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Baroness Blatch: As my noble friend spoke, I was at times on his side and at times not so certain. I came full circle. My noble friend makes an interesting proposition. I agree that this is not an area for regulation.
The truth is that there are faith schools. Parents of children of a particular faith, Muslim, Catholic or Anglican, would expect to be given access to a school of that faith. They would be very upset if there were some form of quota systemI understand that my noble friend is against thatwhich determined by informal or formal methods that X per cent of the school shall be made available to children not of that faith and that only a certain percentage of children of the faith could be received into the school. It is a stepping stone to schools becoming secular rather than faith schools. Therefore, I have difficulty on that point.
I have difficulty also as regards regulations, as proposed in an amendment in another place. First, there are a large number of faith schools in our countryJewish, Catholic, Anglican and Muslim. They offer places predominantly to children of the faith of those schools. However, there has been a tradition, in particular in the Anglican Church, for
I visited the King David school, an exceptionally good school in Liverpool. I understand that fewer than half the children who attend the school are of the Jewish faith. Therefore, more than half are not of the Jewish faith. In addition to the national curriculum which all those schools are required to follow, there is a distinct Jewish ethos. One walks out of that school feeling very good about education. There is an exceptional mentoring system. The ethos within the school is exceptional. There is clearly a generous approach to young people of that area being accepted into the school.
I assume, because I do not know, that places are made available to children not of the Jewish faith because there are not enough children of the Jewish faith to take those places. I should like priority to be given to children of that faith who wish to take those places rather than having them taken by children of other faiths. The same argument applies to Anglican, Catholic and Muslim schools.
With regard to Muslim schools, I am not certain whether doors are opened similarly to children not of the Muslim faith. My caveat is that there are few of those schools and they are in areas of high Muslim population. Therefore, it is likely that those schools would have almost 100 per cent of children of the Muslim faith.
Equally, I have visited an exceptional school in the Tower Hamlets area, headed by the partner of Chris Woodhead. Ninety-something per cent of the children were of the Muslim faith; yet it was not a faith school. Respect for and accommodation of the faith of those children was managed well by that school.
It is a sensitive issue. I do not believe that we should go down the road of quota systems. Nor should we follow the road proposed in the amendment passed in another place. I agree with my noble friend. I believe that there is scope for the Churchesit will be interesting to hear the right reverend Prelate if he speaks on the amendmentand faith groups themselves to consider the policy which they operate not only to meet the needs of the people of their faith in the area but also those of children of other or no faith.
The Lord Bishop of Blackburn: I had intended to intervene in debate on this part of the Bill. I am not clear whether the noble Lord favours faith schools but he seeks to be helpful. Unfortunately, the amendment is too vague to achieve his aim, with which I have a great deal of sympathy, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch.
Like the noble Baroness, I vacillated in my appreciation of what he said. The introduction of words such as "religious ghetto" is extremely unhelpful. If one wants to use the word "ghetto" about schools, there are ghetto schools in almost every class
Most faith schools are community schools serving the local community, whether Roman Catholic or Anglican. That would be equally true of the few Muslim schools. For some of us the difficulty arises with regard to secondary education. As there are so few such schools the kind of things which the noble Lord described can happen. On these Benches, we do not believe that a quota system of percentages would be helpful. That would push the problem a little further down the line. One would still have to make awkward and difficult decisions. What would be best in one neighbourhood would not be best necessarily in another.
However, the noble Lord may have noticed that a further amendment has been tabled as regards this matter; namely, Amendment No. 211 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton of Upholland, which would deal with this question as far as concerns Anglican schools. We have deliberately asked the department, the Government, to make provision for Anglican schools in the light of criticisms that have been made about admissions policies being what I would call "eccentric" in some schools, or perhaps determined not to listen to local need, so that the diocese would have at least some part to play in that process. It is for others to say whether that kind of arrangement would be suitable to other faith communities. No doubt some noble Lords will be able to enter into that debate.
I would resist this amendment on the grounds that it is too vague. I urge the Committee to support Amendment No. 211, which our authorities have carefully negotiated with the Government. However, we must not underestimate the difficulties involved. Many people who are supporters of such schools would press the local initiative of the local governors. We must be careful that we are not, as it were, speaking double-speak: on one set of proposals we want the most local input that we can get, while on the other we want to bring in other people. It would be helpful if governors of Anglican schools had, in some way, to listen and have regard to advice given by the diocesan authority. I urge the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment, and to put his support behind Amendment No. 211.
Baroness Sharp of Guildford: The name of the Liberal Democrats has been mentioned on a number of occasions; indeed, we were party to a series of amendments put forward both in Committee and on Report in the other place that did propose a quota system. However, the debate that took place in another place and which, subsequently, took place both within our party and within other forums has indicated that that is not the right way forward. That is why we have not tabled a similar amendment in this Chamber.
