Report received.

Clause 1 [Duties in relation to high standards and the fulfilment of potential]:

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Lord Judd (Labour)

moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 1, line 5, after "Duty" insert "to secure the right to education and"

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Lord Judd (Labour)

My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 2 and strongly support Amendment No. 7, standing in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley.

In one sense, the purpose of the amendment is to emulate the example of legislators north of the Border in Scotland. They have seen fit to put on the face of their legislation, as the cornerstone of everything they want to achieve, the principle of the right of every child to education. I should declare an interest at this point, because I am a half-Scot and sometimes my English half wishes that we had the courage of Scots conviction. With the greatest possible respect to the Minister, I believe that he should again look at this point before he finally makes up his mind.

The Minister listens very carefully to arguments—he is almost exemplary in how this should be done—and he is extremely courteous and thorough in following up points. We approached and discussed this issue in Committee, and I deeply appreciate the full letter that he has sent to me about the concerns behind my amendment. I am sure that it was no fault of the department, but I am afraid that the Minister's letter did not reach me in time to have meetings with his officials before this discussion. However, because I take his letter seriously, I should like to examine some of the points that he makes in it.

The Minister emphasises that the right to education is guaranteed by Article 2 of the first protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights and, for children, by Article 28 of the European Convention on the Rights of the Child. The right to education, he argues, is provided by the European convention and is already part of national law by virtue of the Human Rights Act 1998. We recognised that when we argued our case in Committee.

I do not believe that anyone could be a more committed internationalist than I am. I am glad that the conventions say what they do and I am proud of the part that Britain played in leading the cause in making those conventions. However, internationalist though I am and seriously though I take the conventions, at a time when we are determined to make a success of our education system—the Minister is second to no one in that respect—and when we are also debating other dimensions, such as the importance of emphasising what it is to be British, what makes the British character and what is important about Britain, I believe it is important that we do not approach education simply by saying, "Ah, we now have commitments under certain international conventions and the right is established under those conventions". We must make it clear that in our own approach within the United Kingdom to these matters we take the right to education of every child as absolutely central to everything that we do. For that reason, I believe that the Scots were right and I wish that we would follow their example.

The Minister argued that, because the objective is spelt out in the Human Rights Act 1998, the amendment would confuse the issue as it would not be clear whether the Human Rights Act or this Bill prevailed. I do not think that there is any problem in that respect. As I understand it, it is absolutely clear that ultimately the European Convention on Human Rights prevails in all aspects of legislation and activity in this country.

My noble friend also goes on to emphasise the importance of the judgment by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bingham, in the Ali case, when he upheld what has been described as the fourfold foundation for this right. The Minister very kindly spells out again in his letter to me what the fourfold commitment amounts to. The first element is the duty of parents under Section 7 of the Education Act 1996 to cause their children to receive efficient and suitable full-time education, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise. That is a great objective and a great principle. But what happens if the parents do not share that commitment or do not fulfil it?

The second element is the Secretary of State's duty under Section 10 of the Education Act 1996 to promote the education of the people of England and Wales. Again, that is absolutely salutary. That is great, but that is not an objective that automatically becomes fulfilled. To promote the importance of it is not actually ensuring that it happens.

The third element is that local education authorities are required by Section 13 of that Act to secure that efficient education is available to meet the needs of the population of their areas. Such education being available is not ensuring that every child enjoys it. The fourth element is that maintained schools themselves have a responsibility to ensure that their governing bodies conduct the schools with a view to promoting high standards of educational achievement at the schools. Again, that is excellent but it does not ensure that every child is able to enjoy that provision.

On Report, we are proposing, in a slightly different form, that, because of the residual overall responsibility of local education authorities, it should be made quite clear that those authorities have a responsibility to secure the right to education for every child. We then go on to demonstrate how that should be done. Part 1 of the Bill talks about the responsibilities of local education authorities. For local education authorities in England it is about promoting high standards, ensuring fair access to educational opportunity and promoting the fulfilment by every child concerned of its educational potential. Those are all absolutely first-class principles—none of us would question them—but not one of them ensures that that right is being enjoyed. With great respect to my noble friend, we spell out in the amendment the fact that local educational authorities have a responsibility to secure the rights spelt out in the convention—we are not now insisting that it is established as a right in the introduction to the Bill, but we want to establish the right that the Government themselves argue is established in the convention.

I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, with all her experience and all her usual commitment and analytical power, will put forward a powerful argument to this set of amendments. A mistake that all of us in Parliament sometimes make is to think that the battle has been won when we have introduced legislation. We have seldom won the battle; at best, we have usually created opportunities. What wins the battle is winning the hearts, minds, commitment and understanding of the widest possible cross-section of people to the principles that we are trying to achieve by education and by enthusing the population as a whole with an objective that is worth while achieving.

I ask my noble friend to say that a responsibility and a right are spelt out in international conventions, but we, for a host of convoluted reasons, do not think it is appropriate to spell out that right in the Bill as the cornerstone and presentation of all else we are doing. I think that is sad. With the greatest possible respect to all concerned, I think it is institutional Whitehall getting caught up in the niceties and missing an opportunity to take the nation forward.

In his letter to me, the Minister emphasised—and he was generous to do it so strongly—that if there are doubts about legal problems that might be opened up by such a declaration, one can look at Scotland where no single parent has tried to introduce any complaint or criticism on the grounds of that declaratory principle in the Bill. That is very significant. He says:

"As regards the risks of changing the meaning of the existing right to education"—

which he has gone into in some detail in his letter—

"the Scottish Executive took the view that the declaratory benefits were worth the risk of legal challenge. This is not a view that, on serious reflection, we share".

I beg the Minister to indicate in his reply that he and his officials will go away and think about this. I am a very open-minded sort of chap, and if he can come back to the House—or indicate that he is prepared to do so—with some wording that gets this principle flying as a standard at the head of all we are trying to do on education and, with the legal advice that has so far been holding him back from endorsing our amendment, expresses in a watertight way what we enthusiastically propose, I shall be greatly encouraged. I beg to move.

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Baroness Walmsley (Spokesperson in the Lords (Education & Children), Education & Skills; Liberal Democrat)

My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Judd, on Amendments Nos. 1 and 2, to which I have put my name, and I shall speak also to Amendment No. 7, which is tabled in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Sharp. The Bill gives a clear duty to the LEA to identify those children who are not receiving an education. That is a very important matter, not just in terms of the education of those children, but in terms of their safety and protection. Children who do not come in front of teachers and other professionals every day may escape attention when they show signs of abuse and mistreatment. That is what happened to Victoria Climbié. However, the Bill misses the opportunity to make clear who is responsible, not just for identifying these children, but for making sure that they receive a suitable education. That is a pity, because the Bill is an ideal vehicle for so doing.

I am a great believer in clarity in the law and in making it easily understandable and, in particular, accessible to the citizens of this country, not just to clever lawyers. In Committee, and in his letter to the noble Lord, Lord Judd, the Minister made clear that several bits of law added together do what the noble Lord and I seek to do today. He referred to several pieces of statute in different Acts of Parliament and a case-law judgment by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bingham, in which those are all listed. Other clauses lay out the sanctions that the LEA and the courts can use against parents who do not send their child to school or provide a suitable education at home. I do not think that is good enough. In the Bill, we have an ideal vehicle of statute to make the law clear, as was done in Scotland.

We would not need to rely on case law. People would not need to go into a lawyer's office and have him take down several Acts of Parliament in order to explain what the child's rights were. We would not be just talking about sanctions against the parents, but making it clear that it is the duty of the legal authority either to ensure that the child has a place in a suitable school—that can be very problematic these days where children cannot even get a place in their first six choices of school—and actually attends the school, or to satisfy itself that the alternatives are in place for a home education.

Frankly, I do not mind if this involves a certain amount of repetition. British law is no stranger to repetition. That is why some people call for a total review of our laws, a codification and clarification. I understand that this may take a very long time and result in a vast reduction in the size of legal libraries, let alone legal bank balances. However, it is not a bad idea. I do not seek to do anything so ambitious today, but I am loath to let pass an opportunity to make the rights of children to receive an education absolutely clear, and to make clear on whom the duty lies to fulfil that right.

The noble Lord, Lord Judd, mentioned the rights of children enshrined in a number of international human rights conventions, but it is UK law that gives effect to the rights of children enshrined in those conventions. Let us not lose an opportunity to emphasise our commitment to children's rights as enshrined in those conventions by not clarifying the law in this way today.

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Lord Northbourne (Crossbench)

My Lords, I support all three amendments. I did not have the benefit of seeing the letter sent to the noble Lord, Lord Judd—there is no reason why the Minister should have sent it to me because I did not speak on the issue in Committee—so I cannot argue the detail of the case. The noble Lord makes the extremely important point that children should have rights and, in particular, a right to education. I used not to believe in rights but in responsibilities and duties. Those words are out of fashion today. However, given that we have substituted "rights" for "duties", we have to give those rights to children as well as to grown-ups. This is a particular case in point where the opportunity arises to do that for the great benefit of the child population. The amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, is extremely important in so far as it places squarely on the local authority the duty to find those children who are not getting the education they deserve and need and to give it to them.

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Baroness David (Labour)

My Lords, I support these three amendments too. Yesterday, I received a letter from UNICEF reminding me that next year, 2007, a report has to be produced on how we conform to the convention on human rights. I should have thought that we would get a good mark if we could say that we had enshrined this provision in a Bill. I hope that the Minister will take that important issue into account.

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Baroness Buscombe (Shadow Minister, Education; Conservative)

My Lords, these Benches think Amendment No. 7 unnecessary for two reasons. First, a duty already exists under Section 19(1) of the Education Act 1996 for local authorities to provide,

"suitable ... education at school or otherwise ... for those children ... who ... may not for any period receive suitable education unless such arrangements are made for them".

Secondly, Section 7 of the Act places a duty on parents to secure that every child receives efficient and suitable education. A parent receives support in the exercise of this duty from local authorities relating to the promotion and provision of education.

We understand that Clause 4 will be supported by new statutory guidance. In producing the draft guidance, we have listened carefully to the important issues raised by noble Lords in Committee, and it has been considerably strengthened in the areas of placing children identified as not receiving suitable education.

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Lord Adonis (Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Schools), Department for Education and Skills; Labour)

My Lords, I hope that I am not guilty of becoming a prisoner of institutional Whitehall. Most of my Whitehall colleagues would certainly not convict me of that offence, although they might convict me of others. I have given a very great deal of consideration to Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 since my noble friend first raised them in Committee, including extensively quizzing my department's legal advisers. I say frankly to my noble friend that I am attracted to simplicity in the law, and to calling a spade a spade. I was instinctively attracted to a simple clause at the outset of the Bill which provided for a positive duty to secure the right to education on the lines that he has set out.

However, having explored the issue exhaustively over the summer, I am persuaded by the arguments that we should not change the law in the way proposed by this amendment. While at best it would not confer any new rights over and above those which currently exist, although I accept that it would declare them more clearly, it might—for me, this is the decisive argument—have the perverse effect of requiring the state to make available types of education which we do not favour on grounds of equity, values or standards. I set out these points at length in a letter to my noble friend, to which he referred. I am sorry that he did not receive it longer before the debate, but let me summarise the arguments.

Rights to education are already guaranteed in England through Article 2 of the First Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights, for children by Article 28 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and in national law by virtue of the Human Rights Act 1998. The Act also sets out in detail the procedure for making a claim that a right has been infringed and the remedies available for a breach. To legislate along the same lines in an education Bill is at best superfluous and at worst might undermine the regime set out in the Human Rights Act 1998.

However, the more substantial concern that I want to address to my noble friend is that the "right to education" in Article 2 of Protocol 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights, as given effect in national law by the Human Rights Act 1998, is phrased negatively. It states that,

"no one shall be denied the right to education".

The fact that the right is phrased negatively has crucially influenced the way in which the courts have construed the right. It has been held that the negative formulation does not require that member states establish at their expense, or subsidise, education of a particular type or at any particular level, but rather implies for those under the jurisdiction of a member state the right to—to cite the European Court of Human Rights in the Belgian linguistics case—

"avail themselves of the means of instruction existing at a given time".

Its primary objective has therefore been held to be to guarantee a right of equal access to the existing educational facilities.

A positive right along the lines of that envisaged by this amendment would, I am advised, be likely to be construed differently by the courts. It might be interpreted as imposing an obligation on local authorities to ensure that children could receive education of a particular type or standard which the authorities were unable to provide, or which they considered it positively undesirable to provide. Taking, for example, the Belgian linguistics case, the European Court of Human Rights held that the right to education, as phrased negatively, did not give rise to a right to be taught in the language of the child's or their parent's choice, nor was there a right of access to a particular school of choice. Logically, therefore, a positive right might be held to require the state to make provision for teaching in, or schools for, languages other than English, or in any type of faith or cultural school—an issue which of course goes to the heart of debates we will have later, where I believe that my noble friend does not support an unfettered right of parents to any type of education, regardless of its impact on social cohesion.

In the case of Scotland, my noble friend is right—there has been no case so far but, to some extent, that supports my argument. We simply do not know where such a right might go if cases were brought under it requesting types of education that the state thought undesirable.

Existing rights to education of a character which we believe worthwhile appear to me entirely robust. They rest on a fourfold foundation: Section 7 of the Education Act 1996, which requires parents to cause their children to receive efficient and suitable full-time education; Section 10 of the Education Act 1996, which imposes a duty on the Secretary of State to promote the education of the people of England and Wales; Section 13, which requires local authorities to secure that efficient education is available to meet the needs of their populations; and the duty on each school's governing body to conduct the school with a view to securing high standards of achievement.

The effectiveness of this fourfold foundation was set out only this year by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bingham, in the case of Ali v Lord Grey School. He said:

"This fourfold foundation has endured over a long period because it has, I think, certain inherent strengths. First, it recognises that the party with the keenest personal interest in securing the best available education for a child ordinarily is, or ought to be, the parent of the child. Depending on age, maturity and family background, the child may or may not share that interest. But the parent has a statutory duty. Secondly, the regime recognises that for any child attending school it is that school through which the education provided by the state is in practice delivered. The relationship between school and pupil is closeand personal: hence the restrictions on its interruption or termination. It is a relationship resembling, but for the want of consideration, a contractual relationship. But, thirdly, the regime recognises the need for a safety net or longstop to ensure that the education is not neglected of those who for any reason (whether 'illness, exclusion from school or otherwise') are not being educated at school in the ordinary way. It is plainly intended that every child of compulsory school age should receive appropriate education in one way if not another, and that responsibility rests in the last resort with the LEA".

Those are the unambiguous words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bingham, and, on that basis, I hope I may have persuaded my noble friend that the status quo is supportable. I will, however, continue to reflect further on his arguments.

We believe that Amendment No. 7, too, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, is unnecessary for two reasons. First, a duty already exists under Section 19(1) of the Education Act 1996 for local education authorities to,

"make arrangements for the provision of suitable education at school or otherwise than at school for those children of compulsory school age who, by reason of illness, exclusion from school or otherwise, may not for any period receive suitable education unless such arrangements are made for them".

Secondly, Section 7 of the 1996 Act places a duty on parents to ensure that every child receives efficient and suitable education. Parents can choose to send their children to school or ensure that they receive education otherwise. A parent receives support inthe exercise of this duty by virtue of duties placed on the Secretary of State and local authorities relatingto the promotion and provision of education, such as the safeguard in Section 19 of the 1996 Act, to which I have referred. Therefore, although we accept that the local authority should be obliged to make arrangements for the provision of suitable education where children of compulsory school age would not otherwise receive it, the primary responsibility to ensure that a child receives a suitable education rightly rests with parents.

Clause 4 will be supported by new statutory guidance, a draft of which is currently available and has been published for consultation. In producing it, we listened carefully to the important issues raised by noble Lords in Committee. The draft guidance has been considerably strengthened in the area of placing children identified as not receiving suitable education. There is now clear reference to local authorities having a statutory duty to ensure that suitable education is provided for children who might not otherwise receive it.

I hope that I have managed to reassure the noble Baroness that the effect that she seeks to achieve is fully covered by existing legislation.

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Lord Judd (Labour)

My Lords, I am very grateful again to the Minister for his considered and full reply to the points that we have just made. I am encouraged that he is prepared to think about it more. I am sorry that it took up so much of his Summer Recess, but I am sure that a little more time spent on it would be well used.

I shall make just two points. First, I remain convinced that, if we believe that every child in our society has a right to an education, we should say so loudly and clearly. It seems odd, to say the least, to be producing a Bill of this magnitude that is so far-reaching without spelling out in it that we take that right seriously and are committed to it.

After quite a number of years in political life, there are occasions on which I get angry when decisions do not go the way I think they should. There are also occasions on which I become very sad. One of the things that makes me the most sad is when there is a lot of common ground between people about what is attempted, and not very much is dividing them, but a great historic opportunity clearly to spell out something that we see as central to our society and to the values that we hold dear is missed. That is where political management gets in the way of political leadership. We have a task and an opportunity to spell out to the nation in the legislation that we are approaching on its behalf the cause which we are espousing.

Naturally, I take very seriously all the points that my noble friend has made. However, my second point is to emphasise that in Clause 1(1) the local education authority is required to do all sorts of things, but nowhere in those injunctions is the duty to secure the right to education of every child explicitly spelt out. The implicit arguments may be in the convention and elsewhere, but it seems rather strange that that duty is not explicitly included in the injunctions to the local education authority.

In writing to me, my noble friend generously said that he would be happy for me to meet his Bill manager and the department's legal advisers to discuss what is at stake. He has also said that he is prepared to think about the matter again. I would now like to take the opportunity of having the discussion he suggests, but I give warning that my approach will be to enlist the support and expertise of his legal advisers in finding the right way of spelling out this strategic cornerstone rather than avoiding spelling it out. If it is acceptable to my noble friend and if the noble Baroness is willing, I would be delighted if she would accompany me. At this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 2 not moved.]

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Lord Lucas (Conservative)

My Lords, I should like to speak to Amendment No. 5 as well. The time has come to take the opportunity of the Bill to broaden schools' focus a little. We have had several decades of focusing ever more closely on examinations and achievement to the point where examinations have become an end in themselves and have started to damage the real educational progress that we hope pupils will make. Over the past year or two, a lot of people in the educational establishment have started to look again at the wider purposes of school and what we hope they will do for our children. We can use the opportunity of the Bill to signal that in a couple of small ways.

First, Amendment No. 3 would delete the word "educational" where it is essentially repetitive, because it is a subsidiary clause to a statement that clearly focuses on education and its provision. Schools ought to have regard to the whole potential of children—not just whether they will pass Maths and English but what sort of people they will turn into. Whatever their potential, in whatever sphere, and whether or not the word "educational" can be stretched so elastically that it covers everything from football to character, it would do no harm to the Bill to remove that word and to make clear that we expect schools to focus on the child as he or she is, not on some narrow aspect of that child. Amendment No. 5 merely repeats that sentiment in an earlier Bill where it would find a good home.

I hope that the Government will feel, as I do, that this is how schools should operate and that it is therefore a change worth making. I beg to move.

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Baroness Walmsley (Spokesperson in the Lords (Education & Children), Education & Skills; Liberal Democrat)

My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 55 and 56, which are grouped with those of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. These amendments highlight the fact that educational and wellbeing outcomes are closely linked and must be made mutually reinforcing in the Bill. They would ensure that the Bill and the role of the governing body it outlines work towards improving all five well-being outcomes for children as set out in the Children Act 2004, as other partners in children's services are required to do. The importance of education in supporting the wider outcomes of that Act is also stressed.

We want the Bill to ensure that schools help to deliver improvement on all five well-being outcomes for children. Local authorities have embraced the provisions in the Children Act 2004 that create integrated children's services and give them a duty to improve outcomes for all children. More than 130 now have directors of children's services, and all over the country authorities are developing children's trusts to deliver better, more integrated services for children. The development of those integrated services is being reflected in inspection methodology through joint area reviews. The current schools inspection framework, introduced last year, and the creation of the single inspectorate in this Bill are movement in the same direction. If that approach is to be embedded within all children's services, the Bill needs to support the Children Act 2004 and to reflect in schools the joined-up approach being taken at local level.

Through SI 2149/2005 and government guidance there is a clear onus on local authorities to ensure that schools are consulted and have full input to developing well-being outcomes locally. At present, however, that onus is only in one direction. Given schools' obvious importance in delivering the educational fulfilment and wider elements of well-being for children, the onus on governing bodies to promote well-being must be strengthened to ensure coherent and effective local delivery for children and young people. We tried to persuade the Government of that in 2004 but did not succeed, so I am trying again today.

When amendments on Every Child Matters were moved in Committee, the Government countered that the Children Act 2004 was sufficient to ensure schools' co-operation in its delivery. I dispute that. Certainly, some schools are working well with other partners to ensure delivery of wider well-being outcomes, yet others are not and do not see matters beyond educational attainment as related and part of their core business in children's development. Indeed, the more independent schools become, the more difficult it will be to keep well-being at the heart of all their activity unless there is a clear duty.

The Bill should therefore complement and provide coherence by including provisions to ensure that education outcomes reinforce well-being outcomes and vice versa, for they are inextricably linked. The amendment is well supported by many organisations in the Every Child, Every School coalition.

In Committee, there was considerable support for this point of view across your Lordships' House. The noble Lord, Lord Dearing, said:

"The purpose of our amendment is formally to underlinethat the Every Child Matters agenda, as set out in the Children Act 2004, is directly relevant to the educational attainment of every child, and that the educational purposes of the Bill will not be fully achieved unless the agenda is part of its provisions".—[Hansard, 5/7/06; col. 269.]

The noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, said :

"We really will not get higher standards in our schools unless we focus on wider issues of welfare and well-being".—[Hansard, 5/7/06; col. 272.]

The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, pointed out that,

"the law does not need changing to achieve those objectives; it achieves them already".—[Hansard, 5/7/06; col. 274.]

However, practitioners tell me that unless we have a clear duty, that will not always happen. It already happens in many cases and I am sure it will continue to do so. But this Bill is about putting clear duties on people. I believe that the law does not make it clear if it excludes schools. Let us rectify that today.

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Lord Northbourne (Crossbench)

My Lords, I support all the amendments in the group. This raises a fundamental question about what education is for and is about. The insertion of the word "educational", which the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, would like to take out, suggests that education is about only academic education. Do we believe that? I think that most noble Lords would agree that education is about much more than that. It is a crucial issue. The removal of "educational" would leave a perfectly satisfactory clause; its inclusion unnecessarily raises all sorts of difficult issues.

Even if the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, does no more, it would celebrate or establish the coherence between the Children Act and this Bill. That in itself is a most important objective. I support both amendments, subject to what the noble Lord has to say.

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Baroness Morris of Yardley (Labour)

My Lords, I support the amendments, particularly Amendments Nos. 55 and 56. In doing so, I declare an interest as chair of the Children's Workforce Development Council and president of the National Children's Bureau. The Minister may persuade me that the law is sufficient to achieve what we want, but I would not want to miss an opportunity. This is a very important debate, which is a tribute to the Government's achievements in Every Child Matters and the five outcomes. The delivery of the five outcomes into legislation was a key moment in moving towards an integrated service for children in workforce reform. In acknowledging that in serving children well and in bringing them up and preparing them for life, everything is important, but by themselves they are not sufficiently important and have to be integrated.

These old debates about our schools, education and caring, and whether we should find time to look for the personal development of children or whether education is always about passing exams were, to some extent, put to one side. The Every Child Matters outcomes were a very proper acknowledgement that what we want for children is the development of all their abilities—certainly academic but others as well. We want an integrated service in which to deliver that. That does not take away from the very special talents that teachers have and from the very particular purpose of schools but, as I have travelled around the country, I have seen education delivered best when it has been integrated with other children's services.

