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Alan Johnson: Yes. One of the amendments that we shall discuss later would allow pupils who reach the sixth form to decide to withdraw from religious
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education. Currently, the decision is up to parents. That amendment is in a different group, but it is an important step forward.

Mr. Purchase: Does not it strike my right hon. Friend that it is absurd to enter into a voluntary agreement whereby 25 per cent. of pupils of a faith school are not of that faith but do not take advantage—or whatever term one wishes to use—of religious education?

Alan Johnson: I do not think so. I appreciate that my hon. Friend takes a great interest in those matters, but I emphasise that the most progressive move was another voluntary agreement. When discussing amendments, we must consider what we can achieve through legislation and what we can achieve much more successfully through voluntary agreements. All faiths agreed in March that they would ensure that every religion is taught as part of religious instruction in schools. That was an enormous step forward and an advance for community cohesion.

The consensus meant that we could support the amendment that Lord Sutherland of Houndwood tabled.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): The Secretary of State has been generous in giving way. What does promotion of community cohesion mean in practice? Will the Ofsted inspectors look for evidence in admissions that schools have promoted community cohesion by letting pupils from other faiths in? Will promoting community cohesion be measured through links that they develop with other schools? What weight will the concept carry in the overall Ofsted inspection?

Alan Johnson: That is an important point. No, that will not apply to admissions. I will come on to say what it will apply to. The hon. Gentleman is quite right to raise the question of what the term “community cohesion” means. It has a definition in Home Office legislation and we introduced it in this Bill in clause 33(6), which relates to foundation schools

The amendments reflect the great importance that should be attached to promoting and developing community cohesion—not just for new schools or faith schools, but for all our schools, regardless of their admission arrangements. By community cohesion, we mean working towards a society in which there is a common vision and sense of belonging by all communities; a society in which the diversity of people’s backgrounds and circumstances is appreciated and valued; a society in which similar life opportunities are available to all; and a society in which strong and positive relationships exist and continue to be developed in the workplace, in schools and in the wider community.

Schools have a vital role to play, both in providing for the education and development of their pupils, and in working in partnership with others towards those objectives. Let me make it clear to the House that many schools are doing that now. Faith schools twin with neighbouring community schools, where pupils come from different backgrounds, to share assemblies, playtime, PE, drama and creative activities, and parents meet at coffee mornings. Inter-faith groups work with
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schools and local authorities to develop models for supporting community cohesion by encouraging different faith leaders to visit schools. There are many more examples of good work.

The new duty on Ofsted explicitly to cover schools’ contributions to community cohesion will ensure accountability in respect of the new duty on schools. We should bear it in mind that the mover of the amendment in the other place, Lord Sutherland of Houndwood, was a former chief inspector of schools and set up the Ofsted model, so we have some experience. We have full endorsement from Her Majesty’s chief inspector of schools, Christine Gilbert, on both the new duty on schools and the new role for Ofsted in monitoring it.

Ofsted already reports on the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils, assesses personal development and well-being and evaluates learners’ contribution to the community. In doing so, it already picks up on many aspects of schools’ work that contribute to community cohesion. However, an explicit reference in legislation will ensure that all schools will be held to account for their contribution. I have no doubt that Ofsted’s new focus will highlight the excellent work that is already taking place in many of our schools through creative and innovative approaches to, among other things, the curriculum, personal development, out-of-classroom learning and partnership working.

Where there is more to be done, inspection will identify areas for improvement and make recommendations, in the light of which schools will be expected to take appropriate action. They will need to reflect the progress made on those actions in updating the self-evaluation form. The school improvement partners will challenge and support them in making any necessary improvements. Schools will need to inform parents about that progress through the school profile.

We believe that the new duties on schools and Ofsted provide the right way forward and a consensual way forward, both enhancing the education of pupils and preparing them to play a positive role in a more cohesive society. I commend the amendments to the House.

