moved Amendment No. 1:
Page 1, line 5, after "Duty" insert "to secure the right to a suitable education appropriate to the child's needs"
My Lords, I shall also speak to Amendment No. 2 in the same group. Both amendments are also tabled in the names of my noble friend Lady Sharp and the noble Lord, Lord Judd.
My colleagues and I have brought back these amendments because, despite helpful meetings with the Bill team, we have not been satisfied that there is any good reason why the local authority's duty to secure the child's right to an education should not be put in the Bill. The Joint Committee on Human Rights, in its report on the Bill, made clear its wish that the child's right as enshrined in the UN convention be placed in the Bill. The question is how to do it.
The Government's lawyers say that the right is enshrined elsewhere in law, under four pillars, and that if we restate it in the Bill the whole edifice will come tumbling down. However, a different view was taken in Scotland and the world has not come to an end. In the Standards in Scotland's Schools etc. Act 2000, the Scottish Parliament provided in Section 1, entitled "Right of child to school education":
"It shall be the right of every child of school age to be provided with school education by, or by virtue of arrangements made, or entered into, by, an education authority".
Section 2, entitled "Duty of education authorityin providing school education", provides in subsection (1):
"Where school education is provided to a child or young person by, or by virtue of arrangements made, or entered into, by, an education authority it shall be the duty of the authority to secure that the education is directed to the development of the personality, talents and mental and physical abilities of the child or young person to their fullest potential".
I will not tire noble Lords by reading the rest of that section; it is pretty clear.
I accept that this is a declaratory statement but it is none the worse for that, and I do not believe thatany civil servants have lost their job because of its inclusion in that legislation. Indeed, in Amendments Nos. 7, 8 and 9, which are very welcome, the Government are doing the same thing. For two years they have been assuring us that schools already have a duty to promote the well-being of pupils but now they see fit to make it clear in legislation. That is what we are trying to do today with the right to education.
It might be worth asking why the Joint Committee on Human Rights felt it necessary to include such a provision in the Bill. Children's right to education is under threat across the world. Political situations, refugee situations and poverty mean that many millions of children do not receive an education. Some teachers even lose their lives for providing education. I was moved and horrified to read that on
Our amendment is not a blank cheque. We are asking for no more than the right of the child as enshrined in the UN convention, not any particular kind of education in a particular school. Lines 7 and 8 of Clause 1 refer to the education functions,
"to which this section applies...(so far as they are capable of being so exercised)".
To fulfil our requested duty, a local authority must show only that it has done its very best to provide an appropriate education for each child. Obviously, we hope that the education they provide will be appropriate for every child and properly resourced.
We are not asking for a lot. We are not asking for anything that the Government say is not a child's right. We are asking that we stand up and be counted on this, and make it quite clear. The ordinary man in the street does not have the opportunity to go to a legal library to consult half a dozen Acts of Parliament and a good deal of case law in order to find out what the law is. We have here an opportunity to make it absolutely clear that it is the duty of the local authority to ensure that parents are carrying out their responsibility to give their child an education, whether that education is provided by the authority itself, bought in from another authority, provided at home, at an independent school, or in another appropriate way. That is all we are asking for: it is little enough. I beg to move.
My Lords, I warmly applaud this amendment. We greatly appreciate the consideration the Minister has given our concerns, and the meetings he has facilitated with those responsible within the department. We had good discussions together, and we very much appreciated that opportunity.
It seems to me sad that a new education Bill should be couched in the—very necessary—language of management and implementation, but fail to spell out at its masthead what we are all trying to achieve. It fails to establish the rallying point around which the rest gather. That is profoundly sad. Teachers are under intense pressure, as are all those involved in the education system. There is great dedication in the profession and among others providing education. That everything required of them by this Bill is in order to fulfil the right of the child to education should appear in words of one syllable in the opening clauses of the Bill. This is the standard to which everybody else can then rally.
My noble friend has argued very well that there are the four pillars. We all take the four pillars seriously and judicial opinion supports the Minister on this matter. The Minister also asks why we need to put it into the Bill when it is in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. We have been reminded by my noble friend the Chief Whip that we must not argue at length matters that have already been argued, so I will forgo that temptation. Let me simply say that, yes, it is there in the convention, and we should be proud of the part we played in making that convention a reality. If we played that splendid part, surely it should be reflected and spelt out in our own legislation?
The noble Baroness referred to Scotland. In all our discussions I have not heard any convincing arguments as to why what was possible in Scotland—that is, to have this rallying point—is not possible south of the Border. There is one other matter I want to mention: in enthusiastically supporting the noble Baroness, I have one quarrel with something she said today in the House. She said that local education authorities will only have to prove that they have done their best. I should like to feel that local education authorities must demonstrate that they have done their level best. It is a strong obligation.
The noble Baroness went on to make a telling point about the realities of the educational challenge across the world and the penalties being paid by courageous teachers. If we can back up what is set out in the convention by spelling it out in our own legislation, it indicates what should be the policy and in the legislation of other countries. As I say, that is a powerful point.