My only reason for pushing consideration of this being included in primary legislation is that, since leaving the Department for Education and Skills and going back into the real world, even four years later I sometimes visit schools which are only just beginning to implement things that were passed in my time in the DfES. In politics we sometimes underestimate the difficulty of implementation. We should seize as many opportunities as we can to send a clear signal about what we want to achieve. I suspect that this amendment is something no one disagrees with. I bet that no one is going to stand up and say, "It would be a really bad idea to ask parts of the education system to secure the well-being of children". Does anyone want to argue against securing the well-being of children? So the debate becomes whether we are adding anything here, and whether we are making it any easier to achieve these objectives by putting them into primary legislation.

My first reason for supporting this proposal is that the crusade or huge cultural change involved in persuading professionals—teachers and those looking after children who are not teachers—to think differently needs every encouragement and tool we can possibly harness and give it. We should not miss any opportunity to make that happen. Thinking back to when I was at the department, at certain times I saw words going into legislation and, to be honest, I thought, "I am not sure that putting that word into legislation is going to achieve much". But what I saw over the years was that it kept the agenda on that word and sent a clear signal to the education world that change was needed.

I shall give a few examples which I know my noble friend on the Front Bench will agree with. Way back in the late 1990s we put into primary legislation the provision that schools and local authorities have a duty to secure high standards. If ever there was no need to put something into legislation, it was a reminder to teachers that they are about achieving high standards. It was almost an insult, but it was necessary and it has worked. Over the months and years it has allowed people constantly to go back to the legislation and say, "Look, this is what you are about. This is about high standards". In truth, the notion of high standards has now become part of the vocabulary of what schools do. I could make a powerful case for words that we put into legislation, such as the need for local authorities to promote choice and encourage diversity. In themselves the words do not mean a lot, but they provide the background to a set of priorities towards which we want things to move.

I wonder if this amendment would achieve that. It would help those of us out in the field who are trying to enact the five outcomes necessary to an integrated delivery, getting professionals to cherish their own skills while acknowledging that others can contribute to the job they are doing on behalf of children. To me, this amendment has that sense of those primary legislation clauses which said, "You are about standards; you are promoting choice; you are promoting diversity". I think it might help those who are trying to take Every Child Matters, a very important and fantastic agenda, into the field. For those reasons, I ask my noble friend to consider it. To tell the truth, it is a good trick to mirror something in the Children Act 2004 because it sends the same message to different groups of professionals—and we are trying to encourage them to work together. I look forward to hearing my noble friend's comments, but from my reading at the moment, this might just be something that will help us in the years to come.

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Lord Sutherland of Houndwood (Crossbench)

My Lords, I support all the sentiments which imply that we must focus on the child as a whole being with many forms of potential, and I certainly support all that leads to the enhancement of that. However, I would regret dropping "educational" in Clause 1, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, suggests, for two reasons. The first is that I have a very high view of education and I believe that education properly carried out extends well beyond what we call, I think mistakenly, the "merely academic". The second reason I would regret dropping "educational" to qualify potential here is that I can recall the case of a schoolboy who, to all intents and purposes, certainly fulfilled the potential that his fellow schoolboys saw in him to the extent of being subject to the detailed attentions of the fraud squad and a period in Barlinnie prison following that. We need to qualify "potential", and I cannot think of a better word than "educational".

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Lord Dearing (Other)

My Lords, I shall speak briefly in support of the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland. Schools exist primarily to educate and I would regret dropping the word, but I do not believe that education can be effective outside the context of the whole well-being of the child. I recall the head of an inner-London primary school whose first concern was to see whether the children had had any breakfast and whether they had got dry feet before they started school. She knew that they would attend the lessons better if they had physical comfort. Their whole well-being was directly relevant.

I cannot say as well what I said last time—or what the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said I said last time—but I would make a supplementary point. I said on the previous occasion that a busy head gets this further dollop of legislation on his desk—I have forgotten how many hundreds of pages of guidance there are—and what happens? The emphasis goes. Let me give an illustration of that happening in a related field. The Government had had a strong commitment to providing 14 year-olds with work experience and then the Chancellor—I believe it was he—saw the importance of enterprise education, and I saw the shift of funding from one foot to the other. It was not that work experience was not important, but the emphasis which had just come into focus was enterprise education and the funding for work experience was reduced. I fear that the horsepower for caring about well-being in the interests of education will be diminished unless we enforce it. I support the amendments of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley.

4:00 pm
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Lord Adonis (Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Schools), Department for Education and Skills; Labour)

My Lords, Clauses 1 to 4 are grounded on the principle that every child deserves a good education regardless of their background or circumstances. They require local authorities to do everything they reasonably can to promote the fulfilment by every child in their locality of their educational potential, alongside their existing duty to promote high standards and the new duty to ensure fair access to educational opportunity.

Clause 1 relates to the local authority's educational functions, which is why it is framed in terms of educational fulfilment. In respect of wider Every Child Matters objectives—which of course are vital to outcomes for children, as every speaker in the debate has emphasised—Section 10 of the Children Act 2004 already places a powerful duty on local authorities to promote co-operation to improve children's well-being, defined within the Every Child Mattersterms as physical and mental health and emotional well-being; protection from harm and neglect; education, training and recreation; the contribution made by them to society; and social and economic well-being.

The Bill needs, therefore, to be seen as complementary to existing legislation on children's outcomes and services. Indeed, the reason we need these legal changes in the first place is, following precisely the line of argument set out by my noble friend Lady Morris, because we wish to strengthen existing education legislation to bring it in linewith the principle underlining the Every Child Matters agenda—that every child, regardless of their background, should have the education they need to enable them to fulfil their potential.

The Bill deliberately recasts existing formulations which focus simply on the standards of education and the provision of sufficient schools—a formulation which goes back to 1944—with the far more demanding duties of Clauses 1 to 4 to promote high standards, fair access, choice and diversity, and to consider parental representations. In effect, the Bill does for educationin terms of its declaratory value what the ChildrenAct 2004 does in respect of children's services and the wider Every Child Matters agenda.

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, seeks to reinforce these duties by adding a further duty to promote the fulfilment of every child's potential and to remove "educational" in respect of potential. Like the noble Lords, Lord Sutherland and Lord Dearing, we think it right that educational potential is spelt out as such in the Bill. We therefore do not support Amendments Nos. 3 and 5.

As to the amendments of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley—Amendments Nos. 55, 56, 84 and 85—we entirely share her aims but we believe that it is neither necessary nor appropriate to introduce them in the Bill. It is not appropriate because it duplicates the existing Children Act 2004. It is not necessary because improving educational achievement is a key priority at the very heart of, rather than separate from, well-being, as my noble friend Lady Morris so rightly said. For schools to achieve high standards for all, they need to improve well-being and to remove barriers to achievement at every level. Similarly, the contribution of educational attainment to wider well-being is self-evident. We also have evidence from Ofsted, based on judgments made using the new inspection framework, which demonstrates a clear correlation between the Every Child Matters outcomes and pupils' achievement and concludes that most schools make a valuable contribution to the health and well-being of pupils.

However, I take to heart the points made by my noble friend Lady Morris about the declaratory value of including well-being in the Bill, and while I can for the reasons I have given make no commitment, I am very influenced by the arguments that have been made from all sides. On the basis that I make no commitments whatever, I would be content to consider the issue further in respect of well-being before Third Reading, while recognising that the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, has every right to bring this matter back at Third Reading if I do not feel able to make a move.

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Baroness Walmsley (Spokesperson in the Lords (Education & Children), Education & Skills; Liberal Democrat)

My Lords, we have moved Amendments Nos. 84 and 85 to a later group, so if the Minister intended to complete his remarks by responding to those amendments perhaps he could save them till later, because I did not speak to them.

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Lord Adonis (Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Schools), Department for Education and Skills; Labour)

My Lords, I am glad to say that I have completed my remarks.

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Lord Lucas (Conservative)

My Lords, I entirely agree with the Minister—the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, carried the day. It was a wonderful speech and I found myself entirely convinced by it. I very much hope that that spirit will carry through to the Box and to his wider team, and that we shall see the spirit of the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, back at Third Reading. But I am content to take a lesson from those who are older and wiser than me, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 2 [Duties in relation to diversity and choice]:

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Baroness Buscombe (Shadow Minister, Education; Conservative)

moved Amendment No. 4:

Page 2, line 14, at end insert-

"( ) encouraging all schools to become foundation, voluntary or foundation special schools, and to acquire a foundation,"

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Baroness Buscombe (Shadow Minister, Education; Conservative)

My Lords, the amendment would require local authorities to exercise their functions with a view to encouraging all schools to become self-governing and to acquire a trust. The amendment goes to the heart of the Bill and seeks to strengthen its resolve. The principles that we laid out almost 20 years ago still ring true for me and noble Lords on these Benches. At that time, we felt it necessary to state:

"We will continue to defend the right to independent education as part of a free society. It is under threat from all the other parties".

Now, in the 21st century, we are pleased to see a move in the right direction by the party opposite in your Lordships' House to the establishment of independent state schools. Yet there was once a time when—and again I quote the 1987 Conservative manifesto—a Conservative Government pledged to give,

"governing bodies and head teachers of all secondary schools and many primary schools ... control over their own budgets",

to increase parent choice and, most importantly,

"allow ... schools to opt out of LEA control".

I believe that Her Majesty's Government have arrived at those same conclusions—the right conclusions for our children's education. Those are the substantive points, and none is more important than that vital ingredient: school autonomy. Autonomy and freedom from the control of local authorities enables schools to provide for and adapt to the local community. Yet I read this morning that the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee has found that nearly 1 million children are being taught in poorly performing schools. It was interesting to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, say that a declaratory statement on high standards in schools can make a difference, but where is the difference when nearly 1 million children are being taught in such schools? That is unacceptable.

The first priority of Government should be to tackle that situation. We now offer them an opportunity to commit to their original vision of a system in which schools are given the autonomy from local government that they need to succeed. How many more children can the system afford to fail? I take the liberty of reminding the Minister of the White Paper statement that:

"The best local authorities recognise that providers need autonomy if they are to be able to innovate and develop, and that their role is to provide robust challenge when standards are not high enough".

It goes on to say that local authorities will,

"support new schools and new provision where there is real demand or where existing provision is poor".

What is more, it repeats:

"This is a very different role from acting as a direct provider of school places".

I stress that this amendment will not preclude the establishment of community schools. A Government run from these Benches may have tackled that differently in the Bill. Indeed, it was the original intention of Her Majesty's Government to stem the creation of new community schools. Paragraph 9.11 of Chapter 9 in the White Paper clearly states that local authorities will have to,

"make their own proposal for a self-governing (Foundation) school, if they cannot find a suitable promoter, in keeping with the commissioner role no more community schools (primary or secondary) will be established".

In rereading the Minister's responses to my amendments in Committee, including those that would have prevented the establishment of new community schools, I was able to confirm that, regrettably, the positive, constructive heart of policy in the White Paper has been abandoned. It seems that the price of school freedom becomes ever lower. My amendment seeks to stem the erosion of school freedom as it is viewed by central Government. It would enhance, not denigrate, the role of local authorities. We should remember what the Prime Minister said almost a year ago, on 24 October 2005:

"We need to see every local authority moving from provider to commissioner so that the system acquires a local dynamism responsive to the needs of their communities and open to change and new forms of school provision. This will liberate local authorities from too often feeling the need to defend the status quo so that instead they become the champions of innovation and diversity and the partner of local parents in driving continuous improvements".

This pledge of freedom from the Prime Minister to allow for self-governing schools has been the basis of DfES policy since July 2004. The Government stated in their Five Year Strategy for Children and Learners:

"Local authorities should recast themselves as the commissioner and quality assurer of educational services, not the direct supplier—a role which enables them to promote the interests of parents and pupils far more confidently and powerfully than the old days of the local authority as direct manager of the local schools and colleges".

In response to that stated policy, which we support, my amendment would place a duty on local authorities actively to encourage the establishment of foundation and trust schools and the creation of the type of school that will be best placed to provide innovative, excellent education. I beg to move.

4:15 pm
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Baroness Sharp of Guildford (Spokesperson in the Lords (Further & Higher Education), Education & Skills; Liberal Democrat)

My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 12 to 15, in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Walmsley. This series of amendments is almost, but not quite, on the opposite track to that proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe. The Government propose that, other things being equal, all new schools should be foundation schools. The noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, suggests not only that all new schools should be foundation schools but that there should be positive encouragement for all existing schools to become foundation schools.

We argue somewhat differently. Our amendments propose that, in the competition for new schools, there should be even terms between foundation schools and community schools. What is the difference between foundation schools and community schools? Both are financed via the dedicated schools budget, which comes through the local education authority and is paid for partly by government grants and partly by local taxes. But the foundation school owns its own buildings, has control over its own budget and runs its own affairs. It is, as the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, said, an independent state school. The community school, via local management of schools, manages around 93 per cent of its budget, but the local education authority owns its buildings, employs its staff and appoints its governors, who are responsible for its overall running.

The key issue is the link to the local education authority and how far the school can act wholly independently of that authority. As the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, stressed, the notion of foundation schools, deriving from the Conservative proposals for grant-maintained schools, is that state schools should be independent of local education authorities. We believe that the link with local education authorities is beneficial, because we see education provision as a system whose parts—nursery schools, Sure Start centres, schools and colleges—are interdependent at community level and need some overarching control system at that level: the local education authority. Schools and colleges are there to serve the local education authority. The community helps to pay for them, so it is right that the community should have some say in how they are run and that there should be some accountability, through the governance process, to the community.

I talked about foundation schools being derived from grant-maintained schools, but the idea goes back considerably further, because the concept of the grant-maintained school was derived from voluntary-aided and voluntary-controlled schools, which are the church schools. That was part of the deal done with the churches at the end of the 19th century and, particularly, as enshrined in the Education Act 1944. While the state would meet all the current expense of such schools, the church would maintain the capital fabric of the school and appoint the governors. That model of the voluntary-aided school was copied in the 1980s, when the Conservatives introduced the grant-maintained system. The only difference with foundation schools, which were introduced in 1998 under the School Standards and Framework Act, is that the old grant-maintained schools became foundation schools and were financed through the LEA budget rather than directly by the department for education, as grant-maintained schools had been.

I stress that Amendments Nos. 12 to 15 do not seek to undo this process in any sense. We accept that church schools and foundation schools exist in the system and that they have been—as the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, and the Minister both stressed in their arguments in Committee—a popular and successful model of governance albeit, as the Sutton Trust research highlighted, one serving a disproportionately middle- class constituency. We are also happy to see this model extended to more schools, new and old, where that is the wish of the local community.

That is the key issue in this group of amendments. Amendments Nos. 12, 13 and 14 seek to allow local education authorities to propose the establishment of a new community school alongside other proposals that may go forward for foundation schools or for other, what I would call, "company schools" run by companies such as Edison as foundations in competition with new schools. That is essentially what my noble friend Lady Williams, in moving the amendments in Committee, called establishing a level playing field between the foundation proposals and the community proposals.

In Committee, we had a protracted discussion on these issues, with extensive consideration of international comparisons and the virtues or otherwise of comprehensive education. As the noble Baroness will probably remember, the debate ran late into the night. I do not wish to consider all those issues again, and the set of amendments that we have tabled today is slimline. It concentrates only on when a local education authority may propose a community school, to be considered alongside other proposals.

The Government rightly state that the Bill allows local education authorities to propose a community school; but, whereas other providers, more or less irrespective of their track record, may propose these schools—it should be remembered that the proposals are in competition with each other, and the providers will then be judged on their track record—LEAs are not allowed to enter that competition unconditionally unless they have been awarded the top performance assessment rating of "4". Only 11 out of some 145 local authorities have achieved that top assessment rating. The remaining local authorities would all need to satisfy further criteria and obtain the Secretary of State's permission to put forward proposals.

We have tabled Amendment No. 15, because even when an authority meets the criteria and is within the top Ofsted category, it still needs permission from the Secretary of State to publish its proposals. Our amendment states that when a majority of parents have indicated in a ballot that they wish to have the chance to consider local authority proposals, those proposals shall be published alongside the others.

In his concluding remarks in Committee, the Minister emphasised that the Government had,

"struck a sensible balance ... between allowing local authorities that have a good track record and can show that they support the principle of diversity to be able, in appropriate circumstances, to promote community schools while ensuring that there are strong incentives for diversity, especially in areas where local authorities are lower performers".—[Hansard, 12/7/06; col. 818.]

We maintain that there is not a fair balance. There are constraints limiting the scope of local authorities to publish their proposals and put them alongside others. First, such constraints on their rights to publication run counter to the principles of local choice and local accountability. As democratically accountable institutions, councils need flexibility to respond to local needs and circumstances. They should be required to present a full range of options for new schools in their communities. If local people want a new school and the locality needs one, a community school should be among the choices.

Secondly, the current proposals contradict the Government's wider devolution agenda. The Lyons local government review's interim report highlights the need for local government to be less constrained, more accountable locally and more innovative. The principle of earned autonomy which supersedes local people's wishes and accountability can impact across a large range of local authority commissioning and delivery functions. It is at odds with the Government's commitment to devolve power to local communities.

Lastly, the Government's proposals run against the principles of the Bill itself, which sets out a new strategic role for local authorities in education and seeks to promote choice and diversity and to champion pupils and parents. By allowing only certain councils the freedom to propose new community schools, the Government are suggesting that only certain councils can undertake the full strategic role that all councils have a duty to deliver.

As I indicated in my opening remarks, schools are provided and run for the benefit of the local community. A good part of the council tax that we pay goes towards the provision of that education. We elect our local councils to oversee these activities and decide what best suits local people. They are democratically accountable and should have some say in what sort of schools best meet local needs.

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Baroness Carnegy of Lour (Conservative)

My Lords, I have not entered into any of the debates so far on the Bill because I live north of the Border and my own experience, which is out of date but fairly copious on the subject of state education in schools, has not seemed relevant. But there are issues—this is one and there will be another later today in which I hope to take part—which transcend our borders in the United Kingdom.

It seems to me that the Government and the leadership of my own party are now asking themselves whether much more autonomy of professionals in schools will bear great fruit. They are asking themselves whether teachers and others in schools can stand a lot more trust from the public in what they do, more freedom and more responsibility. The Scottish Executive have concluded that they cannot stand those things, and that conclusion has been endorsed by the teachers' unions. Of course, the Scottish Executive partly consist of the Liberal Democrat party.

Looking at what is happening in schools in England, it seems to me that the Government are certainly right. It is very exciting what more freedom can do to help professionals to provide better schools. It is not at all exciting to see what lack of freedom is doing to the Scottish education system, whose outcome is less good than before, going by most of the measures applied. I do not want to run down my own country: I am a great believer in Scottish education and I am sure that it will recover.

The question raised by my noble friend in the amendment is simply: should they be asked to continue to govern in future years, will the Government be prepared to increase the autonomy of schools and to have more foundation schools? If they are not, I think that she may be suggesting that our own party would be interested in exploring that. I shall be very interested to hear the Minister's reply.

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Lord Sutherland of Houndwood (Crossbench)

My Lords, tempted as I am to speak about Scottish education, I shall resist. I support Amendment No. 4 and have three points to make.

First, there is good empirical evidence of the contribution that schools which have been given additional powers of self-determination have made to some of the most difficult areas, including in this city, of which Peckham is an example. Such schools have made real contributions to education in that area, and that is but one example.

Secondly, the amendment would give the local authority a responsibility to work towards what is clearly an intended outcome of the Bill—that is, to increase the amount of autonomy and self-determination in schools. It is important that local authorities take that on board as a responsibility which they willingly share. If they do not, there will be a risk of friction and envy between such schools and other schools—perceived sometimes rather than real.

Thirdly, there is no doubt that there will be a period of transition in which a number of schools will seek such additional self-determination. In that process, it is important that there is a common view about the responsibilities of local authorities so that we do not have one local authority encouraging it and another dragging its feet. There should be equal opportunity throughout the system, and the amendment has the value of indicating what that responsibility would be.

4:30 pm
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Baroness Morris of Yardley (Labour)

My Lords, I speak against Amendment No. 4. The picture of the English education system described by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, is not one that I recognise as of the real world. I would have preferred her to start this interesting debate with a recognition that every single indicator of improvement in standards, in quality of teaching, in management, in leadership and certainly in investment by the Government, shows things are far better now than they were a decade ago.

The argument about foundation schools and community schools has run throughout the passage of the Bill. I want to make what I hope is a relevant comment to what I believe is an irrelevant debate. An error in all these discussions is to believe that there is greater autonomy for a foundation school than for a community school. If I really believed that having foundation status gives schools more powers, more freedoms and greater autonomy, I would support the amendment. I oppose the amendment because I do not believe that foundation schools have greater autonomy or more independence than community schools.

That is because I believe that the Government have worked exceptionally hard over the past 10 years to try to make the education system, the schools system, structurally more equal and to give it greater equality. Having listened to the Minister and many people over the past months, I am yet to be persuaded of one meaningful, extra freedom, one grain of greater autonomy that one has with foundation schools that one does not have with community schools which would persuade me that standards would increase as a result. If I could be persuaded of that, even at this late date, I would support the amendment with great voice and great enthusiasm.

However, one can see no evidence that foundation schools now perform better than community schools. I pay tribute to the many wonderful foundation schools that exist in the inner cities which have turned schools around—there is one in Peckham to which I pay huge tribute—but I need to hear some generosity of spirit that pays equal credit to the wonderful performance of many community schools—many serving most schools in the inner-cities—that have really raised standards.

On this debate, the irony is that the only people with whom I have discussed community schools and foundation schools are politicians. In the past five years, I have not met one head teacher, when visiting a school or at a conference, who has asked, "Why don't you make it easier for us to be a foundation school?". Quite simply, it is so easy now to be a foundation school—far easier than becoming a grant-maintained school in the days of the Conservative Government—that if our good head teachers really thought that it would make a difference, they would do it. They have asked me for lots of other things, but not one single head teacher has said, "If only you made it easier for us to be a foundation school, with all those extra freedoms that would go with it, I know that I could deliver better outcomes for the children".

Given that that is the picture, why would we want to put an extra responsibility on a local authority to promote more of them? They have better things to do than to promote something that is readily available if a school wishes to take it. The noble Baroness talked about trusting heads, trusting schools and trusting governing bodies. We should trust them and if they want to become foundation schools they can; they do not need a local authority encouraging and persuading them to do that.

I am persuaded on two points. I could interpret the notion of foundation in a slightly different way and that would be a partnership in school improvement, an external partner to provide support in raising standards. I am all for that, but equally I know many community schools with the strength of such an external partner, so I have come to the conclusion that I really do not mind whether a school is a foundation school or a community school. I do not mind one bit. I am happy to leave it to the school because I believe we have a level playing field. To be honest, I mind us all spending a lot of time debating the matter when the world of education is not in any way putting an obligation on local authorities to pursue these structural changes.

The real challenge for us is that schools and heads want greater autonomy and ask for greater freedom. They tell me that if they had greater freedom, they could do better for their children. But the freedoms they ask are freedoms in the national curriculum, often freedom from the accountability framework, sometimes freedom from the publication of their results in the local press and the ability of the neighbouring school to seduce the most able children to go to it. The difficulty is that those are the freedoms we do not want to give, and a debate on that will come later on Report. I am not against freedoms, but there is nothing in foundation status that will give our heads more freedom to do their job more effectively. If there were, they would take it because it is there for the taking. Let us not place this additional burden on local authorities by making them pursue something that will do little for the children they are meant to be serving.

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Lord Lucas (Conservative)

My Lords, the noble Baroness answered herself in her previous contribution when she successfully outlined the importance of having icons, totems and loadstones in legislation to set out in a declaratory way the direction in which we think we are moving. My noble friend's amendment makes two important points in that regard. First, it is important that a school thinks that it is a foundation school because that is an attitude of mind and sets the direction that the school takes. I think that it is a thoroughly constructive direction, as the Government do, as they are promoting it. It is the way to go, and even if the physical powers are not much different, the mental attitude is. Secondly, it sets out the mental attitude that we expect of local authorities. Those of us who were around at the time—which I suspect is most of us—will remember how difficult local authorities made themselves at the time of grant-maintained schools. Many still seem to be wedded to the idea that schools must be theirs and they must control them, rather than that they belong to parents and the community.

