Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Before the Butler Act, there was the Fisher Act

H.A.L.Fisher was one of those names of Edwardian worthies which impinged on my political consciousness without making a great impression. However, this article by Mark Pack puts his great contribution to education in England and Wales in perspective. Oldershaw School, my alma mater, may well have been the first of many to benefit from the Act seen through to the Statute Book by Fisher in Lloyd George's war-time coalition government.

The closing paragraphs of Mark's piece particularly struck me:

The Fisher Act’s achievements spanned the full age range for children, from the first legislative provision for nursery schools through to the first national government funding of universities. Post-First World War austerity saw many of the provisions delayed, with the 1944 Butler Act and then the post-Second World War prosperity only eventually delivering them.
Despite the path-breaking role for national, central government in Fisher’s reforms he retained a strong belief in the power of local variation and the resulting “wholesome variety of experimentation”. He also strongly believed that people had to be understood as social animals, with a need and desire to work together. As Michael Steed puts it,
He argued for local feeling as the basis of education in citizenship; affection for school, village, town or country is the basis from which loyalty to society and patriotism develops. He praised a French writer for his ‘gospel of provincial culture’ against the stultifying uniformity of French education and rejoiced in the local autonomy entrenched in his Education Act.

At a time when the Welsh Assembly Government needs to drive educational standards to raise Wales to a level where it can attract inward investment again, while avoiding micro-management from the centre, these words strike a contemporary chord.

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