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Viscount Bridgeman: My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, for initiating this debate. I am in agreement with much of what has been said, particularly that non-Christian faith schools are likely to draw their pupils from fairly close-knit communities. There is a danger that such schools can become introspective, ghettoised and a nucleus for the fomenting of violence. However, if largely on this account the expansion of faith schools is seriously curtailed, will we not be in danger of throwing out the baby with the bathwater? Such curtailment will affect all the Christian Church schools as well.

This country can indeed be proud of its Church schools. They were enshrined in the Education Act 1944, thanks to the foresight of R A Butler, as he was then, and replicated in the Education Act 1996. The Human Rights Act 1998 says,

I speak as a Roman Catholic in respect of Catholic schools. However, virtually all I have to say will apply similarly to Church of England voluntary-aided schools, as so eloquently enunciated by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool. Catholic Church schools are truly comprehensive; they have resisted the grammar school routes and they welcome children of every ability, including those with special educational needs, and of every race and mix. The vast majority of Catholic schools which are oversubscribed select only on the basis of religion. Here I take issue with my noble friend Lord Baker and, indeed, with the noble Lord, Lord Taverne. All the Christian denominations in the United Kingdom which have Church schools have a tradition of religious tolerance and, certainly with regard to the Catholic ones, pupils are encouraged to understand and respect faiths other
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than their own. The right reverend Prelate referred to the large number of Muslim parents who send their children to Church schools for these reasons. There is one particular advantage which Church schools represent. They tend to have a catchment area larger than those of community schools, with all the advantages of population mix which that will bring.

I hope that I do not portray the Christian Church schools as morally superior to others where the pupils tend to come from an ethnically homogeneous community, sharing the same social background. It is simply that Church schools, for reasons partly of history and partly through the place of the Christian faith in the community in the 21st century, have an inclusiveness among their pupil mix which, I suggest to the Minister, it would be tragic—dare I say disastrous?—to inhibit.

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Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to participate in this debate. I should perhaps state my interest. I am a secularist and a humanist and I do not support the idea of faith schools; I believe them to be damaging to social cohesion. It is often claimed that they increase parental choice, but the evidence is that parents and the general public just want good, all-round neighbourhood schools. Many think that separating children according to religious belief is wrong, as wrong as separating them according to colour or accent. Others think that the proper place to teach religion is at home or in Sunday school.

It is not surprising that the large number of publicly funded Christian schools has led to members of other faiths demanding public funds for their schools. But the requirements of religious leaders should not override the needs of children for an education that opens windows on a wider world. Culture and beliefs can be transmitted at home. There is often a gulf between the religious segregation wanted by older generations and religious leaders and what young people themselves want. That is what the noble Lord, Lord Ouseley, found when he reported on the situation in Bradford. He found inspiring the desire among young people for better education and more social and cultural inter-reaction. They realised that being taught in religious ghettos is not a good preparation for life in a multicultural society.

Others in the Muslim community take a similar view. Many Asian women's groups are not in favour of single-faith schools because they think it will mean more discrimination and a greater influence of reactionary clerics over children's education. There is also evidence that many young Muslim women are resentful of the constraints exercised upon them by the clerics in their communities. As one said in a recent TV interview, "I believe in democracy, but for me that must include gender equality". That is not an idea that appeals to many Muslim clerics.

In Northern Ireland it is clear that segregation of children by religion in schools has contributed to segregation in the wider community. There has been
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an increase in the number of integrated schools there, and this has been welcomed, as indicating a desire for peace and reconciliation.

Our Government, however, seem committed to faith schools. We can at least ask that the schools should be non-selective, making their intakes more truly inclusive. Could we not reduce the desire for separate faith schools by making community schools more inclusive and more accommodating? I do not believe there should be an expansion of faith schools.

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Lord Lucas: My Lords, I support faith-based schools; I am thoroughly in favour of them. That said, I go along with my noble friend Lord Baker from then on. The current situation is completely unacceptable. Faith-based schools have become agents of social division and social exclusion. I see a great deal of what is going on as editor of the Good Schools Guide, and I am delighted that the schools that the Church of England is opening now are not faith-selective. But some of the ones it operates and has operated for a long time are not only faith-selective but also eye-wateringly selective on a social basis. They admit almost entirely middle-class children by setting complex admissions requirements that it is very unlikely anyone outside the middle class will ever pass. I find this unacceptable. I do not want to see an increase in that kind of division within society. We have to do something serious about the level of division that we have now.

I am very attracted by my noble friend's suggestion that, to qualify for state funding, any school that exercised religious selection in its intake would have to show that a certain percentage—a third, say—of its intake was of some other religion or none. In other words, a third of its intake would not be subject to any form of religious selection. That would be a very good filter on the kind of education in a particular school; the school would have to be run in a way that attracted parents who were not of its religion. That would cause no difficulty to the vast majority of Anglican and Catholic schools. It is no surprise to me that the great Catholic public schools have a very high percentage of children who are not Catholic but whose parents choose that kind of education for them. That applies even more to the great Anglican public schools, which have no difficulty in accommodating other religions extremely well.

It would greatly strengthen the religious tradition in schools to open up what I consider a very high-quality and useful moral education to people whose parents do not happen to have gone every day to Mass for the past five years, which is the common requirement in state Catholic schools in London. We will have a chance to attack this issue in detail in the forthcoming Bill. I look forward to it.

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Lord Jones: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for initiating this debate and declare my chairmanship of a diocesan education board.
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Within the diocese of St Asaph are 54 Church in Wales primary schools. Many are small schools in rural areas; some are in isolated upland communities. About one quarter of them use the medium of Welsh. Some of our heads and staff are Roman Catholics. Wrexham, in north-east Wales, is the site of a positive extension of faith schooling: a shared faith high school, Roman Catholic and Anglican, will be the first in north Wales. The foundation will be the existing, excellent St Joseph's High School. The two bishops, the right reverend Edwin Regan and the Church in Wales's right reverend John Davies are close collaborators. The Welsh Assembly Government have been generous in this £10 million project.

Those schools bring an extra dimension to the education of our children. In many cases, they are in far-flung, hilly areas. They are at the very heart of these small communities. Truly, the Church offers a very special gift there. No conditions for entry are made and most schools have been in place for generations. These schools are places of happiness and security as well as learning. And there is worship. They are in great contrast to the equivalent urban school by way of landscape, culture and society, which is essentially agrarian. But both environments in the diocese promote the welfare of the young; promote the disadvantaged and help the vulnerable. I have seen that with my own visits. These faith schools do much good.

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