The Archbishops’ five points of 1941

A statement entitled Christian Education—Archbishops’ Proposals was circulated on 12 February 1941, being published in full in The Times the following day (with an enthusiastically supportive introduction penned by Barrington-Ward in his Editorial column).70 Although released under the signatures of the Archbishops of Canterbury, York and Wales, the statement claimed to represent the views of a much wider constituency, including ‘the Diocesan Bishops of the Church of England and of the Church of Wales’, and in ‘full agreement with leaders of the Free Churches’. Further, the authors claimed that ‘the teaching profession increasingly shares our convictions’, although the support for this was drawn mainly from the Independent Schools’ Head Masters’ Conference.71

The Archbishops’ Statement focussed relentlessly on improving the quality of religious instruction in schools. It asserted that there was an extensive and ‘profound ignorance of the Christian faith itself. ... There is evidently an urgent need to strengthen our foundations by securing that effective Christian education should be given in all schools to children, the future citizens of our country.’ Having provided an analysis of the current situation, the Archbishops expounded five proposals (soon becoming termed the Archbishops’ Five Points). The latter four of these argue that: Religious Knowledge in the Teachers’ Certificate course should be upgraded to include it in the list of ‘optional subjects’ for qualification, creating a route towards subject specialism (point 2); that the timetable clause (introduced under the 1870 Education Act) which limited religious teaching to the start or the end of the school day, should be withdrawn (point 3); that religious teaching should be inspected by H.M. Inspectors or other ‘duly authorized persons’ (with regard to its methods only, point 4); and that ‘in all schools the time-table should be so arranged as to provide for an act of worship on the part of the whole school at the beginning of the school day (point 5). It is the first of the Five Points that is most relevant here; this argues for a universal provision of Christian education: Tn all schools a Christian education should be given to all the

How did the provision of RE become compulsory? 37 scholars (except of course in so far as any parents may wish to withdraw their children from it)’.72

The provenance of the Five Points is not entirely clear. The Archbishop of Canterbury (Cosmo Lang) told Ramsbotham that they arose from ongoing discussions ‘over the past two years’ including those between Anglicans and other Christian groupings. This would situate the origins of the Five Points at around 1939 or even earlier, which is entirely consistent with the December 1938 report of an Unofficial Conference between Anglicans and Free Churchmen on Religious Education which had taken place over the preceding twenty months.73 There are substantial textual similarities between the Archbishops’ proposals and this report, especially in relation to the importance of Christianity for citizenship; the place of Religious Instruction and Observance amongst other school subjects; the need for LEAs and others able to encourage the promotion of teaching of religion in schools; concern that provision should continue to the end of school life and not drop off when exams became a priority; that teachers should be well equipped, suitable and willing; that teaching should be according to an agreed syllabus; and the claim that there was a great urgency in solving these problems.

An earlier report, summarizing the Archbishops’ Commission on Religious Education (established in 1924 and reporting in 1929), referred specifically to the question of statutory provision: ‘We do not favour any demand for a statutory guarantee for religious instruction in all schools ... instruction in religious subjects is all but universal in the council schools and this has come about without the help of any statutory or other guarantee’.74

Whilst both the Five Points and the preceding material are strongly orientated towards universal provision of quality religious teaching, nowhere do they argue for statutory provision. Correspondence over the matter between the Archbishop of Canterbury and the President of the BoE sheds a little light on this. The day after the Archbishop’s statement was published, Lang wrote to Ramsbotham making it clear that he was ‘well aware of all the criticisms, Departmental and otherwise, which the proposals in the Statement may receive’.75 Ramsbotham responded, expressing his agreement: ‘I believe with you that there is now a wider appreciation than in the past of the importance, indeed I may say the necessity, of ensuring that the Nation’s children receive effective instruction in the elements of the Christian faith.’ The remainder of Ramsbotham’s letter is worded in a rather guarded way. He suggested that: no legislative change would be possible before the war was over; that any suggestion of change to the ‘provisions of the law which relate to religious instruction will be narrowly examined by all the interests concerned’; and that any change of this nature would have to be considered in the context of the Dual System.76 However, there is no explicit mention in the Five Points of making the provision statutory; this reference to the need to change the law appears to relate to some of the other points, which would have required a revised legal settlement.