I do not know whether noble Lords have noticed, but we have tabled an amendment under the clause dealing with admission forums; namely, Amendment No. 178A. The amendment was put down rather late, and, arguably, ought to have been grouped with the amendment now under discussion. I apologise to the Committee for failing to spot the connection. Our amendment suggests a slightly different way forward. It relates to the admission forums, which cover all maintained schools and, therefore, all voluntary-aided schools, foundation schools, as well as voluntary-controlled and community schools. The amendment proposes that a voluntary-aided school that is a faith-based school should make clear to the admission forum the proportion of pupils coming forward from a particular faith.
Our amendment would also place some responsibility on the admission forum to take account of local need and the demand for faith-based places locally. I believe that it is a fairly bland amendment; it does not seek to push such proposals. However, it raises the issue that exercised people's minds when the discussion took place in the other place; namely, that such schools are substantially funded by the state, from the public purseindeed, to the tune of 100 per cent in relation to current revenue costs. Of course, part of the capital funding comes from the Churches, which, as the right reverend Prelate said, recognise the need to serve the local community. There seems to be some inequity if some schools are excluding would-be pupils who are living right next door because they are not of that particular faith, despite the fact that a wish has been expressed to attend that school. The issue of proximity must sometimes be taken into account.
Although Amendment No. 178A has a somewhat different approach to the matter, it relates to the same issue that we believe needs to be aired; namely, the question of serving the community and, to some extent, the availability of some school places for the local community. That is precisely what the majority of faith-based schools try to achieve. Indeed, the inequity arises in a small minority of cases. That is why we have put forward our amendment.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, for her observations. I am pleased to note the change in tone and, indeed, of direction from that which dominated our earlier debates on the subject. I agree that it would have been helpful if Amendment No. 178A had perhaps been grouped with the amendment now before the Committee. That would have enabled the debate to be taken in its entirety at this point.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, is well intentioned in placing his amendment before the Committee today, but the reason for the tension on this question goes back to our Second Reading debate and the discussion on the role of faith schools in our society. Indeed, it does not just go back to the Second Reading debate, or to the debate that took place in another place; it goes right back into the mists of time. Similarly, I can tell
That, in turn, led to the great debate at the turn of the 20th century, which found Hilaire Belloc, who was then a Liberal Member of Parliament and a Catholic, leading some 80,000 people in a protest to the Royal Albert Hall against his own party and government when the charge was being made that any contribution towards the new schools for poor Irish immigrants would be "Rome on the rates". Echoes of that debate emerged during the 20th century in, for example, the debates on the Education Act 1944. Indeed, such questions return to visit us from time to time.
There have been arguments over Jewish schools, and now the discussion has moved to Muslim schools. I was especially pleased to hear the remarks made by the noble Baroness on the King David High School in Liverpool, which served many of the people who I represented when I was a constituency Member of Parliament for that city. The noble Baroness is quite right to say that that school has always served people from many walks of life, and from different backgrounds. The authorities of that school would say very clearly that it is a Jewish school, and that that is its great strength. Its ethos is a Jewish ethos. If others wish to participate in that, they are welcome to do so. I know that this amendment does not seek to do so, but to dilute its ethosas emerged in the previous debatewould be quite the wrong way to proceed. Indeed, it would alienate many people throughout the country who passionately support the provision of Church schools.
The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, will know that there are others who have taken a much tougher line on such matters. For example, the former education spokesman for her party in another place said that, in an ideal world, there would be no religious state schools. He went on to say that his party would put a stop to the daily act of worship. I fundamentally disagreed with him at the time; he knows that, and we corresponded on the subject. I do not think that it is an "ideal world" to prevent people from being able to send their child to a school with a religious ethos. It would diminish all of us if we removed such practices as the daily act of worship from our schools. It is most important for us to transmit our cultural values from generation to generation.
As the right reverend Prelate said earlier, I also believe that it is something of a caricature to talk about schools as though they are "ghetto schools"to use the phrase of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. The schools that I visit throughout the country that are run by different Churches and faiths serve many people from beyond their own communities, but they have their own identity because of the community from which they have sprung. The facts bear out what I am saying. There is no need to impose a quota along the lines suggested in the Liberal Democrat amendment in
The experience of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, in places like Hertfordshire is true. In the Westminster archdiocese and in that of both Liverpool and Salford, demand for Catholic places is extremely high and will often outstrip the supply. More than 90 per cent of pupils in those dioceses tend to be Catholic, but they are the exception rather than the rule. In the Birmingham archdiocese, for instance, 27.1 per cent of pupils are non-Catholic; in the Clifton diocese, which serves the Avon and Bristol areas, the figure is 30.1 per cent; in Hallam in the Sheffield area it is 32.6 per cent; in Plymouth 39.5 per cent; and in the Wrexham diocese it is 24.9 per cent.
Everyone knows that in some situations and in certain areas we may be approaching a position where the character and the ethos of a school can be radically altered if the proportions become too unbalanced. This is why the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, is right to say that we should approach this issue with great discretion and trust the people on the ground to make the right decision. We should not have a regimented approach.
During the Second Reading debate the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, promised an amendment at this stage which would be based on catchment areas. I am delighted that that amendment has not so far appeared on the Marshalled List because its effect would be to create a situation where the ability to buy a house in close proximity to a particular school would be the one reason why someone would be able to get into that school. It would not be on the basis of someone's faith, commitment, social need or the desirability of having a place in that school, but because that person could move there. It would mean replacing the sensitively worked-out approach which is pragmatically being applied on the ground with something far more arbitrary and socially damaging.
