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It is time to consider how we can provide for the religious needs of all pupils in a school that has pupils of different faith groups. It is not impossible to provide. In any case, I do not believe that it is the schools responsibility entirely to provide for the faith of a child. It is largely parents and the religious institutions that should be caring and providing for that aspect. The most important thing to remember is what faith schools have done in some parts of the United Kingdom, what we have seen in Scotland and particularly Northern Ireland. We are still seeing it there, where the great movement is towards integrated schools. Why is there that movement? If faith schools
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I find it completely confusing when I think that in 10 or 15 years some young people will not have grown up together and may not meet each other until they go to work. As it is, we have a lot of problems of integration, of coming together and of sharing. If we separate children from the age of five, I do not think that they will be able to cope very well. As the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, asked, will we have a cohesive society? We have to consider the needs of everyone, including the children, and that children from different faith groups may require more attention paid to their faith. If we all shared in each others faith and the teaching of each others faith, we would all be the better for it. Quite honestly, I find that the major principles of all groups are not so different. If we learnt from each other, maybe that would bring us closer together. I make a plea for bringing us closer together, not separating us.
I hope that I understand some of the Governments reasons for wanting more faith schools. Certainly there is an issue concerning money. If a group is prepared to put up some money for the establishment of a school, that could be very welcome, although I would rather that the taxpayer paid that money because I believe that education is the most important service that any state can provide for its people. However, I can understand the reasoning.
I can also understand that because Anglican and Catholic schools exist, we must be fair to other faiths. I was born and bred an Anglican and I believe that we should all recognise the tremendous contribution that the Christian faith has made to education in this country. I suspect that there were times in this country when education would have died out altogether but for the churches that kept it alive. I hope that people will always recognise that.
To be fair to the people of this country, we should surely ask the Government not to extend the privilege of faith schools to all other faiths in our communities, but to say, Without abolishing our existing faith schools, how can we make them cater for the needs of the entire community? I suspect that someone in the debate today will say, Many of them already do; and that is quite true. There are many Anglican and Catholic schools that cater for all religions in their communities. That is a very good thing, and I have no criticism of it. However, to use their existence as an argument for extending other faith schools is very dangerous. The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, spoke very eloquently about whether faith schools have a better ethos or achieve better results than non-faith schools. I would contest that view, because the people who send their children to faith schools are often selective and much more supportive parents than parents in non-faith schools may be.
The Government are giving us reasons for allowing other faith groups to fund schools, to make capital available to have other faith schools in this country, but surely the Government must feel a little afraid that
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In conclusion, I would like the Minister seriously to address this question: what will the benefits be and how will the Government ensure that our communities are not divided further by the existence of more faith schools?
The first amendment standing in my name and that of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham is Amendment No. 83. That would require local authorities, when they consider whether to propose the closure of a school, to have regard to the balance of denominational provision. For some time there has been a clear expectation from the Government that local authorities will preserve the denominational balance. The Bill provides a good opportunity to place that expectation in primary legislation rather than in regulations or guidance. That is particularly important if, as is proposed by the Bill, school organisational committees are abolished. From the point of view of the dioceses of the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church, those have been very good forums in which local authority members have engaged directly with representatives of the Churches and listened to their points of view. The world envisaged by the Bill will not provide such obvious contexts for that engagement.
Amendment No. 129 would modestly extend the freedom of governing bodies of schools with a religious character to appoint staff who will actively support the ethos of the particular school. The first part of the amendment would affect only voluntary-controlled schools, almost all of which are Church of England schools. In the case of Roman Catholic schools and roughly half of the Church of England schools that are voluntary-aided, the governing body has a majority of its members appointed by the Church locally, and new faith schools are also in that voluntary-aided category. The voluntary-controlled schools have a minority of governors appointed by the Church and are controlled, often strongly as to their character and ethos, by the local authority. I have to admit that the name is now a little curious because local authorities do not have that kind of relationship with any school, but the category remains.
Voluntary-controlled schools have always been able to appoint up to one-fifth of their teachers as so-called reserve teachers, in the same way as teachers are appointed in voluntary-aided schools, taking into account their own faith commitment and, therefore, their willingness to give active support to the religious character of the school. At present the head teacher of a voluntary-controlled or foundation school cannot be a reserved teacher. Since the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, it has been possible for the governing body of voluntary-controlled or foundation schools to select a head teacher on the basis of his or her fitness and ability to preserve and develop the religious character of the school.
If this amendment is agreed, the governing body will be able to go further and appoint a head teacher in the same way as a reserve teacher is appointed, being selected directly on the basis of his or her commitment of faith. That would happen only if the governing body decided that it should count the head teacher appointment as one of its reserve teachers. Of course, the amendment does not require that to happen, nor does it permit the Church to impose this provision, since the Church-appointed governors are in a minorityusually consisting of only two or three. It would, however, make it possible for a head teacher also to be a reserve teacher.
