The nursery class today forms an integral part of the majority of state infant and primary schools in England. For much of the twentieth century, however, many of those interested in educating the under-fives were not convinced of its merits, seeing it as cut-price, second-rate provision. H. J. Evelegh, a leading figure in the influential Nursery School Association, alluded to worries about nursery classes from many within that organisation when she insisted that one had a duty to demand the very best for young children: it was, she said, better to be mad than prudent. F. P. Armitage, Director of Education for Leicester from 1919 to 1940, also believed that free-standing nursery schools were the ideal form of provision, but he and his committee believed that it was better to be prudent than mad. Properly equipped nursery classes represented a considerable advance on the existing, underfunded, ad hoc ‘baby rooms’ and, he claimed, ‘even a crowded baby room is better than a cold doorstep.’ This chapter discusses the consequent development of the nursery class in Leicester from 1927 to 1967 and charts its rise and fall in the esteem of the Board/Ministry of Education as central government too made its choices between pragmatism and idealism. The story sheds light on how differing views of the essential needs of the youngest children affect services provided and also how tough choices in straightened times may affect the education of many generations. Sources used include education records housed in Leicester Record Office and Board/Ministry of Education papers held in the National Archives at Kew.
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- Author or Editor: Amy Palmer x