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My original amendment on faith schools, which I tabled and to which I spoke in Committee, proposed that no new faith schools should be created. In fact, I would still prefer that to be the case. I realise, however, that some compromise may be the way forward at this stage. That compromise should be to have schools that are not exclusive, as I am still concerned that, in the past eight years, nine out of10 attempts by faith groups to gain control of schools have been successful. Some of those results have been unfortunate, to say the least.
We have got ourselves into a tangle on faith in schools, and we need to untangle the problem, not make it worse. We should learn from what has happened in Northern Ireland. I am also still concerned that the report on Bradford by the noble Lord, Lord Ouseley, observed,
The amendment would at least partially address this issue if there was no fudge on the 25 per cent. Rumours of government amendments along these lines are welcome, but I hope that no such amendments give rise to escape routes.
Poll after poll of parents and the general public consistently show that they want good neighbourhood schools. The noble Lord, Lord Dearing, described one such school in a community that he knows, and there has been much talk this evening about community cohesion in our discussion of other amendments. According to one poll, 79 per cent feel that separating children according to religious belief is wrongas wrong as separating them according to colour or accent. Another poll found that 64 per cent of people oppose government funding for faith schools, fearing their impact on social cohesion.
We must not forget that dividing off children also divides off parents. Parents meet in the playground, at social events or at parent-teacher meetings. It is dangerous to divide them in such a way. We are really talking about encouraging separate and isolated communities, as the noble Lord, Lord Baker, said, with fewer windows on the world. I am a governor at a school that is firmly set in a south London community, with many different faiths and backgrounds. The children learn to celebrate each others cultures and to enjoy each others ceremonies in their schools. So do the parents. This mix results in
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I return to my reasons for hoping the amendment will be accepted. The Government need to be firm and purposeful about tackling exclusivity in schools, otherwise loopholes will be exploited and difficulties, real or imagined, will be put in the way. I ask the Minister three questions about issues that have potential loopholes. First, is it true that the Association of Muslim Schools and the Christian Schools Trust have asked for a faith schools inspectorate to do the work presently done by Ofsted? If so, will this be allowed? Such a scheme would negate discussion of a wide range of values and beliefs. Surely education is about exploring options and not about dictating what children should think. Separate inspection systems would reinforce differences and divisions.
Secondly, if a faith school under any 25 per cent ruling did not attract 25 per cent of pupils of other faiths or of no faith, would it still be eligible for state funding? I foresee all manner of reasons and excuses for failing to recruit other faiths, thereby avoiding having to broaden the educational offering. Thirdly, if an independent faith school wanted to become a state school, would it be classed as a new school or would it be able to carry on under the old rules allowing it not to include other faiths in the intake?
This is an important amendment, and I would be most grateful for the Ministers clarification on these issues, and for any reassurance he can give that the Government will support a 25 per cent intake of other faiths or no faith into new faith schools. If not, I fear that we will reinforce divisions in society rather than heal them.
Amendment No. 104, in my name and that of the noble Baronesses, Lady Turner and Lady Flather, relates to collective worship and seeks re-examination of the law. The spirit of the amendment has enormous support in seeking to replace compulsory worship with assemblies of a spiritual nature in schools. There is widespread dissatisfaction with this law.
Baroness Massey of Darwen: Yes there is, my Lords. Some 70 per cent of secondary schools do not comply with conducting an act of worship in their schools. The amendment is supported by several teaching organisations and by many faith groups. In a national consultation held in 1998 on collective worship, many organisations, including the Christian Education Movement, the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Professional Council for Religious Education, the National Association of Head Teachers and the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations all supported the spirit of the amendment. I mention all this because, when the amendment came up in Committee, the Minister said that the Government did not want to reopen the debate on collective worship because there was,
in favour of the status quo. There is indeed broad consensus in the education and faith communities, but it is in support not of the status quo but of reform. This consensus is not surprising. Teachers support a change. As the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders has said:
The professional bodies for RE support a change, of course, as their subject is all about increasing understanding of the different beliefs in our society and assisting young people to come to their own conclusions about their own beliefs and values. The current requirement for collective worship is an impediment to this. Faith groups and organisations such as the British Humanist AssociationI declare an interest as a membersupport a change.
We live in an increasingly diverse society, with increasingly diverse schools and in a context where most young people65 per cent, according to a DfES assessmenthave non-religious beliefs. They all deserve assemblies that recognise the ways in which they make meaning and purpose in their lives and the values that they are developing. Positive ethos and spirituality are not the province of religion alone. Religion does not have exclusive rights to the grammarto use the words of the right reverend Prelateof values.