The second part of the amendment clears up an oddity that has become obvious since the 2003 legislation. Under the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations, it has been possible for organisations able to demonstrate a genuine occupational requirement in relation to a particular post to appoint to that post, taking into account the successful candidates religion or belief. However, in the 1998 Act there is a bar against taking into account a candidates religion or belief when appointing support staff in a school with a religious character. This amendment would remove that bar, which would then allow a genuine occupational requirement to be applied if it could be demonstrated in a particular case. The kinds of posts that we have in mind are high-level teaching assistants, clerks to the governing body, non-teaching house staffall roles that carry a considerable importance in relation to maintaining the ethos of a Church school. The safeguards would be strong, the governing body would need to agree it and it would need to be justified under the 2003 regulations. So much for my specific amendments.
I should like now to make some brief comments on the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen. This may initially appear of little relevance to Church schools as it seeks to preserve the status quo and not to close any existing religious schools. I nevertheless hope that Members of the Committee will resist it, as I believe that it would have a major impact, not only on the 7,000 or so existing Church schoolsmostly Church of England and Roman Catholicbut also on local authorities. It is a matter of debate whether it would have the effect desired by its supporters of promoting community cohesionan effect of course which I wholeheartedly support. Faith
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The Church of England has an established plan to expand its provision in secondary education sinceThe Way Ahead, the 2001 report by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing. His thesis was that with one in four primary schools currently being Church schools, but only one in 20 secondary schools, we need to expand our secondary provision. Since the publication of the noble Lords report, 29 new secondary schoolshave been opened or considerably expanded; always in response to local demand and with parental andlocal authority support. There are currently plans for 120 additional secondary schools, the majorityof which will serve the more disadvantaged communities.
As the noble Lord, Lord Dearings report made clear, Church of England schools are intended to be distinctively Christian and inclusive. We want them to make space for those of other faiths and for those of none, as well as for Christian and local children. There is a very good example in the diocese of Peterborough where we have recently opened a Church secondary school in Northampton. It is sited in an ethnically mixed area. It has a significant proportion of pupils from ethnic communities and a variety of faiths. A number of leaders of other faiths fully supported our initiative in opening the school two years ago.
There have also been changes in primary provision. Over the past five years, as primary rolls have fallen by 4.9 per cent, Church of England primary school rolls have fallen by only 1.7 per cent. That is because Church schools are popular with parents and their number has consequentially increased disproportionately. To prevent the opening of new faith schools, as this amendment would suggest, would therefore potentially limit parental choicea point that the noble Baroness has recognisedprecisely when they are exercising it in favour of such schools. Reorganisation within local authority areas always involves Church schools, often involving the closure of some and the opening of new Church schools. This amendment would therefore effectively blight some local authority reorganisation.
In 2002, the House of Bishops publicly declared its support for other faith schools. In recent years, there has been a welcome increase to six Muslim schools in the maintained sector, with perhaps 30 or 40 more to follow. There is a similar number of Jewish schools. That is not in itself divisive. I believe that it is rathera clear signal to the British Muslim and Jewish communities that they are a fully accepted and important part of British society. With a similar commitment to being distinctive and inclusive, their existence is a move against extremism and, I believe, for rather than against community cohesion.
I shall turn more briefly to the amendment relating to religious education and collective worship. The Churches and the faith communities, including a representative of the British Humanist Association, were closely involved with the then Secretary of State in 2003-04 in developing a non-statutory framework for religious education. In many ways we on these Benches can see the argument for making it statutory.
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In February of this year, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth in his capacity as chairman of the Church of England Board of Education signed a statement with other Church and faith leaders welcoming the framework and committing all our Church and faith schools to teach sympathetically about other religions. In our view, now is not the time, as the framework beds down, to make changes in legislation affecting RE in schools of any kind. The time may come, but the framework would need adaptation to make all its provisions work in a Jewish, Muslim, Sikh or Hindu school. We would prefer to build gradually on that recent, hopeful and very positive development.
We would also strongly support the retention of the current law on collective worship, which we see as flexible and permissive. The right reverend Prelate recently wrote to the Secretary of State in his capacity as chairman of the Joint Education Policy Committee of Churches. He asked the Secretary of State to enable trainee teachers and those preparing for work as school leaders to be better trained in understanding the opportunities that current law provides. We see it as important that children and young people become familiar with the language and silence common to many forms of public worship. They are all likely to attend at the very least at some point in their lives a funeral, a wedding or a baptism.
I believe that collective worship is a shared experience. It offers children, young people and adults an opportunity to participate in humanitys shared search for God and, in doing so, builds community in and beyond the school. Collective worship in most schools also provides the opportunity for students to gain an awareness of worship and worship practices of faiths other than their own. Above all, it provides shape and formation to that instinct for prayer which is in all of us. Provision for spiritual and moral development without the opportunity of prayer and worship would not have that effect.
