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Article from Burton Latimer St Mary the Virgin Parish Magazine - September 1905 transcribed by Margaret Craddock

History of Education in

Burton Latimer

Part VIII - Babies at School 1905

This vexed question seems at last to be in a fair way of settlement.  The Law at present compels all children over the age of five to attend School; until babies are this age no compulsion is enforced.  The result is that parents present their children directly they are three, frequently keeping them at home for various causes due to the weather or other circumstances; hence the average attendance, upon which grants are payable, suffers very considerably. 

In the House of Commons, early in August, the Secretary to the Board of Education stated that the Board’s policy was to discourage local Authorities from providing school-room for Children under five, and that under the new scheme babies may be kept out of school by any local authority that chooses to do so.  If in future children are admitted, a grant of seventeen shillings only for each baby will be made, whilst for those over five, twenty-four shillings will be paid.  It will therefore be to the advantage of local authorities to exclude babies from school. 

But, really, this great question is not a financial one at all, and it should be approached from a much higher standpoint.  To begin with, the staff in infants schools is engaged to teach, not to nurse, but it is common knowledge that parents send their children to school at as early an age as possible to get them out of the way and out of mischief, but the Board of Education was not founded for nursery work, nor for relieving mothers of their maternal duties.  These can be more fitly supplied by day-nurseries in towns that need them, and the large sum annually spent on baby schools with unsatisfactory results, both physical and mental, would go a long way towards defraying the cost.  The rate and taxpayer will have to be consulted.  It is suggested that he should fund these day-nurseries or crèches; also that he should feed hungry school children, soon perhaps clothe them also.  Is he then to relieve parents of all responsibility to their offspring?  The matter is really a serious one, for it is well known that many little ones are imperfectly fed and clothed through no fault of their own, but simply because of their parent improvidence and intemperate habits.  Will not such state action, unless most carefully guarded, add a premium to thriftlessness and indifference to child welfare?  The discrimination necessary will not be easy, and, whilst we do not desire to harden the lot of any, we are forced to admit that many drunken and careless parents require much more drastic treatment than they at present receive for failing to discharge their parental duties and the responsibility due to their children.

But there is another and perhaps the most important point of all.  The Board’s decision follows the mass of medical and expert opinion on the folly of precociously forcing the intelligence of babies.  For the first five years of a child’s life its mind should be fallow, the child is receiving impressions all the time and educating itself little by little in its own way, but there should be no forcing at all.  This was the unanimous opinion of the medical congress just held at Leicester and there can be no two minds about its wisdom and correctness.  If the country is to look after the people’s babies, by all means let it do so, but let it do it by a general establishment of day-nurseries, where perhaps the alphabet, and nothing more, may be taught, but let it in commonsense decide finally that till babies are five years old, they are being better fitted for their purpose in life by their total exclusion from Elementary Schools.

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