Morgan Jones was a remarkable man whose name ought to be well known in the Labour movement. He was the first conscientious objector to be elected to Parliament; he was a Christian pacifist (who later supported military force to fight fascism) and was an early stalwart of the Independent Labour Party (ILP); He was a Welsh patriot and a strong supporter of Home Rule; he was Chairman of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee; he was a committed internationalist who took a huge interest, as a front bench spokesman, in India, Palestine and the West Indies. But it was in education that Morgan Jones made a huge contribution and it was here that his work, most of all, needs to be recognised.
Born in the mining community of Gelligaer, in the Rhymney Valley of South Wales in 1885, Morgan Jones was educated locally before he attended Reading University. It was here that he became a socialist and when he returned to South Wales he established the first ILP branch in the Rhymney Valley. On his return, he also became a school teacher and played an active role within the local teacher’s union.
At the outbreak of the First World War, Morgan Jones took a different position to most people in his local community of Bargoed and declared himself a conscientious objector. When conscription was introduced in 1916 he refused to serve in the Armed Forces or accept alternative employment. As a consequence, he was imprisoned in Wormwood Scrubs. After suffering a nervous breakdown, when he eventually returned to South Wales he was prevented from being a school teacher and instead found work in a local colliery.
It was a surprise to many when he won the Labour nomination to fight a by-election in his home division of Caerphilly in 1921. It was even more of a surprise that Morgan Jones went on to win the seat with a large majority, making him the first conscientious objector to be elected to Parliament.
When in Parliament, Morgan Jones, predictably, quickly focused on education. As he told a local newspaper, Morgan Jones believed, education should be “a broad highway on which all who so desired could walk without hardship or difficulty”. Soon Morgan Jones was on Labour’s front bench and when Ramsay MacDonald formed a minority Labour Government in January 1924, Morgan Jones was made a Junior Education Minister as Deputy to the Secretary of the Board of Education.
Education was not however a priority for Labour’s first Government and when the second Labour Government of 1929 was formed, education was, again, not at the top of the Government’s agenda. For the second time, Morgan Jones was appointed a Junior Education Minister and, again, he experienced huge political frustration with even Labour’s modest educational reforms failing to secure a Parliamentary majority.
Morgan Jones was never again to hold ministerial office. But it was during the next few years, with Labour being reduced to a rump of only 52 MPs, that Morgan Jones, as Labour’s Shadow Secretary to the Board of Education, made his greatest contribution to the development of Labour’s education policy.
Through the New Fabian Research Bureau (NFRB) which had been the brainchild of G.D.H. Cole, Morgan Jones wrote three significant papers for the Bureau. The first paper argued strongly for the raising of the school-leaving age from 14 to 15. The second paper recognised that a future Labour Government would have a large number of demands on limited legislative time. This was because it was recognised that the nationalisation of one or more industries would be very time consuming. Morgan Jones therefore argued for a significant number of changes to be introduced through the already existing Board of Education.
Other proposals in this second NFRB paper had more teeth. Not only did Jones argue for the introduction of free secondary education for all, he made the case for the creation of nursery schools and for smaller class sizes, new school buildings, the introduction of playing fields and physical exercise for all secondary school children, new technical schools and better teacher training. The importance of teacher training was developed in his third paper.
On the thorny issue of private schools, in a foretaste of what was to come, Morgan Jones recognised that this was a subject that could not be tackled ‘at this stage’. Significantly, however, Jones also indicated that he favoured ‘a multiple bias 11 plus school’ which would cater for both ‘academically’ and ‘practically’ orientated children. In other words, Morgan Jones was beginning to move towards a view that secondary education ought to be more holistic or ‘comprehensive’.
In a debate in the House of Commons, the following year, Morgan Jones developed this idea and although he never used the term comprehensive, he stated that what was needed were schools that catered for “both the practically-minded children and the academically-minded children” so that they went through “the same portals”. What was required, argued Jones, were schools which provided a curriculum for all pupils “under one roof”. Equal treatment and equality of opportunity was needed for all children.
By the late 1930s, the Labour Party was rekindling its interest in education and the formation of a new Education Advisory Committee (EAC) in 1938 was of huge significance. A sub-committee of the EAC consisted of the Christian Socialist, R.H. Tawney, the young, radical academic Brian Simon, the prominent Fabian, Barbara Drake, and of course, the Shadow Education Minister, Morgan Jones.
The EAC was a high-powered group and it was to have a significant influence over education policy over the next few years. But Morgan Jones played no further role in the development of education policy because he suffered a fatal heart attack in April 1939.
In 1944 the war-time coalition Government introduced an important Education Act which radically changed the face of education in Britain. Many of Morgan Jones’ proposals which he had outlined in his papers for the NFRB were central to that Act. It was however for a later generation of Labour educational reformers to take-up and introduce Morgan Jones’ idea of ‘comprehensive education’. Morgan Jones ought to be given credit for paving the way for some of the most radical educational policies ever introduced in this country.
This article was written for the Fabian Review of September 2019