Across this House, we have taken a step away from that. We have said that local authorities are as friends of the parents and helpers of the schools, but not their owners. We are going to get away from the difficulties that came from ownership, such as local authorities just accepting their schools' faults, not doing anything about them and expecting parents to live with them; that they were part of the community and satisfactory because they were the local authorities. I can remember going around schools in Manchester a long time ago. When a teacher was so bad that he was eventually removed from a school, the local authority transferred him to another of its schools because it thought that it owed a duty to its teachers first and above any other duty. We have moved a long way from that, and we are now in a very satisfactory position. The Government's vision of the function of local education authorities is one with which I thoroughly agree. To put a declaratory framework in the Bill so that local education authorities know what they are about and where we are expecting them to head has great value. I have been persuaded of that by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, herself.

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Lord Adonis (Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Schools), Department for Education and Skills; Labour)

My Lords, the House is grateful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Sharp and Lady Buscombe, for coming back to us with their slimline amendments. We remember the non-slimline versions, which occupied us for many hours. I am glad that we have now managed to focus the debate on two specific issues: that of promoting community schools and whether there should be local authority ballots in respect of them; and the duty to promote non-community schools.

The amendments in this group tabled by the noble Baronesses have opposing intents. The noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, wants us to encourage all schools to become trust, foundation or voluntary schools, while the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, wants there to be more community schools and wishes to amend Clause 7 so that local authorities may promote new community schools in all circumstances. I hope that I may come across as the voice of sweet reason because we want to come through the middle between these two extreme positions and stick with what the Bill proposes—namely, that schools and local authorities should consider the case for trust or foundation status on its merits. We believe those merits are substantial.

I strongly underline what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, who spoke with all the authority of a former chief inspector of schools, particularly in highlighting the contribution which greater autonomy can make to schools operating in more challenging circumstances. The evidence I have strongly supports the points he made in respect of academies where results are rising significantly faster than the national average, both at key stage 3 and GCSE. Furthermore, looking at the relative performance in schools in the most challenging communities, foundation schools, voluntary-aided schools and community schools, there is a differential level of performance in favour of foundation and voluntary-aided schools.

Among schools where more than 21 per cent of pupils were eligible for free school meals last year, the proportion getting five or more GCSEs in voluntary-aided schools was 48 per cent and in foundation schools 47 per cent, against 40 per cent in community schools.

I join my noble friend Lady Morris in paying tribute to the work of all schools. I visit schools constantly, as she does. I make no differentiation in the comments and the praise I give to schools whatever their category. We should support them all and they all go about their job in a highly professional way. But I believe that the evidence is clear that, all other things being equal, greater autonomy helps promote higher standards. Many schools are keen to explore opportunities for trust status and academy status, and since we simplified the arrangements more schools are opting for foundation status. That also supports this point of view. We believe that this decision should be taken by existing schools. Therefore, we do not favour Amendment No. 4, which provides this new duty.

Local authorities more directly control community schools. Therefore, it is perfectly reasonable that they should have to demonstrate a good track record before setting up new community schools.

It is now a truism that schools run best when they run themselves. But that is true. We seek to build on successful experience. Local authorities without track records which lead one to believe that they can take on these new responsibilities successfully, should establish schools on the foundation, trust or voluntary-aided models.

The House knows that we have made concessions on new community schools, as set out in Clauses 7 and 8. The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, asked whether local authorities in the highest performing category may automatically publish proposals for a community school in a competition. I can state clearly that they can do so automatically. They do not require the permission of the Secretary of State. We believe that we have gone as far as is consistent with the need for better schools in areas where they simply are not good enough. I am not prepared to stand here and defend failure, blighting the life chances of children. Therefore, I do not accept that a local authority should have an unfettered right, however bad its track record, to promote schools which it more directly manages. A local authority with a poor track record should commission those with better prospects of success—be they a parents group or an education foundation—to take on the task by means of a trust or a voluntary-aided school or an academy.

Amendment No. 15, spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, would allow local authorities to publish proposals for schools outside a competition without the need for the Secretary of State's approval where a ballot of parents had supported it. We support the role of parents. The Bill makes specific provision to strengthen their role by giving them more choice and more say in the education of their children. Our position on parental ballots has not changed since these matters were raised in Committee and in another place, and we do not support this amendment. This particular ballot proposal is especially unsatisfactory in our view. In effect, the amendment provides that local parents should be able to vote to have no choice before they even know what the choice is. It is hard to see how that could benefit parents or the local community.

The Bill already places new duties on local authorities to promote diversity and choice and to respond to specific representations from parents. Clause 10 requires consultation with appropriate parties before any proposals are brought forward and guidelines will make clear that that includes parents. If consultation with parents favours a particular type of school, that will certainly add weight to that proposal when the local authority or the adjudicator comes to take its decision in the usual way.

We accept that in certain circumstances, such as the amalgamation of junior and infant schools, competition in the provision of a new school may not be in the best interests of the local community. Where that is the case, the current mechanisms set out in Clause 10 are in place to provide for proposals to come forward without a competition, but we see no reason to amend the provision further. Therefore, we oppose all the amendments.

4:45 pm
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Baroness Buscombe (Shadow Minister, Education; Conservative)

My Lords, I begin by agreeing with the Minister. I am sure that I speak for all noble Lords when I say that we all support all schools. That should be a given.

Not only do we not support the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, but she stated that schools were there to serve the local education authority. That says it all. I agree with my noble friend Lord Lucas that we are trying to make a declaratory statement but also to give confidence to all schools—

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Baroness Sharp of Guildford (Spokesperson in the Lords (Further & Higher Education), Education & Skills; Liberal Democrat)

My Lords, I do not think that I said that schools were there to serve the local education authority—if I did, it was a slip of the tongue. My notes state clearly that schools are there to serve the local community—as are local education authorities.

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Baroness Buscombe (Shadow Minister, Education; Conservative)

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her intervention, but I think that she did say that. It was probably a slip of the tongue, so perhaps it is good that I have put the record straight with her.

The important thing here is that we want to do what we can to encourage schools and give them the confidence to go forward and become foundation and trust schools—not just of their own volition but through the encouragement of their local authorities.

Let me remind the Government of what they stated in the White Paper:

"We will support local authorities in playing a new commissioning role in relation to a new school system, at the heart of their local communities, and responsive to the needs of parents and pupils. They will support new schools and new provision where there is a real demand or where existing provision is poor. This is a very different role from acting as a direct provider of school places. We recognise that in many ways it is more challenging. But it also offers the scope to ensure that communities receive the education they deserve and aspire to".

I could not put it better myself.

This approach is not about political dogma or a slight to local authorities; indeed, it is quite the opposite. I suspect that many local authority personnel would love to move to a more strategic role that frees them up to commission and focus on the quality of provision. We are failing today's children through too much rigid state intrusion and bureaucratic constraints on our teachers because the wrong, ill fitting structures are in place. We should give all schools the confidence to go forward to become foundation or trust schools. I welcome the support of the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland of Houndwood. There is empirical evidence that schools given more autonomy achieve better results—better outcomes for our children.

Local authorities need to work with what will be the outcome of the Bill. We are looking for a real partnership. The noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, talked about a level playing field. That is what we seek through the amendments. There will be a tough period of transition. This debate is not irrelevant. It is hugely important that we go forward and do what we can to support schools in making that challenging move. I cannot let this Bill get on to the statute book without a significant attempt to persuade noble Lords to take a stand for school freedom and school autonomy. I wish to test the opinion of your Lordships' House.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 4) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 99; Not-Contents, 228.

Division number 1

See full list of votes (From The Public Whip)

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

[Amendment No. 5 not moved.]

5:02 pm
Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford

Baroness Sharp of Guildford (Spokesperson in the Lords (Further & Higher Education), Education & Skills; Liberal Democrat)

moved Amendment No. 6:

Page 2, line 16, at end insert ", and

"(c) ensuring that the schools in its area contribute to social inclusion and community cohesion, especially in areas of economic and social disadvantage.""

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford

Baroness Sharp of Guildford (Spokesperson in the Lords (Further & Higher Education), Education & Skills; Liberal Democrat)

My Lords, I shall also speak to Amendments Nos. 70 and 80.

Amendment No. 6 raises the issue of schools, local education authorities and community cohesion. We spent a long time in Committee discussing these issues, in a debate that ranged widely over parental choice and the concept of community schools—both in the sense that we have just discussed in Amendment No. 4, and in that a school provides a location for many community services. There may be, on the same site, not just a secondary school but a pre-school, children's clinics, extended after-school activities, adult education and even, sometimes, old people's day centres.

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, questioned whether the amendment that we have brought back as Amendment No. 6 is in the right place, as Section 14 of the 1996 Act is about establishing new schools. I will return to that in a moment. However, much of this Bill is also about establishing new foundation schools, and it is perfectly viable that we should do so. The noble Lords, Lord Gould and Lord Skidelsky, questioned whether the term community, in its old-fashioned, geographical sense, had any meaning these days, but many others argued that, in some areas of the country at least, community and a sense of belonging are important.

I do not propose to repeat the debate. We can justify using the term "community cohesion", which is used in Clause 33(6), which provides that the board of governors of foundation and community schools,

"shall, in carrying out its functions in relation to the school, promote community cohesion".

In his winding up speech, the Minister drew attention to the draft regulations and statutory instruments on competitions to replace failing schools with foundation schools. They require those proposing new schools to provide,

"a description of what the proposals are intended to deliver in terms of community cohesion",

and,

"the objectives which the promoters intend to set to further the aims of inclusiveness and partnership working".

The Minister said that also to be taken into account should be, first,

"the extent to which, and how satisfactorily in the circumstances of the community, the proposals [for new schools] address the need to promote community cohesion",

and, secondly,

"the extent to which the proposals take account of the needs of families and the wider community".—[Hansard, 5/7/06; col. 310.]

I make no apologies for bringing back the issue of community cohesion. In Amendments Nos. 6 and 70, we are arguing that this obligation—which is in the Bill in relation to foundations for trust schools and in the regulations in relation to local authorities and the adjudicator taking decisions on school closures and competitions—should be in the Bill explicitly for local education authorities. If Section 14 of the Education Act 1996 is about establishing new schools, and local education authorities are being asked to think about diversity and parent choice, they should be thinking also about community cohesion.

Why do we put such emphasis on community cohesion? I can do no better than quote the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, in Committee:

"We must have some regard to a school within a community framework, particularly where the community is socially and economically disadvantaged. As schools increasingly become places for the extended school day—where there are recreational facilities for the community, increased participation and a focus for lifelong learning—I see them becoming valued and important centres of community life. That is especially true in poorer communities, where people do not go outside their community much".—[Hansard, 5/7/06; col. 298.]

He described some communities as "housing deserts". We know very well that these days pubs, post offices and shops are closing on housing estates. They are becoming housing deserts. If we close schools as well, there is no locus for that community to cohere around, which is why we are anxious to see community cohesion in the Bill.

It is also significant that the Minister argued that the early part of the Bill places,

"new duties on local authorities to ensure fair access to educational opportunity and to promote the fulfilment of every child's potential in addition to the existing duty to promote high standards. We want to ensure that ... every child achieves their full potential, and nothing we can do will help schools better to promote social and community cohesion in their work than by succeeding in eliminating education inequalities based on class and background. We believe that we achieve that purpose in the Bill".—[Hansard, 5/5/06; col. 310.]

But whereas the Childcare Act has written into it the aim of reducing educational inequalities, that is not so in this Bill.

We may bring back at Third Reading an alternative amendment because the Bill does not place a specific duty on local authorities to improve wellbeing and reduce inequalities. If it did, we might not have tabled this amendment, but it does not and we therefore propose that a duty to promote social inclusion and community cohesion should be written into the Bill, at this point for local authorities and in Clause 40 for admission forums.

Amendment No. 70 deals with the same issue as it relates to admission forums. Just as we think it important that local authorities should take an overall view of the promotion of social inclusion within their areas, so it is even more important that admission forums—in a sense the specialised agencies within local education authorities now dealing with admissions—should be aware and recognisant of exactly the same issues. Schools need to be a vibrant part of their community. Letting them wither on the vine can kill a whole community. It is important that those dealing with schools admissions are aware of the role they play in helping communities to continue to thrive.

Amendment No. 80 tackles a somewhat different area of disadvantage and comes at it from a different angle. Here we are talking about schools forums, which are concerned with the distribution of money that is allocated to a local authority under its dedicated schools budget. The job of schools forums is to share out that money between different schools. In the calculations made on how much government money should be spent by each local education authority at the local level, weighting is given to various indices of disadvantage such as the number of children on free school meals and the number deemed to have special educational needs of one sort or another. Local education authorities in areas of greater disadvantage receive relatively more funding than do those in areas perceived to be advantageous. But whether those resources are passed through to the schools is a matter for schools forums. There is a question about whether they too use a weighting formula to give schools with a large number of disadvantaged kids their "fair share" of the resources. In many authorities, this does not happen. Money is to an extent allocated on a per-pupil basis rather than weighted towards the disadvantaged, or where weight is given to the disadvantaged it is not the full weighting given to such disadvantage in the government formula itself.

Members on these Benches feel strongly that the schools which need the extra resources are the ones in areas of disadvantage. It is precisely in these schools that one wants to see extra teachers in the classroom. These children should be taught in small groups and often need individual attention. All this demands more resources because you need more people—and that costs a lot more money. We feel it is right that where local authorities receive extra resources to help them cope with disadvantage, they are channelled towards the schools which need them. Amendment No. 80 is designed to influence schools forums into doing precisely that. I beg to move.

5:15 pm
Photo of Lord Dearing

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.

Photo of Lord Northbourne

Lord Northbourne (Crossbench)

My Lords, I support the amendments and echo every word that my noble friend Lord Dearing has said. He made such an excellent speech that I am going to scrap mine, because he really said everything that I would have liked to say.

Clause 2 as drafted is really rather amazing. It has a whiff of the leafy suburbs about it; you do not feel that it really relates to the real world out there that exists in deprived areas. That is an issue that the noble Baroness and the noble Lord have addressed.

I am concerned about disadvantaged children and believe that the Government are concerned about them, too. Surely, their case and their needs should be clearly stated in this Bill as being important.

Photo of Baroness Howe of Idlicote

Baroness Howe of Idlicote (Crossbench)

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend Lord Dearing that the words are not quite accurate, but the intention behind the amendments is very important. I hope and expect to be reassured by the Minister when he replies.

This issue takes my mind back to the time when I served for a very brief period on the Inner London Education Authority, when I and a colleague on the Labour Benches were absolutely of one mind that in the very deprived areas the pay of teachers should be higher because they had a far tougher job and greater responsibility to carry at that time. Above all, the resources must be greater, because it is a far tougher job and teachers require specialised training in such areas. If ever there was a need to have the well-being of an individual emphasised, it is in such areas.

So I hope that I shall be reassured that these amendments are not necessary. I particularly support Amendment No. 80, which gets absolutely to the crux of the matter. If school forums in some areas are not doing their duty and not passing on the money that they should be, we have to take rather stronger steps.

Photo of Lord Hylton

Lord Hylton (Crossbench)

My Lords, I support all three amendments in this group, but I address Amendment No. 80 in particular. To give an example of the known factors for educational disadvantage, there are a number of schools, especially in London but in other areas too, in which a majority of pupils have English as their second language, when English may not be their home language. It is possible, too, that in their homes you would find very few books. It is essential that pupils attending such schools should leave them fully literate and numerate if they are not to continue to be disadvantaged for life, employment and active citizenship. Therefore, I trust that at least something of these amendments will commend itself to the Government.

Photo of Lord Adonis

Lord Adonis (Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Schools), Department for Education and Skills; Labour)

My Lords, I hope that I can give the reassurance that noble Lords seek on these amendments. I very much agree with the comments that noble Lords have made about the needs of schools in more deprived areas and the objectives that the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, seeks to achieve through Amendment No. 80, which have been supported so widely on all sides of the House.

In respect of Amendment No. 80, on the allocation of funding by disadvantage, Section 47 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 makes provision for regulations to be made that set out how a local authority must determine the amount of funding each maintained school receives in its budget share. Existing regulations made under Section 47 of that Act make provisions similar to those envisaged by the noble Baroness. In particular, Regulation 17(2) of the School Finance (England) Regulations 2006 states that local authorities must ensure—I stress the word "must"—that their funding formula reflects the incidence of social deprivation among the pupils registered at the schools that they maintain.

We have also recently required local authorities and their schools forums to review their local funding formulae to ensure that they are, first, delivering the level of resources we have identified in their overall allocations for tackling the impact of deprivation and, secondly, that such resources are distributed in a way that sufficiently differentiates need among their schools. I hope that we have met the points that noble Lords have reasonably raised in respect of the funding of disadvantage.

On Amendment No. 70, we discussed in Committee whether there should be a requirement on admission forums to have regard to the contribution their schools have to the well-being of communities in disadvantaged areas when providing advice on admission arrangements. I explained then that the illustrative regulations we provided on the operation of admission forums stipulate that their reports shall include,

"the ethnic and social mix of pupils attending schools in the area of the authority and the factors that affect this"

and,

"the extent to which existing and proposed admission arrangements serve the interests of looked after children, children with disabilities and children with special educational needs".

I believe that goes a long way to meet the objectives of Amendment No. 70.

Since we published the illustrative regulations on the operation of admission forums we have issued the draft School Admissions Code, which I have circulated widely in the House and which is available in the Library. This makes clear that admission forums should assess how well admission arrangements serve the interests of local parents and children, and that they should do so in their reports. Paragraph 4.10 at page 53 of the draft School Admissions Code states:

"Admission forums have a key role in ensuring a fair admission system that promotes social equity".

The document further states:

"Admission forums must act in accordance with the provisions of this code and they should amongst the activities that they carry out assess how well the admission arrangements serve the interests of local parents and children collectively"—

I stress "collectively"—

"and try to promote agreement on admission issues".

I believe that the objectives of the noble Baroness's amendment are now fully met in the regulations for the admission forums and the draft School Admissions Code.

On Amendment No. 6, all categories of maintained schools have a duty to operate within the same framework of admissions and local responsibilities. Irrespective of their category, whether it be community, foundation or voluntary aided, they are all subject to explicit duties under the Race Relations Act 1976 to eliminate unlawful discrimination and to promote equality of opportunity and good relations between persons of different ethnic groups. Furthermore, under the Bill it is a requirement on proposers of new schools to show how their proposals will contribute to community cohesion and the trusts of trust schools will be under a specific duty under Clause 33 to promote community cohesion as part of fulfilling their charitable object of advancing education. The Bill also places explicit new duties on local authorities. They will have to ensure fair access to educational opportunity and to promote the fulfilment of every child's potential in addition to the existing duty to promote high standards. Local authorities are also subject to explicit duties under the Race Relations Act 1976.

Moreover, local authorities will be required specifically to consider the impact of proposed new schools on community cohesion when carrying out their commissioning role under Part 2 of the Bill. Local authorities will be under a duty to have regard to guidance from the Secretary of State when considering proposals. They will need to consider the extent to which, and how satisfactorily in the circumstances of the community, proposals for new schools promote community cohesion.

In all those ways I believe that the objectives of Amendment No. 6 are met by the Bill. I hope that the noble Baroness is satisfied.

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford

Baroness Sharp of Guildford (Spokesperson in the Lords (Further & Higher Education), Education & Skills; Liberal Democrat)

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his response. I am also most grateful to all noble Lords who supported the amendments. The Minister has offered considerable reassurance. I was interested to hear about a review in relation to the regulations in Section 47 of the 1998 Act. There is quite a lot of evidence to show that at the moment, or until quite recently, the resources that are being provided to meet disadvantage are not necessarily being passed through to the schools that need those resources. I am glad to hear that they have set in train that review, and I will be interested to hear the outcome when it is completed.

In relation to admissions forums, I regret to say that, although I should have, I have not chased up the new regulations that were just issued on the draft admissions code. It is good to hear that the admissions forums have a specific duty to promote social equity and to look to the interests of all parents and children collectively in their community.

Coming back to Amendment No. 6, I repeat what I said earlier that we recognise that in giving an explicit duty to local authorities to promote fair access and equality of opportunity they are moving in the direction of promoting social cohesion. We may come back at Third Reading with an amendment that provides a more explicit power for local authorities, which might be more suitable than the amendments that I tabled. I thank the noble Lord for what he said.

5:30 pm
Photo of Lord Dearing

Lord Dearing (Other)

My Lords, I was very reassured by what the Minister said on Amendments Nos. 6 and 80. On Amendment No. 70, as I understood what he said, he did not address directly the point being made. The amendment states:

"An admissions forum shall in the exercise of its functions have particular regard to the actual and potential contribution of schools in areas of economic and social disadvantage to the well being of communities in those areas".

I should be grateful if the Minister would reflect on whether what he said responds substantively to that point.

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford

Baroness Sharp of Guildford (Spokesperson in the Lords (Further & Higher Education), Education & Skills; Liberal Democrat)

My Lords, we may bring back an amendment at Third Reading that picks up one or two of these points, and perhaps the Minister might think about it in the mean time. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 4 [Duty to identify children not receiving education]:

[Amendment No. 7 not moved.]

Photo of Baroness Turner of Camden

Baroness Turner of Camden (Labour)

moved Amendment No. 8:

After Clause 4, insert the following new clause-

"CONSULTATION WITH PUPILS

After section 175 of EA 2002 insert-

"175A CONSULTATION WITH PUPILS (NO. 2)

It shall be the duty-

(a) of a local education authority, in the exercise of any of their schools functions, and (b) of the governing body of a maintained school, in the exercise of any function relating to the conduct of the school, to have due regard, so far as is reasonably practicable, to the ascertainable views of all pupils on matters that affect them, taking account of their age and maturity.""

Photo of Baroness Turner of Camden

Baroness Turner of Camden (Labour)

My Lords, I shall speak at the same time to Amendment No. 82A, which is in my name and is part of this group. I should perhaps say at the beginning that Amendment No. 8 has been suggested to me by the Children's Rights Alliance, which represents a number of organisations concerned with children's welfare, including Save the Children, of which I was for a number of years a trustee and executive council member.

The issue here is consultation with pupils on all matters affecting their school. This has been raised on previous occasions, and I think that the Government accept the principle that pupils should be consulted, which is in line with the obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. However, the view of the Government has hitherto been that a new statutory provision is not required, and they will continue to encourage schools to follow the Working Together guidance. However, the alliance feels that this is not enough. A statutory right is needed to provide a firm foundation for pupil participation in all schools. Steps must be taken to strengthen pupil participation in line with the obligations under the UN convention.

Recent research indicates that the guidance has not led to change. Less than one third of students felt that they were consulted when school policies were discussed. A survey by the Children's Rights Alliance indicated that of the 99 LEAs that responded, fewer than 45 per cent had taken any action to inform school staff of pupil participation guidance, fewer than 20 per cent had run any training for it, and only 10 per cent had informed pupils of the guidance. Many LEAs did not know which guidance was being referred to.

Everyone agrees in principle with pupil participation. It encourages positive behaviour, and better teacher-student relationships emerge when it happens. Pupils want more of a say. Young people-led organisations, such as the British Youth Council, want to see the introduction of a statutory right. I tabled the amendment to an early part of the Bill because of its importance. There is no need to make a long speech about the principle involved, because I am sure that most noble Lords would agree with it. I hope that this time around the Minister will be prepared to agree that this is a right that should be in the Bill, and I hope that he will be prepared to accept the amendment or will agree to come back with a government amendment to achieve the same result.

Amendment No. 82A is about the involvement of children in the exclusion process. Guidance on school exclusions in England states that in situations where the governing body of a school reviews the exclusion,

"they should allow and encourage the excluded pupil to attend the meeting and speak, if the parent requests this".

In reference to appeals hearings,

"an excluded pupil ... should normally be encouraged to attend the hearing and to speak on his or her own behalf, if he or she wishes to do so and the parent agrees".

I emphasise that the parent should agree.

