Saturday, March 7, 2009

Remember 1870!

Liberals are gathered in the delightful Yorkshire spa town of Harrogate today and it appears they are to discuss reforms to the education system.

Reforming and improving education is the hallmark of a great Liberal administration and so today I must urge delegates to remember the principles we laid down when in 1870 my first administration created the United Kingdom's first public education system.

Our first and most important principle was that all children should be entitled to learn how to read, write, add, subtract, multiply and divide.

But we did not do so by creating a behemoth, a monster that requires armies of civil servants to dictate to teachers every word they must teach.

Indeed we did the opposite and established school boards in every town and city. These boards were elected by local people, men and women alike, and men and women alike were entitled to take part.

This principle, that local communities can take their own decisions on many issues, has always been a hallmark of Liberalism in Britain and appears to continue to be so.

It was apparent that the major churches had done a great service by providing many schools; but these were not schools for all children and indeed many non-conformists preferred not to send their children to schools run by the Church.

We did not abolish these church schools. Instead we left it to each and every school board to decide what religion to teach; some chose to invite ministers and priests into their schools. Others chose not to.

In my travels in the 21st century I have discovered that politicians and civil servants like to use single words to express great ideas, albeit that these single words are not well understood by common people. There are two such 21st century words that appear to sum up the principles that we used.

So to those modern Liberals who do not understand plain English, I would make this rallying cry: "Remember localism and diversity and most of all remember 1870!"


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