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In defence of that position, the Minister said that voluntary controlled schools are not dominated by the faith interest of the foundation because it does not have a majority of governors. However, as he knows, governors form coalitions. There will be a significant minority of governors from the faith interest, designed to ensure that the instructions of the diocese or its equivalent are followed, and a number of parent governors who are likelyespecially if the school draws from one religious populationto be of that
religion. In addition, there are teacher governors. Soit will not be a surprise if there is a majority of governors, albeit in a school that is 100 per cent. funded by the state in capital and running costs, who decide to use the permissive power that they have been given and which they have asked for.
Dr. Pugh: Is it my hon. Friends position that when a person applies for any job in a denominational school, at no point can their denomination be a consideration? Does he accept that a consequence of that could bea denominational school with nobody from that denomination teaching in it?
Dr. Harris: Yes. That is the position that we on the Liberal Democrat Benches voted for previously, because we do not believe that teaching in a state school is an occasion for proselytisation, and that as long as teachers are able to uphold the ethos of the school, they should not be required to attend a specific church on a Sunday. They merely have to uphold the ethos of the school. They do not require a faith test, and their private lawful conduct, for example, with regard to their sexual orientation, should not be permitted to be a factor in their employment prospects, whether for promotion, appointment or dismissal.
Dr. Harris: Yes, that is correct. Otherwise, on what basis would one oppose discrimination? Obviously, the Catholic faith may argue that every single teacher and member of staff in its schools must be Catholic in order to uphold the ethos. I would argue that an ethos is an ethos and is not dependent on the religious views of individuals in that state school. The job of the school is to teach. There is already difficulty, as we have heard, in finding enough people of the correct faith to appoint to specific schools, particularly head teachers. My hon. Friend will have to defend a situation which is the logical consequence of what he says, in which every teacher must undergo a faith test if the ethos is to be fully upheld.
Mr. Purchase: Does the hon. Gentleman understand that the Governments position is that religious education should be taught across a broad curriculum by a professional teacher with an understanding of the various religions? It does not call at any point for a teacher of a particular religion to be employed to do that job. That is the Governments position.
Quite so, and community schools that are not faith schools have an ethos that is not religious. I would not call for them, and they do not seek, to apply a non-religious test to the teachers applying to work in those schools to ensure that they uphold a non-religious ethos. What sort of society are we becoming when teachers in state schools are required to be of a faith, or not be of a certain faith, in order to teach? Those who wish to teach religious education in a Catholic school may well be Catholic. That may be why
they have gone into it, and there may be a wide pool of such applicants. That is fair enough, but when the state is employing people, it is no ones business to ask the religious belief of the people concerned.
In connection with the appointment of a person to be a head teacher of the school (whether foundation or voluntary controlled)
regard may be had to that persons ability and fitness to preserve and develop the religions character of the school.
(i) whose religious opinions are in accordance of the tenets of the religion and religious denomination specified in relation to the school under section 69(4)
in section 60(5) of the 1998 Act. There is no mention of ethos in that faith test. It is a faith test, not a test of ability to uphold the ethos. I hope the Minister will accept that that is the case.
On the question of consultation, the National Association of Head Teachers and the National Union of Teachers are the two unions which almost exclusively represent head teachers, and the NUT is a major representative of potential head teachers. When the matter was debated in the Lords, the Government gave the impression that the trade unions principally concerned had been consulted. In response to Lord Aveburys suggestion that they knew nothing about the proposals until the last moment, Lord Adonis, a decent man whom I like, said:
My Lords, that is simply not true.[ Official Report, House of Lords, 30 October 2006; Vol. 686, c. 53.]
I wrote to you yesterday concerning amendment 54...I have now had the benefit of reading the comments of Lord Adonis in Hansard. It is my view that the manner of the development of this amendment is an example of poor Government...Neither the NUT nor the NAHT have been involved in any consultation. This situation is totally unacceptable.
No attempt is being made by Government to involve all representatives of the teaching profession in taking forward these important matters. It seems to me that the way the Government is conducting this matter is likely to lead to division and poor decisions.
I do not mean to echo criticism of the Government per se. However, does the Minister accept that consulting after the statute has been passed is not the appropriate way to consult, that it is not in line with the Cabinet Office guide on consultation, and that ideally it should have been brought in separately rather than as it was? Unison and the GMB have given us press
releases in support of the support staff involved. Will the Minister confirm that while those unions may welcome the measures in terms of any post facto consultation on the detail of transitional arrangements, they remain opposed in principle to their introduction?
