How did the provision of RE become compulsory?


As we begin our exploration of how it became possible for the provision of Religious Education in English state-maintained schools without a religious character to become—and remain—mandatory, we look initially to the legislation that first made it so. We thus focus in this chapter on the question, ‘Elow did it become possible for the provision of religious teaching to be made compulsory under the 1944 Education Act?’. We will follow the guidance set out in Chapter 1 to develop a forensic and detailed analysis of a wealth of primary sources that describe the development of the 1944 Act, including individuals’ own notes, minutes of meetings between Government Ministers and key stakeholders, and internal documents and meeting records. We take as our starting point for this Statement Archaeology the clause from the 1944 Education Act that made the provision of religious teaching a legal requirement: ‘Subject to the provisions of this section, Religious Instruction shall be given in every county school’ (County school here has the meaning of State-maintained school without a religious character).1 This will be referred to henceforth as Statement One. The remainder of this chapter will follow the guidance set out in Chapter 1 to investigate the circumstances of production, the nature, and the correlation of this statement.

Before we begin this exploration, it is important to be clear about a few terms. Firstly, a comment about the naming of the subject is timely here. When we talk about Religious Education in the current period, we refer only to the curriculum subject, however in the 1940s—and in the 1944 Education Act specifically—Religious Education was the term used to describe the combination of both Religious Instruction (the curriculum subject) and Religious Observance (or Collective Worship). Like the rest of the book, this chapter focuses on the curriculum subject, so in order to avoid confusion, I will generally use the terms Religious Instruction or religious teaching. However, where the initials RE are used, they refer to our current understanding of religious education as a curriculum subject. Where I use the term Religious Education (with initial capitals) I refer to the combined meaning of the term under the 1944 Act. Secondly, it is important to emphasize that here we are looking at the compulsory provision of religious teaching. This is not the same as compulsory religious teaching. Finally, a reminder to the

How did the provision of RE become compulsory? 25 reader that the focus of this volume—as set out in Chapter 1—is religious education in English state-funded schools without a religious character.

The criteria of formation of Statement One

The first step in exploring the criteria of formation is to consider the circumstances under which the relevant statement was produced. To do that in this case, we need to appraise Statement One in its full context. Firstly, we need to take into account the wider context in which the statement was produced, including the status of religious teaching at this point. Then we need to consider the authorship and authority of the body that produced it. Finally, we consider the rules that govern the statement’s production.

Circumstances of production

The Education Bill was introduced to Parliament in December 1943 under the guidance of Richard Austin Butler (known as Rab), who had become President of the Board of Education in July 1941. It was the first of a sequence of legislation that paved the way for post-war reconstruction. At the beginning of his tenure, Butler had approached the Prime Minister (Winston Churchill) with a plan for legislation focusing on educational reconstruction.2 Churchill responded negatively ‘I certainly cannot contemplate a new Education Bill’.' Whilst Churchill’s primary concern at this point was ‘Victory at all costs’, his reluctance to begin preparation for a new Education Bill was more strongly rooted in his desire to avoid any repetition of the ‘bitter religious controversies over the Balfour Act of 1902’.4 However, encouraged by others (including Attlee and Bevan), Butler continued to plan for the Bill, undertaking a series of consultations over the content during the period that followed.5 A change in direction and degree of hostilities lessened Churchill’s resistance, and he invited Butler to prepare a White Paper in November 1942?

During the early years of the War, there was much concern within the Board of Education over the growth in delinquency and some concern over whether the various efforts made to address this were in danger of mirroring youth organizations in totalitarian states. This issue was compounded when in 1941 there was some discussion that membership of such groups might become compulsory.7 Within RE, some suggested responses to totalitarianism were arguably influenced by totalitarian ideas. Rob Frcathy’s work on Christian education during the period between 1935 and 1949 foregrounds the responses to the rise of totalitarianism, focusing on the link between Christian education and the development of citizenship. He cites the work of Marjorie Reeves, for example, who ‘argued that pupils should be consciously inducted into citizenship of Christian schools in order to develop a fanatical enthusiasm for Christianity comparable to that exhibited by German citizens for Nazism’.8 The same sentiment was expressed by Maxwell Garnet, who claimed that ‘there is no reason why the schools of

Christian England should not be seeking to make Christians with the same unanimity and fervour that is shown by the schools of Nazi Germany in their effort to create Nazis’.9 These responses suggest that there was—at some level—fear that disenfranchised youths would see such totalitarian worldviews as attractive.

Authorship and authority of Statement One

Due to the processes of legislative development, it is not straightforward to ascertain exactly which individual is responsible for the authorship of Statement One. The documentary evidence strongly suggests that the wording was produced within the Board of Education (hereafter BoE) by civil servants (rather than elected representatives) and that it was subject to the usual rules of the parliamentary process.10 This lack of specificity in authorship is not, perhaps, as much of an issue as it might seem. As discussed in Chapter 1, Statement Archaeology concentrates most hilly on what is said and the circumstances surrounding the formation, nature, and repctition(s) of the statement. Therefore, rather than focus on finding the individual responsible for the drafting of the Bill, we need to consider the authority of the body that produced it.

The reputation of the BoE during this period was poor, and it had been seen as ineffective.11 Moreover, under Churchill, who was considered to have had ‘a contempt for education’, progress—as we have seen above—was limited.12 Perhaps contributing to this poor reputation, there was a significant contrast between a rapid turnover of Parliamentarians as President and long-established civil servants. Herwald Ramsbotham took up the role of President in April 1940, succeeding Earl De La Warr (1938-1940). Elizabeth Sundcrman, in For God and Country, asserts that Ramsbotham was removed from the Presidency ‘because his education policy statement, the 1941 Green Book “Education After the War” was seen to be stirring up trouble’, and that Butler was installed as his replacement (July 1941) ‘as an insult’ to his career’, although no sources are cited for either claim.13 The pattern of short tenures, however, is consistent with earlier presidents; as one political commentator reported in 1930 ‘It is significant that no aspiring politician of outstanding ability' has ever chosen education as his portfolio.’14 However, Butler challenged this view; according to his own autobiography, he was eager to change the reputation of the role, and eagerly' embraced the challenge that had been set him.15

Whether related to Butler’s enthusiasm, the shift of the Board’s office to Bournemouth (away from the gaze of the President), or a ‘huge popular ferment in favour of educational reform’, the period between 1940 and 1944 shows a repositioning of Education within the structure of Government.16 There is a developing importance laid on education in terms of societal reconstruction, and a developing authoritative status of the Board at this point in its history, epitomized in the creation of a Ministry of Education under the 1944 Act, allowing Butler to be the first Minister of Education.

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