How did it become possible for the provision of religious teaching to be made compulsory under the 1944 Education Act?

The aim of this chapter was to explore how it becomes possible for the provision of religious teaching to be made compulsory under the 1944 Education Act. In doing so we have identified a discursive shift in mid-Fcbruary 1941 as

How did the provision of RE become compulsory? 45 being a significant moment of discontinuity in the discourse of the Board of Education. It was at this moment that the discussion moved from universal to statutory provision of religious teaching, with civil servants rather than politicians or churchmen playing a significant role in the initiation of this discursive shift.

The context in which this discursive shift took place was characterized by a focus on threats to peace and citizenry within England arising from the danger of totalitarianism, both as the driver of the so-called Axis powers, but also the fear within the country that disenfranchised youths would see such totalitarian worldviews as attractive. This created circumstances in which it became possible for the discursive shift from universal to the statutory provision to take place, but the context—alone—does not explain how the shift became possible.

That is explained in the preoccupation with the quality rather than ubiquity of provision. Holmes’ task was to arrive at a proposal that guaranteed the universal provision of good quality religious teaching; the solution offered was the statutory provision, which ensured provision by giving opportunity for sanctions to be imposed where provision was lacking. Further, the linking of this statutory provision to the use of a locally agreed syllabus demonstrates that quality was the foremost consideration. This anxiety over quality, particularly the Board of Education’s strong desire to refute the Church of England’s accusation that the substandard quality of religious teaching was the Board’s responsibility, lifts the constraints on thinking in relation to imposing statutory provision.

Once the idea had been suggested, a process of normalizing the idea, or legitimizing it, was built on two main aspects. Firstly, a repeated claim that such provision was demanded by public opinion. This claim—as has been set out—was made multiple times, but never with any supporting examples. Perhaps it drew on the same claim which was made about the religious teaching provisions in the 1870 Education Act, which some described as ‘manufactured’.105 However, there can be little doubt that there was support for the proposal; what is unclear from the extant material is the extent to which those engaged in the debate fully appreciated the discursive shift from universal to the statutory provision. This leads to the second, related aspect. Key to many of the arguments made in support of statutory provision was the argument that provision was already universal. As we have seen, this claim was based on an assumption, articulated by both the Board of Education and the Archbishops’ conference of the later 1920s, that religious teaching was being universally provided in state-maintained schools without a religious character (described at the time as Council Schools). The only evidence cited to support the claim was, as we have seen, that no LEA had opted out of provision, which is not the same thing. This rhetorical device was designed to minimize the novelty of the proposal; in essence to say ‘well, nothing will change, because this is already happening’. One further constraint also had to be lifted before the idea of statutory provision could become law; Churchill’s reluctance to legislate on Educationloosened during 1942, creating circumstances in which a new Education Bill became possible.

This Statement Archaeology, which has taken Statement One as its starting point, leads us to conclude that the introduction of a compulsory provision of religious teaching under the 1944 Education Act became possible through a relatively minor discursive shift in February 1941, legitimized by an appeal to (possibly manufactured) public opinion, the minimization of the novelty of the proposal against a shared assumption of universal provision, and the changing legislative priorities of the Prime Minister.

So, our next question is: how was this new provision interpreted. For that, we turn to Chapter 3.


  • 1 Education Act 1944, §25(2).
  • 2 Gosden, Education, 269.
  • 3 ED 136/215, Churchill to Butler 13 Sept 1941.
  • 4 Wallace, ‘Origins and Authorship’, 289.
  • 5 Wallace, ‘The man behind Butler’, 19; see also Gosden, Education, 270ff.
  • 6 CAB 65/28/20 War Cabinet 250 (42).
  • 7 See Gosden, Education, 219; 225 ff.
  • 8 Frcathy, ‘Triumph of Religious Education’, 309.
  • 9 Garnett, ‘Nazis or Christians’, 14.
  • 10 See Wallace, ‘Origins and Authorship’.
  • 11 Dean, ‘Conservatism’, 151.
  • 12 Percy, Some Memories, 97.
  • 13 Sundermann, For God and Country, 25-6.
  • 14 Harald Hodge, Nineteenth Century, January 1930, cited in Dean, ‘Conservatism’, 151.
  • 15 Butler, Art of the Possible.
  • 16 Barber, ‘Power and Control, 352.
  • 17 Education Act 1944, §25(2).
  • 18 Ibid., 25 (4). The conditions of parental withdrawal are set out Clause 25(5).
  • 19 For a brief historical account, and implications for contemporary RE, of the Cowper-Temple Clause see, for example, Louden, ‘The conscience clause.
  • 20 The Elementary Education Act 1870, §14.
  • 21 Doney, ‘British Council of Churches’.
  • 22 HC Deb (15 Dec 1943) vol. 395, col. 1566.
  • 23 ED 136/502, Education Bill, as introduced, 15 Dec 1943, Clause 24(1).

Emphasis added

  • 24 Ibid., Clause 25.
  • 25 Ibid., Clause 24(2).
  • 26 Ibid., Schedule Eight, 2(c).
  • 27 HC Deb (19 Jan 1944) vol. 396, col. 229.
  • 28 HC Deb (10 Mar 1944) vol. 397, col. 2402-4.
  • 29 Ibid., col. 2425-6.
  • 30 Ibid., col. 2423.
  • 31 Ibid., col. 2426.
  • 32 Ibid., col. 2427.
  • 33 HC Deb (16 July 1943) vol. 391 col. 539; Board of Education, ‘Educational Reconstruction’, §4.
  • 34 Board of Education, ‘Educational Reconstruction’, §37. Emphasis added.

