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moved Amendment No. 66:
Page 7, line 23, at end insert-
"(6A) The Secretary of State may by order suspend the operation of this section in relation to invitations by local education authorities of proposals for the establishment of an Academy during such period as may be appropriate for the evaluation of the success or otherwise of Academies in achieving high standards."
In moving the amendment I shall speak also to Amendment No. 88, which is grouped with it. The amendments seek to place a prudent and sensible brake on the irresistible march of the academies project and ensure that where one is being is considered the local authority must have regard to the impact on the other schools in the area and not just consult them. Any bright shiny new school is going to be attractive to parents andpupils but in the current climate of falling rolls the impact on other schools will be even greater. The Government say that they want parents to have choice, but without the amendments they could end up taking choices away from parents and children through the closure of other schools that might become unsustainable.
Amendment No. 66 asks for a proper evaluation of the existing academies before any more are established. Given that handing over £20 million and the control of the school to some unknown body that does not necessarily have any track record in running an educational establishment is a radical step, I would have thought that a proper evaluation was only a reasonable and prudent measure to take. The Education and Skills Select Committee in another place reported last year on academies after a two-year inquiry into secondary education. It questioned the average £7,000 per pupil extra cost of establishing an academy and described the current programme asan untested model. It recommended a halt to the programme pending proper evaluation given its lack of coherent strategy, inflated cost and the impact of academies on neighbouring schools.
Many but not all of the academies take over failing schools and we on these Benches are not averse to directing extra resources towards helping the pupils in such schools to achieve their full educational potential: quite the reverse. We believe that we should spend more on them, as long as the money is carefully and wisely spent. But we question the wisdom of throwing quite so much money at a set of managers who have not yet proved themselves. Why do the Government think that being able to run a large retailer, manufacturer, service industry business, charity or Formula 1 motor racing competition qualifies a person to run a school? Of course it is accepted wisdom that the leadership in a school is an important factor in its success, but by leadership we usually mean the head and management team, not some person or organisation that promises £2 million funding to sponsor a school and then does not deliver it, as many of them have not.
The Select Committee found that the link between schools with different kinds of governance and improving standards was not proven. We have to look at the intake. Academies showed mixed results and many were below the national average at key stages 3 and 4. Many academies take over low attaining schools but they do not all show the progress that we should be able to expect at such a high cost. The cost is not just financial; the loss of accountability to the local community and the impact on other schools should be added to the financial cost.
The Times Educational Supplement recently analysed the GCSE results of academies using the new measure of including English, maths and science in the benchmark of A to C grades. In 2005, only 16 per cent of academy pupils achieved that; an increase of only 3 per cent on predecessor schools. Two of the three longest opening academies had worse results on the new measure than the schools they replaced. When GNVQs were removed, the percentage fell by at least half in eight of the 14 academies studied. At Walsall Academy the achievement of five good A to C grades slumped from 67 per cent to 7 per cent when the Times Educational Supplement used that measure. That calls into question the use of GNVQs in skewing the apparent achievements of some schools. Research undertaken by York University quoted by the Select Committee suggests that academies are raising their standards by improving their intake rather than by doing better with the same pupils, which is what they are supposed to do.
Even Ofsted has suggested that standards in some academies, such as Unity City Academy in Middlesbrough and West London academy are a cause for concern. The Government make two conflicting arguments: on the one hand they argue that academies need more time to improve having taken over failing schools; on the other hand they argue that academy results are so good that they need to push on to expansion without delay. They cannot have it both ways. Which of these is true? If academies need more time to improve, why is not the same time to be given to our maintained schools that are failing?
All in all, academies are an unproven model—and it would be reasonable for the Secretary of State to halt their expansion until the various factors that contribute to their success for failure are properly evaluated. When that evaluation is done, it should be done on accepted scientific principles of comparing like with like. It would be only fair to compare each academy's performance with that of a similar school under normal local authority governance in a similar locality that had had the same amount of money thrown at it. Indeed, my Liberal Democrat colleagues in Liverpool have already volunteered some of their schools for such an experiment. They would welcome the extra money, and they are confident that given the same resource they could do at least as well as any academy, and probably better. Will the Minister take up that challenge?
In his response to Amendment No. 16 on the first day in Committee last week, the Minister said that the Government's structure of academies was more likely to raise standards. What shred of evidence does he have to justify such a claim? There has been no study to justify any such statement. If there is no evidence, I call on him to accept Amendment No. 66 forthwith and to commission a fair study with a level playing field to see whether such evidence exists anywhere, except in the Prime Minister's dreams. I beg to move.
Lying behind Amendment No. 184 is the concern that we in the Joint Committee on Human Rights registered about this part of the Bill. The purpose of the amendment is to make all the relevant statutory protections for pupils at maintained schools available to pupils at academies and city technology colleges.
The committee was deeply concerned about whether there would be the same protection for pupils at city technology colleges and academies. We wrote to the Minister and, as I have said before, received a very full, considerate and detailed reply from him, which we very much appreciated. In that reply, the Government's position seems to remain that academies and CTCs should not be defined as maintained schools. The Government's position is that they are regulated not through statutory requirements but rather through funding agreements with the Secretary of State.
As we understand it, the Government suggest that it is incorrect to put forward the view that the protections offered to the pupils are inferior. On exclusion, for example, the Government argue that the model academy funding agreement requires the academy to have regard to the Secretary of State's guidance on exclusions as if the academy were a maintained school and requires that appeals panels must be impartial and constituted in accordance with that guidance. As we understand it, too, the Government argue that the same principles apply to SEN and admissions, and they hold to the same argument that, although the arrangements may be different in detail, in effect the pupils are at no disadvantage. Most academies have adopted the model academy funding agreement without any amendment.
The committee welcomed the Minister's response in so far as it implicitly accepted, in principle, that protections enjoyed by pupils at academies and CTCs in relation to exclusions, admissions and SEN should be no less than those enjoyed by pupils at maintained schools. We also recognised from the Minister's reply that the Government accept the importance of the rights that are at stake—for example, the right to a fair hearing before being permanently excluded from school, and the importance of not treating pupils at academies and CTCs less favourably than pupils at other state schools in respect of their enjoyment of rights such as the right to a fair hearing.
Now we come to the rub. Having gone so far in welcoming the Minister's reply, we remained unconvinced by it, which is what led me and my colleagues to table Amendment No. 184. We are not persuaded that regulating academies and CTCs through their funding agreements with the Secretary of State is conducive to ensuring that equivalent protections are enjoyed by the pupils at those institutions. I want very briefly to give the three examples that we gave in our report, which I commend and which I am sure all noble Lords have read in great detail. Just to indicate how hard we work in that committee, I should say that it is the 21st report of the current Session.
First, the model funding agreement suggests having a term in the agreement providing that, in discharging their duties, the head and governors will have regard to the Secretary of State's guidance on exclusions, as if academies are maintained schools. As the Government appear to have accepted in the context of the admissions code, a duty to have regard to guidance is very much weaker than a positive requirement to act in accordance with guidance. It seems to us that there is a problem. It is a formulation that presupposes that departures from guidance may, in the end, be justifiable.
Secondly, even where actual funding agreements contain the wording recommended in the model agreement, the agreement itself might contain certain provisions that are inferior to the protections available at maintained schools. The funding agreement between the Secretary of State and Haberdashers' Aske's Knights Academy, for example, specifically provides for a final right of appeal to the governors against permanent exclusion, but the governors are clearly incapable of being an independent and impartial tribunal.
Thirdly, whereas a maintained school is required by statute to admit a child with a statement of special educational needs, there is no equivalent requirement on academies to do the same. It is because of those points that we are anxious that the Minister should look at this again to see whether the Government can move further to give substance to their general claim that pupils at such institutions are at no disadvantage. Certainly, we in the Joint Committee on Human Rights are not convinced on that point.
The two Liberal Democrat amendments in the group seem a little inconsistent, at least in what they propose, because the Liberals, having been long-term opponents of league tables,are now inventing their own to beat academies about the head with. Similarly, having been long-term proponents of vocational education, they now spurn academies because that is the direction in which they have turned. Inconsistency and Liberal Democrats—perhaps I should expect them to go together.
I support some aspects of Amendment No. 184. I particularly want to press the Minister on the Freedom of Information Act. The Department for Education and Skills is a difficult department when it comes to the Freedom of Information Act. The central part of the department is extremely helpful and co-operative, and I cannot think of a better department, but some of its important offshoots are exempt, the principal one being UCAS, which I know is quasi-independent. Universities are in; the department is in; schools are in—but UCAS is out.
A lot of information flows from schools directly to examining bodies—for instance, about exemptions that have been given to pupils in respect of SEN—but it is not available under the Freedom of Information Act because it does not stick to any government department, but goes directly to the examining boards, which are, in that sense, providing a government function on a commercial basis and are exempt from the Freedom of Information Act.
Along with such anomalies, it would be very useful to clear up any lack of transparency with respect to academies, city technology colleges and/or their funding agreements and to bring those institutions into line with the generality of schools and educational institutions. I do not imagine that that can be done through a funding agreement. I would be happy to be corrected, but I would be surprised if a funding agreement could give the rights and the detail of rights that are available to a citizen under the Freedom of Information Act.
To talk about city academies and the need for a level playing field is to approach the matter in the wrong way, because the main reason for the existence of city academies is that there is not a level playing field. City academies are being established where there is failure; they are being established where kids are not getting a fair chance of a decent education, where schools are profoundly failing those children or where there are no schools and we are seeking to set up new schools to meet the needs of the most disadvantaged children. If one looks at any figures that have been produced, although one does not see improvements across the piece, one sees in most of the schools clear improvements in behaviour, attendance and standards. Perhaps the clearest indication of that is that the schools tend to have waiting lists. We have talked a lot today about parental choice. It is evident that parents are choosing to send their children to these schools, which suggests that we are getting something right in them.
I was interested to hear about the situation in Liverpool. The new city academy that has been set up there by the Anglican and Catholic Churches is innovative; it is worth visiting, if the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, has not yet done so. However, my understanding is that, while her colleagues in Liverpool may be asking for another report, her colleagues in Southwark are moving ahead very quickly with city academies and are commissioning their third, if not their fourth, academy. They have recognised that city academies are the best way of meeting the needs of their inner-city children.
Perhaps I may respond to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, because he is a highly intelligent Member of the Committee and I know that he would appreciate that, as my noble friend Lady Walmsley said, the basis of comparison must be the same. However much one welcomes GNVQs—I certainly do and I know that she does—they are not on the same footing as GCSEs of the traditional kind. She simply pointed out, without making any suggestion that GNVQs were not a valuable qualification, that on a comparison of like with like the evidence that has come forward so far is not to the effect that city academies have far outstripped community schools. However, we on these Benches believe that it is important that enough time is given to ensure that, exactly as the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, said, schools that can assist children in the most disadvantaged areas are given a fair wind. We are not yet convinced on the basis of the evidence that is coming forward that an absolutely clear case has been made.
With regard to Amendment No. 184, to which the noble Lord, Lord Judd, referred, I further strengthen his case by saying that there is some reason to believe—indeed, there is evidence to show—that the proportion of excluded children is rather higher in academies and CTCs than in the average run of maintained schools. That suggests all the more strongly that it is vital that the same requirements are laid on both with regard to excluded children, and not least to children with special educational needs, so that schools in both categories respond to these cases as forthrightly as they can.
Of course I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, about GNVQs and so on. The point that I was trying to make is that, as soon as you start reducing things to league tables, you miss the real comparison. If we want children to learn English, maths and science to a reasonable level, it is surely possible that that is better delivered to some children with a vocational element attached to it, rather than by purely academic qualifications that have become quite debased.
I, too, am a member of the Joint Committee on Human Rights and my name is on the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Judd. I will speak briefly in support of what he said. I do not doubt the Government's commitment to ensuring that the protections for academy pupils are not lower than those for pupils in maintained schools. Given that commitment, the crux of the question is whether the funding agreement is the best vehicle for securing it. I share the qualms of Members of the Committee about the detail of those model agreements and so forth. There must be some doubt over whether the agreements can deliver what the Government seek. I therefore strongly support the amendment.
I add my voice to those supporting Amendment No. 184. What the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said raised some concerns in my own mind. I take entirely what the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, said about the good track record of academies thus far, and the important point that parents are choosing for their children to go to such schools. However, I do not see that as a reason for children at academies having fewer rights, especially those children with special educational needs, about whom we on these Benches—and I think noble Lords right across the Committee—are concerned. I hope that we will have some further reassurance from the Minister.
I am compelled to refer to Amendments Nos. 66 and 88 on academies. They look remarkably similar to those already debated in the Commons. It is clear, I fear, that the Liberal Democrats are opposed to the autonomy and independence that are the driving force in the concept of the academy school. The spirit of localism so often claimed by the noble Baroness's party as their own is somewhat betrayed in this approach. It seems that localism is all very well in so far as it enforces state bureaucracies at a local level, but that it does not extend to the level of a local school.
These amendments revisit old ground. The same amendments were debated at great length in the eighth sitting of the Committee in another place. I do not want to rehash that debate; it has already been undertaken in Parliament. Indeed, the honourable Member for Brent East—whose amendments I think they were—promised to go away and work on the topic. Even so, the amendments in front of us today remain completely unchanged. Indeed, the honourable Member herself admitted that Amendment No. 66 is technically flimsy.
Amendment No. 88, on the other hand, would give powers to the local authority to prevent an academy from being set up. Members of another place have already conceded our points on this debate. The honourable Member Annette Brooke, of the noble Baroness's party, stated that she agreed with many of the points made by my honourable friend Nick Gibb. The Minister, Jacqui Smith, rightly stated that the Liberal Democrat argument was based on the false premise that the approach to and achievements of academies were unproven.
I do not want to detain the Committee, but it is important to defend and, in a sense, champion academies' achievements to date. I shall try to be brief. PricewaterhouseCoopers' second annual report on academies shows that the independent ethos of academies is helping to drive up standards:
"A very clear and significant finding from the early research is that there does seem to be a significant difference in the learning culture in new Academies compared to their predecessors. For example, 8 out of 10 pupils in the survey said that the 'teachers at this academy really believe that all pupils can achieve'. Similar numbers of staff surveyed said 'Staff at this academy believe that all pupils can achieve regardless of their social background'".
We should bear in mind, as the noble Baroness,Lady Morgan, said, the fact that these schools are being set up in areas where pupils have been failed by the state in the past.
