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Schools can come together on civics and learn about that, but the degree of co-operation beyond that is not all that great. That is why people who support my amendment would like to see schools where children of different faiths play together in the playground, sit together in maths and physics lessons, talk together over lunch and go home on the same buses. We think that that is a happier system and a better way to create community cohesion.
I turn to one specific point made by the noble Lord that reports should be acted upon. As the writer of many reports, he will know that sometimes reports are acted on and sometimes they are not. A recent Chief Inspector of Schools, David Bell, put in a report only a year ago that many Muslim schools,
We all agree with that. What have the Government done as a result of that report? Perhaps the Minister can direct our attention to particular papers that have
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The growth in favour of schools needs to be carefully but sensitively monitored by government to ensure that pupils at all schools receive an understanding of not only their own faith but of other faiths and the wider tenets of British society.
The department is miserably deficient in that. In the past year, I have asked various questions of the department on faith schools and I get the reply that the information is not held. I have asked how many children from other faiths go to faith schools and it has no idea. It did not even know that the admissions procedures in some faith schools require photographs, which is actually illegal.
For some time, the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, has had on his desk a report about a school in Sussex which has only four pupils and which has radical weekends. Why has he not closed that school? If we are to depend on inspectors reports, we must be satisfied that they are acted on. Although I support the amendmentI think it embodies the direction in which we all want to goby itself it carries a weight which the issue cannot bear and that is why I hope many noble Lords will later support my amendment.
Lord Sutherland of Houndwood: My Lords, is the noble Lord awarehe may take reassurance from the factthat in Scotland, as a result of an inspectors report, a private faith school was closed down because it was failing to provide an adequate education in the terms in which we have been speaking? It can be done, but I accept his point that it requires a will at ministerial level.
Lord Ahmed: My Lords, I rise to support the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, as I am one of the signatories of Amendments Nos. 7 and 19. I attended a comprehensive schoolI was not fortunate enough to get into a grammar schooland all my children also went to comprehensive schools. I support faith schools because they have provided good education, whether they are Church schools, Jewish schools, Sikh, Hindu or Muslim schools. There are only seven or eight state-funded Muslim schools, not 124. I heard the noble Lord, Lord Baker, saying on television this morning that they might be applying. The Association of Muslim Schools told me this morning that only seven are seeking voluntary-aided status. We need to have facts rather than scaremongering to the effect that there are hundreds of Islamic and Muslim schools that want state funding; we need to make sure that all the rules are in place.
I apologise to the House that I was not here on ReportI was discussing bail, which was a big national issue for us all. The Association of Muslim Schools told me that it already does as much as it can and it is prepared to do more in terms of intra-community relations; and with community cohesion work it already teaches the common vision, common purpose and core values that the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, talked about. We need to
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When we give the example of state-run schools in Tower Hamlets, we are not talking about Islamic schools, faith schools, or Jewish schools. Even the state-run schools have 98 per cent children from one community, so it is wrong just to target faith schools. If we go to Bradford, Leicester or Southall we will find state-run schools with 98 or 99 per cent of children from one community. So community cohesion needs to be taught and promoted, but in every school. We all need to do it. I was speaking in Nottingham yesterday and I said that we have to open up our mosques every Friday for a samosa and cup of tea for every member of the community who wants to come in, because there is nothing to hide. It is such misunderstandings, whether in the media or through politicians, that lead to people thinking that there is an alien community.
On that issue I could not understand why the Muslim community has suddenly become a burden in society when we all recognise that during the Second World War Muslims gave their lives to save the way of life of our democracy. There are cemeteries in Woking commemorating Muslims who died for Britain fighting against the fascists and the Nazis. Muslims were part of the British society that helped to rebuild this country's economy after the Second World Warin the steel and textile industriesand they have been very good contributors to British society.
Very recently, because of a few criminals, because of a few who were given time on television and in our newspapers to provoke entire communitiesand also to insult and demonise our religion and communitieswe have this huge debate. The Muslim community and the Association of Muslim Schools welcome any opportunity to be able to meet requirements for community cohesion and I am delighted to support the amendment.
Lord Dearing: My Lords, I begin by saying to the noble Lord, Lord Peston, that I respect those who take the view that there should not be faith schools, but it is because we have faith schools that we have the amendment. To the noble Earl, I say that I understand his point and I am glad that he made it. If the amendment stated just that schools should be in favour of community cohesion, he would be right, but it states promote. There is an active verb there and that makes the difference. To the noble Baroness, Lady David, I say that I listened to what she said about twinning. That could be one way in which cohesion could be promoted in particular cases.
