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Dr. Harris: I keenly support the amendment. Further to what the hon. Gentleman has said, the explanatory notes are quite strange. They state that it is not unlawful discrimination
“for a school to organise a different timetable for a pupil who has a baby, to help her fit her education with her parenting responsibilities.”
The implication is that, if pregnancy and maternity were deleted from the clause as proposed under the hon. Gentleman’s amendment, in some way schools would be prevented from taking such action. That is not right. I accept that it is not necessarily the argument of the Solicitor-General. Perhaps she will argue, as she did before, that the discrimination that we want to oppose is already covered under another heading, but I should be grateful if she clarified whether that is the justification. If it is, it would also not be unlawful for a school to refuse to admit a girl pupil who is pregnant or who already had a baby. Although that might be the position under current legislation, we should not permit schools to discriminate against pregnant pupils or pupils with babies in respect of admission, exclusion or any other detriment. I am concerned that the clause allows schools to do that, even if guidance and the public sector duty might discourage them from doing so. The Government are under a burden to show that the inclusion of paragraph (c) is justified. I look forward to hearing from the hon. and learned Lady.
The Solicitor-General: It is not through discrimination legislation that pregnant schoolgirls or young mothers will get the help that they need, but through sensitive handling by the school. There is an absolute bar on pregnancy as a ground for exclusion. No schoolgirl should be excluded for getting pregnant. A teenage pregnancy strategy ensures that pupils receive support and tuition to complete their education, and dedicated reintegration officers work with schools and pupils to advise on the best way to accommodate and re-engage them in education. In addition, the new public sector duty will ensure that schools have regard for pupils who become pregnant. We feel that it is most appropriate to protect that category of person through that mechanism and other protections.
I do not totally follow the point of the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon about the explanatory notes. When I do, I will drop him a line.
Dr. Harris: I will not pursue that point. I assume that something in the corresponding schedule makes it clear that one cannot exclude a pupil on the grounds of maternity under sex discrimination provisions. However, the Solicitor-General did not say why that was. She did not address my example of admission. Notwithstanding the public sector duty, a school would have the right not to admit a pupil simply on the basis that she was pregnant under discrimination law. As such a person would not be the school’s pupil, which is the term the Solicitor-General used in explanation of the public sector duty and the teenage pregnancy code, it is not clear why the school could not do that. I do not see why we should not use the opportunity of discrimination legislation to deal with that issue if we can. I would be grateful if she addressed the issue of admission.
The Solicitor-General: We are talking about somebody who gets pregnant while they are at school. The hon. Gentleman is talking about somebody who moves school. That would be facilitated by reintegration officers. We do not think that discrimination law hits the spot. It is certainly not in the schedule that exclusion is not available for pregnancy. However, education law sets out clearly that that is not a ground for exclusion. I do not think that there is an issue here, but it is good to probe the matter. There is plenty of law that covers this matter, as well as policies and guidance.
John Mason: I thank the Solicitor-General for the reassurances she has given. I still feel that the amendment would strengthen the position of women in such circumstances. However, I accept her reassurances and beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 79 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clauses 80 to 83 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 10

Accessibility for disabled pupils
Question proposed, That the schedule be the Tenth schedule to the Bill.
Mr. Harper: I hope that this will be a brief debate. I have a few quick questions for the Minister. By raising this issue here, we will not have to discuss it under schedule 15. There is a difference between the provisions on the duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people in the education section and the main section of the Bill. In the main section, the duty to make adjustments has three requirements. The first is that somebody is at a substantial disadvantage, and the second relates to physical features. The difference comes with the third, which is to provide an auxiliary aid. Clause 80 in part 6 simply has a duty to make reasonable adjustments that applies to the responsible body of such a school, without those three parts being explained. Effectively, there is a carry-across of existing legislation, which has no current requirement to deal with auxiliary aids.
The issue has been raised with me by the Disability Charities Consortium. When I investigated the matter, the answer given to me was that the reason for the difference in provisions was that schedule 10 provides for accessibility arrangements for pupils in schools. My question to the Minister is simple: given the need to provide for accessibility arrangements in schools and for schools to have a written accessibility plan under which they discuss with their disabled pupils their needs and requirements, will schools, in making those reasonable adjustments, effectively have to consider providing auxiliary aids, even under the education requirement, as the general duty to make adjustments applies in other arenas? That is the question and my reason for raising it now. If I have not been clear, the Solicitor-General should let me know, and I will try again.
The Solicitor-General: The hon. Gentleman is clear. The development and implementation of an accessibility plan will give a more proactive and strategic approach to facilitating education for disabled pupils and improving the physical environment. Schools and authorities will be able to plan ahead and anticipate a range of disabled pupils’ issues and needs in order to have facilities in place, instead of having to react to one individual situation at a time.
Schools will have to have considered the need for auxiliary aids and services for disabled pupils as part of their responsibilities under the duty. In addition, it is likely that an individual disabled child who required auxiliary aids would fall within the definition of special educational needs, so the aids would be provided under that regime. We think that it is probably covered more effectively there.
Mr. Harper: I am grateful to the Minister for that reassurance. The purpose of raising the issue was to put that assurance on the record. I think that I am reassured by her reassurance.
Question put and agreed to.
Schedule 10 accordingly agreed to.

