On 13 March 1996, a lone assailant walked into Dunblane Primary School with a gun, shooting dead 16 pupils and a teacher, Gwen Mayor, and injuring many others. 

The EIS official who covered the Dunblane area was away at a conference, so Norman Bissell, former activist and latterly national officer, immediately volunteered to go to the school. 

He arrived there around two o’clock that afternoon. A crowd was gathered around the school gates, mostly comprised of terrified parents, trying to find out what had happened to their children. The entrance to the school, meanwhile, was being guarded by the police. 

Bissell approached the police and explained who he was and why he was there; he’d brought with him a list showing that the majority of teachers at the school were EIS members. The police let him through, and he was directed into the staffroom.

“People were absolutely in shock at the time,” he says. “They weren’t saying a lot – just looking very pale and drawn. There wasn’t much I could say, other than that I was there to offer them the support of the EIS and tell them we would do whatever we could to assist them.” 

Bissell stayed at Dunblane Primary the whole afternoon and into the evening. CID officers arrived to interview staff about what had happened, and Bissell accompanied some of his members into these meetings.

“Teachers had to make sure their classes were safe,” says Bissell. “They told the children to get down on the floor and hide under their desks.” 

In between meetings, Bissell glimpsed a lone figure in his thirties sitting in the foyer, slightly apart from the teaching staff. This was the school janitor; Bissell sat down with him. 

As the two men spoke, the janitor revealed that he had been asked to accompany the Dunblane headteacher into the gym where the shootings had taken place. He’d found some children sheltering for safety behind the vaulting horse; they were still alive. “But there was the terrible sight of all the children lying scattered around the room,” says Bissell. 

The assailant had already shot himself, but the gun was still in his hand. The headteacher had asked the janitor to kick the gun away from him, so he couldn’t shoot anyone else. 

The EIS collaborated with the family of Gwen Mayor, the Dunblane Primary 1 teacher who was murdered that day, to establish a charity in her honour. Each year, primary schools can apply for funding from the Gwen Mayor Trust for any arts, culture, music or sport activities they want to run for their pupils. 

To date, more than 275 schools have received support from the fund.