But much nearer home, I am concerned about what is happening today. For example, for children in detention and those caught up in immigration and asylum procedures, none of which is of their making, it is not absolutely clear in all circumstances that appropriate education is being provided. We want to ensure that the children caught up in such painful psychological experiences are not still further damaged by not having a key pointer in the legislation which states that there must a right to appropriate education for all children and that the local education authority has a responsibility to provide it. That is terribly important in order to ensure that children who find themselves in a predicament for which they are not responsible are not deprived of the essential education which they should be receiving. It is a struggle to ensure that it is provided, so a specific reference in the Bill would greatly strengthen the position for those who are trying to make sure thatit does.
The House should be grateful to the noble Baroness for giving us an opportunity, as we pass this Bill, to spell out clearly what it is all about, what is its purpose and why we should all get behind it and make it a success.
My Lords, the House is grateful to the noble Baroness for giving us the opportunity to discuss this issue yet again, but I fear that the Government's position remains as it was on the two previous occasions we considered it. While we wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment and intent behind the amendment, as supported by my noble friend, we do not believe it would be appropriate to make this change to primary legislation.
After long and careful consideration, we still believe that the current legal provisions, supported by jurisprudence, are the most effective way of securing the right to education, and we do not support these further changes. In particular, I note that Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 relate only to duties on local authorities. This could cut across the existing fourfold foundation of the right to education which, as I expounded at length at cols. 657 and 658 on
"has endured over a long period because it has, I think, certain inherent strengths".—[Hansard, 17/10/06; col. 657.]
We believe that seeking to elevate one of those elements risks weakening the others. Furthermore, an effect of placing a duty on local authorities to secure the right of every child to suitable education in the way proposed here could, we are advised, be used as a legal argument to cut across parental choice and the right of children to be educated either at home or at an independent school. As regards Scotland, raised by both my noble friend and the noble Baroness, it is right that there is such a provision in the law of Scotland, but it has not yet once been deployed in a legal case, so we are not in a position to judge what its effect might be on those who wished to avail themselves of an education that was not of a kind approved in other respects by the public authorities. For these reasons, I regret to say that we oppose these amendments.
My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for his not unexpected reply, and I am grateful too to the noble Lord, Lord Judd, for his support. The Minister asked why we want to put this duty on local authorities. It is because this Bill puts a duty on local authorities to identify those children not receiving an education. What therefore follows to us poor logical souls is that one should also make it clear whose duty it is to ensure that the child's right is secured. Of course the parents and the Secretary of State have responsibilities. Those are clearly stated in other pieces of legislation. Indeed, local authorities have a number of levers and sanctions in order to assist them, to make sure that the parents fulfil their part of the bargain. But it is because of something elsewhere in the Bill. We felt it necessary to bring forward the amendment today.
The Minister says that in Scotland the situation has not been challenged legally—that there are no legal cases. Well, QED, say I. That sounds to me as if it is quite clear and not causing any problem. That is why there are no cases.
We feel very strongly about this. It is absolutely fundamental. We believe that it should be stated right up front in the Bill. We would like to test the opinion of the House.
My Lords, this group of amendments will, I hope, pave the way to greater responsibility from schools in their role in improving integration and cohesion in the community. Amendment No. 3 is a probing amendment to ensure that the proposers of new schools are expected to set out their plans for fostering community cohesion in their submissions under Clause 7. I am sure that, with the provisions of the amendments in my name and in the names of others, that would be a routine matter. I therefore propose to spend my few moments talking about the other amendments.
Of those, Amendments Nos. 7 and 19 are substantial and indeed incorporate new material. Amendment No. 24 is a matter of tidying up thereafter. Amendments Nos. 7 and 19 specify significant and important new duties and where these new duties should lie. Amendment No. 7 places a duty on the governing body of a maintained school to promote the well-being of pupils at that school and, in the case of a school in England, to promote community cohesion. Amendment No. 19 places a duty on the chief inspector to report on,
"the contribution made by the school to community cohesion".
I shall be focusing in my comments upon community cohesion; others, I am sure, will welcome and focus upon well-being.
The background to this is the debate that we have been having for some weeks, nationally and within this House, on the nature and responsibilities of faith schools in our system. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Baker, for initiating an important debate on this at Report. I must, however, distinguish between paying tribute and necessarily agreeing. That is for further down the road.
How are we to deal with the dangers of what David Hume referred to as "errors in religion"? A thorough education in the history of religions indicates both the benefits that religion can give and has given to society as well as to individuals and also the disastrous consequences of what Hume called "errors in religion"—errors which can promote exclusion rather than inclusion, myopia rather than vision, imprisonment of the mind rather than freedom of thought, zippered lips rather than free-flowing pens, and, from the point of view of the amendment before us, errors which might promote disruption rather than cohesion. These errors are dangerous, and there is no one in this House who would encourage them. In the context of education—education of the young—these errors are doubly dangerous. The question is how to avoid them, and that is the intent of these amendments.
The force of the amendments is first to give a duty to school governing bodies and to point schools in the direction of promoting cohesion—that is, towards cohesion and inclusion rather than disruption and exclusion. Secondly, they would give a duty to the chief inspector to inspect and report on how effectively such a responsibility is being met. I believe that the inspection system we have is capable of doing this in a thorough, fair and comprehensive—as well as comprehensible—manner.