I believe the Government have got it right. I welcome the approach that the Minister has taken to this whole issue. It is a sensitive question but she has acted in accordance with the concordat that was made in 1944 between the Churches and the state by the government of the day. The Government are entitled to our support on these questions today.
But we do have to address some of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, one of which was the need for shared civic values. We have a right in our society to ask Church schools and schools of other faiths, "Are you teaching children in your schools to share the same civic values as the rest of us?". If a shared love of democracy, our civic institutions and the upholding of the rule of law is not being taught, we have a perfect right to ask questions. If the schools are not teaching the value of diversity, pluralism and respect, again we have a right to ask questions about that.
Last night, children from some of those Church schools were receiving awards for their engagement in the civic life of the city. One of the young men present was a Young Conservative, James Maudsley, a human rights activist who went out to Burma. He is the product of a local faith school. We can all be enormously proud of him, having read in the newspapers how Aung San Suu Kyi, that marvellous beacon of democracy in Burma, was paying tribute to the risks that he took with his life, motivated and fired as he was by his faith. Another dimension is sometimes given to people as a result of their upbringing through our faith schools, so the use of the term "ghetto" in describing those faith schools is disingenuous.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, was wrong to say that we do not have religious hospitals. We do have hospitals which are run by religious orders. There is one in the constituency that I represented previously in another place which serves the wider community. Religious institutions are part of the web and weave of our lives in every respect. We should value that, uphold it and ensure that they continue to prosper.
If the amendment were incorporated into the Bill, it would have a practical effect which may be undesirable from the noble Lord's own point of view. The amendment suggests that notice should be taken of,
The amendment refers to "any religious authorities". What is a "religious authority"? Does it mean that if a cultfor instance, the Scientologists, the Moonies, the Children of God and so oncame along and said, "We have a child in this school and we wish you to take note of a prescription that we wish to impose on the school", would the school be required to do so under the terms of the amendment?
Were the amendment to be incorporated it would be unhelpful to the legislation. We should go with the amendment that the Government have placed before the Committee. We should keep the spirit of the Bill and the spirit of the agreement that has been carefully
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for bringing forward this proposed amendment to Section 91 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, not least because it has allowed us to range more freely in our discussion. In responding on behalf of the Government, I do not wish to pre-empt the discussion that we will have later when the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, brings forward her amendment, but, as did the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn, I wish to draw attention again to Amendment No. 211. I look forward to the debate. I hope that we will be able to find common cause within it.
The Committee may be aware that Section 91 allows aided and foundation schools with a religious character to preserve that religious character by rejecting applications from families not of their faith or denomination. A typical Section 91 arrangement defines a limit on the number of places at a particular faith or denominational school that may go to pupils not of that faith or denomination.
Where schools give children of a faith or denomination priority for admission and are over-subscribed with pupils of that faith or denomination, a Section 91 arrangement has no additional effect. It makes a difference in practice only where fewer children of the faith or denomination apply to the school than the arrangement envisages. If that happens, the arrangement will allow the school to keep empty those places it cannot fill with pupils of the faith or denomination, even though there may be a demand for those places from other families.
The Government have been giving serious thought to whether Section 91 arrangements are compatible with our aim of establishing an admissions framework that ensures that as many parents' preferences as possible can be met. We believe that allowing schools to keep places empty when there is demand for them is at odds with our aim. We do not believe that it is an efficient use of resources for places to remain empty in some schools if overall demand for places in a local education authority's area can be met only by the authority having to meet the cost of providing additional school places elsewhere. Empty places mean less funding for the schools themselves and fewer resources available for children in those schools.
In practice, there are very few Section 91 arrangements in place. Many Catholic schools and their dioceses already take the view that it is better to fill all their places by admitting children of other faiths or denominations or of no faith than to keep places empty. As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said, about 14 per cent of children in Roman Catholic primary schools and more than 20 per cent of children in Roman Catholic secondary schools are not Catholic.
I am able to announce today that we shall be bringing forward an amendment at Report stage to repeal Section 91 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998. That will end the possibility of faith schools under-subscribed by faith adherents agreeing arrangements with their local education authority to keep places empty.
In coming to this decision we have been very grateful for the helpful approach taken by the Roman Catholic authorities. We have discussed our decision to repeal Section 91 with these authorities and will continue to discuss with them how our decision is to be implemented. Where Roman Catholic demand has been met, they are happy for the benefits of Catholic schooling to be extended to other families who appreciate and want those benefits. I hope that the Committee will agree that repealing this section is an important contribution to ensuring access in principle to faith schools for members of other faiths or none.
I can, however, assure the Committee that repealing Section 91 will in no way alter the rights of governing bodies of Catholic and other religious voluntary-aided or foundation schools to define their own admission criteria and priorities, and in particular to give priority admittance, if over-subscribed, to members of their faith or denomination. The Government recognise that many schools hold sincerely to the credo that they were established to serve their particular faith community and that that is where their primary responsibility lies.