I join with others in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Baker, for promotingno, provoking is the right
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I want to be brief, so I mention a practical suggestion for promoting cohesion that came from Sir Cyril Taylor, chairman of the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust. He wrote a paper arguing that one of the problems in promoting community cohesion is that many immigrants do not have much capacity to speak English. That is especially true of many Muslim mothers who come to this country. Many of them cannot speak any English. His proposal is that schools in such areas should take it on themselves to run English classes after school for those people. He points out that the Learning and Skills Council has recently withdrawn funding for such courses in Tower Hamlets, where there is a huge demand for them.
I say to the Minister that that is something that is practical, useful, to the point and deserves funding. Perhaps, in the fullness of time, it would be good if the Minister made available non-statutory guidance on what constitutes good practice in that regard.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, like my noble friend Lord Baker, the amendment is a fine set of words. If we were dealing with an amendment to the European Union constitution, I know how it would be usedbecause I have seen a great deal in Sub-Committee E of how the European Union is capable of making a great deal out of very small words and for ever taking power, based on what some kind person has written down. This is just the sort of wordy provision that could be used by an organisation such as the Commission to do a great deal. However, I share my noble friends concern that it will not be.
The amendment has the virtue that it applies to all schools. It would apply to the socially selective, comfortable, suburban comprehensive school which, if community was defined as it might be, would have to find ways to reach out to its neighbouring council estatesperhaps by having some socially blind admission system by ballot or whatever.
The promotion of community cohesion seems to me to be a thoroughly worthwhile enterprise. If this is something that is going to be used and turns out over time to have teeth and to move the faith schools in the direction of being more part of the community than they are, I will find this a thoroughly good amendment. I share the pessimism of my noble friend that it will, but I will support this amendment happily because I am allowed to be optimistic from time to time.
I do, however, want to quarrel briefly with something the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said. He implied that paying 10 per cent of the costs of the school gives you total rights over it. Suppose that the independent schools got together and said: We will pay 10 per cent of the cost of a new university but only pupils from independent schools will be allowed to go to it. That would be outrageous. Why, then, is it acceptable that any religious group, by paying 10 per cent of the cost of the school, can have exclusive use of it?
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I would not like the noble Lord to leave that point on the record as it is, because I did not say that. What I made clear, I hope, in my remarks and in my speech last week on Report was that where a community has made considerable sacrifice to build a school, it should have rights to send its children to the school that they have contributed towards, whereas if quotas are imposed, members of that community may well be excluded from it.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, the noble Lord is saying exactly what I thought he said; namely, that by making a sacrifice of the order of 10 per cent of the cost of that school, that community should have rights over the whole of its admissions.
I approach this from a different point of view. I think faith schools are desirable. I think to be true faith schools, they have to be supported by their Church and have a decent community of that Church as part of their make-up, so I am very happy that Church schools should be founded and should be partially selective on religion. But I really do not think that saying that providing a little bit of money entitles us to all the places is the basis on which we should run our society. I think we should not tolerate but welcome faith schools and we should welcome the provision of the particular kind of education that they make available to all of us.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I would like to go back to the beginning of this debate. When I read this amendment, I was absolutely joyful because it seemed to me that in an amazing way, starting with the amendment that the noble Lord, Lord Baker, tabled, which had enormous point to it, we were getting to the point of what the whole of this semi-argument has been about; that is, to have an inclusive education system. One of the best ways to do this is to build on the strengths we already have in the community. There are huge strengths in the faith schools and in the Governments plans involving an extension of trust schools, and there are other ways of doing this. I congratulate everybody who signed up to the two major amendments that we are discussing.
Governors of schools will also welcome this but I must nudge the Minister on one concern I have. When more trust schools are set up, the promoters of these schools are going to have rather more rights in appointing the governors, and the number of elected parent governors will go down. I would have thought that the aim of everything we have talked about is to
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I doubt whether we could have had this debate a year or two ago, as the tensions were just too high. The very fact that, since the noble Lord, Lord Baker, moved his original amendment, everybody has got down to seeking the most proactive, effective way forward reflects very well on your Lordships House and the Government, so I congratulate them. I hope that we will look to the approach proposed. I have to say that there have probably been too many education Bills, even during my time in this House, but for those who do not believe that the voluntary approach will work there will be other occasions when we can review its effectiveness. We underestimate the ingenuity and spiritual approach of those of varied nationalities and religionsand those with no religioninvolved in our community who want to make a success of all the talent we have in this country.