Teachers, including non-religious teachers, can and do use assemblies to demonstrate that moral and spiritual values can be framed on shared values found in different religions and beliefs, building on the common ground of our humanity. A reform in the law would encourage this good practice.
If the law on worship and assemblies were changed, new guidance issued under the new law would doubtless continue to contribute to a better sharing of good practice in the provision of inclusive and educational assemblies, quite unlike the current requirement to provide collective worship.
Inclusive assemblies, which I conducted when I was a teacher, can have great educational value. They can be based on literature, science, the arts, sport or citizenship, for example. They can build a collective ethos in the school either by bringing the school community together for shared experiences or for pupils to conduct the assembly themselves. Spiritual, moral, social and cultural development can be encouraged. Surely this is what assemblies are about.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, has just mentioned the relevance of religion in society today. I was recently asked by a young woman what she should study at
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Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, before the noble Baroness touched on that point, she mentioned what she described as the vested interests that RE teachers might have and it seemed to me that she was diminishing the importance of the role of religious education. I am happy to hear her clarification.
I want to speak to those amendments in the group which seek to impose a mandatory quota on new faith schools and dilute their ethos by altering the arrangements for collective acts of worship. I understand the sincere motives that lie behind these amendments and the anxieties that the noble Lord, Lord Baker, has expressed today and the need for diversity and integration. Coming, as I do, from a city such as Liverpool where there was great sectarianism in the past, I agree with him, and have been very much part of the move in that city to encourage ecumenism and inter-denominational relationships. These have come about as a result of a voluntary relationship, not of legislation.
The amendments do not seek to address the fundamental causes of segregation, a point that the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, made very eloquently on Radio 4 a couple of days ago, but they risk undermining some of our countrys most successful schools.
Over the years, I have regularly heard, as we have in these debates, calls for the complete closure of Church schools. Although I know that the noble Lord, Lord Baker, does not share that view, there are Members of your Lordships' House who believe that. I think that in some ways it would be more straightforward to test that proposition in a Division rather than promote a thin end of the wedge amendment which will gradually emasculate Church schools. The Government, and others, offer a magicians bargain: they say that if we go along with the amendment on new faith schools, they will not touch existing onesnot for now, at any rate. But in a country where, in the past few days, a British Airways worker has been banned from wearing a cross on a necklace, the Minister would be surprised if people of religious faith were not anxious about the new intolerance that has been gathering a head of steam.
We should be clear that Amendment No. 16 would significantly diminish the rights of governing bodies of faith schools to establish their own admission criteria, a right which was won in 1944, as the noble Lord, Lord Baker, mentioned.
Rather than resisting this punitive measure outright, the Government are now, we are told, considering handing over decisions to local authorities. In certain parts of the country, this will then become a political football, and faith schools will find themselves at the centre of controversy and division. There will be little consistency in outcome and it will doubtless lead to new postal code lotteries. Families who are able to will move to more benign districts. Paradoxically, the poorest will once again be the losers.
In introducing the Bill, the Government made much of their desire, which I supported on Second Reading, to enhance the autonomy of schools, their trust in governing bodies and teachers, and the enhancement of parental choice. By interfering with something as central as admissions and taking that power away from schools, they are building an inherent contradiction into the legislation. Do we really have so little trust in governing bodies that, having proper regard to local circumstances, we think they are incapable of seeing the importance of social cohesion?
Ten per cent of this countrys schools are Catholic. There are 1,723 Catholic primary schools and 352 Catholic secondary schools. In addition, there are 17 Catholic sixth-form colleges and 156 Catholic schools in the independent sector. Those schools were established only because of the generosity and sacrifice of previous generations of Catholics, many of whom were from poor immigrant communities. My own mother, an Irish speaker from the west of Ireland, was typical of those people who gave generously to collections every week to establish parish schools in inner-city areas. Even today, in addition to many other forms of support, parishes contribute around £20 million a year towards capital costs.
The achievements of these schools are significant: 42 per cent of Catholic schools have high value-added status and above-average point scores. According to Ofsteds figures, that compares with the national average of 30 per cent for other schools. A fifth of the top-performing comprehensive schools at A-level are Catholic and Ofsted says that they provide better value for money than other schools.
Many of those schools have waiting lists of families from Catholic parishes. The logic of the amendment, if it were applied to all schools or even just to new ones, is that even where they had helped raise funds to build a new school and were keen members of the Catholic parish, they would be denied a place at the local school. Think of the resentment that that could engender. Far from encouraging community cohesion and integration, we will have sown the seeds of division.
