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23 Jun 2010 : Column 1344

Lord Kilclooney: The noble Baroness did not refer to principles; she referred to "unsound principles". I was wondering what these unsound principles were.

Baroness Massey of Darwen: Again, perhaps I may come to that in a moment. I have talked about the public purse and principles. Do we really want in any of our major cities, side by side, a Church of England school, a Roman Catholic school, a Muslim school, a Hindu school, or any other variety of faith school? What is the price for community cohesion or a balanced curriculum? What is the price for a discussion of different values in society? These are some of the principles to which I am referring.

On admissions and on a potential expansion of faith schools, I can do no better than recommend reading the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking, during the passage of the Education and Inspections Bill in 2006. He happens to be in his place-and this is not a plot. The noble Lord was a Conservative Secretary of State for Education and is, I believe, an Anglican. His made warnings as regards faith schools with reference to the "shape of our society", "isolated communities" and,

All his words I think are worth heeding.

I wonder whether the right reverend Prelate has foreseen the consequences of his amendments. Are we to have restrictions on admissions and staffing for every type of religious school? This would be a detriment to pupils and a disadvantage for staff. Again, this is one of the principles about which I was talking. Surely pupils in a school should have the advantage of the best teachers from whatever faith or no faith. Someone serving school meals or doing administration needs to be able to do just that. Yet sadly I have heard of several cases where staff have been dismissed or not promoted because they are of a different faith from the school. No academy should be able to discriminate with regard to admissions and employment.

Further, which maintained schools are referred to in this amendment? If it is a voluntary aided school, it may allow for more discrimination than is presently allowed. Voluntary aided schools have a wide remit to discriminate against teaching and other staff. Academies must surely apply a genuine occupational requirement to posts because they are private businesses and not public schools in law. Independent schools with a religious character are able to show preference in connection with the appointment, remuneration and promotion of their staff on the basis of religion or belief, and of course they can also discriminate on pupil admissions. Voluntary controlled faith schools, about 40 per cent of faith schools in England and Wales, do not have these powers to discriminate. However, when they become independent academies with a religious character, I assume that they will be able to discriminate, which refers back to my previous amendment.

In a Question for Written Answer tabled on 16 June, the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, asked Her Majesty's Government how they will,

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The noble Lord, Lord Hill, replied:

"The department has strong and productive working relationships with all faith groups founded on respect for the high quality education they have provided for many years".

He went on to say:

"To support our new expansion of the academies programme we have made it clear that existing faith schools that convert to become academies will retain the ability to set their own admissions criteria and may continue to use faith-based criteria in line with the admissions code".-[Official Report, 16/6/10; col. WA124.]

I think that we are in dangerous territory here. First, some faith schools which could be set up are completely untried in relation to quality and procedures. I accept that Church of England, Roman Catholic and Jewish schools mainly have a good track record, but not always. How long-standing are the records of other faith schools? Will they be able to make things up as they go along?

The statement made by the Minister earlier this month that I have just repeated makes it clear that religious discrimination is here to stay, going against what was implied in the coalition agreement, which recommends inclusive admissions policies. State-funded faith schools that discriminate in their admissions divide communities and may go on to do so even more-along religious, socio-economic and often ethnic lines, creating huge social problems now and in the future. I hope that there will be more discussion of these issues before we rush into unknown territory.

Baroness Walmsley: I have two amendments in this group, Amendments 134 and 135. Their purpose is to allow schools to change their religious designation if they wish and to prevent new faith schools appearing merely as a consequence of this legislation. Noble Lords will know that I have considerable reservations about faiths running schools. However, if we must have faith schools, they should be set up only in response to need and the requirement of parents to have their children educated in their faith. It should not be in any way accidental.

