|The Robert Owen Museum. Photo by "Indigo Goat" Some rights reserved|
The New Lanark School
"The houses of the poor working classes generally are altogether unfit for the training of young children; the children are therefore spoken to and treated just the reverse of the manner required to well-train and well-educate children"
In the early 19th Century, most working class children received no formal education. Before state schools were introduced, some schools for poor children were provided by the Church of England and non-conformist groups like the Quakers. However, most parents had to send their children to work and could not afford to lose their income and most employers did not provide any education for their apprentices.
Robert Owen believed that education had an important part to play in the formation of character and he had very advanced ideas on the way such education should be provided. He believed that there was more to education than teaching the 3R's, and natural history, music, dancing and games became an important part of school life. In New Lanark schools he pioneered new methods of teaching, involving the use of pictures, maps, and charts. He thought that education should be natural and spontaneous, but most of all enjoyable.
By 1809 Robert Owen had prepared his plans for building new schools, but he was unable to begin until 1813 because of the objections raised by his partners. Later with the support of more sympathetic partners he was able to build his Institute for the Formation of Character (opened in 1816). This imposing building was not only used as a school for the young, but also for evening lectures and concerts for the workers - the first attempt at introducing adult education to the working classes.
Robert Owen was the great pioneer of infants school. At New Lanark the school was open to very young children, and in many ways was similar to a pre-school playgroup as formal education did not begin until the children were six years old.
The new school was a great success and attracted a very large number of visitors, not only educational reformers, but foreign ambassadors and royalty, who were unanimous in their admiration for the project. Unfortunately not everyone approved of Robert Owen's liberal ideas and his partners strongly disapproved of the new methods. Eventually, the music and dancing were stopped, formal religious education was introduced and old methods of teaching were used.