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Mr. Hayes: Or worship. The hon. Gentleman might find that if his proposal were accepted, people would be allowed to opt out of an enriching experience that would challenge their prejudices. He said that children can draw their prejudices from many sources, including from parents and from home. The hon. Gentleman
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might be giving children who attend a school with a liberal appreciation of the subject and a proper consideration of other faiths the right to withdraw from that opportunity. Ironically, the hon. Gentleman might expose children to more dogma, not less.

Paul Holmes: I was a teacher when the Education Act 1988 came into force. A friend of mine, a member of the senior team at the school—an active lay Methodist preacher then and now—was incandescent with rage at the imposition of the requirement for five compulsory acts of worship a week in school. He asked how we could compel people to worship when they did not believe in God. Since we have this bad law, imposed by the Government, we should allow children to exercise their conscience and to opt out if they so wish.

Mr. Hayes: I support the amendment, which says that people over the age of 16 should have the right to withdraw. That is compatible with other judgements made by this House on decisions that people are competent to make at 16. Lord Adonis made it clear that exercising that right through this law would be similar to the rights that people at 16 have to make other choices.

There is a separate argument about people under 16. I have a revelation and a confession to make. Although I do not want to titillate people too much on a quiet Thursday afternoon, the revelation is that many children resist religious education and an act of worship, rather as many children resist eating vegetables or being taught mathematics or physics. The confession is that, at times, I was one of them. I am not sure that any hon. Member could say that, on occasion, they did not resent aspects of their educational experience, some of which were statutory and compulsory. If the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon had his way, people would be able to exercise such feelings in terms of their engagement with the school curriculum. Why not mathematics? Why not physics? Why not chemistry?

Dr. Harris: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

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

Roger Berry: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hayes: Isn’t the debate getting lively?

Dr. Harris: I do not want to prolong the debate, but the reason maths and physics are different is that, according to the Joint Committee report:

—not maths and physics—

It is not a question of maths and physics. Also, it is not a question of 16-year-olds; the amendment refers to sixth formers.

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Mr. Hayes: The hon. Gentleman is wrong; many aspects of the curriculum involved in imparting ideas and stimulating thought are inculcating people with a particular view. If we are to do what he advocates, what is to stop someone still more perverse than the hon. Gentleman suggesting that children should opt out of the teaching of history because the teaching of history gives them a coloured view of the past?

Roger Berry: If that is the case, why is the hon. Gentleman supporting the amendment? I support it—it is a step forward—but, applying his argument, I assume that he will oppose it.

Mr. Hayes: I said that there was a difference between people of different ages. As a House, we make a judgment that people at a certain age are likely to be fit to exercise judgments of this kind. Equally, as parliamentarians, good citizens and parents, we understand that people under a certain age are less likely to be fit to make such judgments. This is not rocket science; it is entirely appropriate to support the Lords amendments that pertain to children over 16 and to oppose the extension of the principle by the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon.

Mr. Purchase: I do not wish to make the hon. Gentleman’s argument more difficult than it is already. But given that it is now possible to buy a secondary school for £2 million—in order, for instance, to put intelligent design or creationism at the heart of the religious curriculum—is it not sensible to support the amendment, so that people can get out of such positions, particularly when they have no option other than to go to a school that is peddling a particular ideology?

Mr. Hayes: That is a point about how religious education is taught and its nature, as well as about the staff and management of a school. That is a perfectly valid point, but it does not pertain directly to these amendments. Giving children the right to opt out would not be the best way to deal with the point raised by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mr. Purchase). There would be more fundamental means of dealing with a school that was not doing the right thing by its pupils and deliberately distorting the curriculum.

We support the Government and the Lords in respect of older pupils. We understand that that will bring the Bill more closely in line with human rights legislation, albeit, as the hon. Member for Brent, East said, not necessarily close enough. However, we resist the extension of that principle, as advocated by the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon, because we understand that religious education is important. We want as many children as possible to have a good experience of it. We believe that worship is also important and, with the proper protections that exist in law, we do not wish to see that position diluted any further.

