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Mr. Laws: I appreciate the careful and well-argued way in which the hon. Gentleman is developing his case. How much flexibility does he believe his constituents should have to determine the character of schools, both existing and new, in his area? Would he be willing for them to determine not only the religious nature of the school but whether it should take boys and girls or one sex only? Would he be willing to give his constituents any further powers or impose any further constraints on them as to the type of individuals or nationalities that might be accepted?

Mr. Goodman: I made it clear to my future constituents at the election that I would be happy to have either an Islamic or a girls' school in Wycombe. I would not want 100 per cent. of the pupils in a Muslim school to be Muslim, but that is my personal view. I should like members of other faiths to be taken as a mix, but the important factor is what parents want and schools can manage, rather than what I as a politician lay down by diktat to my constituents. That is how the Conservative party's view is rather different from that of the Liberal Democrat party. If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I want to return to new clause 1.

The principal point is that, under new clause 1, local authorities could tell existing faith schools that only 20 per cent. of their pupils could come from their religion. As I say, some Church of England schools would have no difficulty with that, but existing Roman Catholic and some Church of England and existing other religious schools would be placed in great difficulty by new clause 1. That is the key point.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough): To illustrate that point, I have a child at the London Oratory school and also a child at Our Lady of Victories school, both of which are in central London. Both schools are hugely over-subscribed and, sadly, have to exclude many Catholics. If new clause 1 were accepted, even more Catholics would be excluded from those schools and

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would have to go to schools that did not share their values. That would be unfair on those children and their parents, would it not?

Mr. Goodman: My understanding of new clause 1 is not exactly that that would happen, but my hon. Friend is certainly right to say that it could happen. Throughout the country, many pupils and parents would be adversely affected in exactly the way that he describes.

For those reasons, I urge the House to reject the new clause. There is some clumsiness in its drafting. If I understood the Secretary of State correctly, under the new clause, if some religious fanatics happened to take over a local authority, they could insist, by diktat, that a maintained school should become a faith school. Those hon. Members who support new clause 1 have been somewhat careless, even though one of them is a former Secretary of State, but I shall leave that matter aside. In conclusion, there is no substantial motive to vote for the new clause, and I hope that the House will overwhelmingly reject it.

Mr. Piara S. Khabra (Ealing, Southall): I represent a constituency where a large number of people from many different faiths live. I was born in India, and I have the experience of being a pupil in religious schools. I am not happy about the concept. I do not hold any religious views, but it is not a good concept. This is an interesting debate, and I have listened to many hon. Members speak about faith education and religious schools, but they have mostly talked about Christian or Muslim schools; not much has been said about the large Hindu and Sikh communities. I find from personal experience that there is not much support in the Sikh and Hindu communities for faith schools.

I am able to support many of the good things in the Bill. We have taken enormous strides in improving the provision of primary education since 1997. I am delighted that the Government are willing to put the necessary investment into education. It is with those improvements in mind that I broadly support the Bill, as it seeks to shift the focus to secondary school education. A frequently heard complaint—which, as a teacher, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills no doubt understands—is that schools and individual teachers often find the current legislation restrictive. That is the reason why I welcome the recurring theme of flexibility in the Bill.

I believe that teachers will welcome reform that removes imposed initiatives that can result in excessive work loads, and instead allows the freedom to create a less prescriptive curriculum framework. Although the Bill sets down the core and foundation subjects for key stage 4, it will allow changes to cater for the need to respond to the future shape of the post-14 curriculum.

7.15 pm

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but I must remind him that we are debating the new clause, not the Bill in general. He must confine his remarks to the new clause.

Mr. Khabra: I was about to come to new clause 1, but I wanted to assure the Minister that I support the Bill. However, one aspect of policy that I do not feel able to

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applaud is the support for the expansion of faith schools, which troubles me greatly. I have a certain amount of sympathy for those who are seeking to address the admissions policy of faith schools.