As a way of avoiding the danger of such errors, the amendments can be commended for three distinct reasons. Many ways of avoiding the dangers of error have been proposed, but I suggest there are three reasons for supporting these amendments. First, they build on an established, proven and universally applied set of procedures developed by Ofsted over the years. This is no new and uncertain proposal introduced to deal with a specific group of new emerging schools. Secondly, they rightly link this duty to promote cohesion and the duty to inspect that with the inspection of the whole school. Let me illustrate. Among other responsibilities that the chief inspector has for reporting, he or she has to report on the quality of education, educational standards, and the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils. These matters for report and inspection are a roll call of the markers of excellence in education.
The point that this makes is that cohesion in our society starts with literacy and numeracy, with educational standards and quality of education. That has to do with cohesion in society, but it does not end there. Cohesion in society has much more to it than that. The amendment affirms, and does so emphatically, that in our society, promoting cohesion shares in the order of priorities at the heart of our education system.
The third advantage of this way of dealing with potential difficulties born of errors is that our call for cohesion in society is presented not as an additional rod for the back of new or even existing schools; this is not a new way of subjugating the aspirations of schools. Rather, it is a positive encouragement to join an educational system which is informed by the core values and aspirations of our society, of which cohesion is one, and rightly features very highly in current times. It is also an invitation to participate in encouraging those values—here summed up by the word "cohesion"—and to help embed these values in the education system, the education that is provided by each school according to its own lights, if they are good schools, as a whole education for the wholeness of individuals within society.
In addition, it is clear that this group of amendments is a clear statement that judgments will be made, and they will be acted upon, within a legislative and universal envelope. These judgments are to be made by the school inspection system about the effectiveness and the will of governing bodies to promote community cohesion. We expect that such reports will be acted upon if necessary. They are not simply pieces of paper; there is a firmness and an intention to deal with the dangers of what would disrupt, rather than provide, cohesion within the community. On behalf of what I can regard only as a rainbow coalition, I beg to move.
My Lords, I am now going to be incredibly unpopular. I find this amendment waffle, meaningless and platitudinous. Can anybody seriously imagine a school whose purpose is to promote the ill-being of pupils or community incohesion? This is legislative waffle of the worst order—it is intellectually sloppy and should never be seen on the face of any legislation. Actually, it means that you should not have religious schools, because they are by their nature exclusionist. They fail to promote cohesion because they say they do not want people of other religions to mix with each other, and so should be illegal.
My Lords, I could not disagree with my noble friend more. The noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, has never promoted anything sloppily. That was an unfortunate comment to make.
I rather wish that the noble Lord's Amendment No. 3 was grouped with Amendment No. 12, tabled by my noble friend Lord Baker of Dorking, as they deal with the same matter. However, I strongly support the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland. On the "Today" programme this morning, Clifford Longley said in effect that what counts is not so much the admission system as what goes on in a school. That is of course true. In Committee, I supported my noble friend Lord Baker's amendment, but at the same time I wondered if the approach put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, was not more realistic and achievable.
I am a strong supporter of faith schools. However, it is essential for life in the modern world that young people should learn early to relate naturally and make friends across racial, religious and social boundaries. Without that experience and those skills, young people will have very limited life chances indeed. In a faith school where one in four or five students comes from another background, cross-border relationships happen automatically and naturally. That is the point that my noble friend will doubtless make again when he moves his amendment. Where there are few or no "outsiders" in a school, those chances are very limited. We can all think of circumstances where that might happen. I think that in this country the problem arises not mainly in Anglican and Roman Catholic schools but in the schools of the other religions.
It would be wise to expect every faith school, not just new ones, to arrange with a school of a different background for shared activities such as lessons, sports opportunities and social events. There might even be a twinning of schools. I do not know whether that is the sort of thing that the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, has in mind. He did not specify, which is why my noble friend thought that he was being woolly. I think that most of us were able to read between the lines of the noble Lord's extremely tactful and diplomatic speech—which was quite clear and definite.
The expectation that a school will make it possible for young people to inter-relate with those from different backgrounds has to be there. The inspectorate is a way of achieving that provided that Ministers are prepared to back up the inspectorate once it has made proposals. Although I fear that I trespass on territory which will be covered by my noble friend, I support the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland.
My Lords, my contribution will be very short. I claim a historical association with this amendment. I have always believed that it was the duty of Ofsted to prevent "error in religion" and, indeed, "error in non-religion". Sixteen years ago, my amendment, accepted by the then Conservative Government, inserted into the 1990 Bill which formed Ofsted "spiritual, cultural, social and moral values" as part of Ofsted's duties. I therefore entirely support the view that responsibility for enforcing those qualities and for reporting schools which are breaking the rules should lie with Ofsted and not with any kind of arbitrary apportionment of the number of places available.
My Lords, I too support this group of amendments. They address the concern we have discussed on a number of occasions as we have considered the Bill. Throughout this debate there has been considerable agreement that our schools should support and provide community cohesion. We have disagreed about how that can be best achieved in practice, but faith schools will want to contribute to the process; indeed, to continue to play their part in meeting that aspiration. I therefore welcome these amendments, which achieve that in the right way.
Like the noble Baroness, I was listening to the "Today" programme this morning and heard Clifford Longley make that comment. It is perhaps worth adding that he made it in the context of reflecting on the work that had been done in Liverpool to bring together the Protestant and Catholic communities by Archbishop Derek Warlock and Bishop David Sheppard. It was in that context that he said it was not admissions policies but what goes on in the school that matters. I think that is right. These amendments would place responsibility for community cohesion where it belongs, with the governing body and Ofsted. I therefore support them.
