The eternal arguments about who should control and run our children’s education will always be contentious and often seems to go in circles. The current proposals that schools should opt out of local authority control (and electoral accountability?) and that there should be state funding for a variety of different organisations, including faith groups, to set up new schools all have echoes in the uproar caused by the 1902 Education Act.
In 1902 it was again a Conservative government who introduced a bill to abolish the old School Boards and to allow the state to fund Church schools for the first time. The School Boards, which had been set up following the 1870 Education Act, were at the time seen by many as the most democratic and progressive organisations in the country – in particular they gave women the chance to vote and stand for election. They were also the first attempt to ensure that there was standardised good quality school provision for all, even in the poorest inner city areas, without depending on haphazard provision by charities and churches.
The bill provoked much outrage among the Liberal, Labour and radical opposition. In Leeds there was a huge rally and demonstration starting Woodhouse Moor on 20th September, with one of the speakers being the future prime minister David Lloyd George. The Bill’s opponents argued that the proposals were non-democratic and potentially sectarian by encouraging separate Church of England schools. They argued that it would be costly and involve tax increases – one of the other proposals, which no-one is yet arguing to repeal, is that schooling would be free up to the age of 13.
The flyers and the campaign ribbon pictured are both currently on display at Abbey House Museum in the “Park Life” exhibition until the end of December 2010.