Mr. David Willetts (Havant) (Con): I was taken by surprise by the speed with which the Secretary of State came to his conclusion. I hope that he will intervene on me, because there is one point that I wish to clarify. We welcome the Lords amendments and have reached the same conclusion as the Secretary of State: they are a sensible approach to the role that schools, and particularly faith schools, can play in the promotion of community cohesion. We should pay tribute to the efforts of Lord Alton, who put an enormous amount of work into ensuring that this consensus was created, Baroness Buscombe, Lord Ahmed, Lord Sutherland and Lord Adonis, who also contributed to the creation of this consensus. Consensus has been the hallmark of the Bill. The Bill has reached this stage because the Opposition have been willing to support the Government on it. We would have liked it to be bolder, but we see that it is a step in the right direction and we welcome it. Today may see the final stages of its progress through both Houses of Parliament.

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12.45 pm

We welcome the amendments because they clearly place the emphasis on the social responsibility of schools to promote cohesion. That is far better than a rigid, nationally imposed and legally enforceable quota system for new faith schools. That is why my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition last month praised the Church of England’s decision to offer at least 25 per cent. of places to children with no requirement that they be from families of practising members of the Church of England. We praised that as an example of social responsibility by an individual faith group, not as something that should lead to nationwide legislative requirements on other faith groups to do the same. The Anglican Church has gone out of its way to make it clear that, although that was its initiative, it did not necessary expect other faith groups to follow in exactly that same way. Those are matters for individual faith groups, not the state.

I know from the exchange of letters that the Secretary of State has heard from Archbishop Nichols. I had a useful conversation with him in which he made absolutely clear the position of the Catholic Church, which is eloquent on the role that Catholic churches can play in the local community. We welcome this alternative approach based on inspection by Ofsted. Schools that fail to promote community cohesion will be identified and expected to take appropriate action.

I had hoped to hear a bit more from the Secretary of State on the exact role of admissions codes—a point that my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) raised. It would be helpful if the Secretary of State were able to tell us at the Dispatch Box today whether, as Lord Adonis suggested in the other place, there will be any changes in admissions codes. The Secretary of State will know that there has been some concern about possible changes to the admissions code. If he envisages any such changes, it would be helpfulif he could state authoritatively as part of our exchanges exactly what they might be and what their effect would be.

We also welcome the fact that the duty applies to all schools, not just faith schools, because that recognises that faith is only one of a variety of factors that we need to take into account. One argument that has impressed me, as I am sure that it has impressed Members on both sides of the House, is that faith schools can often achieve high levels of social and ethnic mix. The Catholic Church has made the point to us that, if anything, its schools achieve higher levels of ethnic and social mix than some of the secular schools in the area. That important point needs to be taken into account.

The Secretary of State referred to the conversations that he had with representatives of the Muslim community. Does he agree that one of the big prizes is to attract more Muslim schools into the maintained sector? It would be welcome if those Muslim schools that are outside the maintained sector could preserve their ethos, but at the same time benefit fromthe breadth of the national curriculum and some of the other obligations that follow from being in the maintained sector. It would be interesting to hear from the Secretary of State about that. I had hoped that he would say more about how the Government were approaching what we understand to be negotiations
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with more than 100 independent Muslim schools, what he thinks might be the prospects for those negotiations, and the terms on which the schools should enterthe maintained sector. I hope that that would not include, however, any suggestion of different Ofsted arrangements for maintained schools for the Muslim community.

The record of most maintained faith schools is very impressive. They are producing results that are, on average, several percentage points higher than those of non-faith schools, both at primary and secondary level. Many of those schools are beacons of excellence in their communities. Above all, they are schools that many parents want their children to attend.

Mr. Khalid Mahmood (Birmingham, Perry Barr) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman talks about the higher level of achievement of maintained faith schools. Does he accept that they will put forward only those students whom they believe will achieve good grades, so this is not exactly a level playing field?