Although the guidance recommends that pupils be given a voice in the exclusion process, it is not enforceable and not all schools make provision for children and young people to make representations at discipline committees or appeal hearings. Furthermore, the current guidance does not cover the provision of relevant information for children and young people regarding the exclusion. As a result, children are not always in a position to make representations at exclusion hearings, even if they are encouraged to attend. The Government made assurances that the guidance would be updated in 2004. Changes were finally made in September 2006, calling on schools to "allow and encourage" the pupil to give their version of events. However, they still have no right of appeal on their own exclusion, and the guidance has not been strengthened sufficiently to address our concerns on this issue.

The Government rightly place much emphasis on citizenship and taking responsibility for one's actions. Giving children a voice in exclusion hearings forces them to think about their actions and the consequences of their actions and allows them to explain why they behaved in the way they did. This goes to the heart of being a good citizen.

In a Save the Children consultation undertaken with young people excluded from school, many of them felt a sense of injustice and disempowerment because they were not given an opportunity to put their side of the story. One young boy stated:

"You don't get given your chance to say what happened. How are they going to know what happened".

Some professionals feel that the current ineffective involvement of young people in the exclusion process can cause them to be unaware of what it is they have done, and this has resulted in their exclusion, making a reoffence highly probable. That serves no one's interests. In some cases, children are excluded on a false premise. Making false assumptions and denying a child the right to defend himself or herself leads only to alienation and bitterness, entrenching negative attitudes towards school and wider society.

Excluding a pupil, even when it is merited, is very serious indeed, given the impact that exclusion has on a pupil's life chances. Truancy and school exclusion are in the background of 70 per cent of young offenders. The fact that some pupils are consigned to this fate on false grounds is unacceptable. Giving pupils a fair hearing goes some way to addressing a failure in the system. Both young people and professionals to whom Save the Children spoke when it was doing its survey perceived a lack of standard procedure and practice in listening to children's views, resulting in anger and frustration and engendering a feeling of powerlessness and low self-esteem. It is believed that fully involving children in the exclusion process will ensure that they take responsibility for their actions and do not become disengaged from school and from society altogether.

When a similar amendment was debated during proceedings on the then Education Bill in 2005, the Government promised to strengthen guidance, rather than amend regulations. Now the time has come to review whether the guidance is having the required effect. It is about time that we looked at the possibility of including legislative change in this Bill that would give children in England the same rights as in Scotland and Wales. I hope that this time around, the Government will be prepared to reconsider what they have said on this issue. In the mean time, I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Walmsley

Baroness Walmsley (Spokesperson in the Lords (Education & Children), Education & Skills; Liberal Democrat)

My Lords, I support the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, on Amendment No. 8 and have added my name to it. I also support her Amendment No. 82A, to which, I am afraid, I was too late to add my name—but I would have liked to. She rightly said that the Children's Rights Alliance for England, which does so much to promote children's rights, believes that pupils need a statutory right to have their views considered in matters affecting the conduct of their school, which has a great impact on their everyday lives. Of course, schools would still require guidance and support to implement the amendment, which would make education law, policy and practice consistent with broader developments in public services and give England's children entitlements that Scottish children have had since 2000.

I sometimes feel a little frustrated when talking about the voice of the child in your Lordships' House. I often wish that we could hear children themselves standing up in this place to tell us why they would like to have statutory rights to have their voices heard, rather than having to rely on elderly Baronesses such as myself and some of my similarly minded colleagues. However, I am afraid that your Lordships will have to make do with the rather second-rate effort that I have to make on behalf of children.

In Committee, the Minister said that the Government unreservedly agreed with the second part of the amendment tabled at that time, which aimed to remove the current exemption of nursery-age children from the consultation duties on schools and local authorities. Indeed, he has done something about that, for which I very much thank him. I also thank him for his Amendment No. 116 in this group, which accepts the point that these Benches made in relation to the development of a school behaviour policy to which every child in a school, rather than just a sample, should have the opportunity to contribute his views. That is a valuable move forward.

In relation to the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, the Minister said that the Government would continue to encourage schools to follow the Working Together guidance. However, encouraging schools to implement that guidance is not enough. We need a statutory right to pull the situation forward to provide a firm foundation for pupil participation in all schools.

In its recent report on the Bill, the Joint Committee on Human Rights notes that it has,

"written to the Secretary of State asking whether, in light of the requirements of Article 12",

of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child,

"the Bill could do more to provide children with greater opportunity to express their views in matters which affect them".

Article 12 of the UNCRC states that all children,

"have the right to express and to have their views taken into account and given due weight according to their age and maturity in all matters affecting them".

In October 2002, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child stated that the Government,

"should take further steps to promote, facilitate and monitor children's effective participation, including in schools, like school councils".

The Government have certainly done much on school councils and I give the Minister a great deal of credit for that. The committee also stated that the Government,

"should take further steps to consistently reflect the obligations of both paragraphs of article 12 in legislation".

Now we are moving close to an opportunity for the UK Government to do that, because they must submit their next report to the UNCRC in 2007. Accepting Amendment No. 8 would be considered by that committee a major step towards fulfilling its recommendations in the 2002 report.

I also very much support Amendment No. 82A, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, about the well-being and educational attainment of children who have been excluded from school. We might have debated it later, in the group that starts with Amendment No. 119 on exclusions, although I accept that part of the noble Baroness's amendment relates to giving the child a proper voice in the proceedings, so there is a case for debating the matter now.

She rightly lays out in the proposed new subsection (5A) the basic principles of well-being and educational attainment, to which we should adhere when making arrangements for children who, for one reason or another, have had to be excluded. She also asks that the child's right to represent himself in his own right and to have the necessary information to enable him to do so is given to him.

That is important because some children cannot rely on their parents to represent them. Some parents do not want to be bothered or feel intimidated by the system so that they feel reluctant to appear before what seems a frightening panel, as if they are in the dragon's den, to defend their child. Of course we should do everything we can to encourage them to feel more comfortable in taking part in those proceedings, but we also need to do something about ensuring that the child has its own rights as an individual whose whole life is in the hands of the panel considering their exclusion.

5:45 pm
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Lord Northbourne (Crossbench)

My Lords, the need to listen to the voice of the child is a fashionable concept these days and is very important. But children are only human—at least most of them are most of the time. If you have listened to their voices and then ask them for their opinions, but do not tell them why you have not done what they recommended, they get sore, upset and disillusioned. Every reference to listening to the voice of the child should, wherever possible, include a reference to feeding back to the child information about what happened to their views.

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Lord Dearing (Other)

My Lords, I warmly support the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, on listening to the voice of pupils. I hope that the Government will respond warmly to it. However, welcome though it is, I regard it only as paving the way for what has already been done in Wales, where, using the powers of the 2002 Act, school councils have been made mandatory in all ordinary schools. It has been prescribed in regulations that schools' councils should be properly elected; their functions to comment on matters affecting the school and education have been laid down; their representations must be considered by the head and the governing body—and they are entitled to a response under those regulations.

I recognise that it is early days to form a judgment on the success of what has been done in Wales and I know that the Minister will want to wait for the finally considered views of Professor Whitty before marching on. Perhaps I may quote the views of the head teacher of Malet Lambert, a school that I left many years ago. She stated in a letter to me:

"A school that is passionate about education and effective in raising standards needs to consider, promote and champion the rights and accountabilities of the student body. The school council gives a coherent voice and overt pathways for this process. I would strongly recommend this process and its benefits".

I consulted another head of a school that I know, Christ's College in Guildford, where again there was enthusiasm for the idea of a council, with contributions such as, "Hey, they're proposing a new menu", and the school's council was invited to try it. Other opinions were sought on bullying and the plans for a new building—all useful input from the pupils. The noble Baroness referred very modestly to the role played by people such as her in representing the views of children. The headmistress at Malet Lambert is so convinced of the value of consultation that she is prepared to bring her school council to the Minister to do the noble Baroness's job for her.

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Baroness Howe of Idlicote (Crossbench)

My Lords, I also very much support the amendments. One increasingly sees the value of consulting the consumer—for that is exactly what the student or the pupil at school is—and getting a full response. They are the ones who are currently experiencing what is going on.

I was particularly impressed by the Sorrell Foundation exercise in which pupils from something like 10 primary and secondary schools got together with architectural students and devised the ideal school. If you were able to do that to improve your own school, just imagine how much more that would ground you in the success of the school and in standing up for it. I very much hope that the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Turner of Camden, will be taken seriously.

The briefing from the Children's Rights Alliance for England was excellent. It made all the points and I shall not go into them again, but I want to mention exclusion hearings. It is crucial that children have a right to hear what is going on and make their contribution. I had a very interesting discussion with the Minister about involving mentors for, in particular, looked-after children, who often face exclusion because they are rather more difficult to handle. If a mentor were there to take their part, in addition to the children themselves having a say, that would be a huge improvement. I was delighted to hear in the letter from the Minister that such a scheme is being planned using the qualities of volunteers who are trained, to a certain extent, in the community. For all those reasons, I very much support what has been said on these amendments.

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Baroness David (Labour)

My Lords, I, too, support the amendment moved by my noble friend Lady Turner. I shall repeat what I said about the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Judd. The UK Government must submit their next report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2007. The committee's comments on the previous report said that the Government should take further steps to promote, facilitate and monitor children's effective participation, including in schools via school councils. The Government should take further steps to consistently reflect in legislation the obligations of both paragraphs of Article 12. I hope that the Minister can pay attention to that, as it is important. The Children's Rights Alliance for England produced a briefing for this issue. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and I are both patrons of it, so I am sure that we should like to support the amendment from that point of view as well. I hope that the Minister can give a good response this time.

Photo of Lord Elton

Lord Elton (Conservative)

My Lords, I want to say a word in support of the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Dearing. One thing that struck me and the group of people who were asked by Kenneth Baker—my noble friend Lord Baker—when he was Minister for Education to do a report on discipline in schools was the considerable benefits that schools gained when they engaged children in aspects of the schools' management. If a child thinks that the school belongs to him, anyone who does anything against the school offends against him. The same goes for codes of discipline and behaviour within a school. That can be carried beyond the level of the classroom and the school, as is suggested in the amendment.

I also wanted to say a brief word on Amendment No. 82A and its proposed new subsection (5A), which states:

"It shall be the duty of all persons and bodies exercising functions under this section ... to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child who is proposed to be excluded".

I am not sure whether this is just a drafting point but what happens to the child when he or she is excluded is critical. In voluntary work, I have seen the extraordinarily fertile recruiting ground for crime provided by excluded children because, generally speaking, they are not given any level of education or occupation sufficient to keep them out of it, and boredom is one of the great instigators of bad behaviour.

Mention has been made of mentors. Some voluntary and other agencies are engaged in intervening before this critical stage in a child's downward slide into crime by identifying those who are next on the list for exclusion and providing adult mentors for them. Very often, they are children with no male role model in the family or immediate community to look up to and be guided by. Mentors are invaluable in these cases. These children are not always particularly articulate but the idea that they should be included in any proceedings on exclusion is invaluable.

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Lord Adonis (Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Schools), Department for Education and Skills; Labour)

My Lords, this has been an immensely valuable debate. I begin by saying that, if the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, would like to bring his school council to meet me, I shall be delighted to meet its members. Indeed, I am struck by the fact that, when I visit schools, it is now normal for me to meet the school council. That does not happen at my request but at the instigation of the school.

If I had to put my finger on the single biggest change that has taken place at schools between the time when I was a pupil—it was not that long ago; none the less, it was a reasonable period ago—and schools today, it would be the outbreak of democracy. That has been quite remarkable in recent years. I take the example of school councils, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, and my noble friend Lady Turner. They are now present in virtually all secondary schools and in an increasing number of primary schools.

One thing that most surprised me when I became a Minister and started to visit primary schools was the growing prevalence of school councils there and the fact that they can, and do, operate very successfully in promoting precisely the kind of inclusion that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, referred to—even among the very youngest children. I had to change my thinking in respect of that as I visited schools. I realised that it was perfectly possible to consult even young children in a serious way. Of course, you have to make allowances for their age, but they can play a role. My daughter, who is very young, told me about the elections that took place for the school council at her primary school and the rival programmes that were put forward in respect of school meals and so on. I realise that this is a big idea which has a lot further to go, and we are anxious to see it do so.

In replying to this group of amendments, I shall speak also to government Amendments Nos. 116 and 136. Government Amendment No. 136 would amend Section 176 of the Education Act 2002, which provides for local authorities and governing bodies to have regard to guidance on the consultation of pupils about issues affecting them. The amendment would broaden the definition of "pupil" to include nursery age pupils in schools and in maintained nursery schools. I bring this amendment forward in direct response to the case made in our earlier debates by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. She rightly argued that we should broaden the definition of "pupil" to include nursery age pupils in schools and in maintained nursery schools. This provision also reflects the position taken in the recent Childcare Act, which was significantly improved in its passage through this House by the inclusion of provisions very similar to the one that the noble Baroness proposed and which I am glad to bring forward this afternoon.

Amendment No. 8 tabled by my noble friend Lady Turner would place a direct duty on school governing bodies and local authorities to have regard to the ascertainable views of all their pupils on matters that affect them, having regard to each pupil's age and maturity. It would place a duty on schools and local authorities to consult pupils.

We do not agree that amending primary legislation is the best or most powerful way to bring about the improvements that we seek. As I said earlier, local authorities and governing bodies must already have regard to statutory guidance on the consultation of pupils in connection with decisions that affect them. We are encouraging schools to put into practice the 2004 guidance called Working Together: Giving children and young people a say, issued under Section 176, in ways that are meaningful to children and young people. A prime example of that is school councils, which we are strongly encouraging. Indeed, we part fund School Councils UK, an educational charity.

Further to that, as the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, mentioned, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has asked Professor Geoff Whitty, the director of the Institute of Education at the University of London, to report to us specifically on strengthening the guidance in respect of school councils. Professor Whitty is engaged in that work at the moment. We expect his report early in the new year and we will be guided by him on issues such as the one to which the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, referred; whether we should follow the practice in Wales of making school councils statutory. In the Education Act 2002 we have the power to do so, but we want to wait for the report of Professor Whitty, who is engaging very substantially with young people in drawing that up, before we decide on a precise way forward in that respect.

Furthermore, we have ensured that school inspection arrangements make the views of children and young people an important part of assessing how local areas are doing and we have changed the law so that school governing bodies can now appoint pupils as associate members, allowing them to attend governing body meetings and become members of committees. Last month, when I visited Finland, I was very struck by the engagement of pupils on the governing bodies of schools, which is a practice that is not usual here. We have now made it possible for schools to appoint pupils as associate members of governing bodies and I believe that that development will grow in future years.

Current arrangements offer a non-prescriptive approach for schools, allowing them to find the best way for them of involving young people. We believe that this is the right way to proceed and we do not wish to proceed by means of mandatory requirements on all local authorities and all schools in all circumstances. We want to avoid introducing a very broad statutory requirement that is likely to cause schools difficulties about the meaning and interpretation of the law and increase the risk of judicial review. We want to secure practical improvements in student participation and in taking account of the voice of the child. On that basis, I hope that my noble friend Lady Turner will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

I now turn to government Amendment No. 116. Clause 85 places a duty on the school governing body to draw up a statement of principles on behaviour and discipline that will inform the school behaviour policy determined by the head teacher. Clause 85(3) obliges the governing body to consult various persons before making or revising the statement of principles. Those persons include the head teacher, parents, and a sample of the registered pupils at the school.

When we were debating Clause 85 in Committee, the noble Baronesses, Lady Walmsley and Lady Sharp of Guildford, laid an amendment that sought to oblige school governing bodies to consult not just a sample of pupils but all registered pupils at their schools on the principles underlying the school behaviour policy. I agreed at the time that the case for seeking the views of all pupils in this regard was compelling. I committed to taking another look at this clause. I am glad to say that government Amendment No. 116 removes the sample qualification and extends the consultation process to include all registered pupils at a school, precisely to meet the points that she made again this afternoon and the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Elton; namely, that the more pupils at a school own the behaviour policy and feel a real stake in having forged it, the more likely they are to comply with it for the general good of all pupils and the general good of the wider school community.

I turn to Amendment No. 82A in the name of my noble friend Lady Turner, concerning exclusions from school. In Committee, my noble friend rightly pointed to the fact that during deliberations on the Education Bill 2005 we undertook to strengthen DfES guidance to emphasise that the excluded child, or child threatened with exclusion, should be encouraged to make representations about his exclusion at various stages of the exclusion procedure, including at the point of exclusion, but have not yet brought forward those changes. I said in Committee that I regretted those amendments had not been made, but I am pleased to assure the House that they were made in September in the latest exclusions guidance. Although my noble friend has quoted views to the contrary, I believe that on any reading of the changes that we have made, they meet the commitments that we have given and give a very substantial voice to the child who is proposed to be excluded in the deliberations concerning the potential exclusion.

I have here the guidance on improving behaviour and attendance—I shall readily make it available to noble Lords. It highlights on the first page the main changes that are made in the more recent version of the guidance. As one of the key changes made, it highlights:

"Encouraging the pupil to have a voice in the exclusion procedure, if he and his parents wish".

At every stage of the guidance itself there are changes to promote the views of the child. For example, it states:

"Before deciding whether to exclude a pupil, either permanently or for a fixed period, the head teacher should: ... allow [and encourage] the pupil to give his or her version of events".

It makes the same requirements in respect of looked-after children.

"Letters of notification of exclusion must state"—

not only—

"the parent's right to make representations about the exclusion to the governing body",

but also—this is a further change—how the pupil may be involved in that. Pupils are also invited to attend exclusion hearings and to speak, if the parent agrees. I believe these changes meet the commitments that we gave during the passage of the Education Act 2005.

6:00 pm
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Baroness Turner of Camden (Labour)

My Lords, does that also include a right at appeal? Is the emphasis on the agreement of the parent? We have found that sometimes a child wants to appeal, but the parent does not. It seems to us, and to Save the Children in particular, that that is not good enough. Sometimes a parent is not prepared to back the child when perhaps the child should have that support.

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Lord Adonis (Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Schools), Department for Education and Skills; Labour)

My Lords, I believe that is true also for appeal hearings, but I shall confirm that to my noble friend. On the actual decision to appeal, I believe that that still resides with the parent, on the ground that the parent is the responsible person to take that decision. Of course, we expect parents to consult the child before making decisions that affect the child's welfare in this way.

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Baroness Howe of Idlicote (Crossbench)

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that what he is talking about would also apply to the mentor of a looked-after child, given that a parent would not necessarily be available? Would a mentor be able to speak on behalf of a child at an exclusion hearing?

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Lord Adonis (Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Schools), Department for Education and Skills; Labour)

My Lords, in respect of looked-after children, the guidance says:

"In cases where a [looked-after child] is excluded, anyone who is legally defined as a parent will have the right to make representations and to appeal. The definition of a parent for the purposes of the Education Acts is broadly drawn and includes any person who has parental responsibility (which includes the local authority where they have a care order in respect of a child) and any person (for example, a foster carer) with whom the child lives".

So it extends to those groups. I do not believe that it would extend to a mentor, but it extends to all those who have responsibility in respect of a looked-after child.

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Lord Elton (Conservative)

My Lords, will the Minister, in his own time, consider whether it is possible to get a mentor into this process if the parent is agreeable? If a parent were not willing or able to appear and a child had an appointed mentor, it would seem sensible that the mentor should be able to appear in place of the parent.

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Lord Adonis (Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Schools), Department for Education and Skills; Labour)

My Lords, I shall certainly consider that. I believe that there may be a case for it, and I would be happy to consider it further.

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Baroness Howe of Idlicote (Crossbench)

My Lords, could that also be extended to cover the case where there is no parent? I know the Minister says that is not covered at the moment, but could he consider that to see whether it could be covered?

Photo of Lord Adonis

Lord Adonis (Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Schools), Department for Education and Skills; Labour)

My Lords, I shall certainly do that. If we were to make a change of the kind suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, that a mentor, for example, could appear at a hearing if authorised to do so by a parent, those people who have parental responsibility in respect of looked-after children would be able to make the same decision in respect of looked-after children. I shall certainly look at this issue further.

I believe I have gone as far as I reasonably can to meet the points that have been raised in the debate. I say to my noble friend Lady Turner that the report of Professor Whitty on the role and the support that we provide for school councils would have a good deal to say about pupil engagement in schools more broadly. That may offer us an opportunity to proceed further. I believe that our bone fides in this matter are sound, given all the measures that I have elucidated this afternoon. Therefore, I hope that my noble friend will not feel it necessary to press this amendment.

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Baroness Turner of Camden (Labour)

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his sympathetic response to this interesting debate and I thank noble Lords who contributed to it. We have had a good debate on a subject that is important to a lot of people. I was interested to hear that the Minister feels there has been an outbreak of democracy—I am sure we are all glad to hear about that—and to learn that there has been a large growth in school councils and that, as a result of the experience in Wales, where school councils have recently been put into operation, there is to be a further study of how they have developed. I note what he said about exclusion. I would like a bit of time to consider that before we come to the next stage of the Bill. I am a little unhappy about the provisions for children who may face exclusion and do not yet have what many of us would consider a full range of rights in relation to representation and appeals. Not all children have a supportive parent and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, indicated, some children have no parent at all. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for what he said about mentors, which was very important. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 5 [School improvement partners]:

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Photo of The Bishop of Portsmouth

The Bishop of Portsmouth (Bishop)

moved Amendment No. 9:

Page 3, line 32, at end insert-

"( ) No person may be appointed as a school improvement partner in relation to a school which has a religious character unless the local education authority appointing him is satisfied that he is fit and able to assist the governing body in the preservation and development of the religious character of the school."

Photo of The Bishop of Portsmouth

The Bishop of Portsmouth (Bishop)

My Lords, I intend to speak to Amendment No. 9, which amendsClause 5, and then to comment on other amendments in this group. The matter that my amendment addresses was raised in Committee by one of my colleagues when I could not be in my place. I raise it again because I am not satisfied that without the prompt or goad of legislation local authorities will consistently appoint as school improvement partners for schools with a religious character educationists who fully understand and support that character. We have anecdotal evidence to the contrary. I know anecdotal evidence is always a little dangerous, but never mind, we have it. In a number of cases, SIPs are being appointed who are undoubtedly highly qualified and experienced teachers and advisers able to help the school in various ways, but they are hampered because they do not really understand the religious character of the school. My amendment is modest; I am not asking for the appointment only of people of the same faith as the school, but of people who are able to help the school preserve and develop its religious character. I know the Minister understands the point, and I do not labour it. I hope he may smile on my wish to see the point enshrined in law.

Let me now turn to the other amendments in this group. I must confess that my speech almost feels like the two journeys I made as a child when we went to Denmark for Christmas in 1954. On the way over on the DFDS ferry, the North Sea was as flat as duck pond and we could see our faces in water, but on the way back, the storm doors went up before we left Esbjerg harbour and the linen tablecloths were soaked to prevent the crockery sliding off on to the floor. We will see how the debate goes.

Amendment No. 16 deals with of admissions to Church and other faith schools, which has been much discussed in your Lordships' House and in the other place, as well as in the media. The Church of England's position is clear: we are strongly committed to providing schools that are distinctively Christian and that are at the same inclusive. We see no opposition between these two aims. Part of a school's Christian commitment is to reach out to include the wider community, not for the purpose of indoctrination, but in order to offer education clearly based on Christian values. Church of England schools also aim to nurture in their faith the children of Christian families, to encourage those of other faiths and to challenge those who, rightly and sincerely, claim to have no religious faith whatever.

The Church of England is expanding its number of secondary schools in response to parental demand where communities wish it. The majority of these new schools are serving disadvantaged communities and have inclusive admissions policies. Most give priority to local children or do not admit on the basis of faith. Of the rest, only one has a proportion of places for local, as opposed to faith, priority lower than 50 per cent and that school allocates 33 per cent of places to those of other faiths on a local basis.

