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Very few Catholic schools are now exclusive. Originally they were, but I remember visiting several Catholic schools when I was Secretary of State, which included children from all faiths and no faiths, because frankly they had run out of Roman Catholic pupils. I do not believe that the two Christian faiths in this country are exclusive. They are inclusive. I believe strongly that a separate education is not the ideal way forward for our country at the moment. A separate education based on faith means a separate status and eventually a separate community. It is inevitable. In Northern Ireland, apartheid starts in schools; 90 per cent of children in Northern Ireland still go to separate faith schools and look what has happened there.
There is a growing opposition to more exclusive faith schools. Trevor Phillips, who is the most eloquent spokesman for racial and ethnic equality, has come out against them. So has the National Union of Teachers. David Bell, the former chief inspector, writing a year ago, said,
Separate faith schools that are exclusive are bad for both the majority community and for the minority community. They are bad for the minority community because they emphasise the separateness and the separate status that that community hasthat is what they are there for. It might be ways of handling themselves, ways of dress or all sorts of things, but they are separate. They are not part of the wider responsibilities that David Bell talked about.
I happened to listen to a broadcast on BBC Radio 4 when I was driving up one morning about a fortnight ago, with a young man from Pakistan who was visiting exclusive faith schoolsMuslim and Christianand non-faith schools. This is what he said:
When I went to school in the 1980s state schools like these didnt exist. My parents were Pakistani immigrantseducation was to be my way out of working in a factory like my dad. They sent me to a mainly white comprehensive where I was one of a handful of Asians. At this point I should be complaining about feeling alienated and excluded but the truth isthat school was the best thing that happened to me. I learned how to socialise and talk to other kidsunlike the Asian boys who went to the all-Asian schools.
There is no doubt that the schools are highly exclusive. I have managed to get through the internet the admissions policy of some of these schools, although I am waiting for some others. I have only those from Islamic schools. I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, and hope he will understand that I have nothing against Islam. As a practising Christian, I have great respect for all other faiths. But
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Can your child read the Quran fluently? ... Has your child completed reading the Quran? ... How much of the Quran has your child read? ... How many Surahs of the Holy Quran has your child memorised?.
I do not know whether the right reverend Prelate could tell us how many Christian schools ask whether their pupils have read the Bible and how many things they remember from it. The answer is nonebecause there is no exclusive questioning of that sort.
I have nothing against that, but I believe that that instruction should take place in mosques, synagogues, temples and churches. Until 1997, that was the policy. The Government changed the policy, reversing the policy of all previous Secretaries of State, including myself. On the whole we resisted giving permission to exclusive faith schools. In my time, I had no applications from Christian bodies but I had applications from Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Sikh bodies. I always found good reasons why one could not give permission, and I believed that that was the right policy to follow. The Government changed that policy, which was a grievous and huge mistake, and successive generations in our country will suffer from it.
I should like to see the sort of movement that is now happening in Northern Ireland to have integrated schools. One school that I have come across is the Hazelwood integrated school, which has 40 per cent Roman Catholics, 40 per cent Protestants and 20 per cent othersother faiths and no faiths. That is the sort of mixture that I am trying to achieve in my amendments.
Finally, I draw your Lordships attention to the comments of a Nobel Prize winner and one of our most distinguished academics, Professor Amartya Sen, who was the master at Trinity and is now a professor at Harvard. He won the Nobel Prize in 1998 for his work on economics of equality, poverty and famine and on social choice theory. He is quite convinced that the policy of separate and exclusive faith schools is wrong. I have read that:
What grates on Sen is the idea that individuals should be ushered like sheep into pens according to their religious faith, a mode of classification that too often trumps all others and ignores the fact that people are always complex, multi-faceted individuals who choose their identities from a wide range of economic, cultural and ideological alternatives.
Being defined by one group identity over all others ... overlooking whether youre working class or capitalist, left or right, what your language group is and your literary tastes are, all that interferes with peoples freedom to make their own choices ... I think there is a real tyranny there. It doesnt look like tyrannyit looks like giving freedom and tolerance
Those comments are very pertinent today. In our society, which is having a great deal of trouble absorbing different groups, although we are making a better fist of it than most other western countries, to create exclusive faith schools is fundamentally wrong. At a time when the world is faced with two religious wars, it is extraordinary that we are prepared to consider this. So I hope that your Lordships will give some consideration to the amendment that I have tabled. I am not against the sort of faith schools that exist in our country, but any new ones should not be exclusive. They should have children from other faiths as well.
Baroness Whitaker: In the interests of time, I restrict myself to discussing the amendments in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Lester, dealing only with the curriculum for religion, beliefs and values. I add beliefs and values to religion because the amendment would broaden the statutory definition of religious education so that it better reflects the more inclusive approach of the 2004 non-statutory national framework for RE produced by the QCA, which the right reverend Prelate commended. That framework referred to religions and beliefs and explicitly recommended that other world views such as humanism should be studied. I declare an interest as the vice-president of the British Humanist Association.
