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I accept that this is a declaratory statement but it is none the worse for that, and I do not believe that any civil servants have lost their job because of its inclusion in that legislation. Indeed, in Amendments Nos. 7, 8 and 9, which are very welcome, the Government are doing the same thing. For two years they have been assuring us that schools already have a duty to promote the well-being of pupils but now they see fit to make it clear in legislation. That is what we are trying to do today with the right to education.
It might be worth asking why the Joint Committee on Human Rights felt it necessary to include such a provision in the Bill. Childrens right to education is under threat across the world. Political situations, refugee situations and poverty mean that many millions of children do not receive an education. Some teachers even lose their lives for providing education. I was moved and horrified to read that on 25 September Safia Ama Jan was gunned down in Afghanistan by the Taliban simply for teaching girls and giving them their right to education. Teachers in Ethiopia are also being put under a great deal of pressure for providing education. When childrens right to an education is being threatened across the world, it is time for us in this country, where most children are lucky enough to be provided with a good education, to stand up and say so proudly in our legislation, clarifying that we support childrens right to a suitable education appropriate to their needs.
Our amendment is not a blank cheque. We are asking for no more than the right of the child as enshrined in the UN convention, not any particular kind of education in a particular school. Lines 7 and 8 of Clause 1 refer to the education functions,
To fulfil our requested duty, a local authority must show only that it has done its very best to provide an appropriate education for each child. Obviously, we hope that the education they provide will be appropriate for every child and properly resourced.
We are not asking for a lot. We are not asking for anything that the Government say is not a childs right. We are asking that we stand up and be counted on this, and make it quite clear. The ordinary man in the street does not have the opportunity to go to a legal library to consult half a dozen Acts of Parliament and a good deal of case law in order to find out what the law is. We have here an opportunity to make it absolutely clear that it is the duty of the local authority to ensure that parents are carrying out their responsibility to give their child an education, whether that education is provided by the authority itself, bought in from another authority, provided at home, at an independent school, or in another appropriate way. That is all we are asking for: it is little enough. I beg to move.
Lord Judd: My Lords, I warmly applaud this amendment. We greatly appreciate the consideration the Minister has given our concerns, and the meetings he has facilitated with those responsible within the department. We had good discussions together, and we very much appreciated that opportunity.
It seems to me sad that a new education Bill should be couched in thevery necessarylanguage of management and implementation, but fail to spell out at its masthead what we are all trying to achieve. It fails to establish the rallying point around which the rest gather. That is profoundly sad. Teachers are under intense pressure, as are all those involved in the education system. There is great dedication in the profession and among others providing education. That everything required of them by this Bill is in order to fulfil the right of the child to education should appear in words of one syllable in the opening clauses of the Bill. This is the standard to which everybody else can then rally.
My noble friend has argued very well that there are the four pillars. We all take the four pillars seriously and judicial opinion supports the Minister on this matter. The Minister also asks why we need to put it into the Bill when it is in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. We have been reminded by my noble friend the Chief Whip that we must not argue at length matters that have already been argued, so I will forgo that temptation. Let me simply say that, yes, it is there in the convention, and we should be proud of the part we played in making that convention a reality. If we played that splendid part, surely it should be reflected and spelt out in our own legislation?
The noble Baroness referred to Scotland. In all our discussions I have not heard any convincing arguments as to why what was possible in Scotlandthat is, to have this rallying pointis not possible south of the Border. There is one other matter I want to mention: in enthusiastically supporting the noble Baroness, I have one quarrel with something she said today in the House. She said that local education authorities will only have to prove that they have done their best. I should like to feel that local education authorities must demonstrate that they have done their level best. It is a strong obligation.
The noble Baroness went on to make a telling point about the realities of the educational challenge across the world and the penalties being paid by courageous teachers. If we can back up what is set out in the convention by spelling it out in our own legislation, it indicates what should be the policy and in the legislation of other countries. As I say, that is a powerful point.
But much nearer home, I am concerned about what is happening today. For example, for children in detention and those caught up in immigration and asylum procedures, none of which is of their making, it is not absolutely clear in all circumstances that appropriate education is being provided. We want to ensure that the children caught up in such painful psychological experiences are not still further damaged by not having a key pointer in the legislation
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The House should be grateful to the noble Baroness for giving us an opportunity, as we pass this Bill, to spell out clearly what it is all about, what is its purpose and why we should all get behind it and make it a success.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills (Lord Adonis): My Lords, the House is grateful to the noble Baroness for giving us the opportunity to discuss this issue yet again, but I fear that the Governments position remains as it was on the two previous occasions we considered it. While we wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment and intent behind the amendment, as supported by my noble friend, we do not believe it would be appropriate to make this change to primary legislation.
After long and careful consideration, we still believe that the current legal provisions, supported by jurisprudence, are the most effective way of securing the right to education, and we do not support these further changes. In particular, I note that Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 relate only to duties on local authorities. This could cut across the existing fourfold foundation of the right to education which, as I expounded at length at cols. 657 and 658 on 17 October, also places duties on parents, the Secretary of State and governing bodies. I hesitate to read it out again, but on that occasion I also cited at length the judgment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bingham, in the case of Ali v Lord Grey School, a judgment issued only this year. It strongly supports the fourfold foundation which, the noble and learned Lord said,
We believe that seeking to elevate one of those elements risks weakening the others. Furthermore, an effect of placing a duty on local authorities to secure the right of every child to suitable education in the way proposed here could, we are advised, be used as a legal argument to cut across parental choice and the right of children to be educated either at home or at an independent school. As regards Scotland, raised by both my noble friend and the noble Baroness, it is right that there is such a provision in the law of Scotland, but it has not yet once been deployed in a legal case, so we are not in a position to judge what its effect might be on those who wished to avail themselves of an education that was not of a kind approved in other respects by the public authorities. For these reasons, I regret to say that we oppose these amendments.
Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for his not unexpected reply, and I am grateful too to the noble Lord, Lord Judd, for his support. The Minister asked why we want to put this duty on local authorities. It is because this Bill puts a duty on local authorities to identify those children not receiving an education. What therefore follows to us poor logical souls is that one should also make it clear whose duty it is to ensure that the childs right is secured. Of course the parents and the Secretary of State have responsibilities. Those are clearly stated in other pieces of legislation. Indeed, local authorities have a number of levers and sanctions in order to assist them, to make sure that the parents fulfil their part of the bargain. But it is because of something elsewhere in the Bill. We felt it necessary to bring forward the amendment today.
The Minister says that in Scotland the situation has not been challenged legallythat there are no legal cases. Well, QED, say I. That sounds to me as if it is quite clear and not causing any problem. That is why there are no cases.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, this group of amendments will, I hope, pave the way to greater responsibility from schools in their role in improving integration and cohesion in the community. Amendment No. 3 is a probing amendment to ensure that the proposers of new schools are expected to set out their plans for fostering community cohesion in their submissions under Clause 7. I am sure that, with the provisions of the amendments in my name and in the names of others, that would be a routine matter. I therefore propose to spend my few moments talking about the other amendments.
Of those, Amendments Nos. 7 and 19 are substantial and indeed incorporate new material. Amendment No. 24 is a matter of tidying up thereafter. Amendments Nos. 7 and 19 specify significant and important new duties and where these new duties should lie. Amendment No. 7 places a duty on the governing body of a maintained school to promote the well-being of pupils at that school and, in the case of a school in England, to promote community cohesion. Amendment No. 19 places a duty on the chief inspector to report on,
The background to this is the debate that we have been having for some weeks, nationally and within this House, on the nature and responsibilities of faith schools in our system. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Baker, for initiating an important debate on this at Report. I must, however, distinguish between paying tribute and necessarily agreeing. That is for further down the road.
How are we to deal with the dangers of what David Hume referred to as errors in religion? A thorough education in the history of religions indicates both the benefits that religion can give and has given to society as well as to individuals and also the disastrous consequences of what Hume called errors in religionerrors which can promote exclusion rather than inclusion, myopia rather than vision, imprisonment of the mind rather than freedom of thought, zippered lips rather than free-flowing pens, and, from the point of view of the amendment before us, errors which might promote disruption rather
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The force of the amendments is first to give a duty to school governing bodies and to point schools in the direction of promoting cohesionthat is, towards cohesion and inclusion rather than disruption and exclusion. Secondly, they would give a duty to the chief inspector to inspect and report on how effectively such a responsibility is being met. I believe that the inspection system we have is capable of doing this in a thorough, fair and comprehensiveas well as comprehensiblemanner.
As a way of avoiding the danger of such errors, the amendments can be commended for three distinct reasons. Many ways of avoiding the dangers of error have been proposed, but I suggest there are three reasons for supporting these amendments. First, they build on an established, proven and universally applied set of procedures developed by Ofsted over the years. This is no new and uncertain proposal introduced to deal with a specific group of new emerging schools. Secondly, they rightly link this duty to promote cohesion and the duty to inspect that with the inspection of the whole school. Let me illustrate. Among other responsibilities that the chief inspector has for reporting, he or she has to report on the quality of education, educational standards, and the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils. These matters for report and inspection are a roll call of the markers of excellence in education.
The point that this makes is that cohesion in our society starts with literacy and numeracy, with educational standards and quality of education. That has to do with cohesion in society, but it does not end there. Cohesion in society has much more to it than that. The amendment affirms, and does so emphatically, that in our society, promoting cohesion shares in the order of priorities at the heart of our education system.
The third advantage of this way of dealing with potential difficulties born of errors is that our call for cohesion in society is presented not as an additional rod for the back of new or even existing schools; this is not a new way of subjugating the aspirations of schools. Rather, it is a positive encouragement to join an educational system which is informed by the core values and aspirations of our society, of which cohesion is one, and rightly features very highly in current times. It is also an invitation to participate in encouraging those valueshere summed up by the word cohesionand to help embed these values in the education system, the education that is provided by each school according to its own lights, if they are good schools, as a whole education for the wholeness of individuals within society.
In addition, it is clear that this group of amendments is a clear statement that judgments will be made, and they will be acted upon, within a legislative and universal envelope. These judgments are to be made by the school inspection system about
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The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, I am now going to be incredibly unpopular. I find this amendment waffle, meaningless and platitudinous. Can anybody seriously imagine a school whose purpose is to promote the ill-being of pupils or community incohesion? This is legislative waffle of the worst orderit is intellectually sloppy and should never be seen on the face of any legislation. Actually, it means that you should not have religious schools, because they are by their nature exclusionist. They fail to promote cohesion because they say they do not want people of other religions to mix with each other, and so should be illegal.
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