My Lords, thenoble Lord, Lord Sutherland of Houndwood, is a distinguished academic philosopher and one of the most careful and intellectually canny thinkers I know. I was extremely surprised by the response of the noble Earl. Perhaps he should have noticed, or emphasised more carefully, that this clause does not simply leave it to the school whether it is promoting social cohesion. It will be inspected. The inspectorate will have its own benchmark. It will be able to judge and will not simply leave it to the school.
I ask the Minister to address one point when he comes to respond: does he foresee a time, not too distant in the future, when he could report back to the House on some of the results of this series of inspections, perhaps after a year or so? As we are all aware, there is an intense and serious interest in this subject in the House, and we would like to know whether the inspectorate regime will work.
As a supporter of church schools I have always felt, as do other of your Lordships, that far more important than the fact of faith schools is what is being taught in the syllabus and, even more important, how it is being taught. I see the dimension of social cohesion, whether or not it is being promoted, running through every aspect of the inspection: how history is taught, or religious education. It must not be simply propaganda, but real, proper education. Because this amendment is designed to ensure that, I support it most warmly.
My Lords, as one of the signatories to this amendment I am happy to support the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, who has so ably moved it today. In answer to the noble Earl, it is worth mentioning a letter from Christine Gilbert, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Ofsted, which was sent to the Minister in the last day or so. She says:
"I believe that it will be possible for inspectors to make a judgment on this matter by drawing on evidence including, but not restricted to, self evaluation from the self evaluation form ... and that this will be possible while retaining the overall balance and focus of the inspection".
There is nothing woolly about that. It is a very hard-headed approach that will be capable of assessment. It represents one of two approaches your Lordships can take to this matter, which was raised last week in your Lordships' House by the noble Lord, Lord Baker. He has done us all a service in raising this issue. He has concentrated our minds on trying to find a way forward.
One way we could do that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, said, would be under AmendmentNo. 12, after Clause 45, which we will debate later. That amendment will invite your Lordships to impose quotas on schools. We would then have to determine whether to fix a quota that would be compulsory on all new faith schools. Last week, the Secretary of State stated that that principle could be extended to all Church schools—and concern was expressed about that during last week's debate. It sent a lot of hares running and has led to huge opposition, not just from Catholics but from the Jewish community—the Minister will have seen the letter today from the Board of Deputies of British Jews and others.
Many impracticalities that go beyond philosophical problems are tied up with quotas. Parents would have to be arraigned through a test act to find out what they believed or did not believe or whether they fitted into the 75 per cent or the 25 per cent. Imagine a situation in which a devout Anglican applied for admission to a new faith school on a Monday and on Tuesday discovered that their child would not be able to enter under the 75 per cent rule. On Wednesday, they could say that they have committed themselves to atheism and, on Thursday, their child could go to that school. On Friday, they could have a roadside conversion and return to the fold. That is what this kind of approach would lead to and that is why the government and opposition Front Benches, as well as the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said last week that they were opposed to the idea of statutory quotas—and that is why that approach is doomed to failure.
However, the noble Lord, Lord Baker, concentrated minds on what we need to do to create a sense of social cohesion, and the amendment, as an alternative to the quota approach, does precisely that. It is the other way forward and builds not only on the proven track record of the inspectorate, as my noble friend has said, but on the consensus that was created in the 1944 Education Act. Driving a coach and horses through the admissions procedures that were agreed in 1944 will create a precedent that will undoubtedly be used to touch all faith schools.
Better than that, your Lordships would be wise to follow the counsels of the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, and build on the 1944 agreement. After all, that was a consensual agreement not just between faith communities but between members of the national Government of the day—RAB Butler was the Education Secretary and his Parliamentary Private Secretary was Chuter-Ede, a member of the Labour Party. Agreement was reached after a painstaking search for a way forward. In education, surely it is better to try to find consensus, rather than confrontation. In particular, I pay tribute to role of the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, and her colleague in another place, Nick Gibb, in trying to find a way forward that would meet all the needs of Members of your Lordships' House.
The amendment is attractive because, unlike a quota approach limited to new faith schools, it touches all schools, whether in the maintained or voluntary-aided sectors. All schools can be inspected on how they plan for and stimulate community cohesion and a sense of personal responsibility. If a school is failing in that regard, it will be possible to require constructive actions.
There are three ways forward. We can do nothing; we can opt for the quota approach that will destabilise successful schools and cause division and resentment, because quotas will be used as a shoo-in to catch all faith schools; or we can use an approach basedon the cultivation of duties, fostering a love of our institutions, the encouragement of deep tolerance and respect for other faiths and traditions. That would imply that this is not merely an issue for new faith schools, but one that all schools must address. That option is the best way forward and I hope that the House will support it.
My Lords, before I go on to my main point, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, would do well to read the history of the Education Act 1944, which was not remotely as he described it. It was about RAB Butler buying the Church schools into the system so that he could get the reforms that he wanted. The idea that it was the result of some philosophical discussion and meeting of minds simply does not correspond to the historical facts.
I was astonished to see this amendment on the Marshalled List as it seems totally to contradict the rest of the Bill. If I wanted to promote community cohesion, as I have always done, I would stick to the view that I have had all my adult life that children should go to their local schools, that those schools should be comprehensive and that they should be full of all the children in the community. The Bill is about the exact opposite of that. Therefore, to use a word from Yiddish, the chutzpah of tabling this amendment absolutely amazes me.