The Liberal Democrats have tabled amendments that would consult pupils on matters affecting schools, which shows a clear pupil endorsement. However, I wonder whether they would be so keen to listen to those pupils who endorse academies. Those pupils and teachers of academies are evidence of a part of the potential of academies. The National Audit Office report Improving poorly performing schools in England cites the statistics of success:
"Key Stage 3 test results for 14-year olds at academies improved faster than the national average: 9 per cent in English and mathematics compared with a national average improvement of 6 and 7 per cent in English and mathematics respectively".
What is more, of the three academies that had been open for more than a year in 2004, all had improved GSCE performance.
We can see the vast improvements in standards made by CTCs since their inception—a useful evidential analogy, given the structural similarity. CTCs benefit the most disadvantaged in our society. While the proportion of pupils on free school meals who achieved the magic five A* to C grades at GCSE in 2004 was 16.8 per cent in community schools, CTCs produced the amazing result of 58.3 per cent of such children achieving that. The academy scheme is in its earliest years, yet it is already showing wonderful promise and giving children the best chances in life. Let us not forget that we sanctioned the different legal regulation of academies, with full parliamentary scrutiny, in the Education Act 2002. Academies are kept in check by the terms of their funding agreements, and cannot go outside the admissions code of practice. We should give them a chance.
I know that the Minister will have a lot more to say in support of academies. In essence, I will never support measures that would halt the contribution towards greater freedom, more efficient management and much higher standards in our schools. These amendments should not be supported.
No argument causes me moredistress than the one put by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, that I should be incoherent or inconsistent in my arguments. I hope at least that the Government are clear and consistent in their arguments. There is no inconsistency whatever in simultaneously arguing that academies that have taken over from some of the most challenging and lowest-performing schools in the country are improving—which they are, above national average rates—and that they have not magically become among the best schools in the country in the short time that they have been open.
We do not have to look at our expectations for the future in a hypothetical way, let alone a completely unscientific one, to take the noble Baroness's claim. We can look at two specific, strongly encouraging pieces of evidence. The first is the experience of the city technology colleges, which have now been in existence for 15 years. I am a great believer in evidence-based policy. In my experience of education policy, there are few areas of innovation that have yielded more tangible, beneficial results than the experience of city technology colleges. If the noble Baroness has not visited any, I encourage her to do so. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Baker, who was the moving force in their establishment. Their success is shown in the work of Professor David Jesson, who found the city technology colleges to be the sub-group of secondary schools with the most substantial value added of all the groups of secondary schools that he analysed. I will send the noble Baroness the data. With academies, we have broadly sought to take the city technology college model but to apply it much more resolutely to areas of disadvantage than was the case with the city technology colleges.
The second piece of evidence supporting the progress of new academies is the evaluation undertaken to date. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, was quite wrong in suggesting that there had been no evaluation. Onthe contrary, my department has paid veryconsiderable sums—as it does to consultancies—to PricewaterhouseCoopers to conduct an annual evaluation of the academies programme. The noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, quoted from the second annual evaluation, which was published last year. I understand that the third one will be available shortly.
The evaluation as a whole gives a highly positive picture of the progress made by academies. It concluded that there was a significant difference in the learning culture in new academies compared with their predecessor schools, with, for example, 97 per cent of staff thinking that the principal really believes that the academy can make a difference to pupils' learning whatever their family backgrounds; with 90 per cent of the parents who named an academy as their school of choice attracted by the high academic and teaching standards of the academy; with 87 per cent of parents satisfied with the quality of the education provided to their children at the academy; with 85 per cent of pupils stating that they were pleased with their school work and had high expectations; and with 90 per cent of parents agreeing that most pupils liked going to the academy and that their children enjoyed attending the school. The report goes on to make an important point about governance. It says that the new academies have 78 per cent of staff agreeing that the sponsor brings expertise that would not otherwise be available to the academy, and 82 per cent of staff agreeing that the sponsor's resources have a positive impact on pupils' learning.
I never like to leave an argument unreplied to, so I will write to the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and copy to other Members of the Committee my response to each of the assertions that she made about academy performance, because I can meet them all. That is in no way seeking to claim that the academies that have taken over from weak or failing schools have been able to turn around performance to become highly successful overnight. That is not the case; the issue is the rate of improvement that they had been able to make. Evaluation has taken place. The great majority of Ofsted reports have been satisfactory or excellent, leading Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools, David Bell, to say in August last year that, with regard to academies, in some cases what has been achieved in a short time is "nothing less than remarkable". That was said by Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools, not by a Minister.
Taking all this evidence in the round, I believe that we are right to proceed with a policy that, let us be clear, is focused at one of the most intractable areas of educational reform—that of bringing good schools to areas that have had low, and often chronically low, standards not only for years but often for generations. There is nothing that this Labour Government should take more pride in than that we are targeting investment and reform together, not simply thinking that we can put the money into areas that have been failed so consistently in the past. My noble friend Lady Morgan has been engaged in the academy movement through the outstanding work of ARK, a charity that brings great expertise to this area. The proof of the pudding is in parental views and whether parents are prepared to apply to academies for their children. The evidence is highly encouraging.
Amendment No. 88 would require local authorities to have regard to the potential effect of academies on other schools in the area. In point of fact, local consultation is already required in the development of every academy proposal. All those with an interest must be consulted, including neighbouring schools, FE colleges and sixth forms. Decision makers, including local authorities, when deciding whether to support an academy proposal, take into account the effects of proposals on other provision in their area.
I will depart from my normal practice and make just a small party-political point in passing. I am glad to say that what I have just said includes Liberal Democrat authorities, many of which have been very strong supporters of academies. Indeed, Liberal Democrat authorities account for some 19 academies that are open or under development, including no fewer than eight in Southwark—more than my noble friend suggested. To make an even more developed party-political point, I will add that one of those academies in Southwark will be enthusiastically sponsored, in co-operation with the Liberal Democrat authority, by an editor of The Orange Book—an excellent publication, which I recommend to Liberal Democrats in this House as precisely the positive direction in which they should be moving to catch up with us in new Labour by modernising their approach to public sector reform.
I will now return to more narrow educational issues. My noble friend Lord Judd spoke passionately about equal protection of the interests of pupils in academies. We believe that adequate protection is afforded. I have written to my noble friend once on this issue, going through each of the areas that he raised in turn. I will do so again, taking the three specific areas that he raised, but I believe that the protection is adequate.
I say in answer to my noble friend Lord Plant that the funding agreements that govern academies are legally enforceable agreements between the Secretary of State and the academy sponsor. However, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, is quite right about the Freedom of Information Act not being applicable, but that is a matter to do with the wider law. The Department for Constitutional Affairs is about to consult on bringing academies within the coverage of the FOI legislation. The Government believe that that is a welcome development. We have nothing whatever to hide in respect of the activities of academies. Although there will be consultation before the relevant orders are laid, we are favourably disposed towards ensuring that outcome.
Finally, in respect of the Human Rights Act, I assure my noble friend Lord Judd that academies are, in our view, plainly public authorities under the Act and will thus be subject to the provisions of that Act. That has not yet been tested in court, so I cannot say absolutely categorically what a court would rule, but that is the view of my department's legal advisers.
I expect that we will return to this matter at a later stage, but I hope that, when I have been able to provide even more information and argumentation in writing, we may be able to dispel some of the arguments that have been advanced about academies.
To end on a point made by my noble friend Lady Morgan, in my experience the cure for disliking academies is to visit one. I strongly urge my colleagues on the Liberal Democrat Benches to visit some academies. We have nothing to hide. Some of the most impassioned journalists have taken up the cause against academies on principle because they involve engagement with the private sector and all kinds of horrible things like that, but once they actually see one in action—I can give the noble Baroness a list of academies to visit—they find that the reality of improved educational performance and the palpable difference that is being made to the life chances of children tend to overcome even the most rigid ideology.
I thank my noble friend for his reply. I think that he is being very candid. However, the devil is often in the detail and he says that he has not had an opportunity to look in detail at the three examples that I gave. I hope therefore that his department will look at them in detail and at the report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights following his helpful letter to that committee.
I have immense respect for my noble friendLady Morgan, but we are not concerned about a level playing field in the sense that she was talking about. We are concerned about a level playing field in terms of the rights of the child. Our point is that the Government have taken very seriously their commitment to the rights of the child and they have made provision in the maintained sector for how those rights should be protected. Our argument is that, in the detail of the legislation, what is seen as necessary in the maintained sector is not 100 per cent followed through in the CTCs and academies.
We do not doubt the Minister's good will, which he always repeats in his intention and in his letters. He repeated it to the Committee again this evening and I accept his sincerity of purpose in this respect. Our argument is that his purpose is not being fulfilled by the detail of the provision. Therefore, I hope that he will go away and see whether he can make adjustments to meet the concerns that have been expressed. To add one other point on special educational needs, I am perhaps going a little beyond the discipline that I have set myself in commenting on the Minister's reply, but it seems unfortunate that academies should not be subject to exactly the same obligations as everybody else is.
I am so sorry; the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, is not in his usual place—he has taken up residence on the Cross Benches for the moment. I wonder when anybody said that academies were vocational schools.
We on these Benches are very enthusiastic about vocational education but we think that it should be available to all children through secondary schools and not just city technology colleges, which we accept have done great things.
I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, that I have not said we oppose all academies. We just want to see the evidence through a proper dispassionate study, rather than rushing headlong. Although some parents are very enthusiastic in wanting academies in their area, in some areas parents are rejecting academies. That is their choice and I would stand up and fight for their right to make that choice.
The noble Baroness commented on Southwark. Responsible local authorities will of course say yes to shiny new schools and millions of extra pounds and if academies are the only way of getting those things for their local children, they will grab them with both hands, and so they should. It is their responsibility to do the very best for the children in their area. There has been no lack of co-operation from the local authority in Liverpool in the establishment of the academy that she mentioned. Liberal Democrat authorities have not been obstructive to the expansion of the academy programme but when we have a policy like this, which is using a great deal of public money, we want to see the evidence.
I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, that if she wants to know Liberal Democrat policy, she should ask a Liberal Democrat and not just believe what she hears from somebody from another party. The PricewaterhouseCoopers report—
I accept from her that in this House, as in another place, people from different parties will agree with parts of what other people say, but the basis of the amendments we are tabling is that we are asking for the evidence in a dispassionate proper scientific study before we go any further with this programme. If our request for such a report is not accepted, then on the establishment of any academy we would like the local authority to have to "have regard" and not just consult on the effect on any other school.
The PricewaterhouseCoopers report made some of the comments the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, made but it also made other points that were not so complimentary about some academies. I do not deny that individual schools have achieved improvements. I would not want to take one iota away from the achievements of the teachers, the governors, and in particular the children. Others have not done quite so well, but you cannot claim that the PricewaterhouseCoopers report is the cross-cutting report we really need. If academies prove themselves, such a study as I am asking for will give the Government their evidence.
I also say to the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, that the Conservatives have never tabled the same amendments in this House as in another place if they were not satisfied with the answers they were given. We were not totally satisfied with the answers we were given, and that is why we have tabled the amendments again and had tonight's useful debate.
I do not care where they come from if I agree with them—and I did agree with many of the amendments that were tabled by Labour rebels in another place.
I welcome the statement the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, made that there is no magic wand for the academies. It was always going to be the case that some of them were going to struggle with the situation they took over from failing schools. None of us wants to support failing schools to carry on failing but the PricewaterhouseCoopers and the report that he quoted were looking only at the academies themselves. They were not comparing them with similar schools that were given the same amount of money. If any scientist had tried to publish a paper on this basis, the peer review would laugh them out of the profession. If you are going to say that the success of these schools is down to the form of governance they have been given, you must be jolly sure that all the other factors are the same and that the only difference is the system of government. Otherwise it is just hearsay.
I have been accused of inconsistency in tabling both of these amendments. As I mentioned earlier, Amendment No. 66 asks for proper study and proper proof but we accept that even in your Lordships' House, the wisdom of our remarks is not always accepted and that we may not get that amendment accepted. It is therefore perfectly consistent to ask in Amendment No. 88 that if the programme is not halted pending further proof, each academy application should be accompanied by the local authority having proper regard to the effect on other schools of the establishment of that academy.
I have one or two very small points to make.The Orange Book is blue-sky thinking and does not represent Liberal Democrat policy. Also, we have been criticised for continuing to put pressure on the Government but that is our job. As an opposition party, we are here to put the Government under pressure. If they are going to put a lot of public money behind something, we must ask them to prove that the money is well spent. That is the job we have to do as an opposition party, rather than just lie down and have our tummy tickled like some domestic pet. That is the job for an opposition party and that is what we will carry on doing. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
moved Amendment No. 73:
Page 7, line 45, leave out from "include" to end of line 2 on page 8 and insert "prescribed matters"
In moving this amendment I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 94 to 101, 104, 109, 117 to 120, 124, and 133 to 136. I have written to noble Lords about these amendments so I hope I can be brief.
I turn first to Amendment No. 73, Clause 8 deals with proposals under Clause 7 relating to community schools. The effect of this amendment is to make it clear that regulations may prescribe matters which the Secretary of State will take into account in deciding whether or not to consent to the publication of proposals for a new community school in a competition.
The clause as originally drafted referred only to the educational standards of authorities and individual schools and the extent of diversity among the schools. This amendment will allow a wider range of factors to be specified in regulations than would be appropriate on the face of the Bill, and for these to be more easily modified following consultation if this is felt necessary.
Regulation 7 of the illustrative regulations made available to the Committee indicates the kinds of factors we have in mind. These will include the range of curricular specialisms and the range of extended services offered by schools, as well as the general standards of attainment and the range of special educational needs provision.
Government Amendments Nos. 94 to 98, 100, 104 and 109 are technical and remedy deficiencies in the drafting of the Bill. The only amendment of substance which I should just say a word about is Amendment No. 97, which provides that a local authority may publish proposals for an increase in the number of pupils admitted to a school. As it stands, the Bill provides only for a local authority to propose an increase in the physical capacity of a school. There may be circumstances in which a local authority wishes to increase the number of pupils admitted to a school without having to enlarge the premises significantly. This amendment brings the Bill into line with existing legislation governing school organisation, which recognises this distinction between a physical enlargement and an increase in the number of pupils admitted to a school.
Amendments Nos. 99, 101, 117 to 120, 124, 133 to 136 are to protect the assets and the role of existing foundations that support schools. They follow extensive discussions, in particular with the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church, which account for the majority of such trusts. They give these trusts broadly the same protection as applied before the Bill. I beg to move.