The introduction of quotas would have an adverse effect on the social and ethnic diversity of our schools as the restriction of places for Catholics would, in some instances, result in children from poorer backgrounds being denied access to Catholic education.
The issue of Islamic schools is constantly raised to justify amendments like these. If we introduce over-exacting and hostile measures, those schools will simply be established in the independent sector. That point was very eloquently made by the noble Lord, Lord Baker, and I agreed with him. There will be no ability there to influence things such as admissions criteria. Secondly, in the present climate, I find it hard to believe that a Muslim school will be able to fill the 25 per cent quota with non-Muslim children. This measure will have an adverse effect in dealing with the perceived problem and will simultaneously antagonise a sector which has an exemplary record. That is not a good example of well thought-through public policy.
In the long term, Catholic schools will be the most adversely affected by this approach. Such a measure is wholly unjustified. Without externally imposed criteria, the Catholic sector has been making a huge contribution to the development of communal co-existence and responsible citizenship. Without external interference or mandatory measures, it already has significant diversity. Some 18.2 per cent of itspupils are drawn from ethnic minorities, compared with 16.7 per cent in the state sector. Trevor Phillips has been quoted. The chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality says:
I was also struck when the noble Lord, Lord Baker, referred to the situation in Northern Ireland. He will have received a letter earlier this week from Anthony Spencer, director of the Pastoral Research Centre. He was the adviser on integrated education in Northern Ireland to the Government of which the noble Lord was a member. In 1984, he founded the Belfast Charitable Trust for Integrated Education, of which I have been a patron. Like him, I believe that in the sectarian circumstances of Northern Ireland, schools such as Hazelwood and Lagan College are very helpful initiatives.
It is often forgotten that those initiatives were not secular ones; those are inter-denominational Christian schools. No compulsion was involved and no quotas invoked. In opposing the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Baker, Mr Spencer says:
I know from personal experience of my own childrens schools that admissions there include significant numbers from other and no faith backgrounds, without outside interference or anyone telling them to do it.
The recent report Quality and Performance:A Survey of Education in Catholic Schools convincingly demolishes many of the old hoary arguments endlessly deployed against church schools. The survey reveals that Catholic schools are socially and ethnically mixed, and may have large numbers of pupils who are not
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If there is an issue to address about whether schools with a religious character are not promoting proper respect for our democratic institutions, pluralism and way of life, let them be subject to inspection and let Ofsted report accordingly. I strongly support the earlier remarks made in that context by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth and note, in passing, that my own childrens Catholic school produced more Victoria Crosses than any other school in Britain, which hardly denotes a lack of commitment to our country and its ideals.
Transparency and scrutiny about how schools contribute to community cohesion is not an issue which faith schools will fear, if they are true to their ethos. I note that the Catholic Education Service has made clear its support for a requirement to report on issues such as how inter-faith dialogue is experienced in a school, how other peoples traditions are explained and respected and how community service is promoted. I would support an amendment to do that in the Bill.
Ten years ago, on behalf of Liverpool John Moores University, I established a good citizenship award scheme. It operates in nearly 1,000 schools on Merseyside and in other parts of north-west England. In parenthesis, I declare the chair I hold at that university. Time and again, children from church schools have received our awards for the contribution that they make to community life. Last month, 12 children from one of our schools, the Sacred Heart in Crosby, received from Cherie Booth, QCone of their alumniawards for the work they have done befriending asylum seekers. Another young recipient, Francesca DArcy of St Edwards College, had raised a staggering £100,000 for local hospices. Students and schools like those need no lectures from us about social responsibility.
These amendments, including government Amendment No. 79, also introduce opt-outs from religious worship, for those in sixth forms, and from religious education. Catholic schools were established primarily to educate children of the Catholic faith, to form them as Catholics and to provide them with a well rounded education. They encourage pupils to see all men and women as made in the image of God, and therefore of infinite worth and value. They allow the cultivation of religious and spiritual needs. Plenty of alternatives exist if parents do not want those values for their children. That there are often waiting lists demonstrates that what we have now is what parents want.
The Government regularly lecture parents, including those of 16 to 18 year-olds, to be mindful of disciplinary and developmental issues at school which affect their children. Now, parents are to be told that this core activity, central to the identity of their childs school, will be determined by peer group pressure and argument. Incorporating a divisive opt-out into the
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