I will set aside for the moment the more philosophical arguments put forward, including the thought-provoking ones outlined by Richard Dawkins in his open letter to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. First and foremost, the research does not seem to support the confidence in expanding faith schools as a means of improving standards.

The Conservative think tank Civitas, which one might have expected to support the expansion of the role of the Church in education in fact argued in its report, "Faith and Education", that

The work by John Marks, director of the Civitas education unit, calls into question an automatic policy of expanding Church schools, pointing out that standards in faith schools are inconsistent, and I tend to agree with him.

Church schools may or may not intentionally select middle-class pupils, but they tend to end up with fewer children from poor families. A recent study carried out in Wales concluded that, when the different levels of free school meal entitlements had been taken into account, differences in performance between Church and other schools

The key to improving standards is surely to consider the nature of the teachings used in schools, rather than the faith-based element of any establishment.

Even if the empirical evidence on results did not throw into question the desire to expand faith schools, the possibly damaging effects outside the classroom should give pause for thought. I am not suggesting that all faith schools encourage segregation, and I am aware that there are some notably good faith establishments in the country, but the fact is that we do not live in a single-faith country, never mind a single-faith world. In my opinion, the policy will be divisive and will risk bringing down education standards in many areas. Furthermore, it is likely to cause social friction between and within communities.

Mr. Savidge: I should like to cite the experience north of the border, where Aberdeen is the only one of the four big cities that has integrated schools; the others have religious segregation. Aberdeen does not suffer from the religious discrimination, division and dissention that can still sadly blight the life of Scotland.

Mr. Khabra: I fully agree with my hon. Friend's view. A large part of who we are—our views, our aspirations and, unfortunately, our prejudice—is formed in childhood. Prejudice is more often than not due to ignorance, and faith schools are likely to create more ignorance among children who are not able to think for themselves; nor are their parents.

Dr. Kumar: Does my hon. Friend agree that the way in which the multicultural and multiracial society has progressed over the past 30 or 40 years has been a great achievement? We have made society more harmonious. The creation of faith schools is likely to lead to

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segregation and not to the integration that has been the hallmark of our society. Does he agree that there are serious dangers with faith schools?

Mr. Khabra: I fully agree with my hon. Friend. Ethnic minority children, in particular, have achieved greater success in education when they have gone to integrated schools. I came to this country in 1959. In the late 1960s, the National Front mounted a campaign to have ethnic minority children taught in segregated schools, but the advantages of integrated education for those children are great. In a segregated school—whether we call it a faith school or not—100 per cent. of the children will be from an ethnic minority community, and they will not receive the education that they should receive and that would enable them to fit into society when they finish their education. That is the great danger for ethnic minority children.

Faith schools will not provide an opportunity for children of many different faiths to work together, learn together and live together. Under the Conservative Government, schools were able to opt out of public control, and I remember that the official policy of the Labour party was to oppose opting out. I do not understand why the Labour party's policy has changed in favour of more private provision of education. We were against private education in principle, and I do not believe that people from poor families will benefit even from faith-based schools.

Education should remain the responsibility of the local education authorities and should not be handed over to private interests that are sometimes dominated by religious extremists. We might think that faith-based schools will be able to provide similar opportunities to children from other faiths, but that will not happen for ethnic minority children. We are trying to compare the current situation with what happened a century or two ago when Christian and Jewish schools were established. The situation is completely different now and we should not fall into the trap of accepting this new idea of faith schools.

We should pursue a pluralistic and secular approach to education. Religious schools will intentionally encourage people towards particular religious beliefs. Have we not learned enough from the madrassah schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan? Have we not learned from the attacks of 11 September in New York and Washington? We are following a dangerous path and I hope that hon. Members, and the Minister in particular, will reconsider their position and take this opportunity to amend the Bill.

Faith schools will lead to children having less tolerance for children of other faiths. Such schools have the mission to provide education to the children of their faith and they are not directed towards achieving the standards of education that we need in a modern society and a modern economy.

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