I am a great admirer, as is everyone, of the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, but, given David Hume's view of religion and the possibility of religious schools, quoting him as being in favour of the amendment is equally preposterous. Therefore, although I have a delicacy of touch that the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, does not have, I feel that he is right to draw our attention to this matter. How do you promote community cohesion in a system in which children will be in segregated schools of all kinds and will be encouraged to go to those schools? The idea that the path to follow is to tell children in a school in which they have opted to mix only with people of their own kind that community cohesion is important and that it is part of their education, and thinking that they will believe that, is—
My Lords, if the noble Lord had taken part in earlier debates on this subject, he would know that the whole question of how children integrate through community cohesion was well expressed by a number of noble Lords.
My Lords, I was hoping that someone would intervene. I did not take part in the debates because, being so opposed to the Bill and my loyalty to the Labour Party being such as it is, I felt that I would be better off keeping my mouth shut. I have read all the debates and, in the various contributions from those in favour of religious schools, I have read more nonsense on education than I have seen for a long time. They should recognise that they are in favour of segregation and not community cohesion.
Perhaps I may give a personal example. I went to an east London grammar school in the old days of the Butler education system. There was no community cohesion in that school. We knew that we were the cleverest boys in east London. We knew that those who did not go to our school were less than us. That is how we were brought up. As I have mentioned before to noble Lords, those of us in the A form never mixed with anyone in the B, C or D forms. We knewa fortiori that we were the best. When I grew up and had children, they went to the local comprehensive school. My friends attacked me because my eldest son, who has not done badly in life, went to a combination of two secondary modern schools. I was accused by all my friends of sacrificing my eldest son because I had a view about children attending the local community school. As I said, my own children did not do badly from that, and I am still totally committed to that view.
Given the group of people who have tabled the amendment, I assume that there is no point in opposing it in the sense that people will go into the Lobbies and support it, but I thought that at least one voice besides that of the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, should be heard on this side saying that this is a ridiculous amendment.
My Lords, I have not visited that school but I have visited many Jewish schools, which seem to contain only Jewish children. They do not seem to contain any black or brown children or Catholics or anything else. If people want their children to be educated in that way, of course they can use their private funds, but we are discussing schools that have been paid for out of the public purse. There used to be a view that you did not use money from the public purse for private causes, so I stick to my view and still suggest that this is persiflage.
My Lords, I did not say that. My view is that the philosophy of the Bill goes in that direction. Not all religious schools are segregated. Many Church of England schools are very much community schools—no one doubts that—and they always have been.
My Lords, I am very glad to hear that, because the noble Lord seemed to be saying that religious schools as such were segregated. I do not wish in any way to go against the Chief Whip's advice about repeating arguments that have been made at previous stages of the Bill. However, it has to be said, as the noble Lord admitted—I was very glad to hear it—that Church of England schools are very often inclusive and open to the wider community. However, one or two other things which are perhaps implied need to be said; first, that Church schools must be distinctively Christian in character—that is why they exist; secondly, they must meet the needs of church-going parents—I think that that was the point which the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Birmingham was trying to make; thirdly, they must be open to the wider community. These are not contradictory matters: they can all be achieved given goodwill.
I have serious doubts about whether the word "cohesion" is enough. This is where I have quite a lot of sympathy with the intent behind the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Baker, if perhaps not with the form. It is not simply a matter of cohesion whatever the case; the amendment must relate to a vision for society, as the noble Lord said earlier. It has to relate to shared values and about the virtues that we are prepared to inculcate in our children.
My Lords, I support the amendment. I have the highest regard for the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, the former Chief Inspector of Schools. He has written almost as many reports on schools as I have read. We are both experts on inspectors' reports.
Before I further express my support for the amendment, perhaps I may chide the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for saying that the implication of my amendment is to impose quotas of 25 per cent. The amendment would not do that. It would give powers to local authorities, if they wished so to use them to create community cohesion, to establish a quota of up to 25 per cent. We must not hear misrepresentations as early as four o'clock; it really is a little bit naughty.
I support the amendment because it is helpful. It is not an alternative to my amendment. It is helpful because faith schools should be inspected more regularly and in a tighter way—I agree with the noble Lord entirely on that. However, it is being asked to carry a weight which it will not be able to sustain. It would make the inspectors the instruments of a policy—on which I suspect all your Lordships agree—for a happier and more cohesive society. Can we really ask the inspectors to do this? First, as the noble Lord knows, the inspectors inspect schools on very precise details; for example, is this school teaching history to key stages 3 and 4 correctly? In foreign languages, are the children able to practise sufficiently the language which they are studying? Do they have the equipment to do it? What is the quality of teaching? Again and again, some very subjective statements are made, but the inspectors are used to working in close definitions. The first thing they would have to ask is—I am not being pettifogging—what is the meaning of "community"? If an inspector examines an exclusive Jewish or an exclusive Muslim school in, let us say, Tower Hamlets, what is the community of the cohesion with which the inspector is concerned? Is it just Tower Hamlets? Or is it Tower Hamlets and East Ham? Or is it the whole of east London? Or is it the whole of London? That is what inspectors will ask and what the Government will at some stage have to define. They will have to define exactly what "community" means in this context.