The amendment goes on to require voluntary-aided schools with a religious character to follow the locally agreed syllabus for RE rather than their own, putting them in the same position as voluntary-controlled schools with a religious character. By the way, the reference in the Marshalled List should be to Schedule 19 to the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, not Schedule 8; it is a misprint. I hope that that makes it clear that we are not in any way seeking to deny parents with children at voluntary-aided faith schools the right to have their children receive religious instruction, but are seeking to ensure only that all children in all maintained schools have an entitlement to know broadly what the range of accepted religious and non-religious beliefs are all about.
Of course, not all locally agreed syllabuses are as broad, balanced and inclusive as they might be, but at least they are subject to an overall structure for the diverse views that they should introduce children to, and they will, one hopes, become even more inclusive as the influence of the non-statutory national framework on RE trickles down to the local committees that set the RE syllabuses.
In an ideal world, there might be a national curriculum subject of beliefs and values that educated all our children about all our important religious and secular beliefs, underpinned by a thorough education in the universal human rights that the UK has committed itself to in the international human rights instruments. That would be the national basis from which different religions and beliefs would take their own path in the curriculum.
As it is, we have citizenship education, which includes some human rights education as a part of the national curriculum, and religious education, which is also
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Lord Skidelsky: I support the non-exclusive version of the faith school amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Baker. He made a powerful argument against complete separation, but at the same time he did acknowledge the powerful case made by the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed. I should like to say a few words about that, but here I must take issue with the noble Baroness, Lady Flather. I always hate to disagree with her, but in this case I think I must. It is no solution to the problem of under-achieving Muslim boys to force them into low-achieving, multi-faith or no-faith schools. Many Muslim parents and other parents who choose faith schools do so not because they want to preserve their family religion, but because they are fed up with the quality of education they would otherwise be getting in state schools. This illustrates the point that parents choose faith schools because they want a good education for their children and faith schools are much more likely to provide it. I agree with the point made that they should not be exclusive.
In principle, of course everyone should rise together, but equally, highly motivated minorities should not be held back by majorities. As for the integration argument, the best way to integrate Muslim and other minorities is to get as many as possible into the middle class, and the quickest way of doing that is up the educational escalator. I would not mind so much if people had a period of relatively separate education provided that they could mingle together at university and there find their role in British society according to their abilities. That is why I support a moderate version of the faith school.
Baroness Rendell of Babergh: I rise to speak to Amendment No. 81 in the name of my noble friend Lady Massey. My concern is with extremism and what may be taught in schools run by fundamentalists of any or all faiths, with their belief in the absolute truth of the creation of the world and origin of mankind as delineated in their holy books.
When I was at school, the theory of evolution was taken as, if I may use such a word, gospel: the good news, the truth, undoubted and rarely questioned. My father was a geologist and a science teacher, and I was
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The usual answer to the question, Is creationism taught in faith schools? is no and that what is taught is the national curriculum requirement, the theory of evolution. Those replying usually fail to add that creationism and/or intelligent design is taught alongside it as a viable option, or taught in religious education classes. Professor Steve Jones, addressing the Royal Society, has said that to give creationism and evolution equal weight in education is,
The Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches have no problem with evolution, as they have none with the descent of man. Fundamentalists of almost all faiths refuse to accept this and therefore want their children to subscribe to that view too. The Seventh-day Adventist school in north London became in 1996 the first school run by a minor Christian denomination to receive state funding. It teaches Darwin because it is obliged to, but teaches creationism as well, as do some Muslim schools and a Hasmonean school which educates more than 1,000 Orthodox Jewish students. The director of Jewish studies at the school has made it clear that he would prefer Darwin to be dropped from the national curriculum.
I have been told by a child attending one of these schools that we have nothing to fear from global warming because God had promised that the Flood would never be repeated. When students learn that God created the world in six days, they will also hear the extremely sexist viewpoint that a woman was responsible for bringing sin into the world. In the face of fossil and dendrochronological proof, some creationists insist that the earth is 4004 years old and appear to believe that pine trees in California may seem to be nearly 10,000 years old only because God put the rings in their trunks for some obscure purpose intended to deceive mankind. Professor David Read, vice-president of the Royal Society, Britains leading scientific academy, has said:
Surely the teaching of creationism and such views as I have just mentioned, even when presented alongside the theory of evolution in a cynical attempt to comply with the national curriculum, is done plainly to undermine young peoples confidence in proven scientific evidence. Are we in danger of entering a phase of existence in which, thanks to the encouragement of fundamentalism, to believe in creationism is the norm while to accept as truth evolution and the descent of man is an eccentricity?