During our meeting, the Secretary of State made it clear that the purpose of this legislation was not specifically to create a lot of new faith schools, although of course we accept that many current faith schools may wish to become academies. That is why Amendment 134 inserts the word "only" so that the protection of the current faith designation applies only if the school is already a faith school. Amendment 135 goes on to require the governing body to pass a specific resolution to have the school maintain its religious character. This requires it either to reaffirm the religious character of the school or, if it wishes, to decide to make a change. For example, a Church of England school could become a multi-faith school, or a Roman Catholic school could add some other religion to its current designation; or it may become an all-inclusive academy. This might apply to the many primary schools referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, in her speech just now.

We heard on Monday from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool about the joint Church of England/Roman Catholic schools in Liverpool. These multi-faith schools are welcome, bringing together as they do children from different faith households. This

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can only be good for community cohesion. My amendment would make it possible for schools to decide to go along this route at the point of their conversion, if I can use an appropriate word, to an academy.

Lord Northbourne: I greatly respect the position of the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, with regard to the Humanist Association and the humanist view of the world, but does she not accept that that also is a faith? It is a world view which certain people take-and they may well be right-but I do not see why it should be treated differently from any other faith. I wonder whether the right reverend Prelate agrees.

Baroness Massey of Darwen: I would not call humanism a faith; I would call it a belief.

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, I declare that I share the same belief as my noble friend Lady Massey.

I wish to ask some technical questions about employment and equalities law. The right reverend Prelate's amendments are not innocent and possibly not sympathetic. I was the Minister who helped to take the Equality Bill through your Lordships' House earlier this year, and I took part in many of the discussions on issues to do with the application of equalities legislation and employment law to religious schools and other establishments. I would like reassurance that the right reverend Prelate's amendment does not seek to undermine or change what I thought was the agreement about the application of employment and equal opportunities legislation to all establishments and their employment practices. I am not completely happy with the agreement but it is the one that we came to in the course of that legislation,

I also seek reassurance from the Minister and the Government that they do not intend to accept the amendment and change the existing policy and practice, and that these schools-free schools, academies or whatever the Government decide to call them-will be expected to abide by the existing legislation in their employment practices.

This House has sometimes waxed lyrical about the number of guidance missives from what is now the Department for Education to schools on how they should undertake their employment practices. There is no question but that all maintained schools in this country have a clear idea about what their duties are as employers and how they should comply with them. Will the new schools be expected to find out for themselves what they should do? How will we ensure that they also abide by the law on employment practices and equal opportunities?

Lord Baker of Dorking: The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, referred to a debate that took place in this House some three years ago. At that time, some of us sought to move amendments to ensure that if new faith schools-not existing ones-were established, 25 per cent of the pupil roll should come from outside the faith or from no faith. For a fleeting moment the Labour Government supported us, as those who took an interest in these matters will remember; but as a result of a campaign by the Catholic Church which was-I cannot use the word "deceitful"-imaginative, shall we say, the Government ran away from that

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commitment. They sought to extend the threat to all existing Catholic schools and not only to new ones-the Catholic Church had established only two small new primary schools in 30 years-but the debate was about new Catholic schools. Anyway, as a result of that campaign, the Government ran away from that commitment.

However, the Anglican Church made a statement in the House-I see the right reverend Prelate nodding-which I completely support. I went to a Church of England primary school and I am not against church schools as such. There was nothing too emphatic about going to an Anglican primary school; it was not too passionate. It had all the attractive characteristics of the Anglican faith; it did not ask too much but it gave reassurance. The right reverend Prelate who spoke for the Church of England at that time said that, irrespective of the fact that the amendment had not been passed, when the Anglican Church established new faith schools it would ensure that 25 per cent of the intake would come either from outside the faith or from no faith. I would like some assurance that that undertaking is still in place. I do not expect the Minister to reply, because nothing is on the statute book, but reassurance from the right reverend Prelate would be most welcome. I maintain that it is sensible for children of different faiths to sit, play and eat alongside each other in school and to go home on the bus together, but I appreciate that sensitivities still exist. However, I still hope that that undertaking of the Anglican faith survives.