I suspect that what the amendment is getting at is a report on relationships—the relationship of that school with the other local schools, the relationship of that school with the parents and children of other schools. Inspectors will have to look at precisely what is taught in schools under religious education. That was raised by the noble Lord I think. The inspectors will have to make a comment on one of the most difficult fine lines in religious education: where religious education ends and indoctrination starts. That central question has to be asked. Inspectors will have to comment on it and they will have to attend a large number of religious instruction classes in schools to determine that. If religious instruction veers off into indoctrination, communities can suffer a lack of cohesion and trouble can start.
Inspectors have a huge task. On relationships between schools, which my noble friend Lady Carnegy mentioned, and whether schools can have joint activities, it is marvellous if that can happen, but let us be realistic: there will be no joint activities in sport between a Muslim school and a non-Muslim school because of dress codes; there will be no combined swimming galas; there will be no combined music classes; there will be no combined art classes; and in drama there will be no desire to stage Romeo and Juliet between a Muslim school and an Anglican school because every page of Romeo and Juliet is against the Koran. I suspect that there will not be a great desire to stage a combined King Lear, because filial devotion in that play is not exactly what it ought to be.
I ask your Lordships to be realistic about this. I entirely accept that relationships and activities are important between schools and they exist in some areas: for example, Catholic schools in Glasgow take their children to the local mosque. I know that because of an episode that appears in a very good novel I read this year, which I recommend to your Lordships, called Be Near Me by Andrew O'Hagan. It is about a Catholic priest in Glasgow and some ghastly Catholic yobbos—sometimes Catholic schools turn out ghastly yobbos—who are taken to the local mosque and the result is not community cohesion. But that is fiction.
Schools can come together on civics and learn about that, but the degree of co-operation beyond that is not all that great. That is why people who support my amendment would like to see schools where children of different faiths play together in the playground, sit together in maths and physics lessons, talk together over lunch and go home on the same buses. We think that that is a happier system and a better way to create community cohesion.
I turn to one specific point made by the noble Lord that reports should be acted upon. As the writer of many reports, he will know that sometimes reports are acted on and sometimes they are not. A recent Chief Inspector of Schools, David Bell, put in a report only a year ago that many Muslim schools,
"must adapt their curriculum to ensure that [they provide] pupils with a broad general knowledge of public institutions and services in England and help them to acquire an appreciation of and respect for other cultures in a way that promotes tolerance and harmony".
We all agree with that. What have the Government done as a result of that report? Perhaps the Minister can direct our attention to particular papers that have been issued by the department to implement that recommendation from the inspector, because many reports, as he will know, are not acted on.
Mr Bell also said:
"The growth in favour of schools needs to be carefully but sensitively monitored by government to ensure that pupils at all schools receive an understanding of not only their own faith but of other faiths and the wider tenets of British society".
The department is miserably deficient in that. In the past year, I have asked various questions of the department on faith schools and I get the reply that the information is not held. I have asked how many children from other faiths go to faith schools and it has no idea. It did not even know that the admissions procedures in some faith schools require photographs, which is actually illegal.
For some time, the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, has had on his desk a report about a school in Sussex which has only four pupils and which has radical weekends. Why has he not closed that school? If we are to depend on inspectors' reports, we must be satisfied that they are acted on. Although I support the amendment—I think it embodies the direction in which we all want to go—by itself it carries a weight which the issue cannot bear and that is why I hope many noble Lords will later support my amendment.
My Lords, is the noble Lord aware—he may take reassurance from the fact—that in Scotland, as a result of an inspector's report, a private faith school was closed down because it was failing to provide an adequate education in the terms in which we have been speaking? It can be done, but I accept his point that it requires a will at ministerial level.
My Lords, I rise to support the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, as I am one of the signatories of Amendments Nos. 7 and 19. I attended a comprehensive school—I was not fortunate enough to get into a grammar school—and all my children also went to comprehensive schools. I support faith schools because they have provided good education, whether they are Church schools, Jewish schools, Sikh, Hindu or Muslim schools. There are only seven or eight state-funded Muslim schools, not 124. I heard the noble Lord, Lord Baker, saying on television this morning that they might be applying. The Association of Muslim Schools told me this morning that only seven are seeking voluntary-aided status. We need to have facts rather than scaremongering to the effect that there are hundreds of Islamic and Muslim schools that want state funding; we need to make sure that all the rules are in place.
I apologise to the House that I was not here on Report—I was discussing bail, which was a big national issue for us all. The Association of Muslim Schools told me that it already does as much as it can and it is prepared to do more in terms of intra-community relations; and with community cohesion work it already teaches the common vision, common purpose and core values that the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, talked about. We need to make sure that our children have a sense of belonging, citizenship, rights and responsibilities. There is more in terms of recognising diversity. Cohesion is not a single-way process; it is a two-way process. We have to recognise and celebrate our diversity. We need to create an environment to strengthen relations in the workplace, in places of worship and the community, wherever we can. We need to have a process of cohesion that is important and the empowerment of communities so that they can engage.