Mr. Willetts: That is something that faith schools and schools with no particular faith identity have been known to do. I would not like to suggest that the problem affects only faith schools, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman would not imply that, as that would be unfair on them.

Parents choose these schools and, above all, we value parental choice and respect the view of parents. That is our fundamental reason for supporting the Bill—it takes a modest step towards greater diversity in education and, therefore, towards more real choice for parents. Nothing in the amendment in any way jeopardises parents who choose a faith school for their children, and on that basis we are very happy to support the consensus that emerged in the other place.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): I welcome the compromise that has broken out in this Chamber and in the other place. I wish that we had not gone along the route of trying to come up with a quota. It was always fraught with problems, and some of us learned a lesson. I have always argued that faith schools should look to include people from other dispositions inasmuch as that is the basis of their faith. They should be willing to engage and they certainly should be willing to accept into their establishment those who have different beliefs.

However, it behoves those parents and children who choose a faith school to engage with that faith. I am worried that because of the route that this debate has taken those who choose a faith school will be able to exclude themselves from all engagement. It seems bizarre that someone would argue that they should go to a Catholic school, a Protestant school or a Muslim school, only to exclude themselves from any lesson in which education about that faith or any other faith came into play.

I look to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to clarify the point that we expect those children whose parents choose to send them to a particular school to be able to engage as we want them to, so that wehave an educative process. I hope that that point is understood. It comes into play in the admissions
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process. Parents should take responsibility when they have a choice of schools and decide that they want their child to go to a particular type of school.

Annette Brooke (Mid-Dorset and North Poole) (LD): I wanted to speak about these amendments because I have been involved in the promotion of children’s well-being since the passage of the Children Bill, to which I tabled amendments. I am pleased that we now accept that the promotion of pupils’ well-being should be a duty on the governing body of a school.

Philip Davies: There is consensus on the amendments, but is the hon. Lady at all concerned that requirements for schools to do more and more things, particularly those that have traditionally been seen as the responsibility of parents, will create problems for teachers? They already have to abide by the national curriculum, provide sex education and promote community cohesion. Is she worried about the salami-slicer effect of imposing more and more duties on schools on top of the academic responsibilities that they already have? Should not these matters occasionally be left to parents?

Annette Brooke: I suppose that, as a matter of courtesy, I should thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention—not that I found it particularly helpful.

If we think back to the “Every Child Matters” agenda and the fact that we are all concerned about the development of the whole child, it is not too difficult to take on board the fact that if a child is suffering, being bullied or engaging in activities that are not in their best interests, they will not perform well academically. It is impossible to think of a child simply as somebody to be fed information by teachers so that they will go on, at the other end of the machine, to produce good scores. It is much more complex than that and we have to be concerned about the whole child and their development.

I am pleased, therefore, that promotion of well-being has entered the frame, but I would like the Secretary of State to expand on one aspect. When moving a similar amendment in the past, I included the provision that there should be co-operation with the children’s services authority covering the school’s area. Will the Secretary of State clarify how that would work? If there is a matter of concern, such as a teenage pregnancy, work must be done with the children’s services authority.

Work on social cohesion has to be welcome. We see the concept as being much wider than bringing faiths together. Obviously, that is an important aspect, but it is vital that we consider cohesion in the context of the whole community. The Liberal Democrats have decided that we will not get into a discussion about quotas because many self-inflicted difficulties have been created by that discussion. While there is, for the time being, a way forward that embraces points made in Committee by the hon. Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor), which we discussed at great length, then we should consider the concept of social cohesion in those terms.

It is vital for a school to be at the heart of its community. It should be open and welcoming and there should many activities in the school that engage
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all aspects of the local community. For some areas, the school will be all that is left to promote the idea of community. Both urban and rural areas are losing facilities such as post offices and pubs, so the school has an important role to play. In some areas, a number of schools will serve the whole community and there will be a need for collaboration. The Secretary of State gave an example of that. Will Ofsted be inspecting the degree of collaboration between schools? If we simply have individual schools promoting social cohesion as they see it, without collaboration, we cannot achieve the objective that the House wants.

