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In the Bill we are looking at moving schools from the maintained school regime to the independent school regime. The provisions in relation to religion are different. We have fought long and hard for that in this House. I was one of the supporters of the noble Lord, Lord Baker, in the battle, which we sadly lost, to bring up to date the relationship between state-funded schools and their religious sponsors. As part of the old and untouchable settlements in this country, there is a group of about 60 what you might call extreme Christian schools. They are inspected by their own inspectorate and have their own rules. We have allowed latitude to independent schools-where parents go to the length of paying for their children's education-that we have not allowed in state schools, where we pay for the education. That is fair enough. If the community is paying for education, we can reasonably ask things of the religious sponsors of schools that we would not ask of them if they were paying for the education.
There are two crucial elements. The first is now broadly accepted. Even in schools that are of a firmly religious character, children should be taught about the precepts and practices of other religions and-I agree-humanism. They should be taught about the world at large. I have had, as part of my recent education, a lot of correspondence with my Catholic friends and cousins about how the Catholic Church has changed over the past 50 years. I now know why I did not study religion at university. It is far too complicated and difficult to penetrate for a mind such as mine. I was quite content with nuclear physics.
It is clear that the Anglican Church, in which I was brought up, and the Catholic Church are committed to teaching a broad view of faith in their schools. However, I am worried about the people who might try to run free schools. One of the great motivations for running your own school is to run it within the confines of your religious faith. That is fine; I am happy for people to do that. However, if the relevant school is a state school, it should promote understanding, community cohesion and all the other virtues for which we have fought. In other words, it should teach children about the religious and non-religious worlds at large.
My second amendment goes back to the battle that the noble Lord, Lord Baker, and I fought. Purely religious schools that accept no other pupils are, of their nature, divisive and always have the potential to cause harm to the communities of which they are part. There may be circumstances where that is not the case-for example, where the relevant community is very much a minority community. However, where large proportions of a particular faith are represented in the make-up of a community and that community resorts almost entirely to its own schools, the situation becomes divisive. By observation, that is the case in the west of Scotland and Northern Ireland. It is not something that we should encourage. Some Anglican
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The Lord Bishop of Bath and Wells: My Lords, in the diocese of Bath and Wells, which is very largely rural, we have some 184 church primary schools, which have served their communities for a long time. They are essentially community schools. That is reflected across the country to a greater extent than we might imagine. The essence of those schools is built around how you make a community and what is part of a community. Some of them have rather more effective relationships with their parish church than others. Some of them have Christian head teachers, others do not, but the essential ethos of those schools, founded within the framework of Anglicanism, has carried through to a greater or lesser extent in their religious commitment.
It is key for us to recall the requirement for a national curriculum of religious education. There has to be a commitment to that going across not just the faith tradition of the particular school but the wide experience of religion so that young people have an opportunity to understand it. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, that many of these schools are committed to reflecting on the philosophy underpinning humanism. I was asked a few moments ago to try to clear up what is a faith and what is a belief. I shall not risk doing that, but I will say that all faith involves belief at some level or another and is committed to some kind of system. By definition, faith cannot ultimately be proved. Therefore, how we understand and develop these things depends on a whole variety of our relationships with one another in the wider spectrum of life.
I support academies. Indeed, I had the privilege of being the chairman of the board of education in the diocese of Southwark when the first of the academies in south London was formed. I am extremely proud of that, because it did indeed reach into that community at its most vulnerable level.
However, the concept of free schools raises for me real anxieties, particularly in the sphere of religious influence. That is not simply because I want to hold up my hand to say that the Anglican or Catholic churches have a corner of the market. I remind your Lordships of our national identity and the way in which we are tied into the concept of the sovereign as the head of the Church of England, under our constitution, and our relationship with Parliament. The issue is much more complex from that point of view.
There is real merit in our looking towards the development of academies, but I hope that the view of the future of good schools will not be that they should all become academies and enter the independent sector. We have many good schools and, if we go down that road, I fear that we will, in the end, marginalise some of the poorer communities.
Baroness Whitaker: My Lords, I had not intended to prolong this long debate by joining in, but I have to confess that I, too, was made more anxious during the
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Perhaps I may quickly throw this in: "belief" is the name given by international law to those systems of morality or ethics that are not religious. I quite agree that it is rather an odd word for that purpose, but it is generally taken to mean that. My question for the Minister is-if he does not mind putting my anxiety in the anxiety basket, so that it is a bit heavier than the certainty one-in what way will academies teach the national curriculum in respect of religion and belief?