Noble Lords may know that I wrote to the Secretary of State earlier this month to make a specific commitment that all new Church of England schools should have at least 20 per cent of places available to children with no requirement that they be of practising Christian families. The places would not be left empty if they were not filled by such children, so this would technically not be a quota, but would be a proportion. That commitment relates explicitly to new Church of England schools. The fact that I have not had an enormously negative postbag since that letter was published suggests to me not that the general public had not read it or heard about it, but rather that what the letter commits the Church to very largely, but not totally, represents current practice in Church of England schools.

The noble Lord, Lord Baker, is proposing that all new Church and other faith schools without exception should be required by law to make that commitment. I want to be clear that I do not support his proposal. My voluntary commitment is for the Church of England; it is not a statement of policy for all schools with a religious character. There is no need for legislation in this area, particularly not at this time. I add that the cross I am wearing was made in Aarhus in Denmark for my grandfather by the local goldsmith, Hingelberg, a Jewish firm.

As I have said, the Church supports the provision of more schools by and for minority faith communities. It would not be right to require the same commitment from them. They are themselves a sign of inclusion for their communities and of fledgling potential inclusion gradually over the years. They are not at the same stage as the Church of England schools in this respect. I say that as a statement of fact with which I know they agree rather than to crow. It is because of different social histories. Their very existence promotes community cohesion. Those educated at such schools will develop in self-respect within their own religious identity and thus in respect for others. Members of the community looking on from outside will also develop greater self-respect and respect for others as they see their religious community taking its full place in British society. That is in tune with the more positive aspects of the public debate around these issues. All this would be further enhanced by the development of robust and effective educational links between schools of a different character, which is very important. I welcome the commitment made by my friend the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Birmingham, Vincent Nichols, that Catholic schools will be inspected on such links. I would like to see government support for such links between all schools.

I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Baker, will not seek to test the opinion of the House on his amendment. I believe that it would send profoundly negative signals at this time to members of some of the other faith communities, the overwhelming majority of whom are decent and trustworthy and may well be somewhat bewildered at the fear and resentment they seem to arouse.

I now turn to the two amendments in this group on collective worship and religious education. In May, the Churches' Joint Education Policy Committee, an inter-church body that I have the privilege of chairing, agreed a position paper on school collective worship. All the Churches' representatives agreed that we strongly support the continuation of collective worship in all schools, recognising the major contribution it makes to the spiritual and moral development of pupils, which is a prime goal of education. We recognise that other faith groups saw collective worship to be of benefit, even though its emphasis was mainly Christian. We look for government support to improve the quality of the acts of collective worship and to ensure that all pupils are able to attend meaningful acts of worship at school. The way we do things now could be imaginatively improved—as they could have been 500 years ago when I was at school.

It will be no surprise, therefore, that I shall not support the amendment in the names of the noble Baronesses—good friends of mine though they are—to remove the requirement for worship and replace it with an opportunity for spiritual and moral development. I believe prayer and worship to be a fundamental human instinct, however it is located within the religious spectrum, one that should be given expression and developed as part of people's education and as every pupil's entitlement in school, providing an important grammar and language for later life, even if the specific theological tenets are rejected. It is part of our common culture—changing, yes, but there. That would clearly not be the case through an assembly that gave no opportunity for prayer or worship.

Everyone in their lives faces times of personal pain and sadness, whether through their own health problems or those of others close to them, or some community tragedy. We saw at Soham a few years ago, and we have seen in response to other tragedies, how the whole community comes together to pray and worship. Those who have never experienced the tradition of prayer and worship in school, unless they found it in their family and church, are at a disadvantage in those circumstances—although I know that that view is not universally shared.

I find the provision for pupils to exclude themselves from RE the most baffling of all. It strikes at the very heart of what many of us, of whatever religious faith or none, are trying to develop in the current education system of our country at this stage in our history. I emphasise "at this stage in our history". Whether one takes a specifically religious view of reality or a functional approach to what broad-based religious education can in the long term achieve for society as a whole, religious education is vital to the educational enterprise. In no school should religious education be about indoctrination. Those days have long gone. All church and other faith schools have committed themselves to teaching in religious education about other faiths as well as their own. We on these Benches would strongly oppose the provision in this amendment. We feel that it would send out the signal that the subject does not really matter precisely when it is increasing in popularity.

I will say a word on the Government's amendment on the right of sixth-formers to decide whether to take part in collective worship at school. By freely choosing to study in a school sixth form, pupils with the support of their parents are deciding to submit themselves to the rules and regulations of the school in question and of schools in general. It is therefore arguable that, while those of compulsory school age should be able to be withdrawn from collective worship, that right should not be available to sixth-formers.

However, if the amendment is approved, I would like it—and I know this view will be shared by others—to be made very clear in the DfES guidance to schools that daily collective worship is part of normal practice in sixth forms, it must be offered by the schools, and sixth-formers cannot withdraw from it casually. That should mean that at the very least, as in the case of parental withdrawal, a letter must be written to the head asking for permission to withdraw from collective worship. While it is recognised that heads cannot withhold permission, this should ensure that the matter is understood to be serious. Guidance should make it clear that it would be perfectly appropriate for a head to ask for an explanation of the pupil's reason for the request. An alternative educational or community activity should be specified to take place at the same time as the act of worship, which is entirely reasonable.

If I can be given assurances on these matters, I shall not oppose the Government's amendments. Meanwhile, I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Baker of Dorking

Lord Baker of Dorking (Conservative)

My Lords, Amendment No. 16 stands in my name and those of the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, and the noble Lords, Lord Skidelsky and Lord Taverne. Before addressing the arguments, perhaps I may say on behalf of the House what a pleasure it is to see the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth back with us. We know that he has been seriously ill and his return today is due, I suspect, not only to the skill of his doctors but to the effectiveness of prayer.

This is the third time this year that this House has debated faith schools. The first occasion was on an Unstarred Question by the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, in February, and the second was during the Committee stage of this Bill on 18 July, when I moved an amendment for a quota of 30 per cent of places in faith schools for non-faith children. We are debating it again today, and, as the Government have indicated that they will bring forward amendments on this issue for Third Reading on 30 October, there will be a fourth time. So we have debated this matter infinitely more than the House of Commons did. It is a credit to the House that on an important matter of such major interest we have provided a focus for a national debate.

When I moved my amendment in July, no one spoke in favour of exclusive faith schools. The Minister was not entirely hostile to the proposition, but I would describe his attitude as cool. He said that,

"a whole set of practical issues will emerge in seeking to have quotas".—[Hansard, 18/07/06; col. 1207.]

Having recently attended a seminar when he spoke on private and public education, where inclusiveness was in his every second sentence, I know that inclusion runs in his veins. As he is the most intelligent Minister in his department—I hope that that does not entirely blight his career—he has probably had considerable influence in moving the Government to a change of opinion on this. We learnt about that in the leak of a Cabinet paper, no less, to the Sunday Times. I suspect that that leak will not be examined by the Cabinet Secretary because it not only had the fingerprints of the Secretary of State, but it had his name in the second line. I seem to remember that we were rather more subtle in Government, but that was a long time ago. It is clear from the leak that the Government are moving and have moved considerably on this matter. One should ask why this has happened. It has happened for two reasons.

Over the past 50 years in our society, successive Governments and community leaders have been grappling with the problems of race and colour. Tremendous progress has been made towards eliminating prejudice. The battle is not entirely won, but it is a great credit to our society that we have coped with those problems. Religion has not been centre stage; over the past 40 or 50 years everybody has been able to practice their own religion with complete freedom. It is one of the basic freedoms of our country. What has become more evident in the past few years is how religion can separate societies. The debate this summer, which probably started with the cartoons of Muhammad while the latest manifestation is Jack Straw and the veil, indicates that this is a matter of real concern which the Government now appreciate.

The second reason why the Government have changed is what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth has just said. At the beginning of October he said that in future the Church of England would give priority to 20 per cent of pupils from other faiths or no faiths for new Anglican schools. Do I have that right?

Photo of The Bishop of Portsmouth

The Bishop of Portsmouth (Bishop)

My Lords, it is indeed 25 per cent, and I speak, I hope, as a hopeless mathematician.

6:30 pm
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Lord Baker of Dorking (Conservative)

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate says 25 per cent but Hansard will reveal that he said "20 per cent" in his speech. Any advance on that would be very welcome. That 25 per cent is a very wise and sensible move. I went to a Church of England primary school, Holy Trinity in Southport, during the war. It was totally inclusive. My closest friend was a Jewish boy. I learnt about the Jewish faith by going to his home on Fridays. It was my brand of Anglicanism, not too proselytising and not too fervent. We went to church twice a year and we started every day with a hymn and a prayer, but I think that most schools did in those days.

As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth said, that reflects the practice of the Church of England today. He then hesitated—I understand why—before saying, "We are following the right path, but I do not to want to force any of the other religions in our country to follow my path". That reminded me of the description of Mr Pecksniff in Martin Chuzzlewit by Charles Dickens, when Dickens said that he was like a signpost: always pointing the way but never going. That is not entirely fair, because the Church of England is going, but although the road is so great and wonderful, it is not going to twist the arms of other religions to go down it with it. I understand its view.

My amendment would mean that we would follow the Church of England's example and apply it to other schools. I think that it is worth reminding the House of the argument for inclusion. It is wrong to divide children by religion at the ages of five and 11. Where that has happened in societies such as Northern Ireland, that crop has produced a savage harvest. The comparison with Northern Ireland is fair. There is great intransigence, but there is now hope in that country because community schools are being established in which there are 40 per cent Catholics, 40 per cent Protestants and 20 per cent others. I have talked to the prime mover of that in Northern Ireland and it is a very inspiring move indeed.

The second reason why inclusion is so good was expressed very clearly by Rabbi Romain, the rabbi of the synagogue in Maidenhead, when he said:

"I want my children to sit next to a Sikh in class, play football in the break with a Methodist, to do homework with a Hindu, and walk to the bus stop with a Muslim before returning to their Jewish home ... Leaders of all faiths should put aside religious self-interest and make national cohesion a higher priority".

Of course, he is not alone in that. The NUT strongly supports inclusion. So does Trevor Phillips, the head of the Commission for Racial Equality. David Bell, a former Chief Inspector of Schools, reported only two years ago that,

"many young people are being educated in faith-based schools, with little appreciation of their wider responsibilities and obligations to British society".

Then there is Amartya Sen, who was the master of Trinity College, Cambridge, and who won the Nobel prize for his distinguished writing on identity and violence. He has made the point again and again that you should not characterise people by one thing—Christian, Hindu or Muslim—or by their race or nationality. To put people in pens like that is a denial of human character, for the simple reason that each one of us is subject to a variety of influences of all sorts that affect our development. He thinks that that is very damaging. He said:

"Being defined by one group identity over all others, overlooking whether you're working class or capitalist, left or right, what your language group is and your literary tastes are, all that interferes with people's freedom to make their own choices ... I think there is a real tyranny there. It doesn't look like tyranny - it looks like giving freedom and tolerance - but it ends up being a denial of individual freedom".

I strongly support his words.

The last person whom I pray in evidence for inclusion is Mr Cantle of the Cantle report. Your Lordships will remember the race riots in Bradford, Oldham and Burnley and the Cantle report spoke in rather chilling terms of "parallel and polarised lives". He said:

"Self-segregation is an unacceptable basis for a harmonious community".

He recommended that in all schools 25 per cent—one quarter—of places should be available to other faiths.

I point out that my amendment relates only to new schools. It is too ambitious to try to move legislation to change what is in fact the educational settlement of our country. I hope that many existing faith schools will follow the example given by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth, but the amendment specifically relates to new faith schools. There is a problem and we should not add to it.

In parenthesis, the department should know much more about the existing faith schools that have been created. I have taken an interest in this, but although you can get a lot of information from the department's website about selection criteria, the department does not seem to know much about the schools. One new Muslim school told me that it had to send in photographs of its children—which is, of course, illegal. The department should watch that much more carefully, not just in the case of Muslim schools but of all schools. It was a BBC programme that revealed that the curriculum in some faith schools was being very marginally followed. In one of them, European history was not being taught at all.

I turn to two groups who are very concerned about the amendment. First, there are the Roman Catholics. The first point to recognise is that many Roman Catholic schools today are inclusive. In secondary schools, 20 per cent of pupils come from other faiths. The Catholic Church does not look on that as a disadvantage or a curse but an opportunity to try to persuade those children to take a greater interest in religion. I think that the proportion in primary schools is about 17 per cent. Secondly, the amendment affects only new schools. I do not believe that there are any proposals to start any new Catholic secondary schools. Since 1997, there have been only two new Catholic faith schools—two primary schools, one in Milton Keynes and one in Cornwall—so the Catholic Church has not made a great advance in establishing new schools. I also point out the encouraging change of attitude that, for example, allows one of the new faith academies in Liverpool to be both Catholic and Anglican. That is very welcome.

Perhaps I can say something about the Muslims. I have a high regard for Islam; I have read parts of the Koran. To describe the Islamic faith as purely concerned with violence is a total and ridiculous parody. All religions are capable of being distorted by their extremists. There have been six exclusive Muslim schools since the Government introduced the provision and they all have the purpose of creating total Muslim personalities through the training of children's spirits, intelligence, feelings and bodily senses. I have no particular quarrel with that, but that should be done in the mosque. If that is the object of Christian, Hindu, Sikh or Jewish schools, it should be done in the synagogue, the church or the temple. I should have thought that one purpose of the British education system is to try to create a British personality.

The argument that is put, which I can quite understand, is that there are about 120 private Muslim schools, many of which provide pretty deplorable education and would certainly benefit from state funding. I see that the former Secretary of State for Education is nodding. I am sure that that is right. But if there is a request for public funding, it is entirely appropriate that the state should determine some standards and conditions to be met.

I say to the leaders of the Muslim community who have influence in our society—

A noble Lord:

They are not here.

Photo of Lord Baker of Dorking

Lord Baker of Dorking (Conservative)

That is their choice.

I say to the leaders of the Muslim community: is it really wise to promote the proliferation of exclusively Muslim schools in Muslim communities? Let us suppose that four primary schools are set up quite quickly in a Muslim community, to be followed by two or three secondary schools. Supported by their mosques, that community will become very closed and inward-looking. Children from outside will not be welcomed or, if they are welcome, they will not want to go in. That strongly reinforces separateness in our society.

One lesson that we have learnt as a country from migration not only in this century but over several centuries is that the migrant groups who settle most successfully are those who mingle, mix and merge. There is no better example of that than the Jewish community which came in during the 19th and20th centuries. What we are debating is not just a matter of what is taught about religion in schools; it is the shape of our society in many towns and cities during the next 50 years. I would like that shape not to be separate, divided, isolated, jealous and envious; I would like it to be cohesive, harmonious, integrated, tolerant and generous. I commend the amendment.

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Baroness Massey of Darwen (Labour)

My Lords, I support the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Baker, and join him in welcoming back the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth, for whom I have immense affection and respect, even though I fundamentally disagree with him on most occasions. I also thank the Minister for listening and responding to concerns. I have more questions to put to him this evening.

My original amendment on faith schools, which I tabled and to which I spoke in Committee, proposed that no new faith schools should be created. In fact, I would still prefer that to be the case. I realise, however, that some compromise may be the way forward at this stage. That compromise should be to have schools that are not exclusive, as I am still concerned that, in the past eight years, nine out of10 attempts by faith groups to gain control of schools have been successful. Some of those results have been unfortunate, to say the least.

We have got ourselves into a tangle on faith in schools, and we need to untangle the problem, not make it worse. We should learn from what has happened in Northern Ireland. I am also still concerned that the report on Bradford by the noble Lord, Lord Ouseley, observed,

"signs that communities are fragmenting along racial, cultural and faith lines".

His report goes on to say:

"Segregation in schools is one indicator of this trend ... There is virtual apartheid in many secondary schools in the district".

The amendment would at least partially address this issue if there was no fudge on the 25 per cent. Rumours of government amendments along these lines are welcome, but I hope that no such amendments give rise to escape routes.

Poll after poll of parents and the general public consistently show that they want good neighbourhood schools. The noble Lord, Lord Dearing, described one such school in a community that he knows, and there has been much talk this evening about community cohesion in our discussion of other amendments. According to one poll, 79 per cent feel that separating children according to religious belief is wrong—as wrong as separating them according to colour or accent. Another poll found that 64 per cent of people oppose government funding for faith schools, fearing their impact on social cohesion.

One interesting find is that women of Asian heritage have been vocal in opposing the expansion of faith schools. One education and Asian solidarity group felt that,

"single faith schools will mean more discrimination and ... a greater stranglehold of the most conservative, anti-women ... individuals over our children's education and our communities as a whole".

We must not forget that dividing off children also divides off parents. Parents meet in the playground, at social events or at parent-teacher meetings. It is dangerous to divide them in such a way. We are really talking about encouraging separate and isolated communities, as the noble Lord, Lord Baker, said, with fewer windows on the world. I am a governor at a school that is firmly set in a south London community, with many different faiths and backgrounds. The children learn to celebrate each other's cultures and to enjoy each other's ceremonies in their schools. So do the parents. This mix results in a marvellous ethos and a lively and aspirational environment for all the pupils. Ethos and values need not, of course, come from having a faith.

I return to my reasons for hoping the amendment will be accepted. The Government need to be firm and purposeful about tackling exclusivity in schools, otherwise loopholes will be exploited and difficulties, real or imagined, will be put in the way. I ask the Minister three questions about issues that have potential loopholes. First, is it true that the Association of Muslim Schools and the Christian Schools' Trust have asked for a faith schools inspectorate to do the work presently done by Ofsted? If so, will this be allowed? Such a scheme would negate discussion of a wide range of values and beliefs. Surely education is about exploring options and not about dictating what children should think. Separate inspection systems would reinforce differences and divisions.

Secondly, if a faith school under any 25 per cent ruling did not attract 25 per cent of pupils of other faiths or of no faith, would it still be eligible for state funding? I foresee all manner of reasons and excuses for failing to recruit other faiths, thereby avoiding having to broaden the educational offering. Thirdly, if an independent faith school wanted to become a state school, would it be classed as a new school or would it be able to carry on under the old rules allowing it not to include other faiths in the intake?

This is an important amendment, and I would be most grateful for the Minister's clarification on these issues, and for any reassurance he can give that the Government will support a 25 per cent intake of other faiths or no faith into new faith schools. If not, I fear that we will reinforce divisions in society rather than heal them.

Amendment No. 104, in my name and that of the noble Baronesses, Lady Turner and Lady Flather, relates to collective worship and seeks re-examination of the law. The spirit of the amendment has enormous support in seeking to replace compulsory worship with assemblies of a spiritual nature in schools. There is widespread dissatisfaction with this law.

6:45 pm
Photo of Baroness Massey of Darwen

Baroness Massey of Darwen (Labour)

Yes there is, my Lords. Some 70 per cent of secondary schools do not comply with conducting an act of worship in their schools. The amendment is supported by several teaching organisations and by many faith groups. In a national consultation held in 1998 on collective worship, many organisations, including the Christian Education Movement, the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Professional Council for Religious Education, the National Association of Head Teachers and the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations all supported the spirit of the amendment. I mention all this because, when the amendment came up in Committee, the Minister said that the Government did not want to reopen the debate on collective worship because there was,

"a fairly broad consensus within the educational and faith communities"—[Hansard, 10/7/06; col. 1204.]—

in favour of the status quo. There is indeed broad consensus in the education and faith communities, but it is in support not of the status quo but of reform. This consensus is not surprising. Teachers support a change. As the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders has said:

"Compulsory worship is a contradiction in terms. Ordering a student to worship is like ordering them to enjoy mathematics".

Heads, as he says,

"cannot compel teachers to take religious services".

Nor should they. The law on collective worship, he says,

"has long passed its use-by date".

The professional bodies for RE support a change, of course, as their subject is all about increasing understanding of the different beliefs in our society and assisting young people to come to their own conclusions about their own beliefs and values. The current requirement for collective worship is an impediment to this. Faith groups and organisations such as the British Humanist Association—I declare an interest as a member—support a change.

We live in an increasingly diverse society, with increasingly diverse schools and in a context where most young people—65 per cent, according to a DfES assessment—have non-religious beliefs. They all deserve assemblies that recognise the ways in which they make meaning and purpose in their lives and the values that they are developing. Positive ethos and spirituality are not the province of religion alone. Religion does not have exclusive rights to the grammar—to use the words of the right reverend Prelate—of values.

The amendment would straightforwardly replace the requirement to conduct collective worship with a requirement to hold assemblies that will further pupils',

"spiritual, moral, social and cultural education".

Teachers, including non-religious teachers, can and do use assemblies to demonstrate that moral and spiritual values can be framed on shared values found in different religions and beliefs, building on the common ground of our humanity. A reform in the law would encourage this good practice.

If the law on worship and assemblies were changed, new guidance issued under the new law would doubtless continue to contribute to a better sharing of good practice in the provision of inclusive and educational assemblies, quite unlike the current requirement to provide collective worship.

Inclusive assemblies, which I conducted when I was a teacher, can have great educational value. They can be based on literature, science, the arts, sport or citizenship, for example. They can build a collective ethos in the school either by bringing the school community together for shared experiences or for pupils to conduct the assembly themselves. Spiritual, moral, social and cultural development can be encouraged. Surely this is what assemblies are about.

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Lord Alton of Liverpool (Crossbench)

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, has just mentioned the relevance of religion in society today. I was recently asked by a young woman what she should study at university next year, given that she has an interest in politics. She asked me about studying economics, and I said I thought that in the present world climate, theology would probably be her best option. Without an understanding of theology today, how are we to understand the great issues that affect our world? Anyone who tries to undermine the teaching of religion in schools would be making a huge error, because there has been an increasing demand for religious education in our schools.

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Baroness Massey of Darwen (Labour)

My Lords, I was not talking about denying people religious education; I was talking about collective worship.

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Lord Alton of Liverpool (Crossbench)

My Lords, before the noble Baroness touched on that point, she mentioned what she described as the vested interests that RE teachers might have and it seemed to me that she was diminishing the importance of the role of religious education. I am happy to hear her clarification.

I want to speak to those amendments in the group which seek to impose a mandatory quota on new faith schools and dilute their ethos by altering the arrangements for collective acts of worship. I understand the sincere motives that lie behind these amendments and the anxieties that the noble Lord, Lord Baker, has expressed today and the need for diversity and integration. Coming, as I do, from a city such as Liverpool where there was great sectarianism in the past, I agree with him, and have been very much part of the move in that city to encourage ecumenism and inter-denominational relationships. These have come about as a result of a voluntary relationship, not of legislation.

The amendments do not seek to address the fundamental causes of segregation, a point that the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, made very eloquently on Radio 4 a couple of days ago, but they risk undermining some of our country's most successful schools.

Over the years, I have regularly heard, as we have in these debates, calls for the complete closure of Church schools. Although I know that the noble Lord, Lord Baker, does not share that view, there are Members of your Lordships' House who believe that. I think that in some ways it would be more straightforward to test that proposition in a Division rather than promote a "thin end of the wedge" amendment which will gradually emasculate Church schools. The Government, and others, offer a magician's bargain: they say that if we go along with the amendment on new faith schools, they will not touch existing ones—not for now, at any rate. But in a country where, in the past few days, a British Airways worker has been banned from wearing a cross on a necklace, the Minister would be surprised if people of religious faith were not anxious about the new intolerance that has been gathering a head of steam.

We should be clear that Amendment No. 16 would significantly diminish the rights of governing bodies of faith schools to establish their own admission criteria, a right which was won in 1944, as the noble Lord, Lord Baker, mentioned.

Rather than resisting this punitive measure outright, the Government are now, we are told, considering handing over decisions to local authorities. In certain parts of the country, this will then become a political football, and faith schools will find themselves at the centre of controversy and division. There will be little consistency in outcome and it will doubtless lead to new postal code lotteries. Families who are able to will move to more benign districts. Paradoxically, the poorest will once again be the losers.

In introducing the Bill, the Government made much of their desire, which I supported on Second Reading, to enhance the autonomy of schools, their trust in governing bodies and teachers, and the enhancement of parental choice. By interfering with something as central as admissions and taking that power away from schools, they are building an inherent contradiction into the legislation. Do we really have so little trust in governing bodies that, having proper regard to local circumstances, we think they are incapable of seeing the importance of social cohesion?

