Foreign Affairs CommitteeWritten evidence from the Commonwealth Education Trust

At the meeting of the Select Committee on 24 April 2012 reference was made to the Commonwealth Institute in the context of the education of children about the Commonwealth. The relevant section is quoted in the attached note from the Chief Executive of the Commonwealth Education Trust.1 The Trustees feel that it would be potentially misleading if that remark was left on the record uncorrected and submit the note by way of clarification.

The Institute existed in statutory form from 1902 to 2002 and comprised two elements: a statutory trust in which was vested property and a small endowment fund; and activities that were the management responsibility, since 1968, of the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs as the responsible Minister.

The Commonwealth Act 2002 brought the statutory activities to an end. However the Commonwealth had by then been included in the school curriculum and responsibility for teaching about it to UK schoolchildren lay with the education system supported by the Commonwealth Secretariat in the same way as in other countries.

The statutory trust held, as charity assets, what remained of the proceeds of a substantial collection (capital value in 1887 of some £700,000) raised under the direction of the Prince of Wales from individual citizens across now Commonwealth in celebration of Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee. These were by 2002 invested almost entirely in a building on Kensington High Street.

With the endorsement of Commonwealth Education Ministers and Heads of Government the building was sold in 2007 and stewardship of the proceeds now lies with the Commonwealth Education Trust. In the nearly five years since it took over this task the Trust has endeavoured to be true to the intentions that lay behind the original collection, namely to contribute to the development of sustainable communities across the now Commonwealth.

Operating within the field of children’s education it works with educationalists to use its financial and business skills to structure sustainable scalable and transferable projects based on applied research. I enclose a brochure that illustrates its activities and a copy of an anthology on the theme of water with poems and stories from across the Commonwealth published to celebrate the 125th anniversary this year of the original collection.2

This publication is also illustrative of the Trust’s work in the field of children’s literature described further in the note and which is but one way in which it seeks to bring the Commonwealth alive in a meaningful and memorable way to children in all countries. Copies of this book were distributed to schools attending this year’s Commonwealth Day service.



The transcript of the oral evidence of Mr Mark Robinson heard in public before the select committee on 24 April 2012 includes the following exchange:

Q: I went to a High School on Friday. And spoke to fifth and sixth year pupils. Because of this inquiry about the Commonwealth I asked them “what does the Commonwealth mean to you?” No one answered

A: (Robinson) I am not surprised. A strong programme was run by the Commonwealth Institute, which no longer exists—it has been translated and gone with the Commonwealth Education Trust in Cambridge. Before every Commonwealth Day the Institute would be running programmes in schools about Commonwealth Day.

The Commonwealth Education Trust, as the successor trust to the Trustees of the Commonwealth Institute, would like to clarify for the committee the misleading impression that could be given by the answer recorded above.

The statutory activities of the Commonwealth (formerly Imperial) Institute came to an end with the passage of the Commonwealth Act 2002.

The property with which the Institute as a statutory undertaking was most recently associated on Kensington High Street, London W8, was held by the Commonwealth (formerly Imperial) Institute Trustees responsible for safeguarding the assets arising from the collection made for Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887.

The Commonwealth Institute Trustees were required by statute to make the Kensington property available for the use of the Responsible Minister (latterly the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) in fulfilling the purposes of the Imperial Institute Act 1925 and the Commonwealth Institute Act 1958.

The primary purpose of the Commonwealth Institute was to advance the educational, industrial and commercial interests of the Commonwealth, as befits a collection that was raised from private citizens across the then Empire.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (SoS FCA) inherited programmes (principally displays) for schoolchildren run by the previous Responsible Minister, the Secretary of State for Education from 1949 to 1967. Prior to this the activities had been the responsibility of the Board of Trade and the displays had been provided by the countries for the purpose of promoting the commercial and industrial interests of the Commonwealth.

In 1992 the SoS FCA announced that he wished to withdraw from funding these activities and during the next ten years those responsible under him made extensive attempts to find alternative funding. Attempts to secure other sources of income were unsuccessful and these activities came to an end in 2002 when all funding was exhausted.

The Commonwealth was however successfully introduced into the National Curriculum during this period and responsibility for making children in the UK aware of the Commonwealth as an institution now rests with the education system as is the case in other member countries. Providing general public information about the Commonwealth is a responsibility of the Commonwealth Secretariat.

Meanwhile in October 2000 the Kensington property was passed by the Commonwealth Institute Trustees to a charitable company limited by guarantee under the control of all Commonwealth countries which continued to fulfil the Obligations of the Responsible Minister under the Acts until 2002. The Commonwealth Act 2002 repealed the 1925 and 1958 Acts with effect from 7 January 2003 ending the duties of the Responsible Minister and his right to have the use of the Kensington property to assist him in discharging his responsibilities under those Acts. The building had always been exceptionally costly to maintain and by this stage was no longer fit for public use. The representatives of the Commonwealth countries, as members of the charitable company, with the endorsement of Commonwealth Ministers of Education and Commonwealth Heads of Government, decided that the property should be sold and the proceeds used to fulfil the extant charitable purposes of the jubilee collection made in 1887.

The property was eventually sold in 2007 and the members of the charitable company confirmed the wish of member governments that the proceeds of the sale should be applied to advancing education in the Commonwealth, with a focus on primary and secondary education and the training of teachers. It was agreed that the constitution of the charitable company was inappropriate and they constituted the Commonwealth Education Trust specifically to carry out this purpose in mid 2007.

The Trust has established a Centre for Commonwealth Education in the Faculty of Education of the University of Cambridge and, through it and in other ways, has progressed its purpose on a pan Commonwealth basis. The Trust is also investing in developing methodologies and systems to assist schools with the more efficient and effective delivery of education.

In 2011, the Commonwealth Education Trust celebrated its 125 year history by publishing A River of Stories, a collection of vibrant stories and poems themed around water evoking the sights and sounds of a diverse Commonwealth community, to stimulate children’s interest and awareness, develop critical thinking, encourage readers to find connections and parallels between their own and other cultures and promote a balanced and sustainable relationship between humans and the environment. The book was well received and has spawned a range of initiatives to promote the use of local children’s literatures in school classrooms across the Commonwealth including complementary learning resources which are currently being developed in New Zealand. A limited edition of A River of Stories was personally received into the Royal Library at Windsor by Her Majesty The Queen and copies were gifted to each school present at the Commonwealth Day Service in Westminster Abbey in 2012.

In these and other ways the Trust is using its resources to enhance the education of young children in the Commonwealth as a whole; a focus that had been lost with the increasingly UK centric activities promoting the Commonwealth as a political organisation in the years after World War Two. That task, as noted, now lies with the Commonwealth Secretariat and individual countries.

The charitable company is being wound up and the balance of the charitable assets from the original collection is in the process of being identified so that it can be passed to the Commonwealth Education Trust which is the named successor to all property and assets of the charitable company. Regrettably this process has been delayed by the complexities that have arisen from the incomplete drafting of the 2002 Act and will require an application to the Court by the liquidators to ensure finality.

The Commonwealth Education Trust is willing to elaborate further on this statement should Members of the Committee so wish.

12 September 2012

1 Annex.

2 Not printed.

Prepared 14th November 2012