Dr. Harris: Despite the Government giving nothing other than pragmatic grounds for opposing the Joint Committee’s report, it is not appropriate to test the
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opinion of the House at this stage. We shall have to watch what happens in the courts but I urge the Government to consult further.

Lords amendment No. 46 agreed to.

Before Clause 36

Lords amendment: No. 29.

Jim Knight: I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

2.30 pm

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): With this it will be convenient to discuss Lords amendmentsNos. 74 and 236.

Jim Knight: Clause 37 was tabled by the Government at Lords Report stage of the Bill in response to amendments withdrawn during Lords Committee by the right reverend prelates, the Lord Bishops of Peterborough and of Southwell and Nottingham. Let me be absolutely clear that we are not increasing the ability of faith schools to discriminate in the employment of their staff.

Clause 37 addresses the increased restrictions that have been an unintended consequence of work force reform. Subsection (1) allows the head teacher of a religious foundation or voluntary controlled school in England and Wales to be a reserved teacher—that is, appointed specifically to teach religious education in accordance with the tenets of the school’s specified religion.

Religious foundation and voluntary controlled schools should have the same flexibility as that currently enjoyed by voluntary aided schools, namely, the ability to appoint a head teacher specifically to teach religious education at the school, as well as to carry out their duties as a head teacher. Such flexibility is particularly important in small primary schools, where the existing restriction is unnecessarily burdensome. Should a voluntary controlled school choose to appoint the head teacher as a reserved teacher, that appointment will count towards the one fifth of the teaching staff that are permitted to be appointed as reserved teachers, and hence there is absolutely no increase in discrimination.

Dr. Evan Harris: Except that there is a difference between voluntary controlled and voluntary aided schools. Will the Minister set out what they are? Will he note that in voluntary controlled schools, 100 per cent. of capital and running costs are provided by the state, and not by the religious foundation or religious interest that has the ethos? Indeed, only a minority of the governors are religious. So there is a reason why VA schools and VC schools have separate consideration in their freedom to apply a faith test at all. Therefore, arguably it should not be that the head of that school should be one of those who are entitled to be sacked, promoted or not appointed on the basis of their religion.

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Jim Knight: The hon. Gentleman raises an important point and I shall attempt to offer clarification. A voluntary aided school is one with a religious foundation where the state currently provides 10 per cent.—it used to be 50 per cent.—of the capital costs.

Dr. Harris: Foundation.

Jim Knight: Yes, the foundation; I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s sedentary correction.

The state provides 90 per cent. and the foundation provides 10 per cent. of the capital costs of the school. It will appoint the majority of governors, and it can appoint staff—although it cannot currently appoint support staff, which we shall come on to—on the basis of their faith. Voluntary controlled schools with a religious foundation—not all of them have such a foundation—will appoint the minority of governors. They are 100 per cent. funded by the state. Therefore, the governing body, which would appoint the head teacher, is not dominated by representatives of the faith. Bearing in mind that a majority do not come from the faith, the governing body can choose, if it so wishes—this is up to them—for a head teacher to be appointed to teach religious education and to carry out the duties of a head teacher. It should be allowed to make that choice. They are not currently allowed to do so in law, and we think that that is an anomaly that can be a problem for small primary schools, such as some in my constituency. We should give them the flexibility to make that choice for themselves.

Mr. Purchase rose—

Roger Berry rose—

Jim Knight: I shall give way to my hon. Friendthe Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mr. Purchase) first.

Mr. Purchase: I have a small point to make. On the question of a head teacher teaching religion, and on his or her faith being a test, could it be that a teacher with a stronger faith would be appointed to the head teacher post, ahead of a teacher who might have less faith but has better ability as a teacher?

Jim Knight: If the governing body—which, as I said, is not dominated by the faith group, as the majority of its members are not appointed by the foundation—choose to appoint a head teacher on the basis of the strength of their faith rather than their ability to carry out the job and teach religious education, I am sorry to say that that is their choice. I do not think that that would be a brilliant choice, on the basis of the argument that my hon. Friend has set out, but it would be their choice.

Roger Berry: Given that this measure would reduce the number of headships that are not subject to a faith test, what consultations have taken place with the National Association of Head Teachers, and what has its response been?