I am grateful to the Minister for speaking to these technical amendments. As he said, some of them are in response to points that I made at Second Reading in relation to how the proposals would affect Church schools. I simply express the thanks of the Church of England, and indeed the Roman Catholic authorities, for how he has responded by introducing the amendments, which we believe address the points that I raised. My AmendmentNo. 125 was originally in the group. I have withdrawn it from the Marshalled List because, from conversation with the officers of the department and in the light of reassurances that we have been given, I do not think it is necessary to press it.
I thank the Minister, particularly for putting his name to Amendment No. 104; it was originally our amendment, but he has brought it back as a government amendment. We have before us a group of 20 amendments, so I would like to use this opportunity to make a few comments about how the Bill is being handled.
The Government have got themselves into a mess. To extract themselves, they are trying to import the practices of another place into your Lordships' House without any discussion or vote about the matter. When asked how many days we needed for Committee on this very contentious Bill, we on these Benches said six. The Government then imposed their own timetable and set four. They added another half day, as they began to see that we were right. They are so anxious to finish Committee before the Recess that they have imposed their own guillotine, without any opportunity for your Lordships to vote on the matter. They have tried all sorts of devices to curtail proper discussion of the Bill, such as wanting to postpone Committee-style discussion of certain sections until Report; wanting the House to sit until midnight, which is totally contrary to what it has voted for; and putting together enormous, unwieldy and often non-homogenous groups of amendments. Indeed the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, has degrouped his amendments from the group of 16 amendments beginning with government Amendment No. 158.
We are told that we are not doing very well. That does not mean that we are not making good arguments, raising important issues or doing our job of scrutinising the Bill; it means that we are not getting through the business fast enough. It is like, "Never mind the quality, feel the width". The Bill was not fully scrutinised in another place, despite the time that it took over it. Whole sections were dismissed in an hour on the last day. These Benches will play our part in helping this House to carry out its traditional role of scrutinising every part of the Bill, and looking into every corner to ensure fairness and that vulnerable people are protected and human rights upheld. That is what this House does well and, until it ceases to be our job, that is what we will continue to do.
I hope that the Government will consider the considerable co-operation that we have already given and any co-operation that we may or may not give over the next few days as not establishing any precedent that rides roughshod over the rights and procedures of your Lordships' House.
I am not clear whether Amendment No. 97 means that the local authority will have the ability to insist on the enlargement of a school, or whether the school will be able to refuse to take more pupils. Perhaps particularly in the case of schools mentioned under Clause 19(2) for pupils with special educational needs, it seems important that the governing body and the head determine the size of the school. It seems a great danger to think that, if a school is successful, therefore it ought to enlarge its numbers, because a school's character may be determined by the fact that it is small. Will the Minister kindly clear that up?
I think that I need to write to the noble Baroness to give her the categorical answer to her question. I shall speak from my knowledge of decision-making, not from a note, which may be slightly hazardous. My understanding is that, where the school is a community school, the local authority has the power to publish proposals and decide on them. However, where it is another category of school, if the school is not amenable these matters could not be decided by the local authority unilaterally. I shall come back to her.
In moving Amendment No. 79, I shall speak to another large group of amendments, Amendments Nos. 80, 82, 85, 86, 90, 93 and 102. Amendments Nos. 79, 80, 82, 85 and 86 relate to aspects of school closures, mergers and consultations about mergers and closures, whereas Amendments Nos. 90, 93 and 102 deal with issues arising from alterations and expansions. I would like to speak first to that first half of the group, and then to move the second half.
Amendments Nos. 79 and 80 relate to the special case of when two primary schools merge, and seek to probe the Government's thinking on whether that requires a competition to set up a new school. To reduce the tensions that can result from the merger of an infant and junior school, both schools are often closed and reopened as a new school with a new name, rather than one school simply being taken over by another. That matter was raised in a letter dated
"Proposals for new schools would normally fall under the above procedures, but the Bill does make provision in clause 9 for proposals for new schools, including community schools, outside a competition with the consent of the Secretary of State. We would envisage that mergers of infant and junior schools would not normally require a competition".
The letter was written after the current version of the Bill was published on
Amendment No. 82 relates to Clause 15(4). At present, that subsection relates only to rural primary schools and largely re-enacts Section 70 of the Education Act 2005, which we argued over at some length in this Chamber about 18 months ago, just before the last general election. Section 70 of that Act was the result of a government defeat in this House and required that, before making a proposal to close a primary school, the relevant body—the local education authority—must take account of the effect of the closure on the local community and on transport.
We argue that these criteria should be applied not just to rural schools but to any local school. The knock-on effects of closure need to be considered. There needs to be wide consultation, not only with parents but also with local district town and/or parish councils.
Amendments Nos. 85 and 86 relate to Clause 17 which is concerned with the closure of special schools and seeks to extend the consultation required should the Secretary of State avail himself of the powers granted by this clause to shut a special school. Amendment No. 8 would provide that the consultation should be extended to the parents of children attending the school. Amendment No. 86 also provides that whenhe gives notice of his decision under subsection (4) he sets out the reason for his decision.
In Committee in the other place the Minister argued that both amendments were unnecessary and that Clause 17(3)(d), which states that consultation should take place with,
"such other persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate", might be expected to include parents and children attending the school. We respond that "might be expected" is not good enough. Given the emphasis that the Government are putting on parents' views and preferences, and that they also regard the voice of the child to be an important aspect of consultation, we feel that both should be on the face of the Bill as consultees.
The Government also argued that having to set out the reasons for his decision—as provided in Amendment No. 86—was an unnecessary bureaucratic burden on what might need to be a hasty decision in the interests of the health and safety of the children involved. Again, the amendment does not demand any lengthy report but merely that the reasons for the decision are given in at least summary form when the notice is issued. For a Government who produce so many unnecessary pieces of paper—not to mention unnecessary legislation—I believe that this is not too much to ask.
Amendments Nos. 90, 93 and 102 deal with the issues arising from alterations and expansions in schools. Amendment No. 90 is a probing amendment to clarify that Clauses 18 to 23, which come under the heading of "Alterations to schools", include the physical alteration of the school premises to accommodate more pupils and to add a sixth form. Those cited in subsection (2) and (4) of Clause 18 are all alterations to governance structures, but since much has been made of encouraging successful schools to expand, it is to be assumed that such expansions are indeed covered by these provisions. What has not been generally publicised is that any such expansion requires—as I understand from subsection (2)—a community school to become a foundation school. I seek clarification from the Minister if that is the case. As we have made clear elsewhere, we have little sympathy with this element of government policy and regret in particular the shift away from governors representing the local community, including elected parent governors, to a governance structure which reflects the aims, aspirations and preferences of those running the foundations.
We also seek further assurances from the Minister about the role of Building Schools for the Future. When I asked in Committee last week whether they would be using Building Schools for the Future as a lever to encourage schools to become foundation schools and to require them if they were to participate in the programme to become foundation schools, the Minister said very firmly that that was not the case and that there was no intention to use that programme in order to push schools into foundation status. I should be grateful if the Minister would reiterate that statement because it is an important one.
Amendments Nos. 93 and 102 argue a similar cause. In arguing the case about closures and the need for consultation, I quoted previously the Ofsted report of October 2003, The influence of school place planning on school standards and social inclusion. I do not wish to repeat what I read out previously. In particular, the report warned that allowing popular schools to expand to meet parental demand risks sending an already struggling school into a spiral of decline. Perhaps I may repeat the warning contained in the report: losing a school does not enhance a community. Amendments Nos. 93 and 102 provide that, when expansion is considered, the overall provision of education within the community as a whole should be considered, not just the narrow interests of the particular school or one section of the community. Clause 1 puts the duty on LEAs to promote fair access to educational opportunity and to enable every child to fulfil their educational potential. Yet allowing a free-for-all expansion of popular schools, allowing other schools to wither on the vine, does not necessarily promote fair access and can result in the most disadvantaged being even more disadvantaged. Amendments Nos. 93 and 102 ask, therefore, that when proposals for expansion are being considered, the impact of that expansion on the overall provision of education by the LEA as a whole and by other schools in the area is taken into account.
There are two important aspects regarding further education colleges: the provision of specialist vocational courses for 14 to 16 year-olds; but also for 16 onwards. Those further education colleges often provide a vital facility. Schools do not have the specialist facilities to provide vocational courses such as construction or hairdressing. It is important—I know that the Government are sympathetic to this—that where schools want to provide such specialist courses they should collaborate with the further education colleges rather than duplicate the facilities. Two sinks stuck in the corner of a domestic science room and the taking on of a part-time hairdresser are not enough to offer a course in hairdressing. It is important that those children are trained using the good facilities which often exist at further education colleges.
Many who move from school to further education colleges do so because they have not enjoyed school. What is surprising is how often they speak highly of the courses they study at the further education colleges where they retake their GCSEs, study for A-level and often do surprisingly well. In that sense, further education colleges are a very important second-chance saloon for some of the students at our secondary schools. Proposals to expand sixth forms can have knock-on effects on the local colleges—both sixth form and further education colleges. It is important that those knock-on effects are taken into account in considering the expansion of schools. I ask the Minister to confirm the promise that his colleague gave in the other place. On
"At present, statutory guidance specifies that among those who must be consulted are other local authorities and other schools who may be affected by the proposals, parents and teachers in the area, local dioceses or national faith groups, the Learning and Skills Council and any other interested party, for example the early years development and child care partnership when the proposals affect early years provision".
The next paragraph states:
"argument that FE colleges in the area would have an interest and would therefore need to be consulted. To put that beyond dispute, I am happy to give the Committee an assurance that statutory guidance on consultation for new schools and additions to existing schools under the Bill will specifically include FE colleges in the area as well as schools and the Learning and Skills Council. I hope the hon. Lady finds that assurance satisfactory".—[Official Report, Commons Standing Committee E, 25/4/06; cols. 373-4.]
I should like an assurance from the Minister that that will be set into regulations.
Will the Minister confirm that any expansion plans will be considered within the overall context and implications for the community? Secondly, will he specifically confirm that consultation with FE and sixth-form colleges will be included within the statutory guidance issued by the Secretary of State? I beg to move.
Before the Minister replies, I simply add my voice in support of Amendments Nos. 85 and 86. The discontinuation of a special school is, in many ways, a very special case. Parents of children with special educational needs often put great weight on their relationship with the school and put a great deal of work into trying to make that school and their child meet one another's needs. While it may well be possible that the Bill will deal with the issue of consulting parents, I see no real reason why it should not say so. It would obviously be satisfactory and on the whole comforting to parents if it did.
Amendment No. 86 requires the Secretary of State to give reasons. I can think of no other case where there is a stronger argument for reasons being given by the Secretary of State to explain why a special school is being discontinued. In almost every case this causes great concern and upheaval to the parents and the children. Therefore, the fact that it is a central government responsibility of the Secretary of State more than proves that in most cases the Secretary of State is required to consider the issue very carefully and should give full reasons for the action he is taking. I hope therefore that on this non-party contentious issue the Minister will consider whether he can accept these amendments.
I support AmendmentsNos. 85 and 86. We recognise that the SEN amendments would go hand in hand with the measures introduced in Amendment No. 84 which would ensure that no special school could be closed unless there are enough places of sufficient quality to cater for the needs of those children that would be displaced. I will be interested to hear what proposals, and I hope reassurances, the Minister has to offer for the future of special schools in this country.
We are coming to a watershed in the debate on special educational needs provision, and I look forward to a fuller debate on the matter in next week's Committee debates. In the mean time, I hope the Minister can reassure noble Lords that the Government have instigated a reaction to the Cambridge University report, mentioned by myself and the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, last week, and the Select Committee report released last week.
I turn to Amendments Nos. 90, 93 and 102. Amendment No. 90 would explicitly include,
"the enlargement of premises and the establishment of provision suitable for the requirements of pupils over compulsory school age" as an alteration permitted under Clause 19. Such an amendment is unnecessary since such alterations are not explicitly forbidden by subsection (4). There is also a slight ambiguity in the amendment. It is not clear whether Amendment No. 90 refers solely to the expansion and creation of sixth forms or separately to the expansion of any school and the creation of a sixth form.
Amendment No. 93 prevents the expansion of schools where this would prevent a local authority or school carrying out a statutory duty or function. That seems to be slightly contradictory to AmendmentNo. 90, unless it was intended that Amendment No. 90 would make clear that such proposals were not completely prohibited.
Amendment No. 102 would prevent the approval of certain proposals involving school expansion. We believe that the amendment is unnecessary as Amendment No. 93 would already prohibit such proposals being carried out. Subsection (2) ofClause 20 lists a number of provisions that may be made by regulation. None of them allows for proposals to be automatically forbidden. It would also be totally up to the discretion of the Secretary of State whether such provision was made.
The amendments seem to be based on the assumption that schools expand at the expense of other schools. We need to examine why schools expand in the first place. Surely it is because parents demand the best education possible for their children. At present too many schools do not offer this. Choice is a vitally important lever for raising standards in failing schools because head teachers and governors will realise that if they do not improve the quality of education, parents will be able to go elsewhere. These amendments would undermine that choice. They would allow local authorities to block the expansion of popular and oversubscribed schools and, by extension, result in more pupils attending undersubscribed failing schools.
The Prime Minister has said that,
"you cannot say that good schools are unable to expand simply because you have got surplus places elsewhere when the surplus places elsewhere may be in a school that is not up to standard".
He also said:
"We are pleased that the government continues to reject the so-called surplus places rule".
Perhaps the Minister in his response can reiterate the Prime Minister's commitment.
Some perfectly legitimate issues have been raised in the debate, and I hope that I can provide the reassurances that have been sought.
Amendments Nos. 79 and 80 seek to give local authorities the freedom to establish community schools if they are formed by the merger of any two or more primary schools which the authority proposes to discontinue. Local authorities may seek to publish proposals outside a competition under Clause 10. I can tell the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, that the merger of a junior and an infant school into a single school is exactly the sort of situation where such consent may be granted under Clause 10. I should apologise to her and to other noble Lords as my honourable friend Jim Knight's letter on this issue should have referred to Clause 10—proposals outside competitions with the consent of the Secretary of State—and not to Clause 11, which covers special cases where a competition is never required; for example, nursery schools.