Ibid., §36.

CAB 21/824, L.P. (43) 46,h Meeting; ED 136/399, Sugden to Parker, 17 June 1943; ED136/404, amendments to WP Following Lord President’s committee.

ED 136/399, Holmes to Butler, 31 May 1943.

Ibid., Draft White Paper undated, but between 12th and 24th May 1943, §17.

Ibid., Draft White Paper 11 Mav 1943, Part III (i) and §17.

HC Deb (29 Julv 1943) vol. 391, col. 1856-1922.

Ibid., col. 2019; 2031; 2047.

Ibid., col. 1832-3.

ED 136/411, various.

Ibid., Notes on the White Paper issued by the Board of Education, The Association of Scientific Workers (October 1943), 3^1.

Conservative Sub-Committee on Education, “Looking Ahead”.

Ibid., 26-7.

Ibid., 27.

Ibid., 27.

ED 136/214, Green Book (as published), 5.

ED 136/212, Memorandum Holmes 5 Nov 1940. Sec also Wallace, ‘Origins and Authorship’.

Gosden, Education, 237.

ED136/212, Departmental memorandum from Holmes, 5 Nov 1940,

Ibid., Policy and Planning tor Post-War Education.

Ibid., Holmes to Ramsbotham, 13 May 1941; ED 136/215, Holmes to Miss Goodfellow, 19 June 1941

Wallace, ‘Origins and Authorship’.

ED 136/212, Ramsbotham to Holmes, 13 May 1941.

ED 136/214, Holmes to Miss Goodfellow, 19 June 1941; ED 136/215, draft, Butler to TES, 19 Julv 1941.

ED 136/214, Holmes to Miss Goodfellow, 19 June 1941; ED136/215, President of Board of Education to Editor, Times Educational Supplement, 19 Julv 1941. On the Green Book and related discussions, see also ED 136/212; ED 136/213; and ED 138/20. See also Wallace, ‘Origins and Authorship’.

ED 136/214, Green Book (as published) §138.

Ibid., §140.

NS/7/8/1/5, Report of an Unofficial Conference between Anglicans and Evangelical Free Churchmen on Religious Education held during 1937 and 1938"

HC Deb (18 Nov 1941) vol. 376, col. 252.

Bailey, ‘James Chuter Ede’, 213; HC Deb (18 Nov 1941) vol. 376, col. 269.

ED 136/213, ‘Religious Education’, dated 11 Feb 1941, §5. Emphasis added. Ibid., §1; quoting Board of Education, Spens Report 1938, 208; §6.

Ibid., §7. Note that during this period, the understanding of‘denomination’ extended to Judaism; for a more detailed exploration and justification, see Doney, ‘That Would Be An Ecumenical Matter’

Ibid., §11.

ED 136/213, Chapter 9 -The Dual System and Allied Problems, undated, but between 12 Feb 1941 and early May 1941.

ED 136/214, Green Book (as published), §140.

‘A Step Forward’.

ED 136/228, Christian Education—Archbishops’ Proposals.


Ibid., Lang to Ramsbotham 8 July 1941; NS/7/8/1/5, Report of an Unofficial Conference.

ED 24/1519, ‘Summary of the Report of the Archbishops’ Commission on Religious Education’, 11 Nov 1929.

ED 136/228, Lang to Ramsbotham, 13 Feb 1941.

Ibid., Ramsbotham to Lang, 18 Feb 1941.

Ibid., Interview Memorandum 23 July 1941, Lang and Butler.

Ibid., Holmes to Butler, 17 July 1941.

Ibid., Note prepared by Holmes for Butler for ‘private talk with Archbishop of Canterbury on July 23rd’, 17 July 1941.

Ibid., Holmes to Butler, 30 July 1941, ‘What you should say to the Archbishop’s Deputation’.

ED 136/212, Holmes to Ramsbotham, 13 May 1941; ED 136/214, Green Book (as published), Preface.

ED 136/228, Memo prepared by Holmes for Butler, for meeting with Deputation of Anglicans and Freechurchmen, 15 Aug 1941.

HL Deb (6 June 1944) vol. 132, col. 13.

HC Deb (29 July 1943) vol. 391, col. 1832-3.

ED 136/222, Wolmcr to Butler, 31 July 1941.

Ibid., Wolmer to Prime Minister, 1 August 1941.

Gosden, Education, 272.

ED 136/222, Wolmcr to Prime Minister, 1 Aug 1941.

Ibid., Draft reply to Wolmer, 24 Aug 1941.

Ibid., Record of Meeting with Wolmcr, Butler, 21 Oct 1941.

For a full account of the history of this journal, and its successors (Learning for Living (1961-1978) and British Journal of Religious Education 1978 to present) sec Parker et al., ‘Professionalisation’.

Simon, ‘Promoting educational reform’.

Parker et al., ‘Professionalisation’, 214.

Ibid., 215.

Harrison, ‘Anglican—Free Church’.

Ibid., 73.

Lesson, ‘The Spens Report’, 68.

Yeaxlee, ‘Editorial’.

For example: Jeffreys, ‘Some suggestions’; Leeson ‘Teaching of the Christian Faith’; Hodgson ‘Christian education’.

Yeaxlee, ‘The dual system’; Evans, ‘Religious education’; Yeaxlee, ‘A real crisis’.

‘Religious Education: The Next Step’.

Letter from Bishop of Worcester.

‘Religion and National Life’.


HL Deb (25 July 1870) vol. 203, col. 821-65.

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