Reform of state education in England, which began seriously with the Education Act of 1870, and continued with the Education Act of 1902 failed to give the reform movement the secular system and equality of access and provision it desired for all students. The system was far from the democratic entity that enfranchised citizens deserved. After the First World War, the reform movement’s advance toward full educational democracy gained impetus, culminating in the Education Act of 1944, which some believed had solved most of the educational problems perceived by the reformers. Yet in the 1980’s, scholars like Kevin Jefferys and Brian Simon concluded that this 1944 Act was conservative, and that it failed to give the reform movement much of what it had advocated. To examine the reform movement from 1905 to 1944 and to consider the Jefferys/Simon challenge, I focus on R.H. Tawney, one of the great social democrats and educational reform leaders of the time. By examining his whole career including his Workers’ Educational Association work, his First World War experiences, his contributions to the Church of England, government, and the Labour Party as well as his academic life, I believe that a thematic approach enables me to probe and link the various aspects of his life and educational crusade in greater depth. At the heart of his integrated life was his unshakeable belief in equal rights for all and his conviction that educational provision was the essential foundation for achieving this. Of great assistance were the Tawney papers, among them the Tawney/Vyvyan collection, released to the public at the London School of Economics in 2005. Drawing on these and a myriad of Tawney books, articles and reviews as well as the vast literature written about him and the context in which he operated, I argue that for decades Tawney led the educational reform movement that reached its climax in 1944, a measure that, unfortunately for Tawney and his fellow reformers, did not meet all their objectives. In the end, their reform efforts failed to produce a 1944 Education Act that was a major step forward for English children. Although there was limited progress towards educational equality, the system of privilege, successfully deflecting the efforts of Tawney and the reform lobby, continued to dominate the state school system. Keywords: educational reform in England, equality of educational provision, Christian Socialism, the integrated life, Workers’ Educational Association
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