5.30 pm

Baroness Williams of Crosby: Foundation schools, both Anglican and Catholic, are allowed to appoint a majority of governors, and those schools in turn have the right to be admissions authorities for their own schools if they are voluntary aided. It is a very important power that currently exists. It is not clear from the Bill-perhaps the Minister can tell us-whether the foundation retains the right to appoint a majority of governors. Does it retain the right, if it is a voluntary aided school, to be involved in the admissions process? Can he tell us broadly whether that situation is expected to continue?

Baroness Murphy: I support the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, and of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, although he has not yet spoken to them. I also support the amendment of the noble Baronesses, Lady Walmsley, Lady Garden and Lady Sharp.

We have not yet addressed this fundamental problem relating to faith schools. My questions at Second Reading about the status of faith schools, and the Government's approach to encouraging the development of faith schools, have not been responded to. Does the Minister have the teeniest anxiety that a quarter of academies are presently faith schools and that the Bill will encourage more?

I shall recount a tale of two schools. I am delighted to see the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, in his place, because I am going to talk about Brockdish primary

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school. He and I are probably the only two people in this Chamber who know where Brockdish is. It is my local school, serving the entire community of Brockdish. It is a Church of England school that has received an outstanding report and will be in the running to become an academy. It is an extraordinarily good school. I love it dearly and hope very much that it does become one, for all those reasons.

It was established in 1843 in the parish workhouse for the children of paupers. The curriculum then was the Catechism and the Ten Commandments for half the day. In the other half of the day, when they were not at work-they had to do some work in the fields as well-they did the three Rs. That was 160 years ago. During the past 160 years, the curriculum at Brockdish Church of England Voluntary Controlled Primary School has changed dramatically. As it is the only school in the village, it is entirely inclusive. If you ask people in Brockdish about the school, they will say that they do not really think of it as a religious school. Its teachers come from all faiths or none; it has a non-denominational assembly; and it gives the most brilliant education.

However, according the Bill as far as I understand it, the school has two choices when it becomes an academy. The first is that it could become more religious and more faith-based, which would be an imposition on our local community. The Minister looks puzzled. The school might have to stay with the religious denomination which it has adopted historically but from which it has gradually been moving away. Under the Bill it would have to stay like that and would have no option to become a more generalist school. There would be no choice for those of us who live in the community because the other schools are too far away. It is our local school. It is a good one and we would like it to stay as it is.

Now take the case of the Ebrahim Academy in Whitechapel, an academy school for boys. It is highly selective and employs only male Islamic teachers. The school day is, again, just like 160 years ago in Brockdish primary school, divided into two sections. The school day begins with Tahfeez, which is reciting the Koran and getting the pronunciation right, which takes up half the day. Then the national curriculum takes up the second half of the day. It is a state-funded, tax-funded madrassah for the Islamic faith.

Perhaps that is an extreme example, but there are many such faith schools. I stress that I have no objection to Sunday schools-I was a Sunday school teacher. Noble Lords might be amazed to hear it, but it is possible to deliver good Sunday school teaching without any faith whatever. I suspect that it is like the approach of the noble Lord, Lord Baker, to Anglicanism. It was possible for me to do that and I enjoyed it greatly.

I have no objection to families teaching their faith in their own time and making sure that every child has an understanding of all religions. But is the Minister not the teeniest, weeniest bit worried about the creation of more faith schools under the freedoms that we are providing today? What reassurances can he give to those of us who do not like these divisive, incohesive schools that they will not further separate a divided community?

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Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, I may surprise the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, by saying that I know Brockdish extremely well. The Church of England did not only provide the village school. There was also a church house at the end of the churchyard which, for a long time, was the best eating place in the whole of Suffolk. So we should be grateful to the Church of England on more than one score.

I take a pragmatic view of church schools. The fact is that the Church of England and many other faiths have provided this country with invaluable educational opportunities. It is worth recollecting that the Church of England used the initial academy legislation to plunge into some of the worst, most deprived parts of the whole kingdom. These were not elite schools truckling to snobbism. The church went straight in where the need was greatest and the schools exemplified the church's values.

