In his 1942 book ‘Christianity and Social Order’, William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1942-1944, Labour Party member, social reformer and school friend of R. H. Tawney, wrote that:
“Every child should have the opportunity of an education till years of maturity, so planned as to allow for his peculiar aptitudes and make possible their full development. This education should be inspired by faith in God and find its focus in worship.”
Temple’s vision was for an educational system which nurtured individual skill over stressfully striving for high grades and valued fulfilling potential over passing exams, inspired by faith and with a focus on worship. I agree that our schools and colleges should cherish each child as Jesus does. At the heart of our education system should be a commitment to developing wholeness and wellness.
As a youth worker I’ve been in and out of all sorts of schools over the past 5 years. I’ve worked alongside some incredible teachers who take it upon themselves to feed and emotionally support children who come in hungry and angry morning after morning. These acts of necessary kindness go unacknowledged by our financially struggling schools, which have had to cut pastoral roles because they can only afford to care about GCSE results. It’s true that teachers shouldn’t have to parent kids; it should be a school’s privilege to have a role in a child’s upbringing, not a necessity. But the reality is that the way our education system is heading is only going to make the gap between those kids and their peers wider, and the need for schools to “parent” their children greater.
Interestingly, Temple was influential in the Education Act of 1944, which made education free for all and opened new opportunities for working class children, but which introduced the tripartite system. In 1998, the Labour government introduced legislation outlawing the expansion of selection by ability in our education system; a ban which Justine Greening now intends to remove.
William Temple may have hoped that three different types of schooling would give children more opportunity, but what we face now is the threat of increased inequality and higher pressure on our children to fit specific educational expectations... or fail. Let us pray, as Temple prayed over 70 years ago, that our education system finds its focus in something greater than league tables, and thank Jesus for the love he has for every child.
Lydia is a member of Christians on the Left and part of our Political Mentoring Programme. She works for a youth-work charity in East London, is involved in youth work at her church and is passionate about seeing young people reach their potential. She is also responsible for coining the phrase ‘the birthplace of a revolution’ to describe the CotL office.