Ten per cent of this country's schools are Catholic. There are 1,723 Catholic primary schools and 352 Catholic secondary schools. In addition, there are 17 Catholic sixth-form colleges and 156 Catholic schools in the independent sector. Those schools were established only because of the generosity and sacrifice of previous generations of Catholics, many of whom were from poor immigrant communities. My own mother, an Irish speaker from the west of Ireland, was typical of those people who gave generously to collections every week to establish parish schools in inner-city areas. Even today, in addition to many other forms of support, parishes contribute around £20 million a year towards capital costs.

The achievements of these schools are significant: 42 per cent of Catholic schools have high value-added status and above-average point scores. According to Ofsted's figures, that compares with the national average of 30 per cent for other schools. A fifth of the top-performing comprehensive schools at A-level are Catholic and Ofsted says that they provide better value for money than other schools.

Many of those schools have waiting lists of families from Catholic parishes. The logic of the amendment, if it were applied to all schools or even just to new ones, is that even where they had helped raise funds to build a new school and were keen members of the Catholic parish, they would be denied a place at the local school. Think of the resentment that that could engender. Far from encouraging community cohesion and integration, we will have sown the seeds of division.

The Leeds Association of Catholic Head Teachers said in a letter this week:

"The introduction of quotas would have an adverse effect on the social and ethnic diversity of our schools as the restriction of places for Catholics would, in some instances, result in children from 'poorer' backgrounds being denied access to Catholic education".

It is a classic example of the law of unintended consequences. Why are we contemplating doing this? It is for the worst reasons of social engineering.

The issue of Islamic schools is constantly raised to justify amendments like these. If we introduce over-exacting and hostile measures, those schools will simply be established in the independent sector. That point was very eloquently made by the noble Lord, Lord Baker, and I agreed with him. There will be no ability there to influence things such as admissions criteria. Secondly, in the present climate, I find it hard to believe that a Muslim school will be able to fill the 25 per cent quota with non-Muslim children. This measure will have an adverse effect in dealing with the perceived problem and will simultaneously antagonise a sector which has an exemplary record. That is not a good example of well thought-through public policy.

In the long term, Catholic schools will be the most adversely affected by this approach. Such a measure is wholly unjustified. Without externally imposed criteria, the Catholic sector has been making a huge contribution to the development of communal co-existence and responsible citizenship. Without external interference or mandatory measures, it already has significant diversity. Some 18.2 per cent of itspupils are drawn from ethnic minorities, compared with 16.7 per cent in the state sector. Trevor Phillips has been quoted. The chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality says:

"when we look at the ethnic mix of schools, Catholic schools tend to be far more mixed than local authority schools".

I was also struck when the noble Lord, Lord Baker, referred to the situation in Northern Ireland. He will have received a letter earlier this week from Anthony Spencer, director of the Pastoral Research Centre. He was the adviser on integrated education in Northern Ireland to the Government of which the noble Lord was a member. In 1984, he founded the Belfast Charitable Trust for Integrated Education, of which I have been a patron. Like him, I believe that in the sectarian circumstances of Northern Ireland, schools such as Hazelwood and Lagan College are very helpful initiatives.

It is often forgotten that those initiatives were not secular ones; those are inter-denominational Christian schools. No compulsion was involved and no quotas invoked. In opposing the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Baker, Mr Spencer says:

"The situation in England has been and remains quite different. The lesson of integration in Northern Ireland is that it must be voluntary. It should be supported not imposed".

I know from personal experience of my own children's schools that admissions there include significant numbers from other and no faith backgrounds, without outside interference or anyone telling them to do it.

The recent report Quality and Performance:A Survey of Education in Catholic Schools convincingly demolishes many of the old hoary arguments endlessly deployed against church schools. The survey reveals that Catholic schools are socially and ethnically mixed, and may have large numbers of pupils who are not Catholic. The high standards reported by Ofsted are not confined to the academic but encompass positive attitudes, good behaviour, respect for others and excellence in personal development. The survey noted the high degree of parental involvement in those schools and support for children's learning; it also highlighted good governance.

If there is an issue to address about whether schools with a religious character are not promoting proper respect for our democratic institutions, pluralism and way of life, let them be subject to inspection and let Ofsted report accordingly. I strongly support the earlier remarks made in that context by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth and note, in passing, that my own children's Catholic school produced more Victoria Crosses than any other school in Britain, which hardly denotes a lack of commitment to our country and its ideals.

Transparency and scrutiny about how schools contribute to community cohesion is not an issue which faith schools will fear, if they are true to their ethos. I note that the Catholic Education Service has made clear its support for a requirement to report on issues such as how inter-faith dialogue is experienced in a school, how other people's traditions are explained and respected and how community service is promoted. I would support an amendment to do that in the Bill.

Ten years ago, on behalf of Liverpool John Moores University, I established a good citizenship award scheme. It operates in nearly 1,000 schools on Merseyside and in other parts of north-west England. In parenthesis, I declare the chair I hold at that university. Time and again, children from church schools have received our awards for the contribution that they make to community life. Last month, 12 children from one of our schools, the Sacred Heart in Crosby, received from Cherie Booth, QC—one of their alumni—awards for the work they have done befriending asylum seekers. Another young recipient, Francesca D'Arcy of St Edward's College, had raised a staggering £100,000 for local hospices. Students and schools like those need no lectures from us about social responsibility.

These amendments, including government Amendment No. 79, also introduce opt-outs from religious worship, for those in sixth forms, and from religious education. Catholic schools were established primarily to educate children of the Catholic faith, to form them as Catholics and to provide them with a well rounded education. They encourage pupils to see all men and women as made in the image of God, and therefore of infinite worth and value. They allow the cultivation of religious and spiritual needs. Plenty of alternatives exist if parents do not want those values for their children. That there are often waiting lists demonstrates that what we have now is what parents want.

The Government regularly lecture parents, including those of 16 to 18 year-olds, to be mindful of disciplinary and developmental issues at school which affect their children. Now, parents are to be told that this core activity, central to the identity of their child's school, will be determined by peer group pressure and argument. Incorporating a divisive opt-out into the religious ethos of the school drives a wedge into the heart of a school's mission and life.

I entirely agree with John Vaughan-Shaw ofSt Edmund's College, Ware, when he states in a letter to your Lordships that,

"to present worship as an optional extra contradicts the mission of a Catholic school and will inevitably threaten its existence".

What effect will it have on younger pupils to see those they look up to opting out? Everyone knows that the pressures of the pack and the voices of the most dominant will often prevail. It is quite hard enough for young people to hold onto their religious beliefs without being set up against another group who have no belief. That is divisive and disruptive.

A few days ago, I attended an act of worship in my children's school at which the sixth form were present along with the rest. It was led by a visiting priest from Zimbabwe who, in a deeply moving and inspiring address, described the depredations of the Mugabe regime and the role of the Church in standing up for the rights of the oppressed. If that had been an optional extra, I wonder how many would have attended and what those who had opted out would have missed.

Worship is part of the web and weave of the Catholic tradition; everyone who opts into Catholic schools knows this. In his memorable bookThe Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis wrote excoriating those who seek to eliminate the teaching of religious belief. He said that educators had become mere conditioners, and that,

"in a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate, and bid the gelding be fruitful".

These schools being attacked offer an antidote to the conditioners. We should celebrate their achievement and worth.

To conclude, these amendments encourage noble Lords to fight the wrong battle in the wrong ditch. On Sunday, the Sunday Times reported that at least one million children in England receive second-rate education in poorly performing state schools. A report in London's Evening Standard said that English is a second language in half of London's schools. We should be tackling those issues along with the low morale in the teaching profession and the pockets of poverty and deprivation which genuinely threaten social cohesion, not undermining high-achieving faith schools whose exemplary record is one of our country's success stories.

7:00 pm
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Lord Waddington (Conservative)

My Lords, I will just make two short points. I find myself in broad agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Alton, particularly on Muslim schools, and cannot support my noble friend's amendment.

Of course, I take the point that there are real dangers in Muslim children being educated in Muslim schools and living quite separately from the rest of the community. Yet I do not see how my noble friend's amendment will solve that problem. I do not believe for one moment that non-Muslim parents will queue up to send their children to Muslim schools. I fear that my noble friend envisages that children will be finding their way there when it has been in no way their parents' choice. In the present state of community relations, I am not sure that that will help in any way at all.

So far as Catholic schools are concerned, I am not a Catholic, but Catholic parents would have every reason to complain if their children were denied the opportunity to go to the local Catholic school by making room for the children of parents who are not members of that Church. A great injustice would be done, in the hope that some unquantifiable benefit would accrue to society as a whole. That is the worst sort of social engineering.

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Lord Skidelsky (Crossbench)

My Lords, I want to support Amendment No. 16, to which I have appended my name. Therefore I do not agree with the arguments of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth or, indeed, those of my noble friend Lord Alton. The character of the problem with which this amendment tries to deal is very different from that which was put forward in their eloquent speeches. The right reverend Prelate speaks as a representative of a long-established national church and the noble Lord, Lord Alton, also speaks for one of this country's long-established religious communities. This amendment tries to grapple with the problem of how to succeed in the ambitious project of creating a new basis for national life in large areas of the country, particularly urban areas. Therefore, one cannot deal with it or think of it in the same relaxed way as those opponents.

In view of the ambition that we have, it cannot be right to allow exclusive faith schools to be set up funded by the public purse. That is a very important point. If funding is private and these are private schools, I agree that the Government have no interest in the matter. In those cases, schools have an absolute right to their own admissions policy, but this is part of national policy. We are trying to integrate new communities into the life of this country. They are much more ethnically and religiously diverse and are much newer than the communities that noble Lords who oppose this amendment spoke about.

I argue that once you get into thinking about this as national policy, we have examples which involve compulsion. How was the United States created? It had a national policy of school integration in order to create Americans. I am not saying that we should do that, but the US faced that problem and that was how it coped with it. On the whole, over the years it has been immensely successful. Religious communities have survived and have not been destroyed. Americans have been created and an American sense of national identity has been established, which is what we are trying to do here.

It is a question of getting the balance right. The amendment concedes that what the new minority faiths have asked for is the right to set up new schools which are funded from the taxpayer. They will be mainly Muslim schools. We, as representatives of the legislature and guardians of the taxpayer, have a right also to say that there should be some concessions in recompense; that is, the right to have some say in the admissions policies of these schools, which is very reasonable. The balance in this amendment is exactly right, which is why I support it.

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Lord Taverne (Liberal Democrat)

My Lords, I have put my name to the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Baker, who spoke to it in a most delightful and eloquent manner. I also wish to support the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey. Unfortunately, I do not give quite the same reasons for supporting the amendment as have been so far advanced. I support it because I regard it as an exercise in damage limitation. I take the completely opposite view on what education should do from that of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and I am sorry to differ from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth.

Let me explain why I think that it is wrong in principle to teach religion in schools. I start with the proposition that part of the history of civilisation has been the gradual erosion of superstition by reason and the development of respect for evidence. I believe that it should be one of the primary aims of education to teach regard for evidence, to teach children to ask questions and not to accept authority uncritically. In fact, they should learn some idea of how science works, how nature works and how to use their intelligence to find out about the world. I recognise that there are many scientists who are Christians and, because Islam is under fire, I direct my remarks principally at the teaching of the Christian religion.

I argue that teaching any kind of religious belief depends on authority and undermines regard for evidence and is in opposition to what a good education should provide. People may be religious because they believe in a vague numinous presence in the universe, although most Christians believe in a personal god who can physically intervene in this world, which is what faith schools teach. They teach children to pray. If praying for the welfare of others is a ritualistic way of encouraging concern for others, which also makes the person who prays feel better, well and good. I love the language of many traditional prayers. However, children are taught to pray on the assumption that their prayers may be answered and that the object of their prayers may recover from illness or some other misfortune through a god's personal response. Indeed, double-blind experiments have been done at considerable expense to see if patients in hospital who are prayed for recover faster than those who are not prayed for and—surprise, surprise—it was found that prayers had no effect.

A belief in the efficacy of prayer as a possible cure for diseases is essentially a return to medieval superstition, when it was seen as the only hope of a cure for various illnesses. You prayed to a particular saint for a particular disease. You would pray toSt Lucy, for example, who was very beautiful and, according to one legend, avoided the lustful glances of men by plucking out her eyes, and that made her the patron saint for eye diseases.

Christians believe in miracles. Jesus, it is claimed, performed miracles. Catholic saints qualify as saints because they perform miracles. The resurrection is a miracle, and how can the doctrine of the physical assumption of the Virgin Mary into heaven be reconciled with the laws of nature? Miracles are, by definition, events in which the laws of nature have been suspended. Teaching people to believe in miracles is teaching them to ignore evidence and to believe in the supernatural. No wonder so many Christians reject the fact that animals and plants have evolved over many millions of years and turn to intelligent design or creationism to explain the world. A recent poll showed that 30 per cent of sixth formers in British schools do not understand evolution. If you are encouraged to believe in miracles, you can believe anything, including creationism.

Roman Catholics are taught that the Pope is infallible, just as in Galilean times when the authority of the Church overruled evidence. It is hardly rational to treat the authority of the Pope as infallible when he can change his mind and pronounce his predecessors wrong. Before 1861, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford has pointed out, the infallible doctrine of the Pope held that the soul only entered the embryo 40 days after conception in the case of the male foetus and 60 days after in the case of the female foetus. Since then, popes have decreed that all abortion is murder because it has now been decreed that the soul enters the embryo at the moment of conception. Even today the Pope can change the official doctrine taught to Catholics because it seems that they may have been wrong to believe that babies who died before they were baptised go to limbo. Catholics may profess to argue on scientific grounds that stem cells from adults are more likely to cure certain diseases than embryonic stem cells, but their views are not decided by evidence—they are decided by the Pope's current decree that the destruction of a human blastocyst is murder.

I do not object to children being taught about various religions because they are part of our cultural heritage, art, literature and music. I also accept that religion gives great comfort to many people and that many moral teachings of the churches are admirable. I accept the great contribution that churches and religious groups make to the community. I regard the sermon on the mount as a wonderful moral text which everyone should know about, but you do not have to believe in a god to teach morality.

Let us not, however, forget the harm that religion does. It is religion—the teachings of the American evangelicals, the Pope and Islam—that prevents UN agencies distributing condoms in Africa and thereby condemns countless Africans to death from AIDS, which I regard as a crime against humanity. It is religion that has led to the poor education of women in the world at large. It has also led to the decline in international support for family planning, which, as I shall argue in a debate tomorrow, is a vital part of any effective policy to reduce poverty. As my favourite Latin poet Lucretius put it a long time ago:

"Tantum religio potuit suadere malorum".

It is unfashionable to quote Latin these days. Nearly a century ago when it was still in vogue, the Conservatives pretended to understand even if they did not and the Labour Benches pretended not to understand even if they did. It means, "Such crime did religion inflict upon the world".

We should keep religion out of the classroom, as the Americans do. In this they are wise. Unfortunately they make up for that by letting religion interfere in their politics. On the whole the tradition in our politics has been, in the words of Alastair Campbell, that "we don't do God". It is a sad fact that through the promotion of faith schools, the Government are now undermining that tradition.

7:15 pm
Photo of Baroness Richardson of Calow

Baroness Richardson of Calow (Crossbench)

My Lords, I am making a great effort not to be tempted to defend the Christian Church. I shall speak briefly from the viewpoint of the Methodist Church, which is not a big player in education in this country nationally, although we have a significant number of independent schools, of which I am chair of the board of management, and a growing number of state-maintained schools that are of Methodist foundation, some of them jointly with the Church of England. I have to say that on the whole the Methodist Church believes that Methodist foundation schools are a gift to society and exercise an open-access policy, do not have a quota system of any sort and would resist it strongly. If this amendment were to be passed, it would create grave difficulties for a Methodist foundation school, which would have to start asking about the professed religious allegiance of parents and create a bureaucratic administrative process which would be very difficult.

I agree entirely and enthusiastically with the intention behind the amendment, but it just would not work—I cannot see how it would. All of us are familiar with the lengths to which parents will go in order to get their children into the school of their choice, moving house and making all sorts of arrangements. When I was a minister in the circuit, I noted a number of people who suddenly discovered a profound religious faith about six months before the selection process began to take place and lost it like mist in the morning sunshine soon afterwards. Yet many parents see schools of a religious foundation as institutions of excellence with a strong emphasis on justice and discipline in the way they are run. They choose these schools on educational grounds and on many occasions pretend to have a faith in order to get their children into school. If this amendment were passed, it is interesting to speculate whether it would work the other way around. Would faithful people suddenly lose their faith in order to get a place within the 25 per cent allotted to them?

I know that the policy in Church of England schools means that parents from other Christian denominations have done rather well. If they can prove that they are members of a church which is in communion with the Church of England through Churches Together in England, they are often successful in gaining a place. Would that be forbidden under this amendment? Would those who are not members of the Church of England be regarded as "other religious denominations" along with the other religious faiths? I cannot see how this quota system could be fair and workable in any way at all. However, I would support encouragement given to all our faith schools to have open access and, with their strong foundations in the community, to have something to offer the educational principle—which I entirely and utterly believe to be the case. Strong encouragement should be given to providing wider access for people of all faiths and for those who profess no faith, but for whom the Christian faith is in any case dedicated to encourage in faith; to be a missionary opportunity, if you like. In this Bill and by any other means I would very much like to see faith taken seriously as an offering to society, but certainly not imposed by a quota system.

Photo of The Earl of Onslow

The Earl of Onslow (Conservative)

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Baker's plea for inclusion was very heartfelt and immensely important. On the defeat of Abd-er-Rahman by Charles Martel outside Poitiers in 732, the great Edward Gibbon wrote:

"And the Arabian fleet might have sailed without a naval conflict into the mouth of the Thames. Perhaps the interpretation of the Koran would now be taught in the schools of Oxford and her pulpits might demonstrate to a circumcised people the sanctity and truth of the Revelation of Mohammed".

It looks as if we are getting to that state now. As has been pointed out, Church of England schools are part of the ancient fabric of England and society as a whole. All other faith schools, be they Roman Catholic, Jewish or now Mohammedan, want to withdraw to an exclusivity for themselves. It is that exclusivity which is dangerous. On Sunday I heard a discussion on the wireless in which an Orthodox Jewish lady said quite deliberately, "We want our people to come to these schools so that they do not marry out". These are habits of exclusion.

All I now want to do is to speak on a point that has been touched on already. Let us assume for the sake of argument that there is a Muslim school in an area which encourages all its girls to wear veils. Let us also remember that the Prophet Mohammed had two Christian wives and one Jewish wife, and said nothing about the veil whatsoever. It came about at the time of the Abbassid Caliphate when there was an outbreak of immorality and all women were forced to wear the veil. Equally let us remember that Kemal Ataturk said of the veil that any woman wearing one would be considered a prostitute. The number of veils whipped off faces of women in Constantinople the next morning was quite enormous.

There is an element of exclusion about this. It is a dangerous exclusion that will drive people inwards into ghetto-like communities, and therefore my noble friend Lord Baker must be supported because his amendment goes some way towards offsetting the damage which new faith schools are, in my belief, liable to cause. I cannot think that non-Muslim people from the leafy suburbs are going to rush to buy a house close to a school where their 13 year-old girls will wear the veil, so it is going to be extremely difficult to make up the quota. I see a terrible danger of exclusivity and people huddling in their own masses. That is what worries me and that is what we have got ourselves in a muddle over in wanting new faith schools.

Photo of Lord Tombs

Lord Tombs (Crossbench)

My Lords, first, I want to associate myself with the remarks made by my noble friend Lord Alton, who stole most of my points and made them much more eloquently than I could have done, so I am grateful to him. Since I am not going to repeat them, I am sure that noble Lords will be grateful too.

Why do we want a quota? Many Church schools welcome those of any other faith or none. The point has been made that in Roman Catholic schools in this country—the second largest faith in terms of schooling—30 per cent of pupils are not Roman Catholic. They also have a battery of arrangements with other schools, exchanging and doing things together. The Secretary of State made the point the other day that the Roman Catholic Church is one of the most outward-looking faiths in the country and the one most associated with social cohesion.

If the aim is to address a fractured society—I think that is what underlies the discussion—this is not the best way to do it. To interfere in state schools that are already outward looking is treading on eggs in hobnail boots. There are genuine feelings involved; there are genuine people doing very good things. A bull in a china shop is a poor simile. National and local government share the bulk of the responsibilities for our fractured society. Immigration and housing policies are two good examples of the way in which separate sects, separate groups and separate ghettos have grown up, and they have infinitely more leverage than schools. That is where we should be putting our attention.

All faith schools—or certainly the Christian faith schools—teach comparative religions; there is no isolation and no direct indoctrination of any kind. But quotas are blunt tools; they are national figures which do not take proper account of what is essentially a local issue. They do not take account of catchment areas—most pupils go to school in their catchment areas; they do not take account of geography; of social and economic conditions—wealth versus poor, high unemployment versus low unemployment. A blunt tool of that kind cannot, and should not, work. The risk is that we may alienate yet other groups in the community. I oppose the amendment. It is well intentioned but far too mechanistic to work.

Finally, on a personal note, I have been distressed to hear so much anti-religious talk tonight. There is a great deal of it in the country, I know. I do not object to atheists being atheists—the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, is welcome to his beliefs as far as I am concerned—and I would like to experience a similar tolerance from the Liberal Democrat Benches.

7:30 pm
Photo of The Bishop of Newcastle

The Bishop of Newcastle (Bishop)

My Lords, the last thing I want to do is to make any kind of grand or grandiose claims on behalf of the Church of England, but I do want to underline that Church of England schools, by their nature and by their purpose, have certain similarities with other faith schools, of course, but also some important differences from them.

The basic point is that Church of England schools are community schools; they are primarily neighbourhood schools. They are a part of the Church of England's continuing commitment to serve the neighbourhoods in which we are set. Ever since we began in the 19th century, Church of England schools have been serving some of the most disadvantaged and deprived areas in this land. That is a part of the responsibility that we have for the wellbeing of our society. That is why Church of England schools are still so important, not least for the reasons that the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, and the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, talked about earlier of social cohesion, community cohesion and community renewal. Let me underline that none of us will have anything to do with reinforcing any of the divisions in our society; we are at one with the noble Lord, Lord Baker, and the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, in that respect.

That is why, too, it is right for the Church of England to commit itself so that at least 25 per cent of the places in any new schools will be available on the basis of local priority rather than on faith priority. That means that at least 25 per cent will be made available to people from the local neighbourhood—and I underline "at least".

In reality, all the church schools that I have had to do with in Bradford, in south London and now in the north-east of England have been local community schools. They have been distinctively Christian but they have been totally inclusive. That applies whether we are talking about first schools, primary schools, middle schools, upper schools or secondary schools. Frankly, I do not recognise Church of England schools in the way that faith schools are often talked about in the current debate.

Let me tell your Lordships about one school in particular in the city of Newcastle. It is a Church of England secondary school, the only one that the Church of England has. Four years ago, the local authority was at the end of its tether. It had two state secondary schools which were known as—I hate the description—"failed" schools. As a last resort, the authority asked the Church of England to combine the two schools into one and to take them over as a new Church of England school, albeit on one of the existing sites. Three years on, although we are not out of the wood by a long way, that school is now flourishing. Although the examination results do not necessarily say so, the value added to the lives of its young people over the past three years has been quite immense. I believe that it is highly significant that in the first year we began there were five young people in the sixth form; this year there are 90 and next year there will be even more.

It is essentially about that school building confidence, self-esteem and aspiration in the lives of young people who have precious little from their home backgrounds. It is the care, nurturing and development of our children and young people educationally and socially—and, I would say, emotionally and spiritually—that matters above all else. I believe that Church of England schools—and, indeed, Church and faith schools in general which are open and inclusive—offering both the best kind of care and the best quality of education that we can, together with, yes, daily worship and excellent religious education, still offer one of the very best ways of achieving what we want for all our children.