The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, we have heard about two extremes of school-one in which only faith is taught, and the other in which everything is taught. There has been no reference to a concern that we might have, whereby one may learn much about everything but not have a thorough understanding of any particular thing. Perhaps at this time our faith schools are more important than ever to our children because, as the report of the Church of England's Good Childhood Inquiry showed us, an increasing number of children are growing up in families where their parents separate or there are family tensions. As the 2004 UNICEF report pointed out, at that time this country performed the poorest in terms of our child welfare. There was a number of dimensions to the report. It looked at family relationships and highlighted the fact that Italy came top as regards children spending time with their family on a regular basis and enjoying a meal together.
I am speaking speculatively, but perhaps the particular value that faith schools of various kinds can offer can give children a sense of belonging when they do not have that sense at home. The value of a Catholic school is that it has behind it a whole tradition of music, ceremony and dress. Children in those schools benefit from feeling that they belong to something. While I recognise the danger of extremes, and of having a Jewish school by a Muslim school by a Catholic school by an Anglican school, and the difficulty of different faiths interacting, perhaps if this is worked right, the stronger our individual identity is, and the stronger our basis in our religious community, the more we can relate in a positive way to those of different faiths.
Lord Goodhart: My Lords, I can be very brief because I could not possibly improve on the speech made by the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy. She said everything that I was thinking and would have said less effectively. Therefore, I will just say that I strongly support Amendment 61, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey. Children from other faiths should not be required to take part in collective worship, which is religion rather than education. If Muslim or Jewish parents want to send their child to a Christian school
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Baroness Perry of Southwark: I will speak briefly. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure the right Reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells on the subject of free schools. As I understand it, the original academies programme, instigated by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, allowed academies to be set up which were faith schools, and many have been. I do not think that free schools alter that position in any way and I hope that my noble friend can reassure us on that point.
Lord Kilclooney: My Lords, reference has been made to Scotland and Northern Ireland. I serve as a governor on the Armagh Protestant Board of Education. It is an Anglican foundation that controls the Royal School in Armagh and is chaired by the Archbishop of Armagh. It is 400 years old and was visited by Her Majesty the Queen this year to celebrate that anniversary. The majority of the pupils now are Church of Scotland Presbyterian, reflecting the population in Northern Ireland. However, we are getting an increasing number of Roman Catholic students from the Republic of Ireland who want a more liberal education.
I listened with great interest, the previous time the subject was raised, to the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Baker, for a 25 per cent intake of pupils of other denominations. The problem in Northern Ireland, which has been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, is that if you have schools with pupils of only one religion, parents will come to live near that school and so the area will come to contain people of one religion. When a factory opens near the school, all the employees will be of one religion and you build up a sectarian division. We suffered from this in Northern Ireland, not through deliberate discrimination, but because, with the Roman Catholic system that we had, most of the people who went to a school were Roman Catholics, most of the houses were bought by Roman Catholics and most of the jobs in the neighbourhood went to Roman Catholics. Sometimes people in England thought it was deliberate discrimination, but it was not; it was a reflection of the education system that still exists in Northern Ireland. Much as I am a great supporter of faith schools, which have a great record-I very much admire the way that the Church of England administers schools in England-the idea of a 25 per cent intake of people of other religions should be encouraged.
The Lord Bishop of Salisbury: My Lords, perhaps hearing of the experience that I had at one stage of being chaplain to an Anglican school that had a house of Jewish boys in it might help noble Lords to be less anxious about what may happen, not only about the 25 per cent but also on the question of communities that can live together. In this case, there was no doubt
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I suspect that we are in great difficulties because we are sliding very easily between talking about church schools and faith schools, when by faith schools we tend to mean those that are founded by and for a very exclusive view of one particular faith tradition, whereas the position of the Church of England has always been that schools are for the community as a whole, and are known to be enriched by members of other faiths. The basis on which we in this country operate is that the church models an inclusive community that is lived out not only in the school life, but in the lives of the surrounding communities. Many noble Lords have talked about local schools that reflect exactly that tradition. What we need is not to minimise that tradition, but to broaden it and remind ourselves of its inclusive basis.
That is why the legislation that we spent a good deal of time on some months ago, to increase the broad and inclusive basis of all our common life, is so important. It would displease me to see denominational people withdrawing behind a more exclusive pattern, and also using that pattern to promote, encourage and wave the flag for other types of exclusivism, not just in religion but in other areas of political or social life. These things all cohere, and I have a great deal of sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Baker, in his position as a member of the Church of England, which is not dissimilar to mine. That is the basis on which we ought to be more precise in our language, and maybe in the way in which we talk about legislation outside this House, when we should make a distinction between a church school and a faith school.
