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Baroness Morris of Bolton: I thank the Minister for his detailed and direct reply.

Clause 44 agreed to.

Clause 45 agreed to.

Schedule 5 agreed to.

Clause 46 agreed to.

Clause 47 [Inspection of religious education: England]:

The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth moved Amendment No. 96:


"( ) In exercising their duties and functions under this section, the governing body and the foundation governors of a school that is a Church of England school or a Roman Catholic Church school shall have regard to any advice issued by the appropriate diocesan authority."

The right reverend Prelate said: In moving Amendment No. 96, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 100, 101 and 102 because they all touch on denominational inspection of schools of a religious character, often known as Section 23 inspections. I shall be as brief as I can.

Amendment No. 96 is replicated in the case of Wales by Amendment No. 102. These amendments would require school governing bodies to have regard to any advice issued to them on such inspections by the appropriate diocesan authority. In the case of Church of England and Church in Wales schools, the appropriate authority is the diocesan board of education of the diocese in which the school is situated.

I am in the happy position of moving these amendments in a warm ecumenical spirit. They take into account the particular needs of the two largest groups of schools with a religious character, the Anglican and Roman Catholic schools in England and Wales, although they are not the only groups. I stress that this is not the first time that someone speaking from these Benches has had the privilege of consulting the Catholic Education Service before moving an amendment with its explicit support. However, I am conscious that these amendments do not take account of the needs of other Christian schools—for example, Methodist schools—nor do they take account of the needs of Jewish, Sikh, Muslim or Seventh-day Adventist schools. I know that the Government have had discussions with the trustees of those schools and
 
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that they might be inclined to consider giving them similar powers to those proposed for diocesan authorities in these amendments. I heartily welcome that development.

The additional powers over governing bodies that I am proposing for diocesan authorities require some explanation since they do not imply any lack of trust in the thousands of people who, to great effect, give large amounts of their free time for the benefit of schools and their pupils.

It should be noted that these powers are modest. Governing bodies would be required to have regard to any advice over denominational inspection that they received from diocesan authorities. This falls into line with a group of powers that Church of England diocesan boards of education have through the Diocesan Boards of Education Measure 1991, as amended. Those noble Lords who laboured through the Education Act 2002 may remember that an amendment to the measure extended similar powers to diocesan boards of education to give advice over school admission policies to governing bodies to which they must have regard. I was not directly involved in those discussions, but I heartily welcomed them.

Secondly, these powers would be the first modest constraint over governing bodies or, in the case of voluntary controlled schools, the foundation governors, in the conduct of denominational inspection. At present, they can appoint who they will to conduct an inspection on any basis that they choose. In practice, as soon as they hear that they are to be inspected by Ofsted, the overwhelming number of church schools turn to their diocesan authorities and ask for advice on who to appoint as a denominational inspector.

In the case of the Church of England and the Church in Wales schools, the dioceses have a list of inspectors who have been trained and registered through a national process organised by the National Society which I chair as chairman of the Board of Education of the Church of England. They are slightly overlapping bodies. I will not go into the details. One day I will understand the full details myself. They conduct the inspection in accordance with a framework developed by the National Society through national consultation.

A new, lighter framework, influenced by the current Ofsted changes, is presently being piloted and taken very seriously by us. The system generally works well, but not every school seeks or heeds the advice of the diocesan authority. It is important that the quality of the process continues to be improved and is as may be assured, and these new powers are a step towards greater quality assurance. Even so, they would probably not be necessary, nor would I be seeking them, if it were not for a significant change in the proposals for Ofsted inspections, which I fully support but which make a radical difference to the way in which inspections are arranged.

Currently, with the support of the diocese, schools arrange inspections to take place at the same time or immediately after an Ofsted inspection. That is desirable in every way, but it would not be possible under the new arrangements without two changes. A
 
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school may hear on a Friday afternoon that it is to be inspected the following week. That would leave no time for a denominational inspection to be arranged to take place at the same time.

My officials have discussed this issue with Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools, who has agreed in principle that diocesan authorities can be notified well ahead of the date of forthcoming inspections, provided that they maintain confidentiality and do not tell the school. They will then arrange an inspection and inform the school on the Friday afternoon who is to undertake it. No doubt they will act on a basis agreed with each of the diocesan schools; the governing bodies will still formally make the appointment, having had regard to the advice that they receive from the diocesan authority; and Her Majesty's Chief Inspector has the power to inform the diocesan authority ahead of time. However, under the current arrangements they could do nothing with the information that they had received. Therefore, without these modest new powers, which also serve as a degree of quality assurance, the system would not work.

Finally, I turn briefly to my proposed new clauses after Clause 48, in Amendments Nos. 100 and 101. These relate to academies with a religious character and, where they are Church of England or Roman Catholic institutions, extend to them the requirement of denominational inspection. At present there is a small number of such academies, and in a number of dioceses there are some developed plans for more. I hope that Members of the Committee will not find these proposals controversial but may even see in them a reassurance about some concerns over RE in one or two of those institutions that might be regarded as lacking in breadth or depth. I shall say no more on that.

In summary, these probing amendments are about using and adapting existing structures and procedures in schools and academies with a denominational character, without frustrating, duplicating or ignoring them. I beg to move.

Lord Dearing: As one who has some involvement in the life of a Church of England school and has done previous work assisting in the development and thinking in Church of England schools, I intervene, having declared that interest, to say how very much I support these proposals. It is helpful to such schools to have the advice and guidance of the diocesan authority, although I note that it is to "have regard to" rather than to be told what to do, which I also welcome.

I was particularly interested to hear what the right reverend Prelate had to say about the possible extension of such arrangements to Muslim, Jewish, Sikh and Seventh-day Adventist communities. In relation to academies and the powers of the proprietors, that could be a particularly helpful proposal.

Lord Sutherland of Houndwood: I support the amendment. I was interested to hear the right reverend Prelate premise part of the practical proposals on an assumption that confidentiality would be kept by the
 
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diocesan board and offices. I shall go home to read more Trollope and reconsider whether I should send the right reverend Prelate a volume or two. That said, I support this amendment, particularly its ecumenical nature. Perhaps I may raise a wider point that the right reverend Prelate has raised by implication. The relation between religion and education, not least in the field of religious education per se, has been a notorious point of delicacy and, sometimes, of difficulty for Secretaries of State.

When the great Butler Act of 1944 was first shown to the then Prime Minister Churchill, he referred to the relevant clauses as advocating Zoroastrianism or the county councils' creed, such were the difficulties that was faced in formulating the arrangements for religious education. The arrangements of the 1992 Act, which are reflected in this Bill, were correct; but they were drawn up in considerable haste, I suspect, because that Act was moving through the Houses as a general election approached.

The broader denominational and multi-religious character of our country was, perhaps, not given the attention that it might have received if there had been more time. In the light of that and the introduction of city academies, which equally were not known about at the time, would the Government welcome, at a later stage in the Bill, an amendment which provided for regulations to be made, after consultation with the relevant bodies, to extend the amendment to a wider range of schools which might fall under the classification of "religious" or "denominational"? That would be one way of handling the matter, without having to rush to develop a clause which would require broad consultation in the community.


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