Amendment No. 82 would extend the additional requirements in respect of rural primary schools, which was added to the present arrangements by an amendment to the Education Act 2005 made by this House. It would extend those present arrangements to all schools. The Government recognise, not least under the influence of your Lordships, which was very plainly felt in a government defeat, the particular importance of rural schools to their communities, and we support and encourage their preservation unless there are strong educational grounds for closure. This is why we already have a presumption against the closure of rural schools in statutory guidance to those who decide school organisation proposals. In addition, we have the provisions in the Education Act 2005 which the House inserted as factors that must be taken into account before any decision can be made.
Those considering making proposals to close any school will look at a range of factors, including those set out for rural schools in the 2005 Act—the impact on standards, pupil number forecasts, the pattern of parental demand and levels of diversity—in addition to the factors set out in Clause 15. The body that takes the final decision on such proposals will expect to see hard evidence and well reasoned arguments for closure on these and a range of other grounds.
I turn to Amendments Nos. 85 and 86 to Clause 17. I should make it clear that Clause 17 re-enacts provisions giving the Secretary of State the power to direct a local authority to close a maintained special school on a particular date when—and I stress this point—it is considered that it is in the interests of the health, safety or welfare of the children. I entirely accept the points made by the noble Baroness,Lady Williams, about the need to have maximum possible engagement with parents in the school community in all such cases. But this is a reserved power to be used only when there are particularly vulnerable pupils at risk and it would not therefore be appropriate to go through the normal local decision-making processes that apply in other cases.
Clause 17, even in these limited cases where there are particularly vulnerable pupils at risk and closure is in the interests of the health, safety and welfare of the children, allows for consultation with,
"such other persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate".
We would expect that to include parents of children attending the school, as indicated in the amendment. We believe it is covered, and I have made it clear for the record how the Secretary of State would behave in those circumstances.
We do not believe that publishing statutory proposals for the closure of schools under the clause would be appropriate, because emergency action may be needed very quickly, and the normal length and scope of consultation may not be appropriate because of the particular health and welfare issues at stake when the Secretary of State decides to proceed to closure. However, the clause already requires the Secretary of State to give notice of the direction in writing to the governing body and head teacher of the school. Before issuing a direction, not only should the interested parties be consulted, as I have said, but a letter giving the direction should clearly set out the reasons for that direction. I believe that answers the other points made by the two noble Baronesses.
On Amendment No. 90, on post-16 provision, Clause 18 already specifies that the prescribed alterations permissible under it may include alterations of any nature except those listed in subsection (4). They do not include the enlargement or the addition of a sixth form. Subsection (3) says that prescribed alterations may include anything that is not ruled out by subsection (4). Therefore, the objective, which the noble Baroness seeks to achieve, is met by the clause.
Furthermore, the illustrative regulations made available to the Committee specify in Schedules 2 and 4 that alterations such as the introduction or expansion of sixth-form provision are among those for which proposals must be published. Enlargements and the addition of sixth forms are significant changes to school organisation for which consultation and the publication of statutory proposals have long been required. This will continue, and it will include consultation with the consultees whom the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, listed.
Amendments Nos. 93 and 102 would, in effect, make it impossible for a school to expand unless that expansion was endorsed by the local authority. I do not want to get into the underlying issue of whether it is a good or a bad thing for schools to expand, but I simply want to make it clear—I think this meets the noble Baroness's point—that local authorities already play, and will continue to play, a decisive part in decision-making in expansion cases over and above one form of entry. Indeed, their role will be enhanced under the Bill in that the Bill abolishes school organisation committees and replaces them with local authorities as decision-makers. The local authority must decide expansion beyond one form of entry.
However, we do not believe that a school should be required to have the consent of a local authority before it can submit expansion proposals. That would negate our intention to give schools the capacity to expand appropriately to meet the needs of pupils and parents. We think that schools, including community schools, to which the noble Baroness referred, should be able to submit proposals to expand. Any category of school may publish proposals to expand and to add sixth-form provision. The local authority then decides but, in a dispute between a school and the local authority, the school may in prescribed circumstances appeal to the adjudicator when proposals are turned down by the local authority.
I hope that responds to the points made by the noble Baroness to her satisfaction.
I am grateful to the Minister for that and for his reassurances on quite a number of the issues that I raised. I am particularly pleased to have received clarification of the merger of the infant and the junior schools, because it is good that schools know that they do not have to go through a lengthy competition in those circumstances.
I have one more question to ask the Minister. My Amendment No. 90 was a purely probing amendment. The noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, seemed to take it at face value, but it was intended simply to be probing, because it was not totally clear whether physical alterations were included. Am I right that Clause 18(2) means that if a community school submits a proposal to expand its sixth form, any such alteration must involve "one ... of the following" alterations in paragraphs (a), (b) or (c)? That would imply that it has to become a foundation school.
The complexity of Clause 18 eludes me at the moment. I will respond to the noble Baroness afterwards. The problem is how the clause relates to the other clauses that also give other powers to other schools to publish proposals. The fundamental point is whether all categories of schools can publish proposals to expand post-16 provision. The answer is yes, they can, and they must be subject to statutory consultation.
moved Amendment No. 81:
After Clause 14, insert the following new clause-
(1) No proposals may be published under this Part or any other enactment for the establishment of a foundation or voluntary school of a religious character.
(2) Subsections (3) to (5) of section 69 of SSFA 1998 are repealed."
In moving Amendment No. 81, I shall speak to Amendment No. 205 in my name and in that of other noble Lords.
During our consideration of the Bill, we have heard some truly inspiring speeches from all sides of the Committee and, indeed, from the Minister on what constitutes education. Members of the Committee have talked about reaching academic and sporting potential, about children with special needs, about learning social skills, about a positive ethos, about developing creativity, and about education being a force for social good.
I do not consider any of these qualities necessarily to be brought about by faith schools. I have tabled the amendment because I know that there are concerns on all sides of your Lordships' House about the potential expansion of the number of faith schools under the umbrella of foundation schools. I am a humanist and an associate of the National Secular Society, so it is obvious where I am coming from. However, other noble Lords do not share this stance and will have other things to say. I believe that those of us who are concerned share a similar view; an expansion of faith schools could divide communities when we should be trying to unite and integrate them. Reports on Bradford and Burnley from the noble Lords, Lord Ouseley and Lord Clarke of Hampstead, respectively, pointed out forcefully the need for young people to feel more integrated. Lord Ouseley's report states:
"Some young people pleaded desperately for" more cultural and social interaction
"to overcome the negativity they feel is blighting their young lives and leaving them ignorant of other cultures and lifestyles".
Where better than in schools to do that? The Muslim researcher and journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown has pleaded for schools to represent fairly the society in which we live without,
"breaking it up into minority groups aided and abetted by the state".
Ninety-six per cent of respondents to an online poll conducted by the Radio 4 "Sunday" programme in October 2005 thought that "faith schools breed segregation". Diverse faiths can be, and are, celebrated in schools and all benefit from learning about other cultures and from mixing with a variety of peers.
What about the parents? My school governing body has parents of three different faiths, which is of enormous benefit to the school. Parents of different cultures organise, contribute to and mix at social events. They benefit, the children benefit and the school benefits. I understand the historical reasons for faith schools, which was admirably described by the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, in her speech on Second Reading. However, that was then and this is now, where we are.
Why should we worry that foundation schools will increase the number of faith schools? Non-religious schools have been closing to reopen as faith schools. Eight—one in three—of the new academies are controlled by religious interests; three of them replaced non-religious schools. This expansion represents a huge public subsidy. I hope tonight for clarification on the right reverend Prelates' Amendment No. 128, on the dispersal of land, and how that will work. It is very worrying that the expansion of religious schools may well decrease job opportunities for non-religious professionals. I would seek clarification from the Minister on the right reverend Prelates' Amendment No. 129. What is taught in religious education may not be broad and balanced, and admissions may be carried out on the basis of religion. I am told that faith schools get good academic results. Any selective school gets good academic results. A study by the think tank Iris in 2005 showed that many faith schools take in pupils whose family circumstances are very different from those in the neighbourhoods in which they live. One school, with only 10 per cent of children receiving free school meals, was in a postcode area with more than 45 per cent on free school meals. One faith school had much vaunted GCSE results. In fact, this relied on small class sizes and only six pupils taking GCSE. I am told that faith schools increase parental choice. Choice is rarely possible in small communities. In larger ones choice is often at the expense of others. Faith schools choose their pupils and proliferation of such schools will decrease choice for other parents unless they are prepared to join, or pretend to join, a religion.
I mentioned ethos. I simply do not believe that faith is a prerequisite of positive ethos. Ethos depends on a variety of things: pupil intake, parental support, good teaching, a good pastoral system, links with the community and parents, and so on. I go back to my main concern about faith schools—that they separate children out at an early age, when children should be learning to live together for the sake of a harmonious society. I believe that we take great risks when we segregate children and deny them a broad education.
I move on briefly to Amendment No. 205, which is longer than my remarks will be. This is about assemblies and collective worship. Inclusive assemblies can quite clearly have educational value, not least in building a collective ethos by bringing a school community together. They can contribute greatly to pupils' spiritual, moral, social and cultural development. Many schools provide such assemblies, but the current law, which requires "collective worship", is against them in this regard. The Ofsted review of secondary schools in England published in 1998 noted the widespread non-compliance with the requirements for collective worship and remarked that it "raises questions about the" 1988
"Act and its interpretation, and in particular whether schools in a broadly secular society can or should bring their pupils together in order to engage in worship".
What will the amendment accomplish? It would replace the requirement to conduct "collective worship" with a requirement to hold assemblies that would further pupils' spiritual, moral, social and cultural education. Teachers, including non-religious teachers, can and do use assemblies to demonstrate that moral values and responses to ultimate questions of existence can be inclusively framed. I have done it myself when a teacher. A reform of the law would encourage such good practice. Sometimes people will insist that all matters spiritual must be religious, but this is not the official position. Ofsted's Handbook for the Inspection of Schools states:
"Spiritual development relates to that aspect of inner life through which pupils acquire insights" into what is "of enduring worth" and which is characterised by the qualities that I spoke of earlier. If the law on worship in assemblies is changed, new guidance issued under the new law would contribute to better sharing of good practice in the provision of inclusive and educational assemblies, and would represent a new entitlement for pupils that could command wide consensus, quite unlike the current requirement to provide collective worship. I beg to move.
In this group, Amendments Nos. 83 and 129 stand in my name and that of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham. I would like to speak to my amendments and, to save the Committee's time, to comment on the other amendments in this diverse group.
I feel that we are at a crossroads. It is time for serious decisions. We have to look ahead 10 or 15 years and see what kind of society we are going to create. We already have a divided society. We already have gross underachievement among many ethnic minority groups, not least Muslim boys. Instead of addressing the needs of those who are underachieving so badly, we are saying that we should put them in separate schools, that we should create a separate, apartheid school for them. Nobody else is going to go to that school. It will be a self-imposed apartheid, which is even worse.
It is time to consider how we can provide for the religious needs of all pupils in a school that has pupils of different faith groups. It is not impossible to provide. In any case, I do not believe that it is the school's responsibility entirely to provide for the faith of a child. It is largely parents and the religious institutions that should be caring and providing for that aspect. The most important thing to remember is what faith schools have done in some parts of the United Kingdom, what we have seen in Scotland and particularly Northern Ireland. We are still seeing it there, where the great movement is towards integrated schools. Why is there that movement? If faith schools were needed in Northern Ireland, we should certainly not be embarking on that road.
I find it completely confusing when I think that in 10 or 15 years some young people will not have grown up together and may not meet each other until they go to work. As it is, we have a lot of problems of integration, of coming together and of sharing. If we separate children from the age of five, I do not think that they will be able to cope very well. As the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, asked, will we have a cohesive society? We have to consider the needs of everyone, including the children, and that children from different faith groups may require more attention paid to their faith. If we all shared in each other's faith and the teaching of each other's faith, we would all be the better for it. Quite honestly, I find that the major principles of all groups are not so different. If we learnt from each other, maybe that would bring us closer together. I make a plea for bringing us closer together, not separating us.
I support the noble Baronesses, Lady Massey and Lady Flather, on this amendment.
I hope that I understand some of the Government's reasons for wanting more faith schools. Certainly there is an issue concerning money. If a group is prepared to put up some money for the establishment of a school, that could be very welcome, although I would rather that the taxpayer paid that money because I believe that education is the most important service that any state can provide for its people. However, I can understand the reasoning.
I can also understand that because Anglican and Catholic schools exist, we must be fair to other faiths. I was born and bred an Anglican and I believe that we should all recognise the tremendous contribution that the Christian faith has made to education in this country. I suspect that there were times in this country when education would have died out altogether but for the churches that kept it alive. I hope that people will always recognise that.
To be fair to the people of this country, we should surely ask the Government not to extend the privilege of faith schools to all other faiths in our communities, but to say, "Without abolishing our existing faith schools, how can we make them cater for the needs of the entire community?" I suspect that someone in the debate today will say, "Many of them already do"; and that is quite true. There are many Anglican and Catholic schools that cater for all religions in their communities. That is a very good thing, and I have no criticism of it. However, to use their existence as an argument for extending other faith schools is very dangerous. The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, spoke very eloquently about whether faith schools have a better ethos or achieve better results than non-faith schools. I would contest that view, because the people who send their children to faith schools are often selective and much more supportive parents than parents in non-faith schools may be.
The Government are giving us reasons for allowing other faith groups to fund schools, to make capital available to have other faith schools in this country, but surely the Government must feel a little afraid that in future generations, if not in this one, it will lead to a division of communities, as we have seen in Northern Ireland. In Northern Ireland the flames were fanned by the existence of different faith schools. Surely, the Government must see that. Perhaps the Minister will tell us what he proposes to do, if other faith schools are set up in this country, to ensure that our communities are not divided. For example, will he ensure that children of all faiths attend Muslim schools? Are we going to insist that there should be a mix of children in all our schools, or are we truly going to have the children in our communities, sometimes from the age of five, divided in Muslim, Catholic, Anglican, Hindu and Jewish schools? It is a recipe for disaster. We must understand that.
In conclusion, I would like the Minister seriously to address this question: what will the benefits be and how will the Government ensure that our communities are not divided further by the existence of more faith schools?
I hope that I can now speak to my two amendments and to the other amendments in this group.
The first amendment standing in my name and that of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham is Amendment No. 83. That would require local authorities, when they consider whether to propose the closure of a school, to have regard to the balance of denominational provision. For some time there has been a clear expectation from the Government that local authorities will preserve the denominational balance. The Bill provides a good opportunity to place that expectation in primary legislation rather than in regulations or guidance. That is particularly important if, as is proposed by the Bill, school organisational committees are abolished. From the point of view of the dioceses of the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church, those have been very good forums in which local authority members have engaged directly with representatives of the Churches and listened to their points of view. The world envisaged by the Bill will not provide such obvious contexts for that engagement.