This is a question of principle about whether the existing discrimination provisions should be extended and whether the career prospects of non-religious teachers and support staff, or teachers or support staff of a different religion, should be curtailed in this way. The Minister said that in respect of non-teaching support staff, the measure will apply to teachers in a pastoral role. I suggest that that is exactly the sort of role where an obvious religious leaning might not be helpful. I do not know how many pupils come to their teachers with religious crises, but I know that a large number do so with crises regarding their personal lives and health, particularly their sexual health. It wouldbe entirely possible for a faith school to have a non-religious figure doing that job who can refer pupils who turn up with a religious crisis to the appropriate faith-based person in the school.
Jim Knight: The majority of the Lords amendments in the group are technical, and I will spare the House the pain of considering them in detail. Instead, I shall briefly set out the thrust of the main amendments.
Lords amendments Nos. 11, 13, 17, 89 and 90 protect foundations. For schools that already have a foundation, it is right that the trustees should be asked to give their consent to proposals that might have an impact on them. Lords amendments Nos. 18 to 24 ensure that governing bodies have a full picture of the implications of removing a foundation for assets. Lords amendments Nos. 25 to 28 permit parents to invite people other than parents of current pupils to the parent council.
Dr. Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that parent councils are important, that parents voices must be heard, and that parents must be able to ensure that they have additional support on parent councils, if they think it necessary?
Jim Knight: As ever, my hon. Friend makes an intelligent point, and she speaks admirably for parents in her constituency. She is right that there are circumstances in which parent councils may need further advice, perhaps from parents whose children recently attended the schoolthat scenario would be allowed under the amendment.
Lords amendments Nos. 48 to 52 extend the list of persons whom the Secretary of State is required to consult before appointing additional governors, so that it includes the local authority, the schools governing body and, when appropriate, the foundation. Lords amendments Nos. 96 to 217, which apply to schedule 4, further extend and clarify the protection of both public and private investment in school land. They simplify some of the provisions for the disposal of publicly
funded, non-playing-field school land, as well as the schools adjudicators powers to determine the cases put to him.
Annette Brooke: If a foundation school engages in a private finance initiative contract, but its foundation is subsequently dissolved and it returns to being a community school, who would pick up responsibility for the PFI contract?
Jim Knight: We are very clear about the fact that contractual agreements relating to PFI would transfer with different arrangements in respect of schools. We have to be very cautious about that scenario. We issued guidance on the renegotiation of PFI in certain circumstances relatively recently I think that it was to do with school foodbut, as far as I am aware, PFI obligations would transfer to a community school. If I receive further advice, I will update the hon. Lady.
The updating has proceeded smoothly, and I can now clarify the position. PFI contracts are always with the local authority, so if a contract reverts to a community school, it will remain with the authority.
I believe that in amendment (a) to Lords amendment No. 24 the hon. Member for Brent, East (Sarah Teather) might be trying to revisit the question of whether foundations should be able, when the governing body wishes it, to appoint a majority of the governors. That question is fundamental to the whole policy of trust schools as set out in the schools White Paper, and we believe that it has been debated pretty thoroughly during the Bills passage through both Houses.
The amendments would simply create bureaucratic burdens for voluntary controlled schools wishing to become foundation schools, when their existing arrangements with their foundations currently work perfectly well. Amendment (a) would extend the application of clause 32, which sets out what is required of new trustsfor example, that they are incorporated charities of a particular description. It would apply those requirements to voluntary controlled schoolsschools with foundations with which they are working wellthat changed category to foundation, even when they did not wish the foundation to appoint a majority of the governors. We do not think that it is necessary or desirable to disrupt arrangements that are working, and I hope that the hon. Lady will not press her amendment.
Mr. Gibb: We are dealing with a range of amendments relating to school organisations. Lords amendments Nos. 6 to 10 and 12 relate to local authorities power to propose alterations to schools. In particular, they allow authorities to increase the number of pupils admitted. They also clarify authorities powers with respect to foundation special schools. Conservative Members welcome these proposals. It would be odd if a local authority could order a school to enlarge its premises but could not order it to admit additional pupils.
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