The criteria of transformation of Statement One
Key to understanding a statement’s development and the point of origin is an assessment of that statement’s novelty, or originality. We must, therefore, assess the extent to which Statement One was novel, or original, at the point that it was included in the 1944 Education Act. As part of this process, we must be mindful—as discussed in Chapter 1—of the rules of any prior repetition of the statement, such that we can trace the origin backwards towards a point of relative beginning. Then, we must consider the extent to which the statement is programmatic.
Statement One in context
Before we explore the origin of our starting point, we must consider where and how it appears in the 1944 Education Act. Statement One, as part of Clause 25 (2) of the 1944 Act, reads: ‘Subject to the provisions of this section, Religious Instruction shall be given in every county school ,..’.17 We begin by considering the relatively complex web of ‘provisions’ to which Statement One is subject.
Clause 25(4) of the 1944 Act (the Conscience Clause) provides that children may be withdrawn by their parents from the compulsory provision of Religious Instruction and observance in state-maintained schools. This allowed children to be ‘wholly or partly’ excused ‘from attendance at religious instruction’, and can be traced back to the 1870 Education Act.18 It is important to emphasize here the importance of this provision. It has the effect of ensuring transparency. The clause clarifies the meaning of Statement One to avoid any interpretation that the Act imposes a statutory requirement for all children to receive religious teaching. The statutory requirement is for all schools to provide the opportunity for all children to have such teaching; we cannot therefore speak of the 1944 Education Act as imposing compulsory religious education; we must be precise in our terminology.
Secondly, Section 26 mandates that the Religious Instruction provided under Clause 25(2) had to be in accordance with an agreed syllabus, the mechanisms of which were set out as Schedule Five to the Act. This syllabus (agreed by a conference composed of representatives from (i) religious denominations, (ii) Church of England, (iii) associations representing teachers and (iv) the local authority) was proscribed from including ‘any catechism or formulary which is distinctive of any particular religious denomination’, a form of words known as the Cowper-Temple Clause.19 Like the right of withdrawal, this was first adopted in the 1870 Education Act.20
The repetition of the Cowper-Temple stipulation in the 1944 Act highlights an important phenomenon in the development of English religious teaching. Although denominationally-discrete Christian groups have played a key role in the subject’s development, the content of religious teaching was constrained in those schools without a religious character. Thus, when
Christianity is mentioned in relation to RE in such settings, it is not limited to one specific denomination, such as the Anglican Church or the Catholic Church. Because of the history of Christianity in England, there arc complex relations between different elements of Protestantism, and a historic positioning of Catholicism as distinct from Christianity. Consequently, when the term Christianity is used in the context of English RE, it tends to mean a mosaic form of Protestantism.21
Next, in seeking to understand the development of Statement One, and— ultimately the point of relative beginning—we must assess the extent to which Statement One was novel, or original, at the point that it was included in the Education Act, 1944. As part of this process, we must be mindful of the rules of any prior repetition of the statement.
Assessing the originality of Statement One
Methodologically, when dealing with statements from legislation, the most appropriate place to start in examining ‘novelty’ is the Bill from which the Act has developed. By examining the Bill, and tracing its passage through the legislative process, we can consider—for example—whether the statement we arc following was present at the initial presentation of the Bill, or whether it has been added or changed during the Parliamentary process. Here then, we begin with the Education Bill, presented to Parliament in December 1943.
A detailed analysis of the progression of the Bill through the various stages of parliamentary scrutiny reveals that the statutory provision of Religious Instruction was specified at every stage. The Bill as first presented to Parliament on 15 December 1943, included as Clause 24(1):22
Subject to the provisions of this section the school day in every county school and in every auxiliary school shall begin with a collective act of worship on the part of all pupils in attendance at the school, and religious instruction shall be given in every such school.23
The ‘provisions’ specified here included the right to parental withdrawal, the Cowper-Temple clause, and the requirement that religious instruction be ‘given in accordance with an agreed syllabus adopted for the school’, discussed above.24
This establishes that the content of the clause has not changed significantly between Bill and Act. But, even if the relevant clause in the Bill and Act were exactly the same, we would still need to probe further. Had the clause been unchanged because it had received no scrutiny whatsoever? Had it been contentious and the subject of fierce debate? Had it been discussed and agreed without discord? The analysis here shows that there were some changes
How did the provision of RE become compulsory? 29 made during the process, not in the content (and thus the provision), but in the structure and numbering of the sections and clauses. The fact that the structure of the clauses changes reveals that the provision was subject to some scrutiny. Meeting in Committee in December 1943, the House of Commons agreed to change the structure of Section 24 to separate out the two aspects of Religious Education. Subsection (1) dealt only with the daily act of collective worship, and an additional subsection (2) was inserted which stated ‘Subject to the provisions of this section religious instruction shall be given in every county school and in every auxiliary school.’25 The wording of the sections relating to the parental right of withdrawal, the Cowper-Temple clause, and the necessity of an agreed syllabus all remained unchanged. There were also changes in structure, but not content, in the Schedule which set out the ‘Procedure for preparing and bringing into operation an agreed syllabus of religious instruction’.26
The records of the debates themselves suggest that there was little discussion of the proposal itself. Butler, during the Second Reading in the House of Commons on the 19 January 1944, stated that the compulsory provision of religious teaching had ‘been widely welcomed as indicating the spirit in which this part of the Bill has been drawn’.27 A little later, when the Bill was being discussed by the Commons (in Committee), the scrutiny of Clause 24, focused almost entirely on collective worship, rather than the compulsory provision of Religious Instruction. Butler reported that provision of religious education was ‘the practice in almost every school in the country’. In response, a Mr. Cove suggested that ‘the Bill can be described pretty fairly as a Bill for the endowment of compulsory religious teaching throughout the whole State system of education’, demanding that the Government should ‘let religious teaching in schools be free from State compulsion’.28 Others reminded Cove of the withdrawal clause, clearly seeing this as an adequate safeguard to the concerns expressed. James Chutcr Ede (Parliamentary Secretary to the BoE from May 1940 until 1944) returned to the question in the government’s response to a subsequent amendment; Chutcr Ede stated, ‘I have never had, at any meeting I have addressed, any objection raised to the provision in this Clause either as to the collective act of worship or compulsory religious instruction.’29
By focusing on the right of withdrawal, and the universality of existing provision, the government presented the inclusion of the clause mandating compulsory provision of Religious Instruction as uncontroversial and unproblematic; nothing more perhaps than a slight amendment to existing practice. What was more controversial in these discussions was the lack of specificity about religion in the clause. A Mr. Brooke said ‘If the word “Christian” were inserted in the proper place, it would then be clear beyond all doubt that Parliament intended the act of worship and instruction in schools to be in accordance with the views of the Christian Churches in this country’.30 In the government’s response, Chutcr Ede obfuscated, making no comment at all about the proposal to insert the word ‘Christian’.31 Despite George Hume’s attempts to reopen the question, the term was not included.32
Exploring the process of parliamentary scrutiny as well as its outcome further illuminates the means by which the introduction of compulsory provision of RE became possible. The discussion of the religious provisions of the Bill in both Houses of Parliament, rather than focusing on whether provision of religious instruction and observance should be statutory, focused primarily on how it would be carried out in practice. All in all, this suggests that by the time the Bill was first presented to Parliament, the principle of statutory religious instruction was not novel, but that it had—to some degree—been accepted, not just by the drafting authors, but by Parliament more widely.
To discover the origin of Statement One, we must therefore look further. Next we turn to the official documents that culminate in the presentation of the Bill to Parliament, starting with the 1943 White Paper on which the Bill was based.