Amendment No. 129 would modestly extend the freedom of governing bodies of schools with a religious character to appoint staff who will actively support the ethos of the particular school. The first part of the amendment would affect only voluntary-controlled schools, almost all of which are Church of England schools. In the case of Roman Catholic schools and roughly half of the Church of England schools that are voluntary-aided, the governing body has a majority of its members appointed by the Church locally, and new faith schools are also in that voluntary-aided category. The voluntary-controlled schools have a minority of governors appointed by the Church and are controlled, often strongly as to their character and ethos, by the local authority. I have to admit that the name is now a little curious because local authorities do not have that kind of relationship with any school, but the category remains.
Voluntary-controlled schools have always been able to appoint up to one-fifth of their teachers as so-called reserve teachers, in the same way as teachers are appointed in voluntary-aided schools, taking into account their own faith commitment and, therefore, their willingness to give active support to the religious character of the school. At present the head teacher of a voluntary-controlled or foundation school cannot be a reserved teacher. Since the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, it has been possible for the governing body of voluntary-controlled or foundation schools to select a head teacher on the basis of his or her fitness and ability to preserve and develop the religious character of the school.
If this amendment is agreed, the governing body will be able to go further and appoint a head teacher in the same way as a reserve teacher is appointed, being selected directly on the basis of his or her commitment of faith. That would happen only if the governing body decided that it should count the head teacher appointment as one of its reserve teachers. Of course, the amendment does not require that to happen, nor does it permit the Church to impose this provision, since the Church-appointed governors are in a minority—usually consisting of only two or three. It would, however, make it possible for a head teacher also to be a reserve teacher.
The second part of the amendment clears up an oddity that has become obvious since the 2003 legislation. Under the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations, it has been possible for organisations able to demonstrate a genuine occupational requirement in relation to a particular post to appoint to that post, taking into account the successful candidate's religion or belief. However, in the 1998 Act there is a bar against taking into account a candidate's religion or belief when appointing support staff in a school with a religious character. This amendment would remove that bar, which would then allow a genuine occupational requirement to be applied if it could be demonstrated in a particular case. The kinds of posts that we have in mind are high-level teaching assistants, clerks to the governing body, non-teaching house staff—all roles that carry a considerable importance in relation to maintaining the ethos of a Church school. The safeguards would be strong, the governing body would need to agree it and it would need to be justified under the 2003 regulations. So much for my specific amendments.
I should like now to make some brief comments on the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen. This may initially appear of little relevance to Church schools as it seeks to preserve the status quo and not to close any existing religious schools. I nevertheless hope that Members of the Committee will resist it, as I believe that it would have a major impact, not only on the 7,000 or so existing Church schools—mostly Church of England and Roman Catholic—but also on local authorities. It is a matter of debate whether it would have the effect desired by its supporters of promoting community cohesion—an effect of course which I wholeheartedly support. Faith schools do not necessarily lead to social division and I believe that community cohesion needs to be addressed in other ways.
The Church of England has an established plan to expand its provision in secondary education sinceThe Way Ahead, the 2001 report by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing. His thesis was that with one in four primary schools currently being Church schools, but only one in 20 secondary schools, we need to expand our secondary provision. Since the publication of the noble Lord's report, 29 new secondary schoolshave been opened or considerably expanded; always in response to local demand and with parental andlocal authority support. There are currently plans for 120 additional secondary schools, the majorityof which will serve the more disadvantaged communities.
As the noble Lord, Lord Dearing's report made clear, Church of England schools are intended to be distinctively Christian and inclusive. We want them to make space for those of other faiths and for those of none, as well as for Christian and local children. There is a very good example in the diocese of Peterborough where we have recently opened a Church secondary school in Northampton. It is sited in an ethnically mixed area. It has a significant proportion of pupils from ethnic communities and a variety of faiths. A number of leaders of other faiths fully supported our initiative in opening the school two years ago.
There have also been changes in primary provision. Over the past five years, as primary rolls have fallen by 4.9 per cent, Church of England primary school rolls have fallen by only 1.7 per cent. That is because Church schools are popular with parents and their number has consequentially increased disproportionately. To prevent the opening of new faith schools, as this amendment would suggest, would therefore potentially limit parental choice—a point that the noble Baroness has recognised—precisely when they are exercising it in favour of such schools. Reorganisation within local authority areas always involves Church schools, often involving the closure of some and the opening of new Church schools. This amendment would therefore effectively blight some local authority reorganisation.
In 2002, the House of Bishops publicly declared its support for other faith schools. In recent years, there has been a welcome increase to six Muslim schools in the maintained sector, with perhaps 30 or 40 more to follow. There is a similar number of Jewish schools. That is not in itself divisive. I believe that it is rathera clear signal to the British Muslim and Jewish communities that they are a fully accepted and important part of British society. With a similar commitment to being distinctive and inclusive, their existence is a move against extremism and, I believe, for rather than against community cohesion.
I shall turn more briefly to the amendment relating to religious education and collective worship. The Churches and the faith communities, including a representative of the British Humanist Association, were closely involved with the then Secretary of State in 2003-04 in developing a non-statutory framework for religious education. In many ways we on these Benches can see the argument for making it statutory. But it is a good piece of work and it is already having an impact on local authority agreed syllabi. In the Church of England we are committed to our schools basing RE on its provisions.
In February of this year, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth in his capacity as chairman of the Church of England Board of Education signed a statement with other Church and faith leaders welcoming the framework and committing all our Church and faith schools to teach sympathetically about other religions. In our view, now is not the time, as the framework beds down, to make changes in legislation affecting RE in schools of any kind. The time may come, but the framework would need adaptation to make all its provisions work in a Jewish, Muslim, Sikh or Hindu school. We would prefer to build gradually on that recent, hopeful and very positive development.
We would also strongly support the retention of the current law on collective worship, which we see as flexible and permissive. The right reverend Prelate recently wrote to the Secretary of State in his capacity as chairman of the Joint Education Policy Committee of Churches. He asked the Secretary of State to enable trainee teachers and those preparing for work as school leaders to be better trained in understanding the opportunities that current law provides. We see it as important that children and young people become familiar with the language and silence common to many forms of public worship. They are all likely to attend at the very least at some point in their lives a funeral, a wedding or a baptism.
I believe that collective worship is a shared experience. It offers children, young people and adults an opportunity to participate in humanity's shared search for God and, in doing so, builds community in and beyond the school. Collective worship in most schools also provides the opportunity for students to gain an awareness of worship and worship practices of faiths other than their own. Above all, it provides shape and formation to that instinct for prayer which is in all of us. Provision for spiritual and moral development without the opportunity of prayer and worship would not have that effect.
I have already detained the Committee for some time on these important matters, but I hope that Members will permit me one final comment onthe amendment in the name of the noble Lord,Lord Lucas, which seeks to impose restrictions on schools of a religious character in terms of admitting pupils of the same faith as the school. As I have already indicated, the Church of England is committed to ensuring that our schools provide an education of the highest quality within the context of Christian belief and practice. But it should also be able to provide that education to all who seek it, whatever their faith. In practice, many Church of England schools admit a majority of pupils without any faith test. But it would be unfair if committed practising Christians living some distance from the school, perhaps in a poorer area, stood no chance of admission against children living near whose parents whatever their belief have been able to afford a house near the school. I believe that the amendment is a sledgehammer that we do not need. We prefer to address the issue more deliberately.
I have no doubt that my noble friend Lady Massey and the noble Baronesses, Lady Tonge and Lady Flather, have very good intentions in tabling Amendment No. 81. They have all expressed their concern about division in communities and children being brought up separately. I should like to express my concerns on the amendment and address some of the issues that have been raised.
Until about six years ago, less than 25 per cent of Muslim children in state-run schools achieved five GCSEs at grades A to C when the national average was about 48 per cent. I congratulate the Government on the standard being raised to 38 per cent, but it is still not good enough to meet the national average. I know that approximately 135 voluntary Muslim schools have raised the standard of education for Muslim children. The pass rate in those schools is about 55 or 60 per cent on average but there are six state-funded schools that are achieving highly: 100 per cent in the case of Islamia; Al-Hijrah is achieving 86 per cent; and the girls' Islamic school in Bradford is competing with Eton, Harrow and some of the 10 best British schools.
Islamic schools have raised the standard for Muslim children, who are achieving less than 25 per cent in five GCSEs grade A to C. The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, talked about the problems in Bradford, Oldham and Burnley. I live in the north and visitall those towns regularly and I know about the disturbances that took place. I know that not a single student from the Islamic or faith schools was involved in the disturbances. Yes, we have segregation and, yes, we do have a division within the communities. There are some state-run schools with 98 per cent ethnic minorities from one ethnic group. I have gone to Rochdale and Bradford. I have been to Oldham. We can go to Brixton or east London: there are schools with 98 per cent of children from ethnic minorities or even some with 99 per cent. It is not the religious divide that is dividing the communities, but there are other divides that also need to be addressed.
For instance, I have been to the annual awards at the Islamic school Karamia in Nottingham where they have linked with the local schools, where the local schoolchildren, the headmasters and the councillors come to the school and the children also go to the state-run school. There are many who have established relationships with their local schools. They have twinned with local schools or they have some sort of links with local schools where they try to mix the children. The message that we want to send is to make sure that children who come out of the schools become good citizens. They know about their citizenship responsibilities and I know that that is taught in Islamic schools.
We need to make sure that there is a higher standard of achievement. I am telling your Lordships that the standard of education in Islamic schools has risen. There is no evidence that any of the fanatics, terrorists or extremists are coming out of them. I go to many schools to give out certificates and I know that the best students are coming out of them and going to universities, and that is where they interact and integrate with the wider community and they are at ease with it because that is what they are taught.
When we talk about parental choice, raising standards and responsibility within the communities, I know as a Muslim that for 18 years the Muslim community was trying to obtain state funding for Muslim schools. We did not obtain it until there was a Labour Government. Thank God that the Labour Government gave state funding because the Muslim community was feeling as though it contained second-class citizens for 18 years because we have Christian schools, Jewish schools, Sikh and Hindu schools; there is no reason why Muslims cannot have schools that are responsible, that raise standards and that make our children good citizens.
I am sure that we need to take initiatives to try to integrate our children more at local level, but we have to do it in state-run schools first or in parallel with them because we have those divisions in state-run schools too. I hope that the Committee will resist this amendment.
Before I speak to Amendment No. 146A, I want to comment on the speeches of the noble Baronesses, Lady Massey and Lady Tonge, and my noble friend Lady Flather, who all spoke eloquently in favour of secularism? That has a long and honourable tradition in the debates on education in our country. But secularism has never become very popular in our country for historic reasons. It required the French Revolution to create anti-clericalism that led to the exclusion of religious education in French schools. When new countries set up their education systems, some of them, such as America, also excluded religious education from state schools.
But in our country, schools and religion have gone together for centuries. The secondary school I went to, St Paul's, was founded in the churchyard ofSt Paul's. In those days—1509—it had a remarkable foundation by Dean Colet, who said that 153 boys should receive free education and they could come from all colours and creeds. That is a remarkable statement for 1509. It is indicated clearly that there has always been an inclusive nature in much of the Christian education in our country.
My amendment would say that when groups come together and seek to establish a new faith school, permission will be given only if at least 30 per cent of the children come from other faiths. That is not as it were the ultimate argument that the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, is making; it is a different way of approaching the problem. I say that because the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, have to be met. The ethnic communities and the other religions in our country—not only the Muslims but also the Hindus, Sikhs, the Greek Orthodox and the Jews—have always felt that they should have some share, as it were, which my amendment would still provide.
My point is that traditionally Anglican schools have not been exclusive for a long time. I went to a state Anglican primary school in Southport. We went to church twice a year. We had a hymn and a prayer at the beginning of the day, but that happened in every school in those days. There was no exclusion: my closest friend was a Jewish boy and I learnt about the Jewish faith by going to his home in the evening and finding out how he prepared. We were all in together. I certainly was not told that I was one of the elect and I was going to be saved by going to that school.
Very few Catholic schools are now exclusive. Originally they were, but I remember visiting several Catholic schools when I was Secretary of State, which included children from all faiths and no faiths, because frankly they had run out of Roman Catholic pupils. I do not believe that the two Christian faiths in this country are exclusive. They are inclusive. I believe strongly that a separate education is not the ideal way forward for our country at the moment. A separate education based on faith means a separate status and eventually a separate community. It is inevitable. In Northern Ireland, apartheid starts in schools; 90 per cent of children in Northern Ireland still go to separate faith schools and look what has happened there.
There is a growing opposition to more exclusive faith schools. Trevor Phillips, who is the most eloquent spokesman for racial and ethnic equality, has come out against them. So has the National Union of Teachers. David Bell, the former chief inspector, writing a year ago, said,
"many young people are being educated in faith-based schools with little appreciation of their wider responsibilities and obligations to British society".
More recently, the director of the Institute for the Study of Islam and Christianity has also come out against them.
Separate faith schools that are exclusive are bad for both the majority community and for the minority community. They are bad for the minority community because they emphasise the separateness and the separate status that that community has—that is what they are there for. It might be ways of handling themselves, ways of dress or all sorts of things, but they are separate. They are not part of the wider responsibilities that David Bell talked about.
I happened to listen to a broadcast on BBC Radio 4 when I was driving up one morning about a fortnight ago, with a young man from Pakistan who was visiting exclusive faith schools—Muslim and Christian—and non-faith schools. This is what he said:
"When I went to school in the 1980s state schools like these didn't exist. My parents were Pakistani immigrants—education was to be my way out of working in a factory like my dad. They sent me to a mainly white comprehensive where I was one of a handful of Asians. At this point I should be complaining about feeling alienated and excluded but the truth is—that school was the best thing that happened to me. I learned how to socialise and talk to other kids—unlike the Asian boys who went to the all-Asian schools".
That is an eloquent expression of someone from a Pakistani background who experienced growing up in our country.
There is no doubt that the schools are highly exclusive. I have managed to get through the internet the admissions policy of some of these schools, although I am waiting for some others. I have only those from Islamic schools. I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, and hope he will understand that I have nothing against Islam. As a practising Christian, I have great respect for all other faiths. But the admissions policy is highly selective. Some schools require passport photographs; I do not think that that is done in other state schools. There is one Islamic secondary school that asks:
"Can your child read the Qur'an fluently? ... Has your child completed reading the Qur'an? ... How much of the Qur'an has your child read? ... How many Surahs of the Holy Qur'an has your child memorised?".