Further correspondence was exchanged between the two, but due to the change of President of the BoE (in July 1941), it was Butler that met with

Archbishop Lang on 23 July. Much of that meeting is not particularly noteworthy, but the discussion of point one of the Five Points is. Butler’s notes record that the Archbishop ‘confirmed my impression, which I put to him, that he desired that Religious Instruction and Observance should be made a statutory requirement’.77

This seems a strange question for Butler to raise. The Green Book, already signed off by Ramsbotham and circulated, had included the proposal for statutory sanction, with direct reference made to the Five Points, as discussed above. It is hardly surprising, then, that Lang referred directly to these in his response to Butler. Whether the Archbishops had statutory provision in mind when the Five Points were set out is not entirely clear, but with the proposal already included in the Green Book, and for that to be reiterated by the incoming President of the BoE, the Archbishop was unlikely to do anything other than welcome the proposal! Bearing in mind that statutory provision is not explicitly mentioned in the Archbishop’s Five Points, we must consider the source of Butler’s ‘impression’.

It is important to note that the meeting with Lang took place on Butler’s third day in the role of President. It seems safe to assume that he was therefore heavily reliant on his Permanent Secretary, Maurice Holmes. A briefing paper for the President, prepared by Holmes in advance of the ‘private talk’ with Lang made a number of suggestions which might reveal the origin of Butler’s ‘impression’. On the topic of the first of the Five Points, the briefing paper reports that:

Religious Instruction, usually in accordance with an agreed syllabus and accompanied by religious observance, is in fact given, so far as we are aware, in every Public Elementary School in the country ... The Archbishops may perhaps be assumed to ask that religious instruction and observance should be made a statutory requirement. This is what we propose.78

In the same briefing, Holmes offered Butler a robust defence of the existing provision in schools, which had been the focus of criticism in the Five Points ‘The plain fact of the matter is that the ignorance [of Christianity amongst school pupils] which the Archbishops deplore is [not due] to any decline in the quality of the Religious Instruction given in schools’. Further, Butler was encouraged to challenge the Archbishop, highlighting the extent to which this ignorance was a ‘failure of the churches themselves to make their influence felt in the homes of the people,’ even being encouraged to say that the Archbishops’ ‘campaign for better religious education in the schools is, to some extent ... a red herring whose purpose is to distract attention from the failure of the churches to imbue the nation at large with religious convictions’.79

This briefing paper reveals a great deal. Firstly, in preparing Butler for the meeting, Holmes explicitly articulated the proposal: ‘you wish, I take it, that the State should openly acknowledge and formally recognise the place of religion in education by making what is now the general practice a statutory

How did the provision of RE become compulsory? 39 requirement’.80 Secondly, the briefing paper shows that it is in fact Holmes who made the assumption that the Archbishops are arguing for statutory sanction—and emphasized the point that this is what the BoE is already proposing—as shown through the Green Book.

This seems a strange act by Holmes. He had already, in his role of overseeing the content of the Green Book, set on record an official BoE suggestion of statutory provision, which was sanctioned by Butler’s predecessor, Rams-botham.81 Was this an attempt by Holmes to persuade his new President that the suggestion of statutory provision is worthy of his support too? Or perhaps Holmes was trying to demonstrate that the point has been established, thus discouraging Butler from re-opening discussion on the matter. The fact that Holmes appears to have offered such a robust defence against the Archbishops’ accusation that responsibility for poor quality of RE laid with the BoE is also illuminating.

