Educating the Secular Citizen in English Schools, 1897–1938

Susannah Wright
  • Cultural and Social History, January 2018, Taylor & Francis
  • DOI: 10.1080/14780038.2018.1427358

Secular citizenship in English schools 1897-1938

What is it about?

This article looks at the ways in which secularist activists attempted to promote secular approaches to citizenship in English school. At a time when England was predominantly Christian, they campaigned hard, but met with many obstacles. They disagreed among themselves, and made alliances with Christians too. Their efforts deserve attention. Minority perspectives within ongoing educational debates and practice deserve a hearing, or our historical understanding becomes distorted. And these efforts form a historical antecedent for mainstream educational debates today.

Why is it important?

At a time when numbers claiming no religious affiliation in England are increasing, it is important to find out about historical antecedents for non-faith based approaches to educating for citizenship in schools. Even if only partially successful in a period when Britain was predominantly 'Christian', efforts to promote secular approaches to citizenship are a sustained and dynamic aspect of educational debates and practice in the early twentieth century.


Dr Susannah Wright
Oxford Brookes University

I hope this article draws attention to a tenacious, interesting, and complex, group of secularist campaigners working in schools. Their efforts, and the responses they met with, are a part of much larger public debates about the place of religion and non-religion as aspects of English citizenship, and English schooling. These debates interest academic historians, but also touch on issues that affect children and adults who relate to faith groups, secularist groups and the schooling system at some point or another. I hope that you find this interesting,

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The following have contributed to this page: Dr Susannah Wright