I do not know whether the right reverend Prelate could tell us how many Christian schools ask whether their pupils have read the Bible and how many things they remember from it. The answer is none—because there is no exclusive questioning of that sort.
Let us be aware of the exclusive nature of the schools that are being established. Another admissions policy that I have found states that the aim of the school is to produce,
"total Muslim personalities through the training of children's spirits, intellect, feelings and bodily senses".
I have nothing against that, but I believe that that instruction should take place in mosques, synagogues, temples and churches. Until 1997, that was the policy. The Government changed the policy, reversing the policy of all previous Secretaries of State, including myself. On the whole we resisted giving permission to exclusive faith schools. In my time, I had no applications from Christian bodies but I had applications from Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Sikh bodies. I always found good reasons why one could not give permission, and I believed that that was the right policy to follow. The Government changed that policy, which was a grievous and huge mistake, and successive generations in our country will suffer from it.
I should like to see the sort of movement that is now happening in Northern Ireland to have integrated schools. One school that I have come across is the Hazelwood integrated school, which has 40 per cent Roman Catholics, 40 per cent Protestants and 20 per cent others—other faiths and no faiths. That is the sort of mixture that I am trying to achieve in my amendments.
Finally, I draw your Lordships' attention to the comments of a Nobel Prize winner and one of our most distinguished academics, Professor Amartya Sen, who was the master at Trinity and is now a professor at Harvard. He won the Nobel Prize in 1998 for his work on economics of equality, poverty and famine and on social choice theory. He is quite convinced that the policy of separate and exclusive faith schools is wrong. I have read that:
"What grates on Sen is the idea that individuals should be ushered like sheep into pens according to their religious faith, a mode of classification that too often trumps all others and ignores the fact that people are always complex, multi-faceted individuals who choose their identities from a wide range of economic, cultural and ideological alternatives".
He has said that:
"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"— those are the arguments that are used—
"but it ends up being a denial of individual freedom".
Those comments are very pertinent today. In our society, which is having a great deal of trouble absorbing different groups, although we are making a better fist of it than most other western countries, to create exclusive faith schools is fundamentally wrong. At a time when the world is faced with two religious wars, it is extraordinary that we are prepared to consider this. So I hope that your Lordships will give some consideration to the amendment that I have tabled. I am not against the sort of faith schools that exist in our country, but any new ones should not be exclusive. They should have children from other faiths as well.
In the interests of time, I restrict myself to discussing the amendments in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Lester, dealing only with the curriculum for religion, beliefs and values. I add "beliefs and values" to "religion" because the amendment would broaden the statutory definition of religious education so that it better reflects the more inclusive approach of the 2004 non-statutory national framework for RE produced by the QCA, which the right reverend Prelate commended. That framework referred to "religions and beliefs" and explicitly recommended that "other world views" such as humanism should be studied. I declare an interest as the vice-president of the British Humanist Association.
The amendment goes on to require voluntary-aided schools with a religious character to follow the locally agreed syllabus for RE rather than their own, putting them in the same position as voluntary-controlled schools with a religious character. By the way, the reference in the Marshalled List should be to Schedule 19 to the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, not Schedule 8; it is a misprint. I hope that that makes it clear that we are not in any way seeking to deny parents with children at voluntary-aided faith schools the right to have their children receive religious instruction, but are seeking to ensure only that all children in all maintained schools have an entitlement to know broadly what the range of accepted religious and non-religious beliefs are all about.
Of course, not all locally agreed syllabuses are as broad, balanced and inclusive as they might be, but at least they are subject to an overall structure for the diverse views that they should introduce children to, and they will, one hopes, become even more inclusive as the influence of the non-statutory national framework on RE trickles down to the local committees that set the RE syllabuses.
In an ideal world, there might be a national curriculum subject of beliefs and values that educated all our children about all our important religious and secular beliefs, underpinned by a thorough education in the universal human rights that the UK has committed itself to in the international human rights instruments. That would be the national basis from which different religions and beliefs would take their own path in the curriculum.
As it is, we have citizenship education, which includes some human rights education as a part of the national curriculum, and religious education, which is also compulsory for all maintained schools, but is not part of the national curriculum. It is the fact that RE is not a part of the national curriculum that this amendment seeks to mitigate. That is why voluntary-aided faith schools do not need to follow the locally agreed syllabus of RE as other maintained schools do, but may follow a syllabus of their own. It also means that the quality of locally agreed syllabuses across the country is fairly patchy, with no common standard. So, requiring voluntary-aided faith schools to follow the agreed local syllabus rather than their own would at least mitigate what might be the effects of allowing some faith schools to teach an unbalanced curriculum of religious education, something that many people fear. It would ensure that our children have the opportunity to know what the full range of our heritage of values and beliefs is while learning the particular perspectives of their own.
I support the non-exclusive version of the faith school amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Baker. He made a powerful argument against complete separation, but at the same time he did acknowledge the powerful case made by the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed. I should like to say a few words about that, but here I must take issue with the noble Baroness, Lady Flather. I always hate to disagree with her, but in this case I think I must. It is no solution to the problem of under-achieving Muslim boys to force them into low-achieving, multi-faith or no-faith schools. Many Muslim parents and other parents who choose faith schools do so not because they want to preserve their family religion, but because they are fed up with the quality of education they would otherwise be getting in state schools. This illustrates the point that parents choose faith schools because they want a good education for their children and faith schools are much more likely to provide it. I agree with the point made that they should not be exclusive.
In principle, of course everyone should rise together, but equally, highly motivated minorities should not be held back by majorities. As for the integration argument, the best way to integrate Muslim and other minorities is to get as many as possible into the middle class, and the quickest way of doing that is up the educational escalator. I would not mind so much if people had a period of relatively separate education provided that they could mingle together at university and there find their role in British society according to their abilities. That is why I support a moderate version of the faith school.
I rise to speak to Amendment No. 81 in the name of my noble friend Lady Massey. My concern is with extremism and what may be taught in schools run by fundamentalists of any or all faiths, with their belief in the absolute truth of the creation of the world and origin of mankind as delineated in their holy books.
When I was at school, the theory of evolution was taken as, if I may use such a word, gospel: the good news, the truth, undoubted and rarely questioned. My father was a geologist and a science teacher, and I was brought up on Darwin. Genesis, Adam and Eve and the Flood were taught in what were then called "scripture lessons", but taught as beautiful myths, as stories to be believed in only by a credulous society living in a world before science as we now know it began. Now, thousands believe them and are being taught to believe them. Biology teachers at a sixth- form college have told me that many of their students say that they will learn the theory of evolution in order to get their A-levels and go on to higher education, but they know very well it is false and that God created the world in six days.
The usual answer to the question, "Is creationism taught in faith schools?" is "no" and that what is taught is the national curriculum requirement, the theory of evolution. Those replying usually fail to add that creationism and/or intelligent design is taught alongside it as a viable option, or taught in religious education classes. Professor Steve Jones, addressing the Royal Society, has said that to give creationism and evolution equal weight in education is,
"rather like starting genetics lectures by discussing the theory that babies are brought by storks".
The Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches have no problem with evolution, as they have none with the descent of man. Fundamentalists of almost all faiths refuse to accept this and therefore want their children to subscribe to that view too. The Seventh-day Adventist school in north London became in 1996 the first school run by a minor Christian denomination to receive state funding. It teaches Darwin because it is obliged to, but teaches creationism as well, as do some Muslim schools and a Hasmonean school which educates more than 1,000 Orthodox Jewish students. The director of Jewish studies at the school has made it clear that he would prefer Darwin to be dropped from the national curriculum.
I have been told by a child attending one of these schools that we have nothing to fear from global warming because God had promised that the Flood would never be repeated. When students learn that God created the world in six days, they will also hear the extremely sexist viewpoint that a woman was responsible for bringing sin into the world. In the face of fossil and dendrochronological proof, some creationists insist that the earth is 4004 years old and appear to believe that pine trees in California may seem to be nearly 10,000 years old only because God put the rings in their trunks for some obscure purpose intended to deceive mankind. Professor David Read, vice-president of the Royal Society, Britain's leading scientific academy, has said:
"The Royal Society fully supports questioning and debate in science lessons, as long as it is not designed to undermine young people's confidence in the value of scientific evidence".
Surely the teaching of creationism and such views as I have just mentioned, even when presented alongside the theory of evolution in a cynical attempt to comply with the national curriculum, is done plainly to undermine young people's confidence in proven scientific evidence. Are we in danger of entering a phase of existence in which, thanks to the encouragement of fundamentalism, to believe in creationism is the norm while to accept as truth evolution and the descent of man is an eccentricity? It is a possibility if the present trend in certain schools continues. I therefore support my noble friend's amendment.
I rise to support my noble friend Lady Flather, but I also have difficulty with supporting her. That may sound slightly schizoid, but if we go back to the Book of Common Prayer, the Authorised Version of the Bible and Shakespeare, those were the great works which were taught in Church schools before state education came along. The Church of England primary school in our village is a totally excellent and tolerant institution. The Roman Catholic school, whose prizes I gave out some years ago, is another excellent school in Guildford. What I suspect has happened is that we avoided the clash to which my noble friend Lord Baker referred—the clash between the Church and the state as happened in France. It was a vicious argument that lasted for 100 years and ended in total victory for secularism.
However, because the Churches produce such good and tolerant schools, we think, "What a good idea". I also suggest that the Muslims, the Jews and the Roman Catholics are saying that they want to follow the good example of the Church of England in its contribution to education. But the dangers pointed out by my noble friend Lord Baker override that. His speech on the admission criteria of some Muslim schools struck me, first, as something which the great Muslim intellectuals of Baghdad who translated from Greek into Arabic the principles of mathematics, chemistry and algebra certainly would have regarded as profoundly intolerant. What my noble friend read out for the Committee were the conditions of intolerance. The conditions in Northern Ireland are those of intolerance. It is that intolerance and exclusivity which are harmful to society. We have enough stresses in modern society, and we have enough difficulties with people who come here with completely real faiths that are not the same as what the country has been used to for many years. We must, because we are a tolerant and a successful society, adjust and ensure that we accept those arguments. What we cannot do is to apartheid-ise anything. Ghettoisation would be nothing but extremely bad, so, reluctantly, I come down to the view of my noble friend Lady Flather. I can see the argument for the tolerance of the Church of England system but, reluctantly, I come down to the view of supporting her amendment.
I support my noble friend Lady Massey on Amendment No. 205 in this group, to which I have put my name. As a number of people have said, faith schools are extremely divisive. I do not want to go over that ground again, except to say how much I support that view. Nevertheless, we have faith schools, and Amendment No. 205 endeavours to preserve the rights of pupils who do not support any particular religion and parents who do not wish their children to have religious education or attend religious worship. It gives the right for those pupils to be excused from religious education. It says that,
"the pupil shall be so excused until the request is withdrawn".
I would have thought that a perfectly reasonable proposition in an amendment that overall deals with collective worship. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will be willing to accept it. It seems to me that those who do not profess a religion ought to have the right not to be taught religious education or anything to do with religion if they or their parents do not want it.
Amendment No. 129, which the right reverend Prelate has spoken to this evening, concerns the employment of staff in schools with a religious character. I hope that the Minister will not feel inclined to accept the amendment, which would mean that very good and competent teachers might face non-employment. The idea that there should be arrangements under which teachers, before being appointed, should be willing to accept the religious colouring of the school in question is not acceptable. We have debated this from time to time in this House, and I think that there has been general agreement. Not all subjects have a religious content, and it should be possible for a teacher of, say, mathematics to still have a job at a religious school even though he may not himself adhere to the religion of the academy or organisation concerned. The amendment should not be accepted. Although it is perhaps not what the right reverend Prelate intended, I am quite sure that if it became part of the statute it would very soon become a practice among those foundations and voluntary schools or schools with a religious orientation. I hope that it will not be accepted.
I want to add a few words to support the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey. First, I reinforce the point that she made strongly and which was extremely convincingly argued by the noble Lord, Lord Baker, that more faith schools are bound to favour more segregation rather than integration. I do not want to repeat the arguments, but I will quote an eloquent description of what one would seek from education. This is from a letter from Rabbi Jonathan Romain, in the Times, on
"Lack of contact leads to ignorance of each other, which can breed suspicion and produce fear and hostility. The best way of finding out about members of other religions is not by reading books"— and I add, not necessarily by being taught about it—
"but by mixing with them. I want my children to sit next to a Sikh in class, play football in the break with a Methodist, do homework with a Hindu and walk to the bus stop with a Muslim before returning to their Jewish home".
I do not see how separate schools will further that aim, because the acknowledged purpose of such schools is to inculcate religious beliefs in children. The Church of England has declared that it aims to promote the Church of England through its schools; Catholic schools promote the Catholic religion and the aim of Muslim schools is to teach Islam. The headmaster of the Islamia School, to which the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, referred, said that it was part of the aim of his school to inculcate profound religious beliefs in the children—I think that that was how he put it. That must move people away from the kind of ideals expressed in the rabbi's letter. We live in a multicultural society, and I am in favour of a multicultural society, but with a maximum amount of integration. That integration must come from the schools. With great respect, I do not agree withthe noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, that this can be left to the university stage—the earlier the better.
My second reason for supporting the amendment is one that perhaps does not command more widespread support. I have no objection to schools teaching about religion, but it is wrong that schools should teach children to believe. They should teach doubt, and they should teach critical thinking. As a humanist, I respect the role of faith in people's lives, and I know that many people have come to hold their religious beliefs after long critical thought. But I am worried about the attitude of uncritical acceptance, without regard to evidence, of certain articles of faith, which is likely to be taught in religious schools. Consider a debate about stem cells and whether one should use embryonic cells or adult cells. That is an issue of evidence. Some people may argue that perhaps adult cells could be sufficient and one need not use embryos, but other people of a particular religion could not accept the evidence if it showed that stem cells were more effective and would uncritically accept that they should not be used.
Consider the issue, which is of great world importance, of the distribution of condoms in Africa to prevent the spread of AIDS. The Pope has announced that it is wrong, as have the evangelicals in America. The Muslims have announced that it is wrong. I regard the policy that they advocate as a crime against humanity, because it condemns hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people to death from AIDS.
I do not think that we should teach religion in our schools. The Americans have got it right. We are essentially a secular civilisation, and Enlightenment values have spread since the days of the Enlightenment gradually through our society. To promote faith schools is a retreat from Enlightenment values and is part of a current trend that I find deeply disturbing.