Jim Knight: I cannot give my hon. Friend an accurate answer to his question on consultation with the NAHT. We have had some limited discussion with
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our social partners. My hon. Friend will know that the NAHT is not currently one of those partners, although it did originally sign up to the work force agreement. However, we are confident that this measure is very specific, because it is about the appointment to teach religious education as well as to be a head teacher. The effect will be marginal and it will not have any significant impact on the supply of head teachers.

Dr. Harris: Does the Minister accept that even if he does not think that the numbers would be great, this would be significant to a head teacher who is not appointed, as one person’s career is quite significant to that person? Also, further to the answer that he gave to the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mr. Purchase), will the Minister confirm that if two head teachers, both of whom can teach religious education, apply to such a VC school, but where one is a believer and one is not, it is possible that the governors will choose the less able overall teacher who has the stronger faith rather than one that is capable of teaching RE and is trained to do so, but who does not have such a strong faith or does not go to church as often? Is that the case?

Jim Knight: It is the case, but it is the case already. A voluntary controlled foundation school already can have regard to faith in appointing a head; that is in section 60(4) of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998. However, there is the sole technicality that they cannot be reserved teachers, and that is all that we are seeking to resolve with this Lords amendment.

Mr. Purchase: But does that not get to the point? When we agreed in 1998 that we would go for the20 per cent. proportion, we felt that that was a settlement, but now we want head teachers to be dealt with as well—I believe that the modern term for this is mission creep. Is that not typical of what is going on in respect of this entire section of the Bill?

Jim Knight: I apologise to my hon. Friend because I clearly have not been clear enough. There is no mission creep. We are not proposing to extend the 20 per cent. at all. The head teachers would just be included within the reserved teachers—within the 20 per cent. There is no extension whatever. I hope that that helps my hon. Friend and the House.

Subsection (2) of the clause allows voluntary aided faith schools in England to make a case for having regard to an individual’s faith when appointing support staff only—this is very important—where there is a genuine occupational requirement. That conforms with the letter of—

Judy Mallaber: Can my hon. Friend clarify where exactly that is? I cannot see those words in amendment No. 29.

Jim Knight: Amendment No. 29 inserts a new clause around staff at foundation or voluntary schools with a religious character. Subsection (1) refers to the head teacher and amends section 58 of the 1998 Act. Subsection (2) amends section 60 of the Act, and also refers to the head teacher.

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I shall now move on to amendment No. 74, which refers to support staff. I think that that is correct.

Jeremy Corbyn: Before my hon. Friend goes on to deal with support staff, I wish to raise a point on head teachers. Am I right that his proposal is that the head teacher should henceforth be in a reserved position? What will happen to existing head teachers who are not of the same faith as the denomination of their school?

Jim Knight: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. We are not saying that they should be reserved positions, but that they could be reserved positions. We certainly do not want this to affect existing staff, and we do not believe that it will. When we bring forward the transitional arrangements and the order that will be necessary to put that into effect, we will make sure that we have consulted fully with our partners. Obviously, others will also be able to respond to the consultation, including the National Association of Head Teachers, to make sure that existing head teachers are fully protected from this change. I hope that that helps.

Dr. Harris: Before the Minister leaves the subject of head teachers, he needs to be aware of exactly what he is proposing by making head teachers reserved teachers. This is a complex issue and currently those who are not reserved teachers have protection under sections 59(2) to (4) of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998. However, section 60(3) says:

those dealing with protection against religious discrimination—

Instead, section 60(5) will apply, as it does to VA schools. It states that

or who are willing and capable of giving religious education, as we have heard. It also states that their conduct in their private lives may be brought into play. So this provision brings head teachers, as reserved teachers, within the full gamut of section 60(5), which is highly discriminatory.

Jim Knight: I will deal fully with that issue later, but I repeat that we do not propose to apply this provision to existing head teachers, as we will make very clear. Equally, as we introduce the order we will consult on it fully and work with our social partners to ensure that it is applied as sympathetically as possible.

Paul Holmes (Chesterfield) (LD) rose—

Jim Knight: I will give way one more time, but I would like to make some progress.

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