Photo of Baroness Blood

Baroness Blood (Labour)

My Lords, as chair of Integrated Education in Northern Ireland, I shall resist the temptation of the opening that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, gave me and content myself by saying that I support Amendment No. 16.

The question I asked myself as I listened to the House today is: why do we have to have single faith schools? Why is the whole idea of a single faith school so important? Has Northern Ireland not shown that it does not work? It creates fear and allows some people within that community to use that fear. We have seen that in Northern Ireland. As many noble Lords know, Northern Ireland remains a very segregated place, and all the out-workings of that we all know only too well. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Baker, said, this is changing with the growth of integrated education. This is not about interfering with religion in schools. As I read the amendment, it is about trying to put a balance into the schools. There is no doubt that when a school has one single faith, it becomes a very closed community.

The world today is a much smaller place than it was when I was a child—or maybe it just seems that way—but I passionately believe that children will learn from each others' faiths and cultures through allowing this to begin in the formative years at school. We must endeavour to let children learn and celebrate each others' cultures and faiths instead of fearing what they do not understand.

Photo of Baroness Carnegy of Lour

Baroness Carnegy of Lour (Conservative)

My Lords, I am encouraged to follow the noble Baroness and to agree very much with her. I support the gallant efforts of my noble friend and others to struggle with the problem in Amendment No. 16.

I am encouraged in that by a conversation with a knowledgeable, thoughtful, Muslim friend of mine, who is a newsagent in my home town. He has two daughters, one of whom is a qualified doctor and the other is studying to be a doctor. His experience of local education at home leads him to think that the amendment would be a good idea provided that it applies to all schools. That is a very important point to make. If we are to pass a provision like this to solve the problem, it must apply to all schools and to new schools in the future. I think the noble Lord, Lord Alton, sees that point, although it presents a problem which I deeply understand from his speech and from my own knowledge of Roman Catholic schools.

Faith schools have a great deal going for them. The ethos of a school, the atmosphere—what people call the hidden curriculum of a school—is usually very strong in a faith school. My experience of Roman Catholic schools is that it is very strong there. You can tell the ethos the minute you go into a school.

I really do not believe that there can be exclusive schools in future. One needs to look no further than the past few days' news media to see how easy it is in the name of national or religious solidarity to provoke the very conflict that we want to avoid. Young people must learn when discussing things to consider other people's viewpoint, if we are going to avoid conflict. Jack Straw, in his quiet, tactful way, was wise to raise a big subject, as he did. I am not quite so sure about the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Glasgow, who six months before the Scots parliamentary election has just announced that he advocates Scottish independence. We await results, but I do not know what is going to happen after that.

What school should nowadays be about is beautifully described by Karen Armstrong in her recent book, The Great Transformation. Tracing the development of the great religions of the world from their origins in 1600 to 900 BC, she shows how from the beginning and today those religions at heart embody a shared purpose. All seek to promote sympathy and understanding between people. She makes one wonder if that is what our faith leaders must remember as we proceed into the future with our policies. In the conclusion, the author writes:

"There can be no simple answers. We must learn to see things from other people's point of view. If religion is to bring light to our broken world we need ... to go in search of the lost heart, the spirit of compassion that lies at the heart of all our traditions".

I believe that my noble friend Lord Baker's amendment would help young people to do that.

There are many problems that will have to be overcome, because if we are to shape a future in which our young people can compete in the modern world, we cannot have exclusive schools.

Photo of Lord Sutherland of Houndwood

Lord Sutherland of Houndwood (Crossbench)

My Lords, gales of belief have been blowing around this Chamber tonight—the beliefs of those who are atheists and Roman Catholics and even a moderate wind from the Anglican Benches. It seems rather feeble then to say that one is an agnostic but, feeble as I am, that does not mean that I do not believe anything. It means that I share beliefs with many people.

Like all noble Lords, I believe in a tolerant society in which an attempt is made to understand the position of other people and their formal cultural influences. I believe in a society in which freedom of speech and thought and teaching children to ask awkward questions, be it about religion or science or whatever, are all tremendously important. Most of all, in tonight's context, I believe, like all noble Lords, in an inclusive society. No one has preached the cause of exclusion, nor would I expect that in this place. The question is one of ways and means and how we capture that in our education system.

To make one point in passing, I think there has been a confusion in the debate between religious worship and religious education in schools. Government Amendment No. 79 gets it just about right on religious worship. In relation to religious education, I would resist any attempt to diminish its place in schools. Indeed, if our political leaders on both sides of the Atlantic knew more about religion—the Islamic religion and the Christian religion and the way in which extremes can show themselves in those religions—we would be in a better position now than we are in all sorts of other contexts.

I also believe in the importance of a remark by David Hume, which I have quoted before in this place. He said:

"Whereas the mistakes in philosophy are merely ridiculous"—

I speak as a philosopher, noble Lords will understand—

"those in religion are dangerous".

I think we all agree with that, because we know that whatever form of religion we espouse or reject, there are dangerous extreme forms. The question is how we ensure that our school system is moving in the right direction. That is all we will do in this Bill; we will not change the situation radically forever, but we can move it continually in the right direction.

I do not support the notion of quotas, as I do not think that they would work. The reasons for that have been given; I would repeat them but it is too late. However, I propose an alternative way in which to attempt to deal with the issue and the dangers of religion and what will be initially schools that recruit from a particular religious community—and I look to the Anglican example here. It is to use our inspection system thoroughly and radically and for Ministers to back up the judgments that will come from that inspection system.

Ofsted has the responsibility to report on the ethos of a school. These issues are all partly to do with the ethos of a school and the direction in which it moves. It has to report on the social, moral, spiritual and cultural education provided for pupils in schools. Again, all these are fundamental to the direction in which we should be moving. Of course now we have citizenship taught in schools. All that comes within these three bands. If instructions to inspectors were strengthened and made more precise so that these areas were inspected clearly and certainly in the case of all faith schools, with a punctiliousness that we would all benefit from, I would look to Ministers to be willing to support the tough judgments that will come up in some places and act on them. There will be tough judgments to make and Ministers will have to stand firm against a press campaign and a community campaign—and that applies to Christian schools as well as Muslim schools and Jewish schools. An amendment could be brought forward at Third Reading, if that were thought to be worthwhile.

7:45 pm
Photo of Baroness Turner of Camden

Baroness Turner of Camden (Labour)

My Lords, I would like to speak to Amendment No. 79, because I have a series of amendments to that government amendment. It looks complicated, but it is not as complicated as it would appear. Amendment No. 79 is to be moved by my noble friend Lord Adonis and concerns the right of sixth-form pupils to be excused attendance at religious worship.

Currently only parents can withdraw pupils from collective worship and religious education through the School Standards and Framework Act 1998. Following his undertaking in Committee, my noble friend tabled a government amendment to allow sixth-formers to withdraw from collective worship. The Joint Committee on Human Rights issued a report on 13 October noting that human rights incompatibility would be reduced if older pupils were permitted to withdraw themselves from collective worship and religious education, and the criterion for ability to withdraw should be their competence to make such a decision.

The differences between my amendment and that of my noble friend are as follows. In my noble friend's, qualifying pupils can take advantage only of part of the statutory withdrawal rights enjoyed by the parents. The amendment does not extend withdrawal to religious education for competent pupils as the law already does for parents and the JCHR suggests that it should. Why should a 15 year-old who is mature enough to have the pill or an abortion without parental knowledge not be capable of deciding whether she wants to pray or attend religious education in her state school until she is well over 16 under the government amendment?

If the withdrawal from religious education is exercisable by parents, why should it not be for parents considered adults for human rights purposes? Is there a reason why religious education withdrawal should be withheld? We do not think so. Even for schools with a religious ethos, some pupils attend at their parents' behest, some may simply have been enrolled because there was no other suitable school and some may have changed their mind about whether they wish to attend.

Why should they be forced to attend religious education if they do not wish to? Both the Catholic Education Service and the RE Council have suggested that attendance at a religious school is some kind of package where pupils are obliged to attend worship and presumably religious education—in essence leaving their human rights behind at the school gate. It is hardly as if they will be ignorant of religious matters. They will already have had to sit through10 years of RE. Religious education is not supposed to be religious instruction. It is not a national curriculum subject so there is little national or even LEA control over the syllabus and style of teaching. Voluntary aided schools with a religious ethos are permitted very wide scope in what they teach. AtSt Luke's Sixth Form RC College in Sidcup, religious education included compulsory attendance at certain events. Even pupils over 16 were not permitted to leave when they expressed a strong desire to do so. More than 100 of them rebelled at that time.

It is interesting to see precisely what the JCHR said as it is very important for this discussion. It stated:

"Children enjoy the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion under both Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Article 14(1) of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The UK is also under an obligation to assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, and to give those views due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child. The latter obligation finds expression in UK law in the concept of 'Gillick competence', according to which a child should be treated as legally competent to make their own decisions if they have 'sufficient maturity and intelligence' to understand the nature and implications of their decision".

The document continues:

"In our view the current legal framework is incompatible with these obligations in so far as it fails to guarantee a child of sufficient maturity, intelligence and understanding the right to withdraw from both compulsory religious education and collective worship. An amendment to the Bill which gave pupils over the age of 16 the right to withdraw from collective worship would therefore reduce the extent of the incompatibility of the present law with the UK's human rights obligations, but it would not remove that incompatibility altogether.

To remove the incompatibility, in our view, it would be necessary to go further in two respects: first, by granting a right to withdraw from religious education as well as collective worship; and, second, by affording the right to withdraw from both religious education and collective worship to any pupil of sufficient maturity, understanding and intelligence to make an informed decision about whether or not to withdraw".

This is a sensible amendment to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Adonis. I and my supporters believe that the way forward is to accept the principle involved in Amendment No. 79, but to make these amendments, which would bring it in line with the recommendations of the Joint Committee on Human Rights.

Photo of Lord Avebury

Lord Avebury (Spokesperson in the Lords (Civil Liberties), Home Affairs, Spokesperson in the Lords (Africa), Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs; Liberal Democrat)

My Lords, it is a pity that the Minister's amendment was not grouped separately so that we could have a discussion on these matters without becoming involved in all the other weighty discussions which have preceded it. The amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, is distinct from all the others in that it is concerned with a fundamental issue of human rights, whereas whether you have 25 per cent of the places at a faith school allocated to people who do not belong to that religion is a matter of expediency. However, I agree with all those who have said that we need to consider very carefully how to avoid the divisiveness that may arise in our society through exclusive attendance at faith schools of only members of that religion. However, that is another argument. We are concerned here with the human rights of pupils on whether to attend acts of collective worship or lessons of religious education.

I am delighted to see the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth back with us, although I, too, beg to differ with him on this matter. I say to him that it is not a question of having no religious education at all. That is not what the amendment says. It is proposed that only when the child reaches 16, or attains the sixth form, should he or she have a right to opt out of religious education. My youngest son took his GCSEs at 15. He took religious education as part of that course. If this amendment had been in force at the time, it would have made no difference whatever to his appreciation of the religious education which that school offered because he would already have received, in his opinion, all that was necessary of such education by the time he took his GCSEs. He did not go on to study RE at A-level, which was his absolute right. It should be the right of any child, as the noble Baroness said.

The noble Baroness is to be particularly congratulated on her deployment of the case to which the JCHR alerted us only at the end of last week. That in turn involved some very rapid footwork by the committee working during the Recess to pick up the fact that the Government's amendment, giving a sixth-form pupil the right to be excused attendance at religious worship, is only a quarter of a human rights loaf, as the noble Baroness has explained.

Following amendments by my noble friend Lady Walmsley in Committee, the Government sent out a consultation document on 10 August asking recipients to respond by 25 August, breaking the normal rule of consultations that six weeks are allowed for reply. An explanation should have been given for the shorter timescale, but was not, although I understand from the Government that this was not a normal consultation at all but simply a request for views to be expressed by those immediately concerned. I should like to know who was immediately concerned. On the previous amendment my noble friend mentioned the right of children to express opinions. Did the Minister obtain the opinions of any children, or of organisations representing children? We should hear what they had to say.

It was even more unfortunate that although the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, said in response to my noble friend in Committee on 18 July that he would encapsulate "most of the spirit" of my noble friend's amendments in the amendment that he would propose, the consultation document referred only to half of it, limiting itself to the question of attendance at collective acts of worship and leaving out altogether any reference to religious education. The noble Lord's explanation for that in a letter to the executive director of the National Secular Society was,

"that there is a proper distinction to be drawn between participation in religious worship and attendance at religious education lessons on the grounds of the nature of those activities".

He did not go on to explain the difference in the nature of those two activities. Even if there is such a distinction, as the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, has explained, the rights of parents to opt out of both on behalf of their children are the same, or they are similar if not identical. If there is a proper distinction to be drawn in this legislation, would it not have been right to explain in the consultation document how the Government saw it and get the views of the consultees rather than giving the impression that only the attendance at religious worship had been entered into in Committee, and that there had been no reference to the question of attendance at RE lessons?

I think that the Government were at fault in not expanding the consultation to include all the matters dealt with in the amendments in that group in Committee. The Minister's excuse for not doing so was that my noble friend did not actually refer to this issue in Committee. That is disingenuous. As my noble friend explained, that was a monster group of amendments, and she would have been unpopular if she had spoken to every single one.

In tabling their amendments, the Government concede that a sixth-form pupil of whatever age is competent to decide whether to attend collective worship. As the noble Baroness has explained, the JCHR says that it is a denial of the rights of the child under both the ECHR and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child to say that she can withdraw from collective worship but not from compulsory RE if she is of sufficient maturity, intelligence and understanding. If she is accepted as having reached that standard for the first, it follows that she is for the second purpose as well. The Government's position is illogical in arguing that the parents ought to step aside on worship but to continue to decide for the child on RE. The two must go together, and the test for both must be the same.

The JCHR suggests that schools should apply the Gillick test, under which the High Court ruled that a girl of whatever age had the legal capacity to consent to medical examination and treatment, including contraceptives, if she had sufficient maturity and intelligence to understand the nature and implications of the proposed treatment. It says that schools are familiar with this concept and could be provided with guidance on how to apply it in the case of religious worship and RE. However, to avoid what I see as being unnecessary bureaucracy, and because the attainment of the age of 16 and reaching sixth form are objective tests that the Government recognise in their own amendment, it is appropriate to apply them in this context but with the difference that if either of them is satisfied the exercise of choice is triggered. Otherwise, 16 year-olds will be divided into sheep and goats; those who go to a decent school will qualify because they have reached sixth form by that time, while the 44 per cent of pupils who do not achieve five good GCSEs by age 16, as the noble Lord writes in an article in today's Guardian, will be disqualified.

I agree with the JCHR that it is valuable for children to learn about spiritual and moral issues but, as it adds, there is no guarantee that in a particular school the way RE is taught may not infringe the pupil's right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. With the growth of faith schools, about which our Prime Minister is so enthusiastic even though it is an intrinsically divisive idea which is likely to cause untold harm, it is vital that children should be able to protect themselves. My noble friend and others have referred to the UK Government's obligation to report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2007. They will be asked on that occasion whether they have sought the views of children on these proposals and why, if that is the case, they did not accept the weighty advice of the JCHR.

8:00 pm
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Lord Elton (Conservative)

My Lords, I shall be brief because it is high time the right reverend Prelate had a break from this, and he has to be here until the end. My noble friend Lord Waddington drew attention to one danger of my noble friend Lord Baker's amendment: that it would not work. He left out another almost equally important danger: that it has turned Amendment No. 104 into a sideshow. It is actually a very important amendment. Not only does it address the question of school assembly, breaking it up so that it no longer becomes an assembly of the whole school, making it optional and taking out the religious content, but it repeals Schedule 20 to the 1988 Act. The schedule embodies the phrase "wholly or broadly Christian", which was put on the statute book in 1988 after lengthy deliberation by your Lordships in a campaign led by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, who alas is not here tonight. To reverse that with a thinning House late at night would be a tragedy.

The only other comment that I will make is to reinforce the remarks of those who say that the study of religion is more important than it has been for a very long time. The age when children are reaching maturity is probably the most important time for them to become aware of it, look at it rationally and not be brainwashed, and that is the role of RE in schools these days.

I will not reply to the tirade of the noble Lord, Lord Taverne—who is not in his place but I shall address him in his absence—though one came across most of it teaching in the sixth form, and indeed the fifth form, but I will say simply that those who have lived it are very grateful that they learnt it.

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Baroness David (Labour)

My Lords, what do the Minister and his department think about the number of additional schools, mentioned in the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Baker? Have they thought about it?

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Lord Dearing (Other)

My Lords, I would like, if I might, to give a practical welcome to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth saying, "Three cheers for Amendment No. 9". I think it is the only non-controversial thing that has been said tonight. I support it because I took a view earlier that it was important that a school improvement partner should be en rapport with the governing body.

Amendment No. 16, proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Baker, is a very constructive, well intended approach to a major issue: the well-being of society and its coherence. I do not think that we can have this debate without hearing the Muslim voice, and I have not heard it tonight. That is what underlies this debate. We cannot bring it to a conclusion without listening respectfully to the views of the Muslim community.

If I may recall history imperfectly, at one time Catholic schools were looked on with considerable suspicion. I think I remember the opposition to Pope on the rates. No one now thinks of Catholic schools as divisive in our society. The right reverend Prelate said that church communities were at different stages of development. It is right that the Church of England as the national church should see itself as serving the whole nation to an extent that I would not expect of other churches.

As I read the letter of the Most Reverend Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Birmingham, the Roman Church accepts that it has an obligation to address this issue, although it does not accept the noble Lord's approach. It is saying that its inspections shall look at the contribution of Roman Catholic schools to social cohesion and that the outcome should be public. The archbishop lists a dozen criteria. That was what the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, said was the way to test whether a school was making that contribution.

I was quoted twice in this debate and I listened fearfully to what I had said. This time I quote without fear. Speaking in a debate on "Churches and Cities" on 19 May, I said:

"Faith schools have a special responsibility not to be isolationist but to adopt an ethos of positive commitment, goodwill and respect towards other faiths, and to proactively seek opportunities to engage with the schools of other faiths or, where there are none locally, with community schools, which serve a large number of other faiths".—[Hansard, 19/5/06; col. 548.]

So I believe that there is an alternative route that addresses the major problem that the noble Lord, Lord Baker, has in mind.

I worry whether the noble Lord's well intentioned amendment will be seen by some of our absent Muslim community, perhaps many of them, as ill intentioned—innocent but nevertheless interpreted in that way. What matters is how people interpret things in the very sensitive situation in which we find ourselves. I am fearful that the amendment will be misinterpreted.

Once upon a time, I led a large corporation. When negotiating with a guy called Alan Johnson, now the Secretary of State for Education, who was one of the trade union leaders, I learnt a little rule, although I did not tell him about it at the time: never drive the other side into a corner from which there is no escape, because all they can do is fight. I am worried that we may be driving them. We want to hear what that community have to say, because they know the problem and what contribution they want to make to addressing it. We should find ways of enabling them to make that contribution, perhaps in the way that the Roman Catholic Church is doing so by being open to inspection and so on.

I respect the noble Lord's motives, but I fear that they could be misinterpreted and do damage. There are other ways, and whichever way we go, we must not drive people into a corner of antagonism and hostility. We have serious problems enough.

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Baroness Walmsley (Spokesperson in the Lords (Education & Children), Education & Skills; Liberal Democrat)

My Lords, I think that the feeling of the House may be that we should move to a conclusion, so I venture to make my contribution to this very important set of amendments. Not for the first time, I very much agree with the common sense of the noble Baroness, Lady Richardson.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Baker, for his efforts to do something about an issue that is of great concern to us all. If I do not support his amendment, it is not because I do not agree with many of his words about the benefits of inclusion. I salute his expertise and agree with much of what he said about not dividing children on a religious basis at the age of five, but where we differ is on how best to do it.

We believe social integration and tolerance and understanding between the different social, cultural and religious groups in this country to be one of the most important challenges we face—not just for the sake of peace and tackling terrorism, but for the more positive objective of enriching all our lives. However, faith schools and the contribution that they could make to that desirable understanding and integration are only part of the picture. We believe that schools should serve, and be accountable to, communities. We are not happy with artificial quotas because they generate artificial situations, encourage gerrymandering of admission arrangements and the possibility of bussing children long distances to school unnecessarily, and they have many other practical difficulties.

Unfortunately, today we have both voluntary and involuntary postcode segregation. There is voluntary segregation because people choose to live in certain places because of the quality and composition of the schools, and they choose to move away from other areas for the same reason. There is involuntary segregation because some people are forced to remain in areas where the schools do not satisfy them and they cannot afford to move elsewhere.

I do not believe, therefore, that we should be addressing this very serious matter at this stage of a Bill which is essentially about something else. Instead, we should take a holistic look at the picture of social and cultural segregation and address all the factors that affect it. We should be doing that on a cross-party basis. I know that all parties would take part most enthusiastically in such an exercise. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, that I am sure that the Muslim community would do so, too. I think that it would satisfy some of the noble Lord's concerns if perhaps we had a special commission or royal commission on this subject. It is a great pity that Ruth Kelly's commission on social integration is not allowed to look at any barriers that faith schools might put in the way of real understanding and co-operation between the many groups that live in this country and the very positive contribution that they could make to improve the situation if they were genuinely integrated.

I am afraid I do not believe that the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Baker, would achieve very much. We are living in a climate where school rolls are falling. The number of genuinely new schools will be small. I understand that in proposed subsection (2) of the amendment the noble Lord has specifically excluded Muslim schools that are currently private but are planning to come into the maintained sector. It would be desirable for such schools to be caught up by his amendment, were it to be practicable, and also that they should deliver the national curriculum, including the information about other religions that we find in the RE curriculum.

However, I do not think that the noble Lord's amendment is practicable and workable. One might say that it does not go far enough. It is not unreasonable for one to suggest that, if the community or the state is paying for the school, 100 per cent of its places should be available for any young citizen of that state. But I should like to ask the noble Lord what he thinks should be done if a school cannot attract 25 per cent of pupils who are not of the faith. Surely he would not want to drive a coach and horses through the parental choice agenda by coercing parents in any way to send their children to these schools. The alternative is that they do not set up at all. That may well be his objective, but what will he do about parents who want such a school? Does he prefer them to have a private school, which is not subject to Ofsted and does not deliver the national curriculum? A royal commission or some sort of cross-party commission would give all parties an opportunity to have a voice in this debate. It is a matter far too complex to be resolved by a relatively simple amendment, even one proposed by the noble Lord.

I understand that the Government intend to table an amendment at Third Reading to allow for a process of appeal to the Secretary of State if the admission arrangements of a new school look as though they will produce less than 25 per cent non-faith pupils. Of course, we will look carefully at the exact wording of that amendment when it comes before us and make up our minds then about whether to support it. But, for the moment, before I have had the opportunity of hearing what the Minister has to say, there are many serious questions to ask—not least, how long would a ruling about 25 per cent non-faith pupils on the school roll last? Would it be for the first year of the establishment of the school, or for three years or five? What would happen if a few pupils left and the school roll fell below the 25 per cent level? Would it have to close?

The bottom line is that these problems will occur unless the school wants to educate a range of faiths within its ranks and unless parents want their children to go there. Parents will want that if they are convinced of two things: the first is that the child will get a good education; the second is that the child will enjoy and benefit from mixing with a wide range of children from different cultural and religious groups and have the opportunity to get to know children of different backgrounds and make friends with them.

People rarely kill their friends. They do not usually bomb people whom they know, like and understand. I make it clear that this comment does not imply that I think that faith schools have any responsibility for terrorism. It simply means that I think that they could make a valuable contribution to preventing it if they were integrated and promoted understanding. That is what we need to achieve, but I do not believe that the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Baker, will do it and I have severe reservations about whether the expected government amendment will do it either. However, I wait to see.

I turn to government Amendment No. 79 and the new set of amendments from the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, and others on my own Back Benches. I thank the Minister for accepting the principle of the amendment I tabled in Committee to allow older pupils to exempt themselves from collective worship if they wish. I say to my noble friend Lord Avebury that that is all I ask for, rather than them having to rely on their parents to do it for them. I believe that is only right; it is their human right. I am still a little concerned that we have to rely on the funding agreement to make it apply to academies, but I shall keep a close eye on that.