I have already detained the Committee for some time on these important matters, but I hope that Members will permit me one final comment onthe amendment in the name of the noble Lord,Lord Lucas, which seeks to impose restrictions on schools of a religious character in terms of admitting pupils of the same faith as the school. As I have already indicated, the Church of England is committed to ensuring that our schools provide an education of the highest quality within the context of Christian belief and practice. But it should also be able to provide that education to all who seek it, whatever their faith. In practice, many Church of England schools admit a majority of pupils without any faith test. But it would be unfair if committed practising Christians living some distance from the school, perhaps in a poorer area, stood no chance of admission against children living near whose parents whatever their belief have been able to afford a house near the school. I believe that the amendment is a sledgehammer that we do not need. We prefer to address the issue more deliberately.
Lord Ahmed: I have no doubt that my noble friend Lady Massey and the noble Baronesses, Lady Tonge and Lady Flather, have very good intentions in tabling Amendment No. 81. They have all expressed their concern about division in communities and children being brought up separately. I should like to express my concerns on the amendment and address some of the issues that have been raised.
Until about six years ago, less than 25 per cent of Muslim children in state-run schools achieved five GCSEs at grades A to C when the national average was about 48 per cent. I congratulate the Government on the standard being raised to 38 per cent, but it is still not good enough to meet the national average. I know that approximately 135 voluntary Muslim schools have raised the standard of education for Muslim children. The pass rate in those schools is about 55 or 60 per cent on average but there are six state-funded schools that are achieving highly: 100 per cent in the case of Islamia; Al-Hijrah is achieving 86 per cent; and the girls Islamic school in Bradford is competing with Eton, Harrow and some of the 10 best British schools.
Islamic schools have raised the standard for Muslim children, who are achieving less than 25 per cent in five GCSEs grade A to C. The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, talked about the problems in Bradford, Oldham and Burnley. I live in the north and visitall those towns regularly and I know about the disturbances that took place. I know that not a single student from the Islamic or faith schools was involved in the disturbances. Yes, we have segregation and, yes, we do have a division within the communities. There are some state-run schools with 98 per cent ethnic minorities from one ethnic group. I have gone to Rochdale and Bradford. I have been to Oldham. We can go to Brixton or east London: there are schools with 98 per cent of children from ethnic minorities or even some with 99 per cent. It is not the religious divide that is dividing the communities, but there are other divides that also need to be addressed.
For instance, I have been to the annual awards at the Islamic school Karamia in Nottingham where they have linked with the local schools, where the local schoolchildren, the headmasters and the councillors come to the school and the children also go to the state-run school. There are many who have established relationships with their local schools. They have twinned with local schools or they have some sort of links with local schools where they try to mix the children. The message that we want to send is to make sure that children who come out of the schools become good citizens. They know about their citizenship responsibilities and I know that that is taught in Islamic schools.
We need to make sure that there is a higher standard of achievement. I am telling your Lordships that the standard of education in Islamic schools has risen. There is no evidence that any of the fanatics, terrorists or extremists are coming out of them. I go to many schools to give out certificates and I know that the best students are coming out of them and going to universities, and that is where they interact and integrate with the wider community and they are at ease with it because that is what they are taught.
When we talk about parental choice, raising standards and responsibility within the communities, I know as a Muslim that for 18 years the Muslim community was trying to obtain state funding for Muslim schools. We did not obtain it until there was a Labour Government. Thank God that the Labour Government gave state funding because the Muslim community was feeling as though it contained second-class citizens for 18 years because we have Christian schools, Jewish schools, Sikh and Hindu schools; there is no reason why Muslims cannot have schools that are responsible, that raise standards and that make our children good citizens.
I am sure that we need to take initiatives to try to integrate our children more at local level, but we have to do it in state-run schools first or in parallel with them because we have those divisions in state-run schools too. I hope that the Committee will resist this amendment.
Lord Baker of Dorking: Before I speak to Amendment No. 146A, I want to comment on the speeches of the noble Baronesses, Lady Massey and Lady Tonge, and my noble friend Lady Flather, who all spoke eloquently in favour of secularism? That has a long and honourable tradition in the debates on education in our country. But secularism has never become very popular in our country for historic reasons. It required the French Revolution to create anti-clericalism that led to the exclusion of religious education in French schools. When new countries set up their education systems, some of them, such as America, also excluded religious education from state schools.
But in our country, schools and religion have gone together for centuries. The secondary school I went to, St Pauls, was founded in the churchyard ofSt Pauls. In those days1509it had a remarkable foundation by Dean Colet, who said that 153 boys should receive free education and they could come from all colours and creeds. That is a remarkable statement for 1509. It is indicated clearly that there has always been an inclusive nature in much of the Christian education in our country.
My amendment would say that when groups come together and seek to establish a new faith school, permission will be given only if at least 30 per cent of the children come from other faiths. That is not as it were the ultimate argument that the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, is making; it is a different way of approaching the problem. I say that because the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, have to be met. The ethnic communities and the other religions in our countrynot only the Muslims but also the Hindus, Sikhs, the Greek Orthodox and the Jewshave always felt that they should have some share, as it were, which my amendment would still provide.
My point is that traditionally Anglican schools have not been exclusive for a long time. I went to a state Anglican primary school in Southport. We went to church twice a year. We had a hymn and a prayer at the beginning of the day, but that happened in every school in those days. There was no exclusion: my
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