Baroness Morgan of Huyton: I always get very nervous listening to these debates in this House-we are going through many of the same conversations that we had three years ago-because there is a real danger that we will end up falling into a shorthand of "Church of England good, everybody else bad". People listening outside to this debate could get a clear feeling that we think that you can have as many Church of England schools as you like because they are fine, but any other religiously supported school, albeit fully state-funded, is a bit iffy.
We must be very careful about the message that we send from this debate. There is a distinction between the issue of faith schools and those of, for example, admissions, proper supervision, the curriculum and inspection. They have always been crucial for taking forward faith schools in this country. I know that we do not like central control any more, but if there is any way that we can give an assurance that there is proper supervision of the curriculum through inspections, and potentially look again at admissions, that would be very helpful, rather than allowing a separation between types of faith.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, this has been a remarkable debate and I do not envy the Minister the job of winding up. The noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, put some very pertinent points to him, which,
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My understanding-perhaps the Minister will confirm this-is that academies will have no duty to follow the national curriculum and that, according to Ministers, certain measures, including social cohesion, will be dropped from future Ofsted inspections. The concern is that, although many good faith schools will obviously continue to foster social cohesion, fairness and inclusiveness, some of the safeguards currently in place may not be in place in the future. I very much reflect on the situation in Birmingham, where we have many faith schools. If different communities have separate faith schools, there is a risk that our hopes for social cohesion and integration will become very much diminished in the future. My noble friend Lady Morgan put her finger on that in her question to the Minister. I think that the Committee seeks an assurance that he understands some of the important points being put to him. I hope that he can reassure noble Lords that there are mechanisms whereby we can ensure that the careful balance of religious freedom, social cohesion and tolerance, which have been a strong feature of our education system, continues in the future.
The Minister may find it useful to meet noble Lords between Committee and Report for a further discussion, because it is quite clear that there will be another extensive debate on Report. My noble friend Lady Morgan really put her finger on the question of how the Committee can be assured in this area. Certainly, anything that the Minister can do to reassure noble Lords will be very helpful.
Lord Hill of Oareford: My Lords, I do not envy myself the task of winding up either. This is my first opportunity to listen to a debate in this House about matters relating to religion. I suppose that I should call it my baptism. As the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, said, there have been a number of extremely forceful and powerful speeches from every point of the compass. Reconciling them is not straightforward.
Perhaps I may take us back to the Bill, because in this fascinating debate we have gone quite far from it. The Bill is quite modest in its approach to current
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Having made that general point, perhaps I may go through the individual issues that have been raised. First, I say in response to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, that throughout this process I have been happy to talk to any noble Lords who can face the prospect of a further discussion. I have also been talking at length to churches and am very happy to talk to others. If, in that process, I am able to give further clarification and reassurance to underpin my basic point, which is that on these important issues we are not seeking to change the status quo with this Bill, I shall obviously be very happy to do so.
I now return to the beginning of this debate and the amendment moved by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln. The Government are committed to ensuring the maintenance of the churches' relationship with their schools. As the right reverend Prelate knows well, I have met representatives from the churches. I understand the concerns that they bring to this debate, which are from the other end of the spectrum compared with other points that have been made. I have studied the Bill carefully in connection with those concerns and can see nothing in it that could undermine the very important relationship that the churches have with their schools. Again, one of my tasks is to try to build on the reassurance that I hope I have been able to give so far. As the right reverend Prelate knows, I have written to the churches to set out our commitment to work in partnership with them. A copy of that letter is in the Libraries of both Houses.
I confirm that the existing protections and responsibilities in relation to admissions, the curriculum-including the obligation to provide religious education and collective worship-and staffing arrangements will be the same for academies with a religious character as they are for maintained schools with a religious character. I think that that was a specific point made by my noble friend Lady Williams. So far as employment law is concerned, the Bill retains the status quo. All schools will need to comply with employment law.
The religious education syllabus requirements for academies are currently delivered via the funding agreement, rather than through legislation. In future, they will be delivered through academy arrangements-either through the funding agreement or the grant conditions-in accordance with Clause 1.
So far as concerns the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, I agree that it is important that pupils have the right to be excused from, and that parents have the right to withdraw their children from, religious education and worship. It is an important issue of conscience. However, we think that the noble Baroness's amendment is unnecessary in that academy funding agreements already require academies to comply
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Such protections as are set out in the funding agreement cannot be changed without the agreement of both the academy trust and the Secretary of State. We think that having those requirements in the funding agreement gives the same degree of protection to academy trusts as would be provided by legislation. As many in this Committee know better than me, there is a wide variety of approaches in how the churches govern and manage their schools-it is a complex area. Our view remains that having those provisions within the funding agreement rather than in legislation allows for individual circumstances to be reflected and avoids creating an undertaking that may not fully reflect the position of all religious schools.
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