Infant School

Author Evelyn Posted On Misc

An infant school is a term used primarily in England and Wales. This for the education of children between the ages of four and seven years. It is usually a small school serving a particular area.

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The first infant school in England was at Brewers Green, Westminster in 1818 which was placed under the charge of James Buchanan, a weaver. Buchanan had served at what is considered the first infant school in Great Britain, Robert Owen's at New Lanark. The second in England was opened in 1820 by Joseph Wilson in Spitalfields and placed in the charge of Samuel Wilderspin. In 1823, Wilderspin published On the Importance of Educating the Infant Children of the Poor. In June 1824, Henry Brougham, William Wilberforce, Samuel Wilderspin and William Allen formed the Infant School Society. The purpose of the society was to train teachers and to promote infant school formation.

Unlike Owen's school, those opened under Wilderspin's influence placed great emphasis on religious training for the young children of the poor. Dame schools, which had existed long before, had shown the need for childcare of very young children for women who worked outside the home. The new infant schools were to provide a safe environment for these children as well as give them some educational advantages. Wilderspin's schools were based on the reform education theory of Swiss thinker Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi. James Pierrepont Greaves, secretary of the Infant School Society, worked with Pestalozzi for several years, as did Charles Mayo, who along with his sister Elizabeth Mayo, worked with the Home and Colonial Institution (later the Home and Colonial Infant School Society) to set up infant schools and train teachers.

When education became compulsory in England from 1877, infant schools were incorporated into the state school system.