Educational aims—The Conservative And Unionist Party Report

Published in September 1942, Educational Aims was the ‘first interim report’ of the Educational Subcommittee of the ‘Central Committee on Post-War Problems’ set up by the Conservative and Unionist Party in October 1941.45 The material presented on religious instruction and observance by the ASW is not as great a departure as they suggest. Educational Aims argued a number of things in relation to religious teaching, asserting that ‘the State must do its best to ensure that every child is given opportunity and help towards the awakening of its religious sense’. However, it emphasized that parents or guardians should have ‘the determining voice’.46 As such, Educational Aims is emphatic that ‘parents must have the right to withdraw their children from periods of religious instruction’, although the document suggests that such withdrawal needs clarity and that it should only be allowed where either alternative arrangements have been made or where the parents have a conscientious objection to the religious instruction provided by the particular school.47

Whilst Educational Aimsis perhaps quite forward-thinking, making assertions and claims that arc not far from those made in the 1938 Spens Report or other material from the time, nowhere does it suggest statutory provision.™ There is some more detailed exposition of ideas expressed in Educational Reconstruction, yet none of the ideas set out in Educational Aims are entirely new when compared with ideas emanating from the BoE at this time. It is likely that—through formal or informal channels—the Conservative and Unionist Party may have had access to the BoE’s document, but that the ASW most likely did not, for reasons that we shall see next.

The Green Book, June 1941

Rather than following generally established procedure, and publish a Green Paper for public discussion, the BoE issued for consultation in July 1941 (under conditions of‘strict confidentiality’) a Green Book. This presented a variety of‘personal views’, drawn from officers of the BoE, ‘on the directions in which the educational system stands in needs of reform and their suggestions as to ways in which such reform might be effected’.49

The origins of the document can be traced back to the establishment of a small committee in November 1940 at the suggestions of S.H. Wood

(Deputy Secretary, BoE, who remained in London at this point), and under the oversight of Maurice Holmes.50 Peter Gosden calls this ‘The Office Committee on Educational Reconstruction’ (but that title is not evident in the archive materials).51 Settled into their temporary, war-time location at the Branksome Dene Hotel in Bournemouth, Holmes suggested that ‘now we arc working without constant interruptions’ the Board should ‘be bending our minds to educational problems which may arise when the war is over’.52 Although emphatically informal, the group—comprising the Principal Assistant Secretaries (PAS) and Chief Inspectors—met frequently over the autumn of 1940, and quickly devised, debated, and developed a lengthy and sophisticated document on ‘Policy and Planning for Post-War Education’.53 By mid-May 1941 Holmes was able to send to Herwald Ramsbotham (then President of the BoE) a draft of ‘the Memorandum on Post-war Educational Reconstruction’ (known within the Bournemouth outpost as ‘The New Testament’), seeking permission for the document’s printing and ‘its confidential circulation to those with whom necessary discussions will have to take place’.54 This appears to be the first time that Ramsbotham had seen the full content.55 He replied:

I have read the various chapters of the Memorandum on Postwar Educational Reconstruction with intense interest and pleasure. There do not seem to be any major suggestions on policy with which I disagree, and I should like the document to be printed as soon as possible and circulated, of course in strict confidence, to those concerned.56

The presidential stipulation of‘strict confidence’ warrants further discussion. Holmes, alert to the fact that the Green Book might be received as an official commitment by the BoE, insisted that ‘the strictly confidential character ... should be recognised and observed’.57 The secrecy was the matter of some correspondence including a discussion in the Times Educational Supplement, to which the BoE’s response was clear and very terse.58

The Green Book claims to be dedicated to matters administrative and financial, with the issue of ‘the Dual System and Allied Problems’ taking up one chapter (Chapter 9). It is stated in there, within §138, that:

There is a growing volume of opinion that the time has come when the place of religion as an essential element in education should be specifically recognised. It is accordingly suggested that there should be religious observance and instruction enjoined by statute in all provided Primary and Secondary schools.

The immediately preceding text claims that such ‘religious observance and instruction’, whilst ‘required neither by statute nor by regulation’, is ‘almost universal practice’, a claim that—as we have already seen—was made regularly from this point forwards.59 Note too that the claim of a ‘growing volume of opinion...’ is unsupported here.60

The claim of universality requires more scrutiny than it has so far received, for a number of reasons. Firstly, the claim of universal provision at this point can only have meaningfully included Elementary schools. The introduction of state-provided Secondary schools under the 1944 Act created circumstances in which the provision may not be universal; certainly there is evidence that, prior to the 1944 Act, in some secondary schools RE was dropped, especially as key examinations drew closer.61 Secondly, where universality of provision is claimed elsewhere (in a November 1941 Commons debate, for example), claims centre on whether any Local Education Authority had ‘availed itself of [their] undoubted right ... to withhold religious instruction in their schools’.62 James Chuter Ede (Parliamentary Secretary for the BoE) confirmed that ‘every one of the 316 Local Education Authorities in England and Wales has given Religious Education in the provided schools, subject of course, to the provisions of the Cowper-Temple clause’.63 This exchange refers to whether local authorities had chosen to withhold RE and is not the same as claiming that all schools provided it.

An early draft of chapter nine of the Green Book (dated 11 February 1941 ) further illuminates this, stating explicitly that:

From time to time the Board of Education has emphasized the importance of moral instruction and it has always assumed that Religious Instruction isgiven in Schools under its jurisdiction. But explicit encouragement has been studiously avoided.64

So perhaps the almost ubiquitous claim of universal provision was based all along on an assumption.

More revealing, this version advocates caution by the State regarding religious teaching; ‘explicit encouragement’ had been avoided; the ‘dismissal’ of religious teaching from the Handbook of Suggestions for Teachers being cited as an example. However, it indicates a change of attitude, exemplified ‘in official documents’, particularly the 1938 Spcns Report.65 Further, this early draft proposes the acceptance of two principles; firstly that ‘opportunities for efficient Christian teaching should be available in all Schools and colleges under the jurisdiction of the Board’ and secondly, that ‘all reasonable facilities should be allowed to religious bodies without discrimination to provide denominational instruction for their own children.’66 Whilst clearly supportive of ensuring ‘opportunity for efficient Christian teaching’, this draft concludes with a degree of caution, suggesting that ‘any advance should be made with the full support of public opinion’ and that any ‘Legislative and Administrative changes should be made gradually’.67 There is no proposal here for statutory provision.

A draft from later in February proposes, for the first time in the BoE documents, that the provision of Religious Instruction should become statutory.68 To the proposal (§138) and the detailed legislative framework required (§139) is added what becomes §140; these paragraphs are present in each subsequent version including the Green Book. §140 states that the

‘provisions suggested above for religious observance and instruction largely meet the views announced on February 12 1941 by the Archbishops of Canterbury, York and Wales’.69

We can, with some degree of confidence, identify the changes in the Green Book after 11 February 1941 as a moment of discontinuity. There is a movement from cautious widespread provision to confident proposal of statutory provision. As such this is a point of relative beginning in terms of the adoption of the policy of supporting statutory provision within the domain of the BoE. However, our search for the circumstances of possibility that made this relative beginning possible must continue; we turn our attention next to the Archbishops’ Five Points. Our task is to ascertain whether the proposal for statutory provision finds its origin there.

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