Orders of the Day — Religious Education in Schools.

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons on 18th November 1941.

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Photo of Mr Thomas Harvey Mr Thomas Harvey , Combined English Universities

I am glad that the hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. Cove), in spite of his criticism, ended his speech on a positive note, with the hope in the future for a great educational Measure which will mark a great advance for the community and an opportunity for a settlement of difficulties which lie, I believe, already largely in the past. I do not think that the suspicions of which he spoke are in any way well-grounded, at any rate so far as any Members who are associated with this Amendment are concerned. There is no idea of denominational privilege or advantage. There is the thought that at this time we might realise more fully the great things we have in common, as we have done during this war, and that we might emphasise the great spiritual basis of our national life at a time when so much of Europe is dominated by a philosophy which subordinates everything to the idol of the State, that makes the State itself supreme over morality and over the lives of all its citizens, refusing to recognise any obligations to any law higher than the law which it lays down itself. At this time of crisis we are standing together, surely, for a nobler ideal, the ideal which a thousand years of Christian training has implanted in the hearts of our people, the ideal that the State does not exist for itself but exists for the lives of its citizens and is itself subject to those great moral and spiritual laws which alone can mould the lives of its citizens aright. As we recognise that, surely we can feel that we have great things in common, even though there be things on which we must differ. It is, therefore, right that at a moment of national crisis we should spare the time to consider the place of religious education in national life—the supreme place, if religious education be truly considered.

I believe that the very modest suggestions that have been made to the House represent practical proposals for a fuller development of religious opportunity for all our citizens. There is no thought of imposing religion upon unwilling minds by force. There is an old story of Doctor Keate saying on one occasion to his boys, "Boys, be pure in heart. If you are not pure in heart, I'll flog you." That represents a point of view which, I hope, will wholly disappear from our midst. We know that we cannot impose the best things in life by compulsion. The State cannot impose a religion worthy of the name upon the lives of its citizens, but it can give facilities for its development. It can give encouragement in the school life period as well as in the rest of life, and it is that for which we ask. It is surely of the greatest importance that nationally we should recognise the place of religion and spiritual values in education, and we can do that without division, I believe, if the subject be rightly approached. I am very glad that the false accusations which have been made about godless schools have been exposed as they have been to-day. I do not believe there is a Member of this House who is prepared to make those foolish charges. We can recognise that council schools and voluntary schools alike are in need of improvement and that they can all benefit by better methods, and in many cases by fuller facilities for religious teaching. In particular we know that at the heart of all the life of a school is the personality of the teacher.

The training of the teacher, therefore, is a matter to which the State needs to give its thought. It has been pointed out that at present a teacher who is working for his certificate may, if he chooses, have an additional option of taking a course in religious knowledge, but it has to be superadded to all the rest of his training. It cannot be taken as an optional subject along with the compulsory subjects. We ask that the Board should make the improvement which has already been indicated of turning the additional option into an optional subject, so as not to compel any teacher when undergoing his training to take training in religious instruction and knowledge if he does not wish to do so. The teacher could do it if he wished, and add to his qualifications in that way. If that change were made—