How a Welshman taking a German idea to Scotland began the journey to British primary education.
Where: New Lanark, Scotland
Scale: Revolutionary step towards our modern education system
Established by utopian philanthropist Robert Owen, the first British infant school was opened in Scotland, taking inspiration from the 18th century Bavarian institutions which helped children whose parents both worked out of the home.
The school was part of Owen’s New Lanark Mills community, a project designed to raise living standards and therefore boost productivity – a radical idea for the early 18th century.
Workers at New Lanark were housed appropriately, worked fewer hours, were paid fairly and contributed to a communal healthcare fund, the latter being one of the earliest examples of a form of socialised healthcare.
Importantly, Owen’s two New Lanark ‘schools’ encouraged both children and their parents to receive an education and ‘better themselves’, paving the way for nationwide educational reform.
After 25 years reforming New Lanark, Owen took his revolutionary ideas to the New World - opening both the first kindergarten and the first public library in the USA.