Before the noble Lord sits down, he said that the founder of Islamia School said that that school teaches Islam. The noble Lord gave the example of the rabbi who wanted children to mix with different communities. I hope that the noble Lord is not insinuating that Islam does not allow that. It is quite the contrary; those who are taught in Islamic schools are very much taught to live within a society that is multicultural and multi-religious and to respect everyone equally.
The point that I was making was that the rabbi said that he wants his kids at school to play football with members of a different religion,to sit beside someone of a different religion and to go to school on a bus with someone from a different religion, and that that will not happen in segregated schools.
My not speaking until now gives me an opportunity to reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, who raised a couple of points earlier in Committee. She said that all classes of schools have failure—I agree. As has been said, I chaired a group that looked at the future of Church of England schools. That caused me to look around and led me to the conclusion that any justification for the expansion of Church of England schools should be grounded in superiority of academic achievement. In a 400 to 500-paragraph report, only two paragraphs were addressed to that. In them, we referred to a degree of failure. We mentioned two schools that we had visited that were in special measures. We also acknowledged that the Church schools lived in the same world as the rest of us. As the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, rightly said, they depend very much on getting the right leadership. We counselled the Church not to venture into adding to the number of Church schools, especially as the policy that we recommended was to expand, if at all possible, primarily in areas of the greatest social and economic need. Those schools would therefore be at the greatest risk of failure. I entirely agree with the noble Baroness.
Reasonable academic performance is a necessary condition of being able conscientiously to recommend an expansion, but that is not a fundamental characteristic of a Church school. Rather, it is having a certain outlook on life. Young people have the experience of living within that community. However, we saw no evidence of any proselytising and seeking to convert children to something that was foreign to them.
Why then did we recommend an expansion of Church of England schools? When I spoke about this matter on the previous occasion, the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, shook her head when I said that there was parental demand. We had obtained some information on that, otherwise I might not have said it. If I remember the figures correctly—sometimes I do—in 1996, some years before we did our study, there were 1.3 applications for every place in a sample of 80 schools, which is nearly half the total of Church of England schools. By 2000, the figure had risen to 1.6. The right reverend Prelate said that, while the rolls for primary schools nationally had fallen by roughly 4.5 per cent, in Church of England primary schools rolls had fallen by only a third of that, which is further corroborative evidence. We should respond in education to parents' wishes. I understand that that it is a building block of the policy of the Government and the Conservative Party. That was a major element in the report.
The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, or the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, referred to the Sutton report. The Sutton report stated that the top schools were all characterised, whether they were faith schools or not, by a low proportion of people having free school meals. It is true that the faith schools were heavily represented in the top 200 schools, but the social class question was distinctive, as it was with the other schools. The report went on to point out that whereas the proportion of different social classes in community schools reflected their immediate community, it did not do so in the voluntary aided schools, even though the overall proportions were the same. That is legitimate, because if the faith school is distinctive in wanting in its pupil population a certain element, it has a wider catchment area than the immediate community.
I would have wished to have heard the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, before I spoke, but as few people were speaking up for faith schools, I felt that it was about time that we had a change of menu. I agree with the first element of the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, about beliefs, as long as we can find a way of defining the main beliefs rather than 1,001 beliefs. She will know what I mean. The other amendments in the group refer to importing as a matter of statutory requirement the use of an agreed curriculum into voluntary aided as well as voluntary control schools. That should be an objective, but a good deal of thinking and talking is needed beforewe move to a statutory requirement rather than something that has been accepted by the faiths and is gradually being adopted. We should not go about it this week, but it is an objective that we might look forward to meeting.
The issue of Muslim schools has come up several times. The noble Lord, Lord Baker, referred to the fact that Roman Catholic schools were originally exclusively for Roman Catholics. I think that thatwas because they were supporting an immigrant community. As time has gone by, they have accepted a wider intake in the great majority of cases. It is not surprising that, when there is a very small number of schools of the faith of an immigrant community, those schools should want to serve that community. The noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, said that there are 135 Muslim schools. That is a very small number and many of those schools are very small. It is not surprising that immigrants should want the same opportunity as the indigenous population to have their children work within the framework of their parents' faith. If there were 1,000 such schools, it would be a different matter, but the number is small.
I was listening to a lecture by Prince Hassan of Jordan a couple of months ago—one or two other Peers were perhaps present. He examined the reasons for the world's great problems. Underpinning them all, as he said it, was the divide in dignity. He was referring to his own people in particular and their feeling that dignity is denied them. Similarly, in our own community, we have to be very sensitive to the feelings of those who have come to this country and who are often—this is so of Muslim families—living on low incomes. The families contain many more members than is normally the case. None of the adult members of the family has a job and they live in overcrowded conditions.
If it was the will of Parliament in some way to block Muslim schools, that would be seen as a profoundly unacceptable signal about their rights as members of our civilisation and as a lack of acceptance of their right to dignity. We should do well to ponder that. I have been into only a couple of Muslim schools, but I have read elsewhere that many of the parents who send their children there are not as well heeled as is typical of the Anglo-Saxon community. They make a great sacrifice. They only pay low fees, and that is reflected in what can be offered them. If there was a bar on any more faith schools in the public sector, the aspirations of quite a number of those schools to come into the public sector and be properly funded with adequate and well qualified teaching staff—aspirations that have been encouraged to some extent—would be denied. The composition of the governing body would not be widened as it otherwise would be. Even if the school is voluntary-aided, it is always a local authority member.
For a time, the noble Lord, Lord Baker, and I had different roles in life and I knew where I stood. He was the Minister and I was the chairman of a nationalised industry who came and made a case to him. On the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Baker, I am not speaking for the Church of England at all; I am speaking for Ron Dearing. Of the hundred-odd Church of England schools coming along, 30 per cent must be not of the faith of the foundation. I would say, "No problem, easy!" I nearly said that some might find it difficult to make up the number of the faith. There are definitional problems, but for many long-established faiths this would not be a problem. For the Muslims, however, it could be. I would regret anything that would be interpreted in the Muslim community as a rule that would bite on them but nobody else.
My 30 per cent target to prevent a school being exclusive was meant to encourage schools of separate faiths—not just Islam—to encourage children from other faiths to go to that school. If they did, they would get the state money, the very point the noble Lord was making at the beginning. They would not be cheated. But if they did not get to 30 per cent, they would not get the state money. That is the iron hand in my velvet glove.
I understand. We have both made our points, and I shall not pursue that matter.
I turn to divisiveness, which has been mentioned again and again. I totally understand it. I do not think bringing in Northern Ireland is a fair analogy. We could debate that on another occasion; it is a rather different situation from that in England. The more that faith schools are committed to pupils of their own faith, the more they have a strong obligation to the whole community to encourage respect for other faiths. They must import into their ethos statement that the school offers active goodwill and respect to fellow citizens of other faiths. They should seek opportunities for joint activities with schools of other faiths, or community schools where there are many of another faith. There is a major responsibility to do that kind of thing, and not stay behind closed doors.
Finally, if we look back, although faiths say things that are unacceptable to many of us and have made bad mistakes, a great body of good has been done. When the state did not provide schools for the poor, who did? It was the Churches—and not just a few, but by the thousands. When the state provided education in 1870, it had a tough job getting people to move over to it. It is fair to recognise that a great deal of good has been done, and it would be sad if we turned our back on all that has been achieved.
On Saturday, 10 days ago, I was taking a school service in an independent school in my diocese. The service began with contributions from Buddhist, Sikh, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish and Christian pupils. I thought to myself, "In the context of a school with a clear Christian history and identity, what a great experience for these pupils". I also thought, "Isn't it a pity that only those who can pay for this education get that experience?".
One of the problems with this debate is that if you do not provide for what the people want in the public sector, those who can afford it will pay for it elsewhere. Those who cannot will find other mechanisms in their community to make some provision for the needs of their families and communities. We must come to terms with the fact that we are now a multicultural, multi-faith society. Education must reflect that. We cannot go on behaving as if a secular model will do. Understanding and sympathising with what lies behind the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Baker, neither do I think that we can impose integration. We cannot achieve it like that. Different communities are going to have different educational needs in a multicultural society.
A crucial thing to be achieved is that every facet of our multicultural community must have confidence in its identity and history if it is to thrive. I live with that in my diocese; I have the Borough of Newham, which is probably the most multicultural borough in most of Europe. A multicultural society does not work as a result of us all gradually becoming the same. It works as a result of us enjoying the difference and learning to live good neighbourly lives across the many faces of our community life.
Education must reflect that. While one understands, culturally, what lies behind these amendments, some of them would have a damaging effect upon our capacity to build that multicultural community, and build the next generation with sufficient confidence to thrive in it. If that requires Muslim schools, provided that educational and cultural standards are met and the community is satisfied about that, they may be essential at this moment in history for the flourishing of our multicultural society. We have had it with Catholic and Church of England histories, and I can take noble Lords to many places where the quality of those contributions has been enormous. We should strive for every school, whatever its character, to make a wholesome contribution to building the welfare of the whole community. That is what it is about. If we can understand that, we can be a little more relaxed about today's diversification of education.
I had better speak to my amendments in this group. I have been reminded by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, that I was enjoying listening too much rather than speaking.
To start where the right reverend Prelate left off: yes—on consideration and having listened to all the arguments—that is where I find myself. It is enormously important that schools should make a contribution to their local community and, where that is possible—I take the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, that that is less possible for newly arrived communities than established ones—they should open their doors and aim to be multi-ethnic schools.
The right reverend Prelate will know that I have a continuing objection to the admissions practice of some Anglican schools. As many will know, I edit The Good Schools Guide so much of this passes in front of me. Frankly, some Anglican schools are socially selective. They have set their selection procedures so that not only do they get Anglicans but they get middle-class Anglicans. I regard that as destructive. I think that view is shared by most of the Bishops' Benches. As I said at Second Reading, I would be delighted to support any moves from the Bishops' Benches to give them more power to bring these schools into line. Many more Catholic schools do the same thing or are entirely religiously selective. It is time the Catholics joined the rest of us.
From many Catholic friends and relations I sense that there is a residual feeling of being apart that comes from their Catholic education and from many centuries of persecution. It is time that ended. The way to end it is to follow the route that has been followed by most Catholic independent schools, which is to admit a pretty large proportion of non-Catholics. One thinks of the Catholic schools in the middle of London where there is a great shortage of good education. They are incredibly selective on grounds of religion. The London Oratory and many others effectively exclude large parts of their local community, even the quasi-Catholic community.
I was brought up in a religious family and on Don Camillo. The advice of the Lord to Don Camillo that he must baptise Peppone's child, whatever Peppone's attachment to communism, is entirely the right attitude. Certainly, when it comes to Church schools, I would be quite content, as would many of us—I include myself as, having been brought up on religion, I have abandoned it—for my child to go to a Church school. Indeed, I would value the philosophy that goes with such a school; I would value that being part of her life.
Looking at schools that are essentially secular, such as the Camden School for Girls, one can see how much they benefit from large Muslim populations which lend them a very strong moral tone. That is one reason why the Camden School for Girls has succeeded. One's child can benefit in many ways from being in a religious atmosphere, which is why a non-religious person might wish to have access to such a school. Therefore, I have a strong objection to the continuance of mainstream Catholic and Anglican schools that practice total insistence on one religion. During Report or Third Reading, I would very much like us to adopt an amendment that would open up those schools.
I understand that some of the newer and smaller communities will want their own schools and they may feel that their security is bedded in those kinds of school. Where there are only a few, it does not hurt too much. The small collection of Jewish schools in London is tolerable, although I have found it very difficult to deal with the graduates of some of those schools who refuse to break bread with me because they feel that doing so will make them unclean. I find that a difficult attitude to have grown up with; I do not believe that they would have grown up with that attitude if they had gone to a more mixed school.
I believe that such schools are tolerable in small amounts. It is difficult for the Muslim community because it is numerous. There are difficult relations between Muslims and Christians throughout the world and the Government appear to be conducting a love affair with the Muslim brotherhood which I find extremely difficult to agree with. Naturally, we have fears about these things. But, at the end of the day, what the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, and the right reverend Prelate said is right: we have to be trusting in these matters. We know how these things have developed in the past—that is fine—so let the community and the community relations mature, but for goodness' sake let us give them an impetus. Let us say that any school which is selective on religious grounds has to be prepared to admit, say, 25 per cent of children from other faiths, even though they might not apply. Beyond that, schools should have to make a real effort to bring those children in to integrate with the local community; they have an obligation to interact with other schools and other children of other faiths in a way that might make it unattractive. A school which started off as 100 per cent Muslim or Jewish or Scientologist or whatever and is still that way in 15 years' time might be invited politely to return to the private sector.
I have an amendment in this group and I think it is time that I was allowed to speak to it. I have very much enjoyed hearing from those Members who do not have amendments in this group. I believe this debate has demonstrated your Lordships' House at its best. It seems a pity that we have been forced to have such a mixed group of amendments and that we have to talk to them altogether. In some ways, the discussion has been broken up a little because of that.
Before speaking to my amendments, I should make a few brief comments, from a personal point of view, about some of the comments that have been made by other Members. I do not often find myself in total agreement with the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, nor with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, but I agree with both of them when they speak of intolerance and exclusivity being characteristics that we should not encourage in our schools. Although I have enormous sympathy with the concerns expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, and by my noble friend Lady Tonge and others who supported the first amendment in the group, I am concerned about the idea of an absolute ban on the expansion of any more Church schools.
I am attracted by what my noble friend Lady Tonge hinted at in her excellent speech; that there is an alternative to the expansion of more Church schools and the right of Muslim groups to have their own schools. That is epitomised by the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking, which is a compromise. People of faith make up a large percentage of the community in this country and they have a right to have an involvement in education. However, I would prefer that that involvement happened as part of maintained community nonsecular schools. If they really do not want to do that, I believe they have a right to have something else.
The noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking, suggested a compromise which contained the "q" word—quota—which I know many noble Lords do not like, but I can give the Committee an example where I have seen it working rather well. Last summer, I went to the small country of Fiji and had a chat with the Minister of Education there. Fiji does two things very well. One is playing rugby, which is why I was there. The other is that it has integrated the ethnic Fijian and Indian communities extremely well in its schools. I asked the Minister what was the secret and she said, "Money". The state says that if you do not integrate, you do not get the money. That is a strong indication that we should look at something along the lines of what the noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking, suggested.