When we give the example of state-run schools in Tower Hamlets, we are not talking about Islamic schools, faith schools, or Jewish schools. Even the state-run schools have 98 per cent children from one community, so it is wrong just to target faith schools. If we go to Bradford, Leicester or Southall we will find state-run schools with 98 or 99 per cent of children from one community. So community cohesion needs to be taught and promoted, but in every school. We all need to do it. I was speaking in Nottingham yesterday and I said that we have to open up our mosques every Friday for a samosa and cup of tea for every member of the community who wants to come in, because there is nothing to hide. It is such misunderstandings, whether in the media or through politicians, that lead to people thinking that there is an alien community.
On that issue I could not understand why the Muslim community has suddenly become a burden in society when we all recognise that during the Second World War Muslims gave their lives to save the way of life of our democracy. There are cemeteries in Woking commemorating Muslims who died for Britain fighting against the fascists and the Nazis. Muslims were part of the British society that helped to rebuild this country's economy after the Second World War—in the steel and textile industries—and they have been very good contributors to British society.
Very recently, because of a few criminals, because of a few who were given time on television and in our newspapers to provoke entire communities—andalso to insult and demonise our religion and communities—we have this huge debate. The Muslim community and the Association of Muslim Schools welcome any opportunity to be able to meet requirements for community cohesion and I am delighted to support the amendment.
My Lords, I begin by saying to the noble Lord, Lord Peston, that I respect those who take the view that there should not be faith schools, but it is because we have faith schools that we havethe amendment. To the noble Earl, I say that I understand his point and I am glad that he made it. If the amendment stated just that schools should be in favour of community cohesion, he would be right, but it states "promote". There is an active verb there and that makes the difference. To the noble Baroness, Lady David, I say that I listened to what she said about twinning. That could be one way in which cohesion could be promoted in particular cases.
I join with others in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Baker, for promoting—no, provoking is the right word—the amendment. I am glad to hear support because I have felt for a long time that this is the kind of thing that we needed state schools and faith schools to be doing actively. I have argued actively for that within my own Church and more widely. The noble Lord said that there were limits within which it was practical to expect schools of different faiths to relate to one another. I understand that. But I have been to Church of England schools that predominantly contain children of the Muslim faith. They get on and it works. We play Pakistan at hockey and it works—except that they win. So there are these opportunities.
I want to be brief, so I mention a practical suggestion for promoting cohesion that came fromSir Cyril Taylor, chairman of the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust. He wrote a paper arguing that one of the problems in promoting community cohesion is that many immigrants do not have much capacity to speak English. That is especially true of many Muslim mothers who come to this country. Many of them cannot speak any English. His proposal is that schools in such areas should take it on themselves to run English classes after school for those people. He points out that the Learning and Skills Council has recently withdrawn funding for such courses in Tower Hamlets, where there is a huge demand for them.
I say to the Minister that that is something that is practical, useful, to the point and deserves funding. Perhaps, in the fullness of time, it would be good if the Minister made available non-statutory guidance on what constitutes good practice in that regard.
My Lords, like my noble friend Lord Baker, the amendment is a fine set of words. If we were dealing with an amendment to the European Union constitution, I know how it would be used—because I have seen a great deal in Sub-Committee E of how the European Union is capable of making a great deal out of very small words and for ever taking power, based on what some kind person has written down. This is just the sort of wordy provision that could be used by an organisation such as the Commission to do a great deal. However, I share my noble friend's concern that it will not be.
The amendment has the virtue that it applies to all schools. It would apply to the socially selective, comfortable, suburban comprehensive school which, if community was defined as it might be, would have to find ways to reach out to its neighbouring council estates—perhaps by having some socially blind admission system by ballot or whatever.
The promotion of community cohesion seems to me to be a thoroughly worthwhile enterprise. If this is something that is going to be used and turns out over time to have teeth and to move the faith schools in the direction of being more part of the community than they are, I will find this a thoroughly good amendment. I share the pessimism of my noble friend that it will, but I will support this amendment happily because I am allowed to be optimistic from timeto time.
I do, however, want to quarrel briefly with something the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said. He implied that paying 10 per cent of the costs of the school gives you total rights over it. Suppose that the independent schools got together and said: "We will pay 10 per cent of the cost of a new university but only pupils from independent schools will be allowed to go to it". That would be outrageous. Why, then, is it acceptable that any religious group, by paying10 per cent of the cost of the school, can have exclusive use of it?
My Lords, I would not like the noble Lord to leave that point on the record as it is, because I did not say that. What I made clear, I hope, in my remarks and in my speech last week on Report was that where a community has made considerable sacrifice to build a school, it should have rights to send its children to the school that they have contributed towards, whereas if quotas are imposed, members of that community may well be excluded from it.
My Lords, the noble Lord is saying exactly what I thought he said; namely, that by making a sacrifice of the order of 10 per cent of the cost of that school, that community should have rights over the whole of its admissions.
I approach this from a different point of view. I think faith schools are desirable. I think to be true faith schools, they have to be supported by their Church and have a decent community of that Church as part of their make-up, so I am very happy that Church schools should be founded and should be partially selective on religion. But I really do not think that saying that providing a little bit of money entitles us to all the places is the basis on which we should run our society. I think we should not tolerate but welcome faith schools and we should welcome the provision of the particular kind of education that they make available to all of us.
