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Anglican Views on National Education

Taken from Norman Gash, The Age of Peel (London, Edward Arnold, 1973), with the kind permission of Professor Gash. Copyright of this document, of course, remains with him.

Anglican fears of an attack on the Church's educational system started several years before 1839, largely as a result of the activities of the radical Central Education Society founded in 1836 which advocated a national educational system with democratic control of schools and state inspectors. Its leading figure were its founder, Sir Thomas Wyse, M.P. for Waterford, R.A. Slaney, M.P. for Shrewsbury, Lord Brougham, and J.A. Roebuck, M.P. for Bath 1832-7 and 1841-7. In June 1838 Wyse's motion in the House of Commons for a mixed Board of Commissioners to administer the parliamentary grant was nearly carried despite government opposition. The reaction of young Conservative Anglican politicians like T.D. Acland, W.E. Gladstone, W.M. Praed, Lord Sandon and Lord Ashley, encouraged by Peel, was to work through the National Society for the establishment of diocesan training colleges and more Church secondary schools.

The first extract is from a pamphlet published by Acland in Januay 1839. The next document - the resolution - was passed at a meeting of the National Society which had been carefully orgamsed by Acland and his friends as a demonstration of Anglican strength. The extreme claim on behalf of the Church that it had the right of superintending national education was not one however which Peel endorsed and in the debate on the government's resolutions in June he merely argued that no system of national education should be approved which excluded the Established Church.

An Anglican Politician

National Education, The Present State of the Question Elucidated, January 1839 [by T.D.A.], quoted in Sir Thomas Acland Memoir & Letters (1902), ed. A.H.D. Acland, pp. 86-7

Mr Wyse, Lord Brougham, and Mr Slaney, differ widely in their views.... But though they differ thus widely as to the kind of schools in which they propose that the people should be educated, they are all agreed upon one point viz., that the first object to be aimed at is to obtain a commission or board of education under the control of Parliament and having the disposal of public money.... Whether it is likely the present government will appoint a commission is a question into which it is not proposed to enter now; that strong pressure has been exerted to force them into the measure is certain.... The decision of the question probably hangs on the use which the Church makes of every moment's delay which may be granted to her exertions.... We are grateful for the hair-breadth escapes of last session, and willing to exert ourselves during the interval which will precede the next.... No London committee can compete with an organized method of attack such as is now pursued, but the energies of the Church in her several dioceses may suffice to our need. And let it be remembered that mere politicians always support the most powerful body; only let the strength of the Church be felt in acts, not in words.... It may yet be proved by God's blessing that the only truly national system of education is the Catholic system of the Church.

Resolution of the National Society, 28 May 1839

National Education, The Present State of the Question Elucidated, January 1839 [by T.D.A.], quoted in Sir Thomas Acland Memoir & Letters (1902), ed. A.H.D. Acland, p. 91, note.

At the great meeting of the National Society presided over by the Archbishop of Canterbury it was resolved: 'That it is an object of the highest national importance to provide that instruction in the truths and precepts of Christianity should form an essential part of every system of education intended for the people at large, and that such instruction should be under the superintendence of the clergy and in conformity with the doctrines of the Church of this realm as the recognized teacher of religion.'

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Last modified 4 March, 2016

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