Education and Inspections Bill
Lord Dearing (Other)
My Lords, I have added my name to Amendment No. 6; I wish I had added it also to Amendments Nos. 70 and 80. The Minister knows from correspondence how deeply I feel about the potential role of schools in the regeneration, nourishment and development of neighbourliness in communities—especially in communities of severe deprivation, where poverty creates tensions and communities need a centre where they can come together. Looking ahead, I fear for an increasing division in our society between those who can succeed and those who, through lack of skills and the fast drop in the number of jobs available for them, cannot succeed and live in ghettoes of disadvantage, deprivation and despair. In such areas, I am concerned that the school should survive and be a centre of renewal.
Let me give an example. There is a school in West Camberwell where I am told—I have got it on a piece of paper, so it must be right—that 70 per cent of the pupils have free school meals; that in six out of seven families whose children attend that school there is no adult in full-time employment; and that 30 per cent of the community are from ethnic minorities. That spells despair and a potential disengagement from and a disavowal of the values of society. It concerns me deeply.
That school had a vision of responding to the situation as a "communiversity", in which it raised the standards of the school. It was, I think, in special measures at the time I visited in 2000. It saw its role as lifting its children's performance, caring for them, their wellbeing, but also engaging with the community. It persuaded some of its teachers and pupils to become ambassadors for the school in the community, creating links with different generations and different ethnicities. It saw a role for the school in being open all hours, its facilities being available to the community and the community being welcomed. It created a radio recording studio which was open to the community and pupils. Its vision was to create a work village for artisans, craftsmen and artists, and a health centre—and, of course, it wanted excellent premises to serve that dream. My fear is that in communities where school rolls are declining and where the Government are encouraging the expansion of successful schools in an environment in which—and it is like this—a school's first duty is to itself, these schools may lose out and die through attenuation of rights.
This is a major issue of societal importance which we need to think about. I share the sentiments of Amendment No. 6. This is not about bussing children from one district to another or about the admission policies of faith schools; it is about schools reaching out into the community, engaging with it and being a part of it.
Amendment No. 70 relates to admissions; Amendment No. 80 relates to cash. The Government—rightly—have greater weighting in funding for areas of deprivation than the generality. This is because those kids need more and the Government say that they should have it. Such children are more difficult to respond to and to teach sometimes, but it is not necessarily so that the funding goes from the local authority in relation to the needs of the children of individual schools. I am not arguing for the words of the amendments, but there are important issues of substance here that the Government need to weigh.