I was very interested to read the report of the JCHR, published last Friday, which suggests that the Government should go further if they wish to fulfil a child's rights under Article 9 of the human rights convention. The noble Baroness, Lady Turner, and my noble friends clearly agree with them, as they have laid Amendments Nos. 79A to 79K. Perhaps I should explain why I do not support that group of amendments. In the climate that I described earlier, where we have postcode segregation and where many maintained schools are 98 per cent of one faith and culture, the national curriculum religious education course is very important. It is really the only way in which some children learn about other religions. Until we sort out that situation I do not think that we should encourage children to remove themselves from religious education. Religious education is different from religious instruction and indoctrination and, as I understand it, it is taught in a comparative-religion way in most schools. Worship is quite different.

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Lord Avebury (Spokesperson in the Lords (Civil Liberties), Home Affairs, Spokesperson in the Lords (Africa), Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs; Liberal Democrat)

My Lords, could my noble friend explain why she does not think that religious education up to age 15, by which time a child will have had four years of it, would be adequate to give him or her an understanding of other religions?

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Baroness Walmsley (Spokesperson in the Lords (Education & Children), Education & Skills; Liberal Democrat)

My Lords, if my noble friend is asking me why I do not support the Gillick principle, I shall come to that point in a moment.

This really is the only way in which some children learn about other religions. As I was about to say, worship is entirely different. It requires children to pray to a god in which they may not believe and that is why I wanted the Government to give us Amendment No. 79, as they have done. However, to extend that right down the age range to those who can demonstrate their competence to decide is very messy. It can easily be done in relation to an individual child by a court but, practically speaking, to ask a school to take that on is asking a lot. To extend that right to exemption from religious education is highly undesirable.

Only last week a young man whom I know told me that he went to a Catholic school but learnt in his RE lessons a great deal about Islam, the Hindu religion and many others. That is how it should be. We should be encouraging all schools run by faiths to do that for all pupils. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth said, that is what many of them do. I also add my welcome to him. To encourage pupils to absent themselves from RE at any age is not a good idea and it presents serious practical problems for schools.

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Baroness Turner of Camden (Labour)

My Lords, is the noble Baroness not aware that that is already available to parents? Parents can remove their children from RE lessons, so in that respect it is an optional subject.

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Baroness Walmsley (Spokesperson in the Lords (Education & Children), Education & Skills; Liberal Democrat)

My Lords, I am well aware of that. A comment that may be more welcome to the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, is that I think that the JCHR report leaves a rather wide-open goal for anyone who wishes to tackle the Government on this in the Court of Human Rights.

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Baroness Buscombe (Shadow Minister, Education; Conservative)

My Lords, this has been a fascinating, wide-ranging and well informed debate that confirms the distinguished reputation of your Lordships' House. I believe that the quality of the debate in this House is at its highest when noble Lords contemplate those issues that are the most challenging.

I begin by referring to the amendment tabled by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth. I fear that it has been entirely forgotten because of the other amendments. I remind noble Lords that it concerns school improvement partners having to understand fully the religious character of a school. I suggest that that is a modest amendment which deserves support.

Turning to the issue raised by my noble friend Lord Baker, this is a matter of great importance, not only to many noble Lords, but also to those individuals whose lives will be shaped by the choices that we make today. It is for those individuals that the Bill has been created and it is for them that these Benches support it. Our reasons have been much publicised in your Lordships' House and in another place. The most important is our whole-hearted endorsement of the creation of greater choice of schools for parents. The provision of a good choice of schools for parents and children is the driving principle of the Bill, but I fear that this amendment could have the opposite outcome.

I come from a standpoint that does not fear the existence of strongly held faith or faith schools. I believe that the moral principles and teachings of great religious faiths can provide the moral compass that our society so often lacks. I feel confident that many noble Lords on all Benches agree. I do not think that the leaders of our faiths should feel that they have to apologise for the existence of faith schools or underplay their many fantastic achievements. We should encourage and support such schools, which our education system has done since 1944.

I say that because in debating this topic, there is a danger of overlooking the great contribution that so many of our faith schools make to excellence in education in this country. That has been touched on by many noble Lords. In recent days and weeks, many members of faith groups have said that faith in schools can be a great driver of the consideration, tolerance and positive outlook that is so important to the success of social cohesion. All noble Lords have agreed on the subject of inclusion, which was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland of Houndwood. The real moral hazard in our society is not the existence of teachers with faith and principles; it is the existence of moral relativists for whom anything is as valid as anything else.

The amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Baker would, I fear, require new schools with a religious character to accept a centralised quota of25 per cent of pupils from other faiths in order to receive state funding. I say, "I fear", because I am concerned that that quota would not work. My noble friend said that his amendment follows on from the Church of England's policy but applies it to other schools. The Church of England reserves 25 per cent of pupil places for children of a different faith, but it does not close those places off if they are not applied for by pupils of a different faith. There is no compulsion in the Church of England's position; rather, there is an allowance for children of other faiths or none. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth explained, the places would not be left empty.

In supporting the Church of England's stance on this issue, I should add that the right honourable David Cameron MP has made it clear that he wants to see similar initiatives by other faith schools, as a matter not of uniform national rules but of social responsibility. I fear that the top-down approach of the imposition of a quota would upset the careful balance achieved by the Church of England and would dissuade other faith communities from following suit.

Parents who want their children to go to a school with a religious character could find their application being turned away on the grounds of the quota. Equally, those who do not wish for their children to attend such a school could find their choices limited by the fact that such a quota would affect their applications to other local schools, should they happen to live near a school with a religious character. I do not believe that my noble friend seeks any such effect. Indeed, I applaud the principle of his amendment. I understand that its driving force is a sincere and strongly held desire to achieve integration, inclusion and greater communication within different community groups.

The answer is not to create national rules that will discourage new faith-based institutions as part of the state system; it is to draw more of those institutions into the state system where they will teach the broad span of the curriculum and be subject to the same controls as all other schools. While I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Baker for raising this issue, and I applaud his courage in doing so, I am concerned about the methodology.

I am at an impasse. We have before us the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Baker, but I understand that the Minister is proposing to table an alternative amendment at Third Reading. I believe that there is a strong case for encouraging and providing the pathways for local communities to embrace social cohesion of their own volition and not imposing rigid central structures. But I regret that such compromises are being introduced so late in the stages of the Bill, and that there will be little opportunity to debate them.

However, I understand the pressures placed on the Minister by the retabling of my noble friend's amendment, even after the debate in Committee. I understand that he has felt the need to produce proposals with very little time. I am sure that had he anticipated the great interest surrounding the amendment, an alternative could have been available in your Lordships' House today. I await with great interest the details of the noble Lord's proposition.

I hope that the Minister will strike the right balance; that he will employ legislation that does not impose solutions from the top down, but which enables local authorities to take responsibility from the bottom up. I look forward to measures that instead of imposing one size fits all legislation, will encourage local communities—the bedrock of society—to use their commissioning role to foster integration and interaction through legislation that gives them the freedom to adapt to and grow with the people who make up those communities.

In speaking to other amendments, I will try to be extremely brief. These amendments require some serious consideration. Given that the key factor that drives extremism is isolation, we, as legislators, should be searching for ways to develop a sense of belonging and a sense of community in our young people. How do you promote leadership and develop an ethos in a school unless you have opportunities to involve each pupil on common ground and, if space allows, as one group?

I understand the arguments proposed this evening for why collective worship should no longer be mandatory for sixth formers, and why pupils should be allowed to opt out of religious education. But while I have listened to the arguments, I do not accept them and do not support the amendments. Indeed, I find the juxtaposition of the Government's amendment and Amendment No. 104 with that of my noble friend Lord Baker rather strange. On the one hand we are seeking to encourage integration of children of different faiths, and then we have these other amendments—Amendment Nos. 79 and 104 et al—that would allow children to withdraw from worship and withdraw from religious teaching. Surely, we should be encouraging teaching of different faiths in order to support genuine integration. We should listen to the wise words of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth—and how glad we are to hear from him tonight.

I want to say something that is extremely important regarding religious worship, and I think that we should be grateful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Turner and Lady Massey, for raising an issue which deserves our attention. The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, said that a large percentage of children do not actually take part in daily worship as required by the School Standards and Framework Act 1998. Section 70 of the Act sets out the requirements in relation to collective worship. I am not convinced that that is happening. I ask the Minister to tell us whether each day pupils take part in an act of collective worship.

I raise the matter particularly because some of the wording of Amendment No. 104 deserves our attention and, in spirit, our support. The amendment states:

"Each pupil in attendance at a community, foundation or voluntary school shall on each school day take part in an assembly, which shall further his spiritual, moral, social and cultural education".

That is hugely important. It is about bringing pupils together. I mentioned earlier the concern that exclusion creates isolation. More than ever today I think that we should continue with worship, and we should continue with educational training up to the age of 18, whatever forms and manners that might take. But as important is that schools should be encouraged to have an assembly so that pupils are given a sense of belonging.

I have thought about this a great deal. Indeed, only this morning, I asked a group of people in east Croydon, a number of whom are ex-teachers and school inspectors, whether, in their experience, we should expect our schools at all stages to have some form of regular assembly. The answer was overwhelming. It was unanimous.

Throughout all walks of life, in all activities, people, whether working with children, in the police or in business, have opportunities to come together as a team, as one. The benefits are invaluable. Why not use the assembly as an opportunity not only to inform but enthuse children and inspire them in a moral and social education? That is something that we should all support.

Although I do not support government Amendment No. 79 or the amendments tabled by the noble Baronesses, Lady Massey and Lady Turner, it is right to embrace the need for a school assembly to further the spiritual, moral, social and cultural education of our children.

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Lord Adonis (Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Schools), Department for Education and Skills; Labour)

My Lords, this debate has covered such a wide range of issues that, to do them all justice, I would need to emulate the Reverend Marion Tugwood of New Mills, Derbyshire, who this summer preached the longest sermon in history. It lasted 48 hours and five minutes. In reply to the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, that may constitute a genuine recorded miracle. I am happy for him to investigate and report back to the House.

Not having such powers myself, I hope to be a great deal briefer. In that attempt to be brief, let me proceed directly to collective worship. Government Amendments Nos. 79 and 151 implement the change of policy that I announced in Committee in response to an amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, supported by my noble friends, to give sixth-form pupils the right to withdraw themselves from collective worship. I believe that that change is supported across the House and I commend those amendments to your Lordships.

I also agree with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth, who we are very glad to see in his place this evening, that the new right of withdrawal should not be exercised casually. We will give careful thought to how DfES guidelines can assist schools in achieving that and we will consult with the faith communities. In response to the JCHR report and the issue of Gillick competence, the report has only been recently issued, but I should say that our view on it is as follows. Although Gillick competence is a relevant consideration, this is a difficult and complex issue. As the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said, competence does not necessarily arise all at once, nor does each pupil become competent at the same time. Different people develop at different rates. Therefore, we believe that we need to balance the Gillick competence test with the need to deliver a practicable and workable solution for schools so that schools can function effectively. We believe that the government amendments strike the right balance.

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Baroness Buscombe (Shadow Minister, Education; Conservative)

My Lords, I am loath to intervene, but, perhaps because I was speaking at 90 miles an hour, I should like to clarify that the truth is that we do not support the government amendments to withdraw from worship.

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Lord Adonis (Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Schools), Department for Education and Skills; Labour)

My Lords, I accept that the noble Baroness does not, but I think that there is broad support from other parts of the House.

My noble friends Lady Massey and Lady Turner would like to go further still and abolish collective worship altogether, putting in its place a new requirement to take part in an assembly to further pupils' spiritual, moral, social and cultural education with no requirement, as now, for that education to be wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character.

I deeply respect the views of my noble friends, and I know that other Members of the House share them, but the Government do not feel able to support those further amendments. Assemblies and collective worship are important elements of school life in establishing their ethos and collective character. For those under 16, we believe it right that they should be required to take part unless their parents specifically wish otherwise; and it is in accordance with the values and traditions of the majority in this country—although I accept not by any means all—that such collective worship should be of a broadly Christian character, allowing also for the proper celebration of other faiths as appropriate.

Section 394 of the Education Act 1996 allows community schools and foundation schools without a religious character to lift the broadly Christian requirements for some or all pupils when the local standing advisory council on religious education judges it appropriate to do so, having received an application from the head teacher. Before making such an application, the head teacher must consult the governing body, which in turn may want to seek the views of the parents. We believe this strikes the right balance, and we do not intend to propose any further changes.

In his Amendment No. 9, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth proposes that school improvement partners play a role in assisting the governing body to prepare and develop the religious character of a faith school. We see an important role for the external validation and monitoring of the faith aspect of a faith school's work—a point made by the noble Lords, Lord Dearing and Lord Sutherland. That is precisely why we have Section 48 inspections, which focus on this aspect of the work of faith schools and for which largely the Government pay. I pay tribute in this respect to the Catholic Church, which recently announced that its Section 48 inspections will pay particular attention to the community outreach and engagement of their schools, in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, described. I believe the Church of England is minded to do the same. We think that the Section 48 inspections are the right way in which to monitor this work, whereas the role of school improvement partners is distinctly different—it is to monitor standards. That said, we expect school improvement partners, as well as local authorities, to be responsive to the individual character, including the religious character, of schools with which they work.

On staffing, government Amendments Nos. 54, 146 and 149 follow the constructive dialogue that we have had with faith communities. First, they allow the head teacher of a religious foundation or voluntary controlled school in England and Wales to be a reserved teacher, appointed specifically to guide religious education in accordance with the tenets of the school's specified religion. Almost all voluntary-controlled schools are Church of England schools, and we agree with the Church of England that it should not be necessary for a voluntary-controlled school or a foundation school to convert to voluntary-aided status simply to ensure that its head teacher is appointed with a view to promoting the ethos of the school. We have therefore tabled these amendments, which have their genesis with the Church of England.

Secondly, the amendments allow voluntary-aided faith schools in England to make a case for extending the faith requirement to the appointment of any employee who is not a teacher, where there is a genuine occupational requirement. This, again, is a beneficial flexibility to reflect the changes brought about by workforce reform, particularly the much wider use of support staff in schools. It would be perverse if faith schools were discouraged from appointing pastoral assistants rather than fully qualified teachers, for example, simply because they cannot extend the existing power in respect of a faith commitment for that particular post.

On "Lord Baker's amendment", as it will for evermore be known, let me first reaffirm the Government's commitment to support faith schools when they provide good-quality education and are desired by parents, as they so widely are; we have had many testaments to that from all sides of the House this evening. We pay tribute to the immense contribution that the faith communities make to our education system and to supporting members of their own faith in developing their talents to the full, and through education instilling a proper sense of citizenship and social responsibility.

The issue is community cohesion. A whole host of factors—not least the existence of good schools, including good faith schools, which serve communities that have had to put up with weak or failing schools for too long—contribute to community cohesion. A large proportion of faith schools are highly rated for both their academic and their pastoral standards, and are absolutely community-minded. Admissions arrangements are, however, one obvious factor that governs the relationship between a school and the communities that it serves, and it is right that Government and Parliament should consider the issue, as we have been doing this evening, given the current and absolutely legitimate concern about community cohesion.

In doing so, we follow the Church of England, which made a significant policy statement last month. In response to clear parental demand and following one of many reports by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, the Church of England is seeking to increase the number of its schools in areas where there are few or none at present, particularly at secondary level. In doing so, the Church of England has announced that all new C of E schools will offer at least 25 per cent of places on the basis of local preference, not faith preference alone. The Government warmly welcome this policy.

The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Baker, would extend on a mandatory national basis this25 per cent requirement to all new faith schools. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has considered this proposal very carefully, and I am in a position to say that, subject to our judging there to be a sufficient consensus for such a move, the Government will bring forward an amendment on Third Reading along the following lines. We do not believe it right for there to be a mandatory national25 per cent requirement in respect of all new faith schools. However, we wish to give local authorities, in their role as guardians of community cohesion, a power to require that new faith schools have admissions policies which include the offer of at least 25 per cent of places on the basis of local preference, not faith preference alone.

We also wish to confer a reserve power on the Secretary of State—a power, not a duty—to act in this matter where a local authority's decisions give rise to a sufficient body of local objections to oblige him to consider the issue. We intend to consult on the precise way in which these provisions will be framed.

I hope that this will be taken as a significant move by my right honourable friend and the Government to meet the concerns which have given rise to the noble Lord's amendment. But let me make clear four points which I know are of concern within the faith communities, and which have been set out eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and others, in the debate.

First, there is no question whatever of places being left unfilled where there is parental demand for them. The requirement would simply be to offer a proportion of places according to local preference, as opposed to faith preference. If these places are not taken up, and if there are faith-preference applicants who wish to take them, they will of course be welcome to do so. Equally, there will be no obligation on anyone to apply to or attend a faith school. There will be no quotas and there will be no bussing.

Secondly, there is no question of requiring this admission arrangement in respect of existing faith schools where it does not already apply. However, I should stress that it applies in a very large number of faith schools at the moment; that is the answer to the points raised about practicability. This will remain a matter for the faith communities and their schools to determine. I give a categoric assurance on behalf of the Government that this is not the thin end of a wedge which would affect existing faith schools and faith communities against their wishes. Only brand new schools offering additional places will be affected.

Thirdly, in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Richardson—and I pay tribute to the work of Methodist schools as well as other faith schools—the Government have no intention of obliging faith schools to insist that a certain proportion of pupils profess the faith. Many existing faith schools—including Methodist schools, I believe—do not, and there is no obligation on new faith schools at present to have faith-based oversubscription criteria. Indeed, a large number of new faith schools have no faith-based oversubscription criteria whatever now, including new schools currently being established.

Fourthly, local discretion will be for real. If a local authority receives a proposal for a school where more than 75 per cent of admissions would be based on a faith criterion, and it believes that this would be consistent with community cohesion and wishes to approve the new school to open on that basis, the Secretary of State would exercise his reserve power only where he had well founded concerns about such a policy in respect of the individual school and community in question. Equally—this is in response to the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley—any admissions requirements would hold for only as long as the local authority wished them to do so. The local authority could of course change its view over time.

I hope that the policy I have set out is able to secure a reasonable consensus across the House. My right honourable friend and I will continue to discuss it with noble Lords individually, the two opposition parties and the faith communities before we table a precise amendment. I hope that on that basis the noble Lord, Lord Baker, will not feel that he needs to press his amendment.

8:45 pm
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Lord Baker of Dorking (Conservative)

My Lords, I want to thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this quite remarkable debate. We have heard from Catholics and Protestants, from Methodists, atheists and agnostics. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, that it is a great pity we heard no voice from the Muslims, since there is no question of driving them into a corner. A dialogue must start somewhere, and it could perhaps start in your Lordships' House.

I want to thank the Minister for his very significant statement tonight, which is a major change in government policy from the position that was taken in July. It is a thoughtful response to a difficult problem. There is no easy answer to it—as everybody has discovered in this debate—but if one is concerned with the cohesion of society, which the Minister put at the beginning of his speech, that is a very important lodestar and guiding light.

As I understood it, taking in what the Minister said, there will be a power for local authorities to establish a proportion or quota—not a duty—and a power for the Secretary of State to intervene at some stage under certain circumstances. Clearly, the House would like to examine these amendments when they are tabled next week and to work out their important consequences. At first sight, they seem to move very close to my position, so all the barbs that have been made against me tonight can be directed in future against the Government as well. I am glad to have some allies in the target area.

In the light of the important statement that the Minister has made tonight, it would be unreasonable to divide the House. Let us come back to this matter at Third Reading on Monday 30 October.

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The Bishop of Portsmouth (Bishop)

My Lords, it is a great pleasure for me to say that I had a good lunch, and look forward to having a good dinner. I am grateful to your Lordships for your good wishes on my temporary return during a gap in treatment. I assure your Lordships that I will be back. I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Baker, for my poor maths. When I was a Guildford rector the treasurer told me, after a few months, "Don't bother to add up your monthly expenses cheque, Kenneth—you always get it wrong".

This has been a rich and varied debate that could go on and on for hours. I want to touch very briefly on four aspects of it. First, I remain entirely sceptical about the amendment in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Baker, Lord Skidelsky and Lord Taverne, for reasons that I have already given that are shared by other people around your Lordships' House, including the noble Baronesses, Lady Walmsley and Lady Buscombe. I hope that the kind of signals given by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, to other noble Lords who do not share that view will pacify them and contribute to further debate.

I echo the words used earlier by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, that this is only part of the picture. Faith schools cannot possibly carry the weight of all our social issues and problems. It was good to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on Roman Catholic schools, and from the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, in his knockabout speech. We may disagree on faith and reason, but the Pope's speech in Regensburg—hijacked because he opened his mouth in a particular Byzantine direction—was really about a new deal on faith and reason in the West. Whatever our religious views in the post-modern world, that provides many of us with much food for thought.

When I was a small boy, I learned most of my theology from an old priest who was a chaplain in the trenches, and whose theology was formed by that experience. He once said to me, "The purpose of theology is to prevent religion degenerating into superstition"—words that the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, at whose feet I sat many years ago in Manchester University, might welcome and even approve.

However, there has been a slight air of unreality in parts of tonight's debate about faith schools. There are 4,700 Church of England schools, while there are 35 Jewish schools, six Muslim-maintained schools and 100 independent Muslim schools that could become maintained—with many of all those oversubscribed—so we are not comparing like with like. Perhaps I may say, without intending to be patronising, that we need to handle minority faith communities with a bit of care and, dare I say, love.

Secondly, I welcome the government amendment on staff at foundation or voluntary schools with religious character—that is easy. Thirdly, collective worship has been the Aunt Sally of tonight's discussion. As I think the Minister said, the current provision is to have half Christian and half other faiths in community schools. What an enrichment that would be. It would have been an enrichment for the school that I attended if half the acts of worship had been of other faiths. I would have learnt so much more than simply having conversations with the little lad sitting next to me who was from the local Jewish community.

I suppose that I would be slightly sceptical at this slip from worship to spiritual, moral assembly. It seems that if you define worship in the broadest sense, it is about contemplating the mystery of life and the use of silence in a very noisy world. I find in liturgy that it is children who can be quiet and parents who cannot. This spiritual, moral assembly may become rather moralistic. We may have to come back to collective worship in a proper debate. Perhaps I may stick my neck out slightly and quote from a conversation that I had with the Secretary of State in the summer. We talked about collective worship and I gave him a gentle warning that if we do not grasp it, it runs the risk of becoming like the blasphemy law: enshrined in statute, seldom invoked and almost universally misunderstood.

To gently answer the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, yes, religion does not have exclusive rights on the grammar of values, but it is remarkably alive and kicking. To echo the words of my friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle, I do not recognise the religious life of this country portrayed in much public discussion. According to the statistics of the 2001 census, more than 71 per cent of the population signed up to Christianity in the broad sense and the second-largest faith group are the Muslims at 3.9 per cent, which is not quite how it is often portrayed. I am not using those statistics in a triumphalistic way, but rather in a world where religion is back on the map and people want to study it at schools and in universities. The old secularist approach will not work any more.

I cannot quite believe that this debate began nearly three hours ago. I am sometimes accused of innocence and this began with a very innocent amendment on school improvement partners. Years ago, a group of us were swapping epitaphs and the eyes of the group turned to me. I said that I would like as my epitaph: be cunning as serpents, yet innocent as doves. The retired bishop said, "Well, Kenneth, you certainly passed the first test".

Finally, therefore I welcome the reassurances given on school improvement partners. With all the humility that I can muster just before nine o'clock with a rumbling stomach, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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Baroness Crawley (Baronesses in Waiting, HM Household; Labour)

My Lords, I beg to move that consideration on Report be now adjourned. It has been agreed not to resume the Bill after the debate to be introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Truscott, which will, of course, have 90 minutes. Individual speakers may have up to 12 minutes should they wish to take it.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.