Baroness Morris of Yardley: My Lords, this debate has been very interesting; it seems, to some extent, to have got into the right position today. I welcome the amendment and would find it difficult to vote against it. Who could vote against an amendment that promoted community cohesion? That, at least, gives us a common starting point.
There have been two sides to this debate: faith schools and community cohesion. Although the issues overlap, we have run the danger in previous stages of the Bill of thinking they were one and the same. Two weeks ago I would have agreed with the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Baker, but given the views of some Churches, particularly the Catholic Church, I think it wise not to push it and make the arrangement compulsory.
I welcome the attitude of the Church of England in saying that it will voluntarily seek, as it does now, to admit people from other faiths. I say to my good friend the Archbishop of Birmingham, with whom I have worked closely over the years, that having been around many Catholicand Jewishschools I do not believe for a minute that admitting one in four children of another faith or none would take away from the Catholic nature of the school. The values of the school were strong enough not to be weakened by the admission of one non-Catholic pupil in four. Although I accept the Archbishops comments that he has a primary obligation to parents of Catholic children whom they want to have a Catholic education, we have a wider obligation to all children in the community. Had the Archbishop voluntarily
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I would not have chosen to teach in a faith school, and had I had children I would not have chosen to send them to one, but I have always defended other peoples right to make that choice. It is strange that, at this time, when we are talking about defending our liberties and things that have been precious to us for generations, we are in danger of becoming the first generation to say that we can no longer tolerate somebody elses decision to enrol their child at a faith school because of the nature of the community. If we ever did that, we would be giving up a liberty that we have had for many centuries. I also acknowledge the role that Church schools played in educating poor children long before the state did so.
I turn now to the essence of this amendment. I welcome our being, to some extent, where we should have been. What is society worried about? I do not think that it is worried about faith schools. Society is worried that a number of factors are leading our children to live and learn in segregated communities. Faith schools have been thought of as an example of that, which is why they are entwined in this debate. So, I welcome the fact that there should be something in legislation about promoting community cohesion. But there are dangers in that. There is a real risk that, because it is in legislation, we will think that it is already done or that it will take place. There is a risk of Parliament sending the message that we do not acknowledge the teachers, schools and communities that have already been working very hard to do the things we are talking about now. To some extent we are putting in law the best of what already takes place.
I say to the Minister that this is the third attempt to do this. The first attempt was back in my day when we had a similar debate on faith schools in an education Bill. I was not around long enough to see the publication of the proposal, and I cannot lay my hands on it now, but it was a list of 20 ways in which faith schools can promote community cohesion. However, when looking for that piece of paper from 2002, I found another one: the Local Government Associations Community CohesionAn Action Guide from 2004. I shall read out some words from the section on education, which was backed by the DfES:
My only reason for reading that out is to show that we must be very clear about what we now expect to change. What will change when we pass the Bill? I understand the importance of putting it in legislation,
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I ask the Minister to flesh out what he expects to change. What is his evaluation of the two previous attempts to bring this about without legislation? What powers will be needed to make sure that we end up in a different position from the present one? Quite honestly, if schools look as they do now in five years time, we will not have achieved our objective. Schools are some of the most cohesive institutions in our communitymore so than almost anywhere else. Schools have not caused the problem we have at the moment; schools have mitigated its worst excesses. Do not blame schools, but look to them for a solution. It behoves us to say to schools: thanks for what you have been doing, but what can we do to help you be more effective in promoting social cohesion?
Lord Northbourne: My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, may I point out for the record that existing Catholic schools have something approaching 30 per cent of pupils who are not Roman Catholic?
Baroness Flather: My Lords, I have listened carefully to the various views expressed about community cohesion in the debate, and I feel that something is missing. The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, has just mentioned in passing the principle of shared values. Community cohesion without shared values is not of much use. In saying that, I wish particularly to point out one factor. Let us not beat about the bush, we are concerned about Muslim schools more than we are about the existing faith schools. We have heard over and over again that everyone likes to send their children to faith schools because they are more disciplined, they have uniforms and they hold to old-fashioned values. That is fine, and we are not worried about that. But let us consider very strict schools such as Jewish Hasidic schools, and then we should be worried, as we should have certain worries about Islamic schools.
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