THE SCHOOLS AND THE NATION
THE first stone in the fabric of a reconstructed Britain, and in some respects the most important, is being laid this week, in the production by the President of the Board of Education of a Bill which, if its fortunes are what they should be, will set his name beside Forster's and Fisher's among the architects of a national educational system. Reconstruction is in the air, and so it should be. There is considerable dissatisfaction with the Government's failure to reach a decision on a number of vital questions in that field, and so there should be. Hope and confidence have been aroused by the appointment of Lord Wootton to the post of Minister of Reconstruction, and so they should be ; though no one knows better than Lord Woolton himself how quickly that confi- dence will be forfeited if he fails to justify himself in the eyes of a rightly vigilant, and at this time of day rightly impatient, public. Meanwhile Mr. Butler's long period of preparation is over, and his Bill is ready. The procedure he has followed was wise. The issue five months ago of a White Paper explaining the fundamental principles of the coming Bill was a bold step, for it gave the opposition, if opposition there was to be, ample time to organise. But Mr. Butler's courage was justified. Criticism there has been. Criticism indeed was no doubt desired, for not even the President of the Board of Education believes that all wisdom resides in his Department. But in the main the criticism has been constructive, and the proposals have attracted a solid phalinx of support which should enable all attack on the principles, as distinct from the details, of the Bill to be successfully resisted.
Those principles have now been familiar for several months. A cohesive system of national education is planned, on the foundations that have served reasonably well for a generation, covering the child's life from the age of two to at least eighteen, so far as formal compulsory education is concerned, with provision, not perhaps fully adequate, for adult education after that. The whole of the education, moreover, will be free, in the nursery schools, in the primary schools which will deal with the children up to eleven, in the secondary schools of three types, grammar, modern and technical, which will carry on the work to fifteen, and it may be hoped soon sixteen, and in the young people's colleges for boys and girls between fifteen and eighteen. All this is right and wise, but it is not on the purely educational side that Mr. Butler has had to face and solve his principal problems. The religious issue has bedevilled English education certainly since the Balfour Bill of 1902, with its "passive resistance" sequel, and to some extent earlier. The difficulties of the situation are not to be underrated. Education in England (Scotland has had its own problems and has solved some of them better) owed more, down at any rate to 1870, to the Churches than to the State, and it was reasonable that the bodies which supplied the secular teaching should provide the religious teaching that seemed to them right. When a national system was set up the situation was obviously different, and the attempt to find a general basis of religious teaching in the publicly- provided schools found expression with reasonable success in the Cowper-Temple clause. Now the system is to become much more national, for the demands for the raising of the structural standards of schools will be such that many denominational schools will be unable to satisfy them and will transfer their responsibilities to the Local Education Authority. Not all the schools will be trans- ferred. Uniformity is not attained ; the dual system still remains. It is seen in its most unfortunate form in the single-school area, when the only school available is owned and- carried on by a religious denomination of which many of the children's parents may not be members. That must be left for the moment. If Mr. Butler had attempted more he would have run a serious risk of achieving less.
As it is, the religious difficulty has been largely exorcised. That might have been done in two ways—by banishing religion from the schools altogether or by finding some common form of religious observance and religious teaching which the great majority of the Christian Churches, even if it represented less than a hundred per cent. of their desires, could unhesitatingly approve. Much is owed to the broad spirit of tolerance manifested by the religious leaders in this matter. If they had clung unyieldingly to their old positions the new Education Bill would have broken down. The work of conciliation has been greatly helped by the experience of religious unity and understanding in the primary schools of die country in the last few years. The "corporate act of worship" with which the school day begins has presented no difficulties, and in county after county where an "agreed syllabus" of religious instruction has been adopted, as it now has over most of the country, it has worked uniformly well. It would be a deep reproach to the organised Christianity of this country if those who profess it set denominationalism above the supreme allegiance which members of all Churches must acknowledge. That, most for- tunately, is not happening. The situation has rarely been better stated than in an admirable letter by the Bishop of Wakefield in Tuesday's Times. For many years, writes Dr. Hone, there has been a most welcome increase in good will and understanding between all parties concerned, and he adds that both Church parents and Free Church parents desire the children to have Christian teaching, but in this and other subjects they leave the methods of teaching to the teachers and those in authority. That fact, and there is no doubt that it is a fact, throws an immense responsibility on the teachers in every grade of school. In numbers they must for some time be deficient. That, as well as shortage of accommodation, precludes the immediate raising of the leaving- age to sixteen. But provision is to be made for the training of the many men and women who will be disposed to take up teaching on demobilisation from the Services. Their profession is one of supreme national importance, and it should be given the status, as well as the material recompenses, it deserves.
The Bill which Mr. Butler is to introduce in the House of Commons has a direct relation to the problems of reconstruction which Lord Wootton was discussing last week in the House of Lords. In the course of the debate in that House Lord Elton made the sound observation that with all our concentration on social security schemes we should not lose sight of the fact that the formation of character was at least as important as material welfare. It is, and the two ire, or should be, closely associated. If democracy in these islands is to survive, the great schemes of reconstruction in prospect must be scrutinised, criticised and carried through to fruition by an educated population, educated, moreover, not merely in the elements (or more) of history and geography and economics, but, what is more important, in a right assessment of values. Lord Woolton, in the debate referred to, accepted from Lord Elton, as the definition oC the common aim, the restoration of a land in which families could live together in happiness and contentment in a sense of security. Without accepting that as comprehensive we can accept it so far as it goes., It implies all the aims that have been crystallised into slogans—Food, Homes, Work—Freedom of Worship, Freedom of Speech, Freedom from Fear and Freedom from Want. This is a long-term programme. A beginning can be made now, and must be. But it will still be in full progress when the children brought up under Mr. Butler's new educational system are beginning to pass out from the schools into the larger world. What principles and convictions will they carry with them? Will they attach value to principles and convictions at all? Will they have been taught to realise that dudes are more important than rights and that to give can be intrinsically more satisfying than to receive? And that this is true not only in the life and contacts of individuals but in conflicts of interest between sections and Classes? We are going to have something much nearer to a common school- system than we have ever had before. Class-distinctions in the schools are rapidly diminishing. Opportunity is becoming general. The obstacles to the creation of a close-knit community grow fewer. All that is welcome and hopeful ; but head as well as heart must go to the making of the second half of the twentieth century. All the questions that are before the country today, the localisation of industry, the preservation of the countryside, the acquisition of land for the public good, the suppression of selfish profiteering, the creation of a system of social security, are matters on which an enlightened Government needs imperatively the support of an instructed electorate. In the combination of what Mr. Butler and Lord Woolton typify lies our salvation.