I confess to being a rather perspiring Anglican myself. However, it would be a bizarre act of folly to make life more difficult for any faith. It would be nice-I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Massey-to see the humanists setting up a few schools. I would be jolly happy about that. But it would be bizarre, would it not, to make life more difficult for the faiths? They have to scrimp and save and work hard to establish and maintain faith schools. People come to them not unwillingly and reluctantly because they are the only school in an area, but precisely because they provide an ethical framework that the parents, even if they are not of that faith, respect and admire.

I am perfectly happy to support the amendment proposed by my noble friend. I do not see anything wrong with withdrawing children from acts of worship. However, the amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, seems to me destructive. I am sure that that is unintentional. As I understand it, her amendment would mean that an existing state school converting to an academy would not, on conversion, have the religious character that it had before conversion. That is the essence of her amendment. I see no reason for it; it would be a discouragement to the continuance and creation of new faith schools. What is more, the simple effect of her amendments would be that no church school-or faith school, since one must not always talk of church-would convert if it could not carry through in the conversion the same religious character as it had been founded for and run in pursuance of. That would stultify the good aspects of this Bill. Surely, there is no earthly point in doing that.

Baroness Massey of Darwen: Would the noble Lord accept two things? First, would he accept that the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, supported my amendment and was relevant to what he is saying? Secondly, would he accept that a faith school or religious school should have to adhere to a national curriculum?

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: I must confess that I was not aware that that was the purport of the noble Baroness's amendment. However, off the top of my head I would say that I think that those schools should.

Baroness Murphy: The noble Lord is raising an issue about pupils. He implied that the important thing about many of our religious schools or faith

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schools at the moment is that they have an open selection policy. That seems to me utterly crucial. The possibility of people of all faiths sending children to schools whose ethos and culture they like is one thing. It is certainly the case with most of the Anglican schools, some Catholic schools and some Jewish schools. However, it is not the case with many schools set up recently, such as some Christian fanatically evangelical schools, some Catholic schools and a majority of the Islamic schools, although some Islamic schools are inclusive. The point is about the selection of pupils. There is a highly concentrated, exclusive quality to some of our schools, which causes me anxiety.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: I have no wish, in what I am saying, to stray at all from the current arrangements for the pupil composition of church schools, which seem to me on the whole sensible, undogmatic and tolerant. Indeed, in the village of Brockdish and every village that I know of, of course schools do not discriminate on admissions. What the noble Baroness refers to is a very small number, as I understand it, of extremely zealous schools. I have no means of knowing whether she is right or wrong but, if she is right, that is something that we should address specifically. However, to mark the whole of the church school sector, which includes thousands of excellent schools, as carrying the imprint of the excesses of the tiny number that she is talking about and amending the legislation on that basis seems to me counterproductive.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: We should all be extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Phillips. He admitted his faith and I shall admit mine-I, too, am an Anglican. He has put forward a sensible approach on all this. The Church of England is part of the history of this country and part of the way in which this country has developed. It is perfectly sensible to want more Anglican schools-and schools of different forms of faith-to be set up. I certainly hope that the vast majority of them will apply the same open conditions of selection as apply to all maintained schools.

This is all crucial in what we are trying to achieve, which is better standards of education for all. I say in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, that if humanism is a faith, belief or whatever she wants to call it, it is possible to set up schools along those lines. I totally agree that humanism has an ethical base and I would expect just that.

At this stage, I will take a different line. I come back to the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, about what was understood under the Equality Act. I want to be absolutely certain that there is agreement. There was endless debate in your Lordships' Chamber on this. There was agreement but it was not satisfactory to all sides. However, we all agreed to accept it. Any diversion from that in how staff are appointed or promoted would be very much a backward step. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure us. It is a difficult and emotional subject for most of us, but I am sure that there will be a way for him to deal with it.

5.45 pm

Lord Lucas: I had better get around to addressing my amendments in this group or I shall be caught up by my old friend on the Front Bench. I like faith

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schools, although I have no faith myself. I send my youngest daughter to a Church of England school and am very happy with it. Although I sympathise a lot with what the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, said, I also have a great deal of understanding of what the right reverend Prelate said.

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