My good friends at the Theos "think-tank" have been debating schools and education.
The Education Act of 1870 I regard as one of my greatest achievements as it established public education in Great Britain and also established elected school boards. Perhaps I will discuss more that at a future date as, also, for the first time we introduced the women's franchise by this means.
Never in any sphere of the public realm are the tensions between liberalism and faith so stark as on the issue of education and this indeed forms part of the subject of the discussion at Theos. We established a liberal education system knowing that in doing so the sterling efforts of the churches to educate our children in both knowledge and morality might be undermined. This was necessary in order to enable all children to have opportunities and to persuade ratepayers that they must contribute to such progressive measures. Some boards rapidly took the view that religious education was not a proper part of the state system and indeed that it was unnecessary as many children would be attending Sunday Schools. They did so on the entirely proper grounds that they could not determine which denomination's religion would be taught
I fear attendance at Sunday School is now all but a rarity. I have visited villages and cities where but a handful of children gain education by this means. Fortunately the state sometime ago recognised the need to complete this aspect of a child's education and found a way to encompass all denominations but I wonder whether it is done well or done badly.
The question that has been posed is whether children can be educated in morality and righteousness. I would hope so but must reflect that a teacher is employed to undertake certain tasks, including the preparation of children for public examination. If a child is a rascal, the teacher will certainly train that child to restrain his natural instincts on the school premises. In other places the father and mother and perhaps the public authorities must be held responsible for his upbringing.
I had always hoped that larger numbers of children would receive a full education in the humanities and that this would create a nation of liberal-minded citizens. I was perhaps too optimistic and must reflect that mankind retains its fallen nature after 137 years of progress. Nevertheless the endeavour must not be abandoned and has undoubtedly stimulated much progress of different kinds. I would urge that those of the Christian faith remember the proper limits under which they should operate within schools, while those of other persuasions should not diminish the benefits that knowledge of the Gospels and Epistles may impart.
I feel that Her Majesty would also be most gratified to see so much achieved through our joint endeavour, which we discussed at such length during the early years of my ministry although, indeed, I fear her delicate constitution might not withstand the shock of so much change and so much public depravity.