreed that the establishment of such organisations was to the advantage of both employer and employee. Trade unions were legalised in 1871 and the Society, embracing trade unionism, was formed 17 years later.

The initial work of the Society was to influence the then Department of Science and Art and to argue for a parity of esteem between the two subjects, and to support the transformation of the National Art Training School into the Royal College of Art.

Moving into the twentieth century the Society changed its name to the National Society of Art Masters, reflecting a move into regional, not just London-centric activity and affiliation with existing network groups to include the West Riding Society of Teachers of Art and Art Technology and the Midlands Association of Head Masters of Schools of Art.

Activism in the regions further linked the Society with trade and industry. When Herman Muthesius researched his survey of Art Schools in Britain it was the regional members of the Society that provided him with evidence of work with craft and industry and his report influenced the activities of the Deutscher Werkbund, taking our reach onto an international platform.

By 1913 the Society was becoming increasingly involved in examination work and initial teacher education. In 1944 it made a significant contribution to the shaping of the Education Act and the building of post war Britain within the context of art, craft and design.

With the appointment of both men and women into the teaching profession the Society adapted its title to the National Society for Art Education, and grew in authority as it merged with the Society for Education through Art in 1985 to become the National Society for Education in Art and Design.

Looking back, alongside tangible and historic milestones, what else defines us, gives us strength, resilience and authority. In one word, membership.

Membership gives us the authority to be the ‘voice of teachers and educators of art, craft and design.’ Membership means we can immediately call on and consult with a wide range of professionals across all phases of education. As a professional body we have the right to be consulted and we are swift in our responses as well as in our interventions and provocations.

Membership gives us autonomy. We are beholden to no one but our members. We can say what we like, unfettered by funders, sponsors or governments. Yet going back to our authority, we are never merely the noisy outsider, we are respected and listened to.

Membership gives us activism and advocacy. Our members are keen to tackle challenging issues with local MPs, and shine a light on the value depth and breadth of our subject not only to children and young people but to parents, governors and a wide variety of stakeholders.

The Society is above all a community, a community of thousands of committed teachers and lecturers who have supported and influenced our work, many of them becoming lifelong members, great friends and advocates of our work and activities.

Our past is to be celebrated and heartily acknowledged. However compelling the past is, for the Society, the future must always be of more importance. In the hands of our committed members our future is always challenging, but consistently secure.

Lesley Butterworth
General Secretary

08 Jan 2018