I also wonder about the role of the local authority in this matter. When a number of individual schools are serving the community, the local authority also has to be in the circle, promoting collaboration. Will the local authority be inspected on the degree to which it promotes collaboration and social cohesion?

A few questions remain, but as things stand I would not have thought that anyone could argue against the promotion of well-being and community cohesion.

1 pm

Mr. Purchase: There are two questions arising from the amendments on which I seek assurances and answers from the Secretary of State. The first relates to my intervention to ask whether a parent sending a child to a faith school under the 25 per cent. voluntary agreement would be able to say, straight-faced, “I want to withdraw my child from the religious elements of the education.”

My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) believes that if parents have chosen to send their children to a faith school, it would be wrong to withdraw the children from religious lessons. However, parents do not necessarily have a choice. Often, the only neighbourhood schools, especially at primary level, are faith schools. If parents want their child to travel only a short distance to school, they have to send the child to a faith school. The alternative is to subject the child to a much longer journey each day, which we believe is undesirable. There is not always a choice, so the Secretary of State has to explain what guidance he will offer schools on determining their policies in respect of non-believers at a school where religious lessons are the norm.

The second question is how on earth do we inspect for community cohesion? Which model of cohesion do we think is the right one? Will inspectors be inspected to find out whether they have a proper understanding of what is meant by community cohesion? There is an ongoing and important debate in which some say that they are not sure that the celebration of different identities and views is the correct model for British society in the 21st century—they argue that we should be urging a far greater degree of homogeneity of understanding, reference points and signposts to bring people together. How can I know whether an Ofsted inspector is knowledgeable and has a coherent view? Will the Government state what they mean by their model of community cohesion?

Philip Davies: I agree wholeheartedly with the hon. Gentleman’s comments on community cohesion. Does he agree that, for some people, the promotion of
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multiculturalism is the guiding light in the promotion of community cohesion, whereas for many others—certainly for me—the promotion of integration is more likely to increase community cohesion? Does he agree that those points must be clarified, lest we end up with political correctness being promoted in our schools as an inadvertent consequence of the amendment?

Mr. Purchase: We have an unlikely coalition being formed here. The fact is that we need to know those things at a technical and practical level, but we have heard nothing from the Government yet. Members in the other place debated the issues, but no Minister has yet told us what the Government mean, in clear terms that teachers can understand, head teachers can implement, and Ofsted can inspect.

Those are the two points I wanted to make. First, simply because of geographical considerations, parents do not necessarily have a choice in sending their child to a faith school. Secondly, we have to decide what we mean by community cohesion. I know what I mean by community cohesion—it is what I have worked for all my life—but am not sure that an Ofsted inspector will know, or that that inspector will get a steer from the Government of the day.

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): It is important to note that the Government have listened to the representations on the promotion of community cohesion. The arguments were first made in the Education and Skills Committee report last year. It recommended a duty to promote social and community cohesion, which the Government rejected. When the Bill was in Committee, the same arguments were advanced at somewhat greater length, and the Government again rejected them. It is greatly to the Government’s credit that they have shown themselves to be a listening Government, who have finally taken on board those arguments.

I wish to comment on the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) in the context of the obligations of those children who are not of the faith of the school to which they are admitted under the new agreement—that is, those children who form part of the 25 per cent. of admissions in addition to those selected according to the faith. It seems to me that, in principle, his argument is precisely the opposite of the argument that should be made in the spirit of the new accord. It simply cannot be a school’s prime function to propagate a specific faith at the expense of the delivery of high quality education; nor can it be regarded as reasonable to oblige children who are admitted to a school as part of that additional 25 per cent. to be open to—to accept without question—the propagation of the faith.

Mr. Drew: My hon. Friend chides me in the nicest possible way, but I know of no school that chooses to propagate a belief at the expense of educational standards. Perhaps he has some such schools in his constituency, but I have none in mine.

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