I share the concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, about Amendment No. 129. I also share the concerns of my noble friend Lord Taverne and his preference for religion to be taught in the home or a place of worship rather than in a maintained school, but that is an aside.
The main reason for rising is to speak to my Amendment No. 217A, which would allow pupils aged 16 and over to choose to exclude themselves from acts of collective worship rather than have to rely on their parents to do it for them, as now. The Committee may have heard that the Joint Committee on Human Rights is minded to look at this amendment with a view to giving its opinion. However, leading human rights lawyers have already given their opinions and they believe that there is no justification for forcing young people to take part in a religious service with which they do not agree. Freedom of worship, or non-worship in this case, is a basic part of our rights as citizens of a free country, so I would be surprised if the Joint Committee on Human Rights and the Minister did not agree with us.
Of course, there is a case for a slightly different amendment—one that draws a line at the point at which a young person becomes competent to make a decision for himself, but that may differ depending on the maturity of the individual. That would be hard to decide without a professional assessment of the individual, their maturity and their competence to decide, which is why we have laid our relatively simple amendment. It would be strange for a young person to be old enough to work, pay taxes, manage his own money, get married, have children, fight for his country and possibly even vote but not be competent to absent himself from an act of collective worship.
There have been some high profile cases recently where young people have taken the matter into their own hands. This week's Times Educational Supplement has a story on its front page about some schools trying to impose their religious values on young people. Some 100 pupils signed a petition protesting at the decision to invite a pro-life campaigner to lecture in a school where 17 young people were excluded for a day after they refused to go to Mass and then had to undergo a re-entry interview. Those practices are self-defeating. You cannot impose a religion on anyone and efforts to do so will probably have the opposite effect. If we want young people to take responsibility and act maturely, surely we should respect their rights to decide for themselves on a matter such as this.
I apologise to the Committee that my amendment is not about the same issue as the one which has been debated so fascinatingly this evening, but because we have these enormous non-homogeneous groups of amendments, this sort of thing comes up. I really felt that it was time that I spoke to my amendment in this group, and I hope for a positive response from the Minister.
I think that it is the wish of the Committee that I should now respond to the debate.
This has been an excellent if emotive debate giving a good deal of food for reflection hereafter. I will start in the spirit of peace and goodwill. After much ministerial deliberation and reflection, we accept most of the spirit of Amendment No. 217A moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, to which she has just spoken. Pupils aged over 16 should be able to withdraw themselves from collective worship rather than it being a matter for parental consent, as it is for 16 year-olds and under. We will discuss that further with our partners in the faith communities and beyond, but I will seek to move an appropriate amendment at Report.
Beyond that, we do not think it right to reopen the whole issue of collective worship on which there is a fairly broad consensus within the educational and faith communities. I say broad rather than universal because nothing pertaining to faith has universal consensus, and I deeply respect the views of my noble friend Lady Massey on this issue. However, in the context of the right of parents to withdraw their children, the flexibilities that schools have in respect of the diversity of their communities and the way that they conduct collective worship, we do not see a case for a wider change.
I can respond to Amendment No. 83, in the name of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Peterborough, in an equally consensual spirit. We certainly agree that anyone contemplating proposals to close schools should consider the effect on diversity in the area concerned and in particular if there would be a reduction in the choice of schools with a religious character. Statutory guidance makes it clear that in deciding proposals to close schools of a religious character, the decision maker—currently the school organisation committee but it will become the local authority, to accompany the school adjudicator —should consider the effect that this will have on the balance of denominational provision in the area. The guidance goes on to say that parental demand and the standards of the school should also be taken into account. We will aim to retain these protections in the guidance to be issued under the Bill on which we will consult fully.
On faith schools, two broad propositions have been put before us. The first is that there should be no more within the state sector, which is in Amendment No. 81 tabled by my noble friend Lady Massey. The second is the proposition that there should be a greater diversity in admissions, which was broadly the proposal of the noble Lords, Lord Baker and Lord Lucas. These are issues on which there are strongly held, passionate views on all sides, which the Government deeply respect. Our job is to take a position which we believe to be consistent with the public interest. I want to set out our position as briefly as I can.
Taking the right to establish faith schools first, the Government believe it would unacceptably infringe the rights of parents in local communities to havea ban on the establishment of new faith schools. Article 2 of Protocol 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights provides for the right for parents to have their children educated in accordance with their religion and other views.
Throughout the history of state education in this country, which of course predates the ECHR, Parliament has recognised this basic right and has accordingly agreed to the state funding of appropriately regulated faith schools over and above allowing private faith schools which, apart from closure for reasons of unacceptably poor standards, could only be closed by a fundamental breach of the ECHR.
But our position is not just a question of the ECHR and historical commitments, important as they are. My party has explicitly supported the right of parents within proper local decision-making processes to establish state-funded state schools within the current regulatory system. Our 2005 manifesto said:
"Britain has a positive position of independent providers within the state system, including church and other faith schools. Where new educational providers can help boost standards and opportunities in a locality, we will welcome them into the state system, subject to parental demand, fair funding and fair admissions".
And I should add proper local consultation and decision-making.
That was the manifesto on which we were elected and we intend to stick to it. I could not put the arguments better than did my noble friend Lady Morris, who was Secretary of State when amendments to the Education Bill 2002 were debated in another place—amendments which, like some of those moved today, would have obliged state faith schools to change their admissions criteria to restrict faith-based admissions. My noble friend, who I was glad to see in her place earlier, said:
"Our starting point is that it cannot be naturally right in a rich multicultural, multi-faith society that only Jews and Christians have managed to get faith-based schools. We would not look at the leadership of the country, find that it did not include many people of Afro-Caribbean and Asian minority faiths, then turn round and say, 'They cannot have wanted it'. We would say that the structure must work effectively, and it is in that sense that the Government have promoted the wish for more faith schools".—[Hansard, Commons, 6/2/02; col. 896.]
My noble friend went on to say:
"I want these schools to be in the maintained sector rather than the independent sector. I want them to be in the framework of accountability and their performance data to be placed in the public domain, as happens in the maintained sector. We do not all agree about that, but it is a strong argument. I also want faith schools to have to make available to their pupils the equal opportunities for boys and girls that schools in the maintained sector are obliged to provide".—[Hansard, Commons, 6/2/02; col. 901.]
I could not put those arguments stronger myself and the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, made some very good points about the benefits. Parents want such schools to be in the maintained sector rather than in the wholly private sector. My noble friend Lord Ahmed made an impassioned speech on this point and I believe that his arguments merit close attention.
In the maintained sector, there are no fees. In the private sector, there are fees. In the maintained sector, schools must operate any admissions criteria that comply with the School Admissions Code of Practice. In the independent sector, they do have to comply with the Disability Discrimination Act but they have much wider latitude. In the maintained sector, faith schools must have a governing body, including parent, teacher and community representation. In the independent sector, that is not the case. In the maintained sector, schools must employ teachers who have qualified teacher status and head teachers who have the National Professional Qualification for Headship. In the independent sector, they need do neither. In the maintained sector, schools must employ teachers according to the state School Teachers' Pay and Conditions Document and accord them pay and conditions, including pension rights, on this basis. In the private sector, they need do none of these things, and indeed pay rates often in private Muslim schools, which my noble friend referred to, are much lower than they are in state schools. These are all arguments which should be weighed in the balance when local decision-makers decide.
It is their decisions, not the decisions of central Government, that hold whether it is appropriate for Muslim schools to be able to enter the state system.
The noble Lord, Lord Baker, produced some extremely interesting conditions in Muslim schools that had to be fulfilled, such as how many bits of the Koran pupils could recite, how much they knew, had they read it, et cetera. If they were to produce rules whereby girls had to wear the veil, how does one expect that non-Muslims would want to send their children there? It is that exclusivity that worries one. Will the Government make sure that those admission policies cited by the noble Lord, Lord Baker, and my hypothesis on the veil are not allowed, because that would be extremely exclusive and offensive to the host community?
I was just about to move on to admissions, which is the second big subject before us.
We do not support the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Baker, although I understandthe concerns that led to it. It is not clear to us how the amendment would work in practice; if he intends to bring it back on Report, as I think that he might, it would be useful for the House to know more about what he intends. He referred to the two Christian faiths; I am not a theologian—I leave those matters to my right reverend friends—but I understand that there is one Christian faith. That is an issue of some importance, because the practical effect of his amendment is that schools should be required to admit 30 per cent of pupils who,
"are not practising the religion of the school".
We need to be clear what he means by the "religion of the school"—the denomination or the religion.
There are some big issues here. I highlight that problem, but there will be many others; in fact, a whole set of practical issues will emerge in seeking to have quotas of the kind that he intends. In the course of good legislation and good government, those problems will be difficult to resolve, and we will point them out if the amendment comes back on Report. If it were passed, it would apply to every faith school. If we did not have answers to many of those acute practical issues, it would be a severe impediment to the implementation of the law.
Perhaps the Minister's officials will give some thought to my proposals. After all, the Government are happy to impose a system of quotas for universities, where they define the numbers quite precisely. I will have a go myself at how the quotas in my proposals would work, but I am sure that his officials could design it.
We do not have any faith quotas in respect of universities, and I cannot for the life of me imagine how we would start to devise them.
There is an issue about the practicality of what the noble Lord proposes. I noted that, in the course of the debate, he and the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, appeared to accept that some minority faith schools might not think that their own requirements in terms of quotas applied. If that is the case, we would need to have that view elucidated before any proposition was before us that we could consider seriously.
The fact that we do not think it appropriate to introduce legislation of this kind does not mean that we do not share the view of the faith communities themselves that their schools should be inclusive, including being open as appropriate to other faiths and taking very seriously their obligations to have strong community engagement with all faith and non-faith elements of their local community. An increasing proportion of Christian faith schools are doing that, including allowing a greater diversity of admissions.
I shall briefly point out two facts. Provisional figures as at January 2006 show that 21 per cent of children attending Roman Catholic secondary schools and 17.5 per cent of pupils attending Church of England schools are from ethnic minorities, compared with 16.2 per cent for non-faith schools. That appears indicative of a growing diversity of admissions to the Christian faith schools, and does not by itself support an argument that there is a serious problem of exclusivity. The figures in respect of free school meals show the same.
The research by Professor David Jesson at the University of York shows that voluntary aided—that is, predominantly church—and non-voluntary-aided secondary schools taken as a whole show almost identical levels of eligibility for free school meals which is a proxy for deprivation and does not seem to indicate that faith schools are discriminating against the poor.
These are all issues to be weighed in a further debate if the noble Lord, Lord Baker, were to bring back his amendment. The Government could not possibly support unworkable propositions which would seek to impose quotas against the wishes of the faith communities and which we do not believe could be fairly implemented in practice.
Amendment No. 208, in the name of my noble friend Lady Whitaker, would require every locally agreed syllabus for religious education to take account of the teaching and practices of the principal "beliefs" represented in Great Britain, including secular beliefs.
The current situation is that locally agreed syllabuses must reflect the fact that the religious traditions in Great Britain are in the main Christian while taking account of the teaching and practices of the other principal religions represented in Great Britain. The agreed syllabus conferences which draw up RE syllabuses for schools without a religious character are already able to reflect the study of secular beliefs as part of a syllabus. Indeed, my department's non-statutory framework for religious education, which has been endorsed by all the major faith communities, highlights opportunities to study and discuss secular beliefs as well as religious beliefs.
The second part of my noble friend's amendment would mean that all schools with a religious character, including voluntary-aided schools, would adopt the locally agreed syllabus unless parents request that they provide religious education in accordance with the trust deed or tenets of the school. To enforce such a requirement in respect of all faith schools would be an infringement of the legitimate autonomy of voluntary-aided schools with a religious character. However, the Government are glad to note that the leaders of all the major faith communities agreed earlier this year that they would ensure that,
"schools with a religious designation should teach not only their own faith but also an awareness of the tenets of other faiths".
That path-breaking statement by the leaders of all the major religions in our country bears citing more fully in order to respond to the wider issues raised in the debate. The faith leaders agreed that religious education should enable pupils to develop respect for and sensitivity to others and in particular those whose faith and beliefs are different from their own. It should promote discernment and enable pupils to combat prejudice.
Those are objectives we warmly endorse. I believe that they will commend themselves to the House.
When I began speaking two hours ago, I had thought that we would have concluded the debate before now. It has been a fascinating and a most encouraging debate. I shall need conversations with many people across the House, in particular with the noble Lord, Lord Baker, about his amendments.
I am confused about one or two matters. The right reverend Prelate said that we should not impose integration. Does that mean that we should impose segregation? I still think that faith schools can divide communities; and that is dangerous. We have sometimes confused religious diversity with ethnic diversity. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, I do not think that we do any favours to children who come into this country by segregating them. At my school, which is a multi-ethnic, multi-faith school, children learn language and social skills rapidly when they come into the school from abroad.
The issue of parental choice for a faith school can be a choice for a nice, white, middle-class school. We all know the contortions some parents go through in order to get their children into such a school. My noble friend Lord Ahmed—again, I shall need conversation with him—said that he did not want to be divisive. Two things happen. It may be divisive to send a child to a faith school in the community. Alternatively, some children are moved from the community in order to go to faith schools which are miles away. Either way, I do not think that that is good for communities.
On collective worship, I agree with everything the right reverend Prelate said, except the religious bits. I am sorry the Minister cannot accept this amendment. I am certainly not implying that young people in Muslim schools were involved in disturbances or become terrorists, and I am not suggesting that the closure of current faith schools should be attempted. We need to see where we take these amendments—mine and that of the noble Lord, Lord Baker, and others—on the whole issue of faith schools in a community and trying not to segregate.
Finally, I must say that tonight we have provided an excellent example of how discussions across faiths can be productive, and I would wish the same for all schools. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave withdrawn.
Clause 15 [Proposals for discontinuance of schools maintained by local education authority]:
[Amendments Nos. 82 to 84 not moved.]
Clause 15 agreed to.
Clause 16 agreed to.
Clause 17 [Direction requiring discontinuance of community or foundation special school]:
[Amendments Nos. 85 and 86 not moved.]
Clause 17 agreed to.
Schedule 2 [Proposals for establishment or discontinuance of schools in England]:
[Amendments Nos. 87 to 89 not moved.]
Schedule 2 agreed to.
Clause 18 [Alterations that may be made under section 19]:
[Amendments Nos. 90 and 91 not moved.]
Before the Motion is put, could we please ask for a business statement to be made when we reassemble in one hour's time?