Clause 84

Interpretation and exceptions
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Dr. Harris: I want to raise an issue identified by the Joint Committee on Human Rights with respect to clause 84, which apparently widens the existing exemption for the curriculum. Subsection (2) states:
“Nothing in this Chapter applies to anything done in connection with the content of the curriculum.”
That appears to remove any restriction on discrimination against a pupil on any protected characteristic in respect of the content of the curriculum. That is of concern.
The explanatory notes state:
“This ensures that the Bill does not inhibit the ability”
of schools
“to include a full range of issues, ideas and materials in their syllabus and to expose students to thoughts and ideas of all kinds.”
That is wider than the exemption in schedule 3 from the prohibition on religious or belief-related discrimination in the provision of services in relation to anything done in connection with the curriculum of any school. There is an argument and a debate to be had about the exemption for religion in respect of the curriculum, but I want to consider how the measure appears to be drawn more widely and seek clarification.
Current law provides the exemption for the content of the curriculum from the prohibition of discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief. That stems from the Equality Act 2006. However, the provision is wider. I can understand that some people might argue that given that the curriculum includes religious education, there needs to be an exemption in respect of religion or belief. I am not convinced that that is required. I will not go into why, as now is not the time, but the concern is that it appears that the prohibition on discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation, for example, will not apply to the content of the curriculum.
The worry is that even if one has injunctions on how the curriculum is delivered, its mere content, particularly when there is no national curriculum on religious education, for example, might lead to detrimental treatment of pupils of a different sexual orientation—homosexuality, one presumes. The issue is the curriculum itself, or the textbook, not how the curriculum is delivered. Therefore, there is already a concern that sexual orientation might not be adequately covered, even under the existing exemptions, and the catch-all provision seems to go further.
7.30 pm
The explanatory notes state that concerns such as the one I have raised would be caught because
“The way in which the curriculum is taught is...covered by the reference to education in clause 80(2)(a)”,
which states that the responsible body of a school must not discriminate against a pupil
“in the way it provides education for the pupil”.
In other words, it must
“ensure issues are taught in a way which does not subject pupils to discrimination.”
However, I am worried that that is trumped by clause 84(2). For example, a gay pupil might feel that they were being taught that they were of less moral worth because of an inherent characteristic, but they might not be able to invoke any of the protections in the Bill in the face of such a wide exemption. Given that the provision appears to cover all schools and all strands, I do not think it is required for religious schools to maintain their ethos. I would be grateful if the Minister was able to clarify her understanding of clause 84(2).
The Solicitor-General: As the hon. Gentleman said, clause 80 will provide protection for children to ensure that the curriculum is taught in a way that does not subject pupils to discrimination. Clause 84 replicates a provision in the Equality Act 2006 and extends it to other protected characteristics. This is about clarifying the full educational freedoms of schools to decide what resources to use so that they will not have to justify or defend themselves from accusations of discrimination when they are following a reasonable and balanced approach to a curriculum. If we do not include the exemption, it would be possible for schools to be faced with cleansing the curriculum itself for indirect discrimination. For example, it would be very uncomfortable if a Jewish boy made a claim for discrimination for being taught “The Merchant of Venice”. It would be difficult for a school to cope with that, and it would get bogged down in having to justify itself. Whatever is taught needs to be taught appropriately, and teaching practices need to be fully inclusive. It is not the Bill’s intention that schools should be barred or discouraged from teaching the full curriculum with ideas that challenge pupils and lead to open and honest discussion and contemplation, which is why we think the clause is necessary.
Dr. Harris: I think that the Minister accepted that this was an extension of the existing law, and she gave a justification for the provision in the Bill. Is there evidence that before this attempt to extend the existing exemption of the curriculum to all strands, claims were made against schools about ideas in the curriculum that might, as she says, be challenging—I am all in favour of that form of education? If there was no problem before, providing a wide exemption might enable some schools with a specific agenda to get a message across outwith the provision on discrimination through the way in which children are taught or the curriculum is delivered.
The Solicitor-General: The pressures were from the religion and belief sector, and we dealt with those. We did not envisage that the curriculum was covered prior to 2006 by discrimination legislation, but we are now making it absolutely clear that it is. Does that help?
Dr. Harris: I suppose it helps to explain why the change is being made. However, I hope that the Committee will reflect on whether potential for mischief is being created in respect of the wide exemption due to the lack of clarity in determining what is curriculum and what is the delivery of the curriculum. If the problem is a challenging idea, one would expect that to be delivered to the pupil through education. My concern is that we will be muddying the waters rather than keeping clear restrictions on what schools should be doing in sensitive areas such as race and sexual orientation.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 84 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 11

Schools: exceptions
Dr. Harris: I beg to move amendment 253, in schedule 11, page 198, line 31, leave out paragraph 5 and insert—
‘5 (1) Section 80(1) and (2)(a) to (d), so far as relating to religion or belief, does not apply in relation to—
(a) a school, other than an academy, registered in the register of independent schools for England or for Wales, if the school’s entry in the register records that the school has a religious ethos;
(b) a school in the register of independent schools for Scotland if the school admits only pupils who belong, or whose parents belong, to one or more particular denominations;
(c) a school registered in that register if the school is conducted in the interest of a church or denominational body.
(2) Section 80 (2)(a) to (d), so far as relating to religion or belief, does not apply in relation to—
(a) a school designated under section 69(3) of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 (foundation or voluntary school with religious character);
(b) a school transferred to an education authority under section 16 of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 (transfer of certain schools to education authorities) which is conducted in the interest of a church or denominational body;
(c) a school provided by an education authority under section 17(2) of that Act (denominational schools);
(d) a grant-aided school (within the meaning of that Act) which is conducted in the interest of a church or denominational body.’.
This amendment would ensure that discrimination in admissions by religion or belief in state maintained schools and academies with a religious character is subject to the general prohibition on discrimination in education admissions.
 
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