Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North): Does the hon. Gentleman think, or does the Ofsted report suggest, that the achievement of those schools was due to religion or to admissions policy?

Mr. Green: If the hon. Gentleman will be patient, I propose to deal later in my speech with admissions policy and the effects of the proposals of the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras and his supporters on it.

Mr. David Laws (Yeovil): Given what the hon. Gentleman has just told the House, would he withdraw his support from faith schools if new information that showed that their performance was not as good as that of other schools became available? Is that the sole criterion that he brings to the debate?

Mr. Green: It is not the sole criterion, but it seems reasonable to introduce into the debate the latest evidence. If Ofsted finds that existing Church schools are doing well, it seems a relevant criterion, which the hon. Gentleman may wish to bear in mind while he considers the evidence. I should say that the figures that I gave were for primary schools. For secondary schools, Ofsted identified 90 particularly successful schools, of which 17 are Church schools, so across the board, the Church schools are doing well.

Mr. Chaytor: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Green: No. The hon. Gentleman has had his chance.

The positive way to deal with the matter is to build on the success of Church schools. The negative way—the way taken by those who tabled the new clauses—is to destroy their ethos. The reason for the existence of many of those schools in our inner cities is closely linked to the history of the Churches in catering for poorer communities and giving them the first leg up the ladder.

I shall concentrate for a moment on the 1,500 Catholic schools, one of which I attended. It is timely for hon. Members of all parties to remember that they were initially set up to provide an education for a mainly underprivileged class, largely of immigrants, who at the time were suffering racism. One hundred and fifty years after those Catholic schools were set up as a priority, we live in a society where, by and large, Catholics are well educated and play an important and successful role in society. That is a success story emanating from the commitment of the bishops and church congregations of the day, and it is continued now by the Catholic Church and other Churches, which rightly attach such importance to education. We achieved that healthier position by

6 Feb 2002 : Column 878

providing distinctive education for faith development as well as for other educational needs. That is what other newly arrived groups in our society, including the Muslim community, now seek for themselves.

Mr. Jon Owen Jones: On the success of the Catholic community after immigration and up to the present day, would the hon. Gentleman care to compare the success of the Catholic community in Britain with that of the community in France, or even the United States, which is perhaps a better example? Both countries ensure that there is a division between state and religion. They have no state-sponsored religious schools, but that hinders neither the Catholic population nor, apparently, any other people.

Mr. Green: First, the Bill applies to this country, so although the hon. Gentleman raises a fascinating subject, it is not germane to the new clause. Secondly, France was an explicitly Catholic country and became explicitly republican, so it is bizarre to attempt to compare the state of religion there with that of religion in the United Kingdom, as the circumstances are completely different. Of course, the United States was founded as an explicitly secular society in which Catholics form a small minority. Thus, I do not regard the example as especially relevant, even though I am tempted to do so.

It is relevant, however, to draw an analogy in respect of communities that came here in previous centuries and have, through education, come to play a constructive role in the mainstream of society, and deal with the debate to which the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mrs. Fitzsimons) referred: the perceived problems of Muslim communities and schools in this country. I urge hon. Members in all parts of the House who hold strong views about Muslim schools to visit one. I remind them that there are very few maintained Muslim schools in this country; I think that there are four.

Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley): My constituency has one or two schools that are largely Muslim but not Muslim in character. I am worried that, if we start to establish more Muslim schools, they will almost certainly be girls' schools. That is certainly the case in the Bradford area. We will almost certainly not have any boys' schools, because that is the way things are going. I feel that a school should be a microcosm of society and that we are going to fail the children in that respect.

Mr. Green: It is not obvious to me that every school should be a microcosm of the whole of society, as that way lies a complete absence of the diversity that I suspect all hon. Members want in our education system. However, I agree that all schools should transmit the values and ethos of our society. They should pass on those values, including tolerance, respect for diversity and knowledge of our history. That should be—and is—the responsibility of schools, whether they are secular or religious in character. I suspect that the proposition that that should be the basis of education policy will be widely agreed across the Floor of the House.

Let me return to the subject of existing Muslim schools. I recently visited such a school in London. If hon. Members visit it, they will see well-behaved and well-educated children learning the national curriculum with the same textbooks as in any other school. They will see a school that produces rounded children who leave the

6 Feb 2002 : Column 879

school gates every day and live in the same world as everyone else in that part of north London. The school itself makes the point that 23 different nationalities are represented among the children's families and that its aim is to produce Muslim children who are British. Those of us who went to schools that produce Catholic or Jewish children who are British should recognise that that is an honourable aim.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle): The hon. Gentleman will have read the Cantle report. How will additional faith schools promote inclusion and bind communities together when, in respect of northern cities such as Bradford, Burnley and Oldham, we are told by Cantle, Lord Ouseley and all the other people who have considered them that there is a growth of parallel communities that are distinguished on the grounds of race and religion? Should we not address that issue?

Mr. Green: Any good school prepares its pupils for life.

Mrs. Fitzsimons: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Green: I suspect that I know what the hon. Lady will say. I want her to say it because I believe that she will mention her constituency experience, so I shall give way shortly.

Any good school that prepares its pupils for life will enable them to integrate and be successful members of society. People who feel excluded from wider society because they believe that the education system has failed them are often alienated and fall into divisive ways. I suspect that hon. Members are not divided about the matter. Religious schools do not promote division; if they are good schools, their pupils will successfully integrate into society.

Mrs. Fitzsimons: Is the hon. Gentleman aware that in the three areas about which reports were produced, the minority of schools are religious? The problem is lack of integration in the state sector, in comprehensive schools where the pupils are 100 per cent. of one denomination, or in those that have a mixture of pupils who do not integrate. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that there is more integration in some of our Catholic schools because they take more immigrants, especially asylum seekers from Africa who are Catholics? There is therefore a better balance of race in some of our Catholic schools.

Mr. Green: I agree with the hon. Lady, who makes the case eloquently and on the basis of experience. However, some reports talk glibly about problems in northern cities and claim that they are due to Muslim schools. Most of the places where the terrible riots happened do not have maintained Muslim schools. It is therefore wrong to suggest that there is a link; it is a bad argument for those who support the new clause to use.

Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): As someone who was educated in faith-based schools and chairs the governing body of such a school, I know that the hon. Gentleman's argument about ethos is fundamentally flawed. Some Church schools have 100 per cent. Church admission; others admit 25 per cent. or more pupils who are not Church members. Schools with 25 per cent. of pupils

6 Feb 2002 : Column 880

who are not Christian are no less Church of England or Roman Catholic than schools with 100 per cent. Church admission. The argument that the modest proposal of giving a quarter of places to pupils of another denomination or faith would undermine a school's ethos has no basis in fact. It is an insult to the many faith-based schools that already do that, with no detriment to their ethos.

Next Section

IndexHome Page