Maybe what we see here is a combination of Holmes as a pragmatician who introduced the idea and Butler as an ideologue who propagated, or normalized, it. Holmes’s task—under Ramsbotham initially—was to propose ways in which the questions being raised about the universal provision could be answered in any forthcoming legislation. Making provision statutory would ensure it was universally provided and thus, perhaps by implication, that the provision was of a uniformly good quality. Butler inherited the suggestion, with an ideological commitment to statutory provision that is evident in a range of material, including—but not limited to—his role as supervisor of the Conservative Party’s Central Committee on Post War Problems, which—as we have seen already—included a sub-committee on Education. Discussion, rehearsed above, relating to the 1943 White Paper and the 1943 Bill (and subsequent 1944 Act) demonstrate clearly that Butler was very much sympathetic to the idea of making ‘what is now the general practice a Statutory requirement,’ even though— or perhaps because—he was fully aware that such recognition would give ‘a unique position to religious teaching above all other elements of the School Course’.82

This raises an important question though; no other curriculum subject is made compulsory under the 1944 Act. Why is Religious Instruction treated differently? Conceivably other subjects did not get the same degree of consideration because the same question was not being asked of them; certainly, there do not appear to be any records of groups arguing for the universal provision of English or Maths, so the BoE had no need to offer pathways through the issues.

In tracing the origin of Statement One, there is a clear progression from the suggestion that quality religious teaching should be universally provided, moderated with caution about advancing developments of the notion, especially in relation to public opinion, to the acceptance of the idea that it should be statutorily provided. The Archbishops’ Five Points seem to be the locus of a significant discursive shift, from universal to statutory provision, but it is in Holmes’ and Butler’s particular interpretation of the Five Points wherethe shift actually takes place. They suggest the idea of statutory provision, whether on ideological or pragmatic grounds, and Lang supports this. The idea is embedded in the 1941 Green Book and in turn gains prominence in successive versions of the 1943 White Paper. By the time it was included in the 1943 Education Bill, the proposal seems uncontrovcrsial, although there is a balance here to be struck between the ongoing process of normalization, and Butler’s attempts in Parliamentary debates to circumscribe the rules of what is sayable and what is not.

This forensic exploration contributes towards an understanding of the role played by the churches in the developing of a statutory position for religious education. To suggest that the securing of statutory provision of religious teaching is exclusively a result of proposals from the Church of England as embodied in the Archbishops Five Points is not supported by the narrative unearthed by Statement Archaeology. Thus, the suggestion that statutory provision was a concession by the Government to the Church of England as an element of negotiations over the Dual System in the 1944 Act cannot be substantiated. The decision was made before those negotiations began in earnest; as Lord Woolton (Minister of Reconstruction) stated in his opening statement to the Lords on 4 June 1944, ‘It would be wrong to regard the provisions of [the clauses on religious instruction and observance and on the inspection of RE] as concessions wrung from an unwilling Government. The Government have from the very beginning had the conviction that all education ought to have a spiritual background’.83

The programmatic nature of Statement One

Following the guidance from Chapter 1 in exploring whether Statement One is programmatic, we must consider the extent to which it attempts: to ‘impose a vision or spell out most clearly a new way of conceptualizing a problem’; to persuade; and to ‘reconcile conflicting ideas, to cope with contradictions or uncertainty, or to counter alternatives?’

We must begin by noting that, by virtue of appearing in the 1944 Education Act, Statement One—like any other legal instruction—is already situated as a persuasive statement; to not adhere to the stipulation of Statement One carries—by implication—the risk of legal sanction. In terms of the other characteristics of programmatic statements, the material presented in the section above demonstrates the extent to which Statement One is indeed programmatic. The suggestion, made above, that Holmes’ discursive shift from universal provision to statutory provision of religious teaching was an attempt to ensure the quality of provision serves as one example that Statement One was designed to ‘impose a vision’ and be a ‘new way of conceptualizing a problem’. The repeated claim that there was ‘very general’ support for the introduction of statutory provision serves as an example of Statement One being used to ‘reconcile conflicting ideas’, with Butler positioning those who considered this was problematic as ‘out of date’.84

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