We made another visit to the Wilderspin National School. The grandchildren were happy playing outside which gave me chance to read the information boards in the museum and watch the videos – hence this additional review. The more I learn about Samuel Wilderspin, the more amazed I am by his ideas and his foresight about the importance of early years eduction. As an educationalist, he was 100 years before his time. We are so lucky his school has survived and it fully deserves the title of “one of the most important school in England”.
Samuel Wilderspin was a firm believer that better education of the poor would solve a most social problems. As a child he had disliked school and had been taught at home. Many of his ideas about education had roots in his own happy childhood. He believed the first seven years were crucial but this also depended on school and parents working together.
He began his teaching career in a London Sunday School before joining an infant school in Westminster. Here he met James Buchanan who had taught in Robert Owen’s school in New Lanark. Inspired by him, he opened a infant school in Spitalfields, a very poor area in east London and experimented with his ideas. In 1824 he set up the Infant School Society with the support of Robert Owen, William Wilberforce and Henry Brougham MP. They all believed that infant schooling gave poor children “Principles of virtue and save them from a life of crime”. They believed that all children were innately good and learnt good or bad behaviour from others. It was essential to encourage the good. “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it”.
They recognised that early years education needed to be different from the very strict discipline we associate with Victorian schools. It needed better facilities to engage and encourage the children as well as properly trained teachers. Wilderspin became a travelling agent for the for the Society, promoting its work and opening new infant schools across the country. He didn’t want the schools to be associated with any particular church and this lead to religious opposition. Increasing religious and political opposition caused the society to fold in 1827.
It had however sown the seeds of change and Wilderspin became a free lance educationalist and continued to publish books of his ideas. He also set up and opened the Infant School Depot which supplied educational equipment and materials to the infant schools.
Wilderspin was the archetypal entrepreneur. After a new school had been set up, he arranged a public exhibition where the children could display their progress. to parents and visitors. Not only did this display his teaching methods, it also encouraged observers to think about establishing schools elsewhere.
Wilderspin had always hoped to build his own model school in London. In 1844, he was lecturing in Barton and nearby Winterton as well as training teachers in Hull and carrying out public examinations.
The population in Barton upon Humber doubled between 1801 and 1851. Over one third of the population were under 15 and this was causing a huge social problem. Living conditions were harsh and children were illiterate. Sunday Schools were free and did provide certain amount of education but it was bible based. Long’s School did have some free places but the school was closed in 1842.
This was the chance he was waiting for. A new National School was being proposed for the over sixes. As a result of Wilderspin’s influence and work, it was decided to add an infant school to the plans. Wilderspin was responsible for the design and layout of the school. The boys school was at one end with a house for the master. Next to it was the girls school and at the far end, the infant school. Wilderspin was appointed Superintendent of the Infant School and taught here with his wife and daughter. This was the chance he wanted to have his own school.
The boys and girls school were independent of the infant school and Wilderspin’s influence and ideas did not extend upwards into them. Once the children left the infant school, they were subjected to the harsh methods of Victorian education.
He worked at the school for four years before retiring and moving to Wakefield. He continued to lecture, advise on methods and principles of education and help teachers find positions. He was also involved in Adult education through the Mechanics Institute.
Sadly the infant school closed after Wilderspin left and wasn’t reopened again until 1860. The school was finally closed in 1978 and moved to a new building. Locals still remember their days here with affection.