The current Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has been at the centre of furious backlash in recent months, after an algorithm was used to predict A-level results. The outcome meant thousands of students’ grades were dramatically different from their predicted grades, sending parents, pupils and universities into uproar. While the Royal Family has stayed quiet during this debacle, Charles has been known to speak out about the UK education system in the past.
He appeared to lash out at the then Education Secretary, Kenneth Clarke, back in 1989 when he made a speech as the patron of the Thomas Cranmer Schools Prize.
According to Howard Hodgson in his 2007 biography, ‘Charles — The Man who will be King’, the heir to the throne triggered “outrage” within the Conservative Government.
In his address, Charles said: “The fear of being considered old-fashioned seems to me to be so all-powerful that the more eternal values and principles which run like a thread through the whole tapestry of human existence are abandoned under the false assumption that they restrict progress.”
He added: “Our language has become so impoverished, so limited that we have arrived at a wasteland of banality, chiche and casual obscenity.”
His speech reportedly “was largely applauded” by the public.
Mr Hodgson added: “Hardly surprisingly both teachers and the Education Secretary were affronted.”
As a result, Charles was “dragged dangerously close to the edge of a political arena” because of his controversial comments.
The Prince then “most definitely crossed the constitutional line”, and went further than either the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh would have in his next speech, according to Mr Hodgson.
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The Prince of Wales said: “Are we so frightened and cowed by the shadowy ‘experts’ that we can no longer screw our courage to the sticking place and defiantly insist that they are talking unmitigated nonsense?”
He continued: “It is almost incredible that in Shakespeare’s land one child in seven leaves privacy school functionally illiterate…
“After all, there is little point in becoming technically competent if at the same time we become culturally inept.
“In pleading for a restoration of sanity, I have to admit to a feeling of profound sadness that a great deal of damage has already been done.”
The heir’s comments sparked fury from those within the sector, with the National Association of Teachers dubbing it “nonsense”.
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The Education Secretary Kenneth Clarke was “privately seething with rage”, according to Mr Hodgson’s biography.
Yet, the politician managed to diffuse the situation by reminding the media of the support Charles had expressed for other policies.
However, the biography suggests it was a different matter behind closed doors.
The biographer alleged: “In private, [Clarke] allowed his feelings be known in the bluntest of language, even asserting that the Prince had offended against constitutional propriety and that the matter had been made all the worse by the Prince’s office having failed to send over a copy of the speech until the morning of its delivery.”
As a senior royal, Charles is expected to remain politically neutral in line with the constitutional monarchy.
As the heir to the throne, his apolitical stance is even more important to the stability of the crown.
However, Charles did not make any outright political statements against the then Conservative Government.
The royal’s office also denied the claim that the speech had been sent to the Education Secretary at the last minute and therefore reducing the window of time for the minister to check the address.
Instead, the office alleged that Charles had not actually finished the speech until the early hours of the morning.
Still, Mr Hodgson noted: “It would have caused a far bigger constitutional row if he had then refused to be guided by the Secretary of State for Education.”
However, Charles later wrote to Ken Clarke to apologise for his address, and said that he tried to prevent the speech from turning party political.
‘Charles — The Man who will be King’ by Howard Hodgson, was published in 2007 by John Blake and is available here.