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An Infant school is a term used primarily in England and Wales for school for children between the ages of four and seven years. It is usually a small school serving a particular locality.
An infant school forms part of the local pattern of provision for primary education. In England and Wales children start at infant school between the ages of four and five in a Reception class. They sometimes attend part-time (mornings only or afternoons only) for the first term or two. Reception is not compulsory. Pupils then transfer to Year One in the September following their fifth birthday, and to Year Two the following year. These two years form Key Stage 1 in the English education system. At the end of this time, pupils will move to a linked Junior school.
In some areas of England, provision of education at this age is made in First schools catering for pupils aged up to eight or nine. In some parts of the Welsh valleys a child can attend infants school from the day after their third birthday.
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 child care 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 Reverend 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.
Infant and junior schools were often separate schools, but the final three decades of the 20th century saw many infant and junior departments coming together as single primary schools. The late 1960s and 1970s saw hundreds of infant schools in Britain abolished in favour of 5-8 or 5-9 first schools, but some of these were abolished in favour of a return to infant schools by the early 1980s and most of them have now followed suit.
- Whitbread, Nanette (1972). The Evolution of the Nursery-Infant School: A History of Infant Education in Britain, 1800-1970. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge. p. 11. ISBN 0415432898.
- Latham, Jackie (2002). "Pestalozzi and James Pierrepont Greaves: a shared educational philosophy". History of Education 31 (1): 59–70. Retrieved 5 December 2015.
- Hadow, W. H., Sir (1933). "Report of The Consultative Committee on Infant and Nursery Schools". Education in England: the history of our schools. His Majesty's Stationery Office. Retrieved 5 December 2015.
- School Standards and Framework Act 1998