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The Earl of Onslow: I rise to support my noble friend Lady Flather, but I also have difficulty with supporting her. That may sound slightly schizoid, but if we go back to the Book of Common Prayer, the Authorised Version of the Bible and Shakespeare, those were the great works which were taught in Church schools before state education came along. The Church of England primary school in our village is a totally excellent and tolerant institution. The Roman Catholic school, whose prizes I gave out some years ago, is another excellent school in Guildford. What I suspect has happened is that we avoided the clash to which my noble friend Lord Baker referredthe clash between the Church and the state as happened in France. It was a vicious argument that lasted for 100 years and ended in total victory for secularism.
However, because the Churches produce such good and tolerant schools, we think, What a good idea. I also suggest that the Muslims, the Jews and the Roman Catholics are saying that they want to follow the good example of the Church of England in its contribution to education. But the dangers pointed out by my noble friend Lord Baker override that. His speech on the admission criteria of some Muslim schools struck me, first, as something which the great Muslim intellectuals of Baghdad who translated from Greek into Arabic the principles of mathematics, chemistry and algebra certainly would have regarded as profoundly intolerant. What my noble friend read out for the Committee were the conditions of intolerance. The conditions in Northern Ireland are those of intolerance. It is that intolerance and exclusivity which are harmful to society. We have enough stresses in modern society, and we have enough difficulties with people who come here with completely real faiths that are not the same as what the country has been used to for many years. We must, because we are a tolerant and a successful society, adjust and ensure that we accept those arguments. What we cannot do is to apartheid-ise anything. Ghettoisation would be nothing but extremely bad, so, reluctantly, I come down to the view of my noble friend Lady Flather. I can see the argument for the tolerance of the Church of England system but, reluctantly, I come down to the view of supporting her amendment.
Baroness Turner of Camden: I support my noble friend Lady Massey on Amendment No. 205 in this group, to which I have put my name. As a number of people have said, faith schools are extremely divisive. I do not want to go over that ground again, except to say how much I support that view. Nevertheless, we have faith schools, and Amendment No. 205 endeavours to preserve the rights of pupils who do not support any particular religion and parents who do not wish their children to have religious education or attend religious worship. It gives the right for those pupils to be excused from religious education. It says that,
I would have thought that a perfectly reasonable proposition in an amendment that overall deals with collective worship. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will be willing to accept it. It seems to me that those who do not profess a religion ought to have the right not to be taught religious education or anything to do with religion if they or their parents do not want it.
Amendment No. 129, which the right reverend Prelate has spoken to this evening, concerns the employment of staff in schools with a religious character. I hope that the Minister will not feel inclined to accept the amendment, which would mean that very good and competent teachers might face non-employment. The idea that there should be arrangements under which teachers, before being appointed, should be willing to accept the religious colouring of the school in question is not acceptable. We have debated this from time to time in this House, and I think that there has been general agreement. Not all subjects have a religious content, and it should be possible for a teacher of, say, mathematics to still have a job at a religious school even though he may not himself adhere to the religion of the academy or organisation concerned. The amendment should not be accepted. Although it is perhaps not what the right reverend Prelate intended, I am quite sure that if it became part of the statute it would very soon become a practice among those foundations and voluntary schools or schools with a religious orientation. I hope that it will not be accepted.
Lord Taverne: I want to add a few words to support the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey. First, I reinforce the point that she made strongly and which was extremely convincingly argued by the noble Lord, Lord Baker, that more faith schools are bound to favour more segregation rather than integration. I do not want to repeat the arguments, but I will quote an eloquent description of what one would seek from education. This is from a letter from Rabbi Jonathan Romain, in the Times, on 1 October. He said:
I do not see how separate schools will further that aim, because the acknowledged purpose of such schools is to inculcate religious beliefs in children. The Church of England has declared that it aims to promote the Church of England through its schools; Catholic schools promote the Catholic religion and the aim of Muslim schools is to teach Islam. The headmaster of the Islamia School, to which the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, referred, said that it was part of the aim of his school to inculcate profound religious beliefs in the childrenI think that that was how he
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My second reason for supporting the amendment is one that perhaps does not command more widespread support. I have no objection to schools teaching about religion, but it is wrong that schools should teach children to believe. They should teach doubt, and they should teach critical thinking. As a humanist, I respect the role of faith in peoples lives, and I know that many people have come to hold their religious beliefs after long critical thought. But I am worried about the attitude of uncritical acceptance, without regard to evidence, of certain articles of faith, which is likely to be taught in religious schools. Consider a debate about stem cells and whether one should use embryonic cells or adult cells. That is an issue of evidence. Some people may argue that perhaps adult cells could be sufficient and one need not use embryos, but other people of a particular religion could not accept the evidence if it showed that stem cells were more effective and would uncritically accept that they should not be used.
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