|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Baroness Sharp of Guildford: I hear what the noble Lord, Lord Alton, says, but I believe that he is maligning what I said in the earlier debate and in this debate. I have not suggested that Roman Catholic schools are not inclusive. In the earlier debate on the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, I said that there were few schoolsI believe the problems apply to only a very few schoolswhere
Lord Alton of Liverpool: I am sorry that the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, is upset by what I said. One can refer only to the record and in our earlier debate I quoted the former Liberal Democrat spokesman on education in another place, Mr Don Foster, who said that in an ideal world there would be no faith schools. He said that he would be in favour of, for example, the abolition of the daily act of worship. We know that a proposal was put forward by the party of the noble Baroness in another place which sought to impose rigid quotasa 25 per cent quota. We have heard what the noble Baroness has said this evening and I have already paid tribute to her for pulling back from that position. I reiterate that comment.
However, in her remarks a moment ago she indicated that there are some schools where she believes that those children who come from a faith background should not be given a place in a school in preference to people who live closest to the school. That would be a discriminatory measure against the children of that faith who live in that area. That is an issue of concern to parents who have children in such schools. I believe it would be wrong of the noble Baroness not to appreciate, as the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, said in his intervention, that there will not be widespread interest in these debates outside the Committee as there has been during the course of the recent local elections.
My point is that we should look to those schools to see what a fantastic contribution they make and praise them accordingly. In Ofsted's annual report, for example, HMCI's list of "particularly successful schools"Ofsted's phraseincluded a high number of Catholic schools. Ninety secondary schools were listed and of those 15 were Catholic; 206 primary schools were listed and of those 42 were Catholic. When one considers that Catholic schools provide 10 per cent of schools nationally, it is clear that Catholic schools are included to a higher proportion than their overall share of the maintained sector.
Earlier in our debate, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said, as have others in a previous debate, that if we go down the route of supporting such schools the result could be the kind of situation that persists in Northern Ireland. The examples of Burnley and Oldham have also been cited. I want to refer to them briefly.
Over the years I have been involved with interdenominational Christian groups in Northern Ireland who have sought to establish integrated Christian schools. I supported those initiatives because I believe that, where there is sectarianism, that becomes the priority. That is not the case in England and Wales and we need to be clear about that.
We also heard reference made earlier today to the situation in Oldham and Burnley. I took the trouble a few months ago to visit Oldham. I was telling the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, about that visit during the break. I met some of the teachers in the schools there. I listened carefully to what Lorna Fitzsimons, the Member of Parliament for Rochdale, said when she went to review the situation there. She said that the problems did not arise from Church schools; they arose from children coming from state schools who had not been integrated into the community to learn about co-existence with children from minorities.
I have seen the evidence of the teaching of civic values, of integration, of diversity in schools in places like Oldham. And we have to face the serious issue of how we promote shared civic values. All Members of the Committee should concentrate on that question rather than trying to impose rigid quotas or admissions systems which are an attack on the independence of Church schools and are seen that way.
In summary, Amendment No. 178A is unnecessary. It is indicative of the various attempts that have been made to date to disparage faith-based education. I hope that the Government oppose the amendment.
Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: I support the noble Lord, Lord Alton. There is a long history in English education that we allow the Churches, particularly the Roman Catholic Church but also my own Church, to support faith schools. They have put enormous amounts of money into doing just that. And traditionally they have been allowed to decide their own admissions policies.
I can only speak for my own Church; I cannot speak for the Roman Catholic Church which has invested more money than my Church. But many faith schools admit enormous numbers of people from other faiths. An amendment which, for the first time in 140 years, allows the Government to impose on Church schools their own admissions procedures is quite a revolutionary proposal. I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw the amendment. It interferes with a right that the Church schools have always had and one
The Lord Bishop of Blackburn: I rise to take a middle way on this matter, as one would expect from these Benches. It is possible to see a Trojan horse here. But I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, for the consultations she had with a number of us in seeking to frame this amendment.
The noble Baroness will not be surprised to hear that I am not 100 per cent in favour of her proposal. But if we are to have admissions forumsthat is yet to be decidedand they are to do their work, then they have to take cognisance of the existence of Church or faith schools. It would be irresponsible of them to behave as though they were sharing out children among community schools rather than dealing with the whole of the maintained sector.
I take issue with the use of the word "propose" in the first part of Amendment No. 178A. I prefer to use "inform". I want to see the voluntary-aided schools participating in the education of children. As Members of the Committee have said, many of them carry out all the requirements asked for in terms of inclusiveness and taking children who have parents of other faiths or of no faith. That is certainly the case in my diocese, particularly at the primary level.
We are dealing with that area of life where real choices have to be made. We are dealing with success. When we are at the bottom of a pile, then few choices lie before us. But when something is popular or successful, then those who are in charge of it, be they the governors or those who dispose of education in various ways, have to make real choices as to how they proceed. I am delighted to be standing in your Lordships' Chamber tonight espousing what is a popular cause with parents the length and breadth of the country, which is why we in the Anglican Church have such great difficulty in accommodating at secondary level those who would like to attend them. In saying that, we remain faithful to our trust deedsto be distinctive but inclusive. As the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, has just said, we have educated millions of children whose parents have not espoused our faith.
As to the second part of the amendmentand we were not able to discuss this beforehand because it has only just occurred to mewhat happens if the forum says, "No way, oh brothers and sisters in the faith schools and the Church schools", and takes a draconian line in its attitude to those schools before the local education authority?
I am relatively content even with that if the forum is purely advisory and if there is some appeal system, which I think there is. Therefore, I am looking for some way to share in the issue of how pupils are educated which meets parental choice whether or not they belong to the Churches or to the faith communities; which meets the desire of people who realise that they want this kind of education for their children; and which meets the needs of the local
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|