My Lords, I would like to go back to the beginning of this debate. When I read this amendment, I was absolutely joyful because it seemed to me that in an amazing way, starting with the amendment that the noble Lord, Lord Baker, tabled, which had enormous point to it, we were getting to the point of what the whole of this semi-argument has been about; that is, to have an inclusive education system. One of the best ways to do this is to build on the strengths we already have in the community. There are huge strengths in the faith schools and in the Government's plans involving an extension of trust schools, and there are other ways of doing this. I congratulate everybody who signed up to the two major amendments that we are discussing.
Governors of schools will also welcome this but I must nudge the Minister on one concern I have. When more trust schools are set up, the promoters of these schools are going to have rather more rights in appointing the governors, and the number of elected parent governors will go down. I would have thought that the aim of everything we have talked about is to make the local community much more cohesive and I hope that even more school governors will come from the local community. Joining-up and the use of extended schools are very well thought-through plans for just how things are going to operate for the benefit of the whole community, as well as for children in the schools. I also support the idea of language teaching and the various other ways in which local communities can join together.
I doubt whether we could have had this debate a year or two ago, as the tensions were just too high. The very fact that, since the noble Lord, Lord Baker, moved his original amendment, everybody has got down to seeking the most proactive, effective way forward reflects very well on your Lordships' House and the Government, so I congratulate them. I hope that we will look to the approach proposed. I have to say that there have probably been too many education Bills, even during my time in this House, but for those who do not believe that the voluntary approach will work there will be other occasions when we can review its effectiveness. We underestimate the ingenuity and spiritual approach of those of varied nationalities and religions—and those with no religion—involved in our community who want to make a success of all the talent we have in this country.
My Lords, this debate has been very interesting; it seems, to some extent, to have got into the right position today. I welcome the amendment and would find it difficult to vote against it. Who could vote against an amendment that promoted community cohesion? That, at least, gives us a common starting point.
There have been two sides to this debate: faith schools and community cohesion. Although the issues overlap, we have run the danger in previous stages of the Bill of thinking they were one and the same. Two weeks ago I would have agreed with the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Baker, but given the views of some Churches, particularly the Catholic Church, I think it wise not to push it and make the arrangement compulsory.
I welcome the attitude of the Church of England in saying that it will voluntarily seek, as it does now, to admit people from other faiths. I say to my good friend the Archbishop of Birmingham, with whom I have worked closely over the years, that having been around many Catholic—and Jewish—schools I do not believe for a minute that admitting one in four children of another faith or none would take away from the Catholic nature of the school. The values of the school were strong enough not to be weakened by the admission of one non-Catholic pupil in four. Although I accept the Archbishop's comments that he has a primary obligation to parents of Catholic children whom they want to have a Catholic education, we have a wider obligation to all children in the community. Had the Archbishop voluntarily said, "We will go along those lines so that all our schools and not just some of them—we were only ever talking about the new schools—will have 25 per cent of people who are not of the Catholic faith", I do not think that it would have set back Catholic education in this country. However, that position ought to be arrived at through consensus. I hope that this issue does not fall off the agenda, and that in months and years to come the Churches will find that they can change their position.
I would not have chosen to teach in a faith school, and had I had children I would not have chosen to send them to one, but I have always defended other people's right to make that choice. It is strange that, at this time, when we are talking about defending our liberties and things that have been precious to us for generations, we are in danger of becoming the first generation to say that we can no longer tolerate somebody else's decision to enrol their child at a faith school because of the nature of the community. If we ever did that, we would be giving up a liberty that we have had for many centuries. I also acknowledge the role that Church schools played in educating poor children long before the state did so.
I turn now to the essence of this amendment. I welcome our being, to some extent, where we should have been. What is society worried about? I do not think that it is worried about faith schools. Society is worried that a number of factors are leading our children to live and learn in segregated communities. Faith schools have been thought of as an example of that, which is why they are entwined in this debate. So, I welcome the fact that there should be something in legislation about promoting community cohesion. But there are dangers in that. There is a real risk that, because it is in legislation, we will think that it is already done or that it will take place. There is a risk of Parliament sending the message that we do not acknowledge the teachers, schools and communities that have already been working very hard to do the things we are talking about now. To some extent we are putting in law the best of what already takes place.
I say to the Minister that this is the third attempt to do this. The first attempt was back in my day when we had a similar debate on faith schools in an education Bill. I was not around long enough to see the publication of the proposal, and I cannot lay my hands on it now, but it was a list of 20 ways in which faith schools can promote community cohesion. However, when looking for that piece of paper from 2002, I found another one: the Local Government Association's Community Cohesion—An Action Guide from 2004. I shall read out some words from the section on education, which was backed by the DfES:
"Educational institutions have a key role in building cohesion...promoting the values of equality, diversity and mutual respect...to promote shared values... similar life opportunities"— through literacy and numeracy—
"cross-cultural contact, through mixed intakes, school twinning and community-wide extra-curricular activities".
My only reason for reading that out is to show that we must be very clear about what we now expect to change. What will change when we pass the Bill? I understand the importance of putting it in legislation, and I understand the importance of inspection. But we need to see the bigger picture of what a socially cohesive community looks like. Are we saying that it looks like a school where all children are not of the same race or ethnic background, do not come from the same street, and do not have the same faith? If that is true, what powers will we give anybody to change that? Will we put in schools' admissions codes of practice that they should ensure that the school is ethnically balanced? I hope not. We must go beyond this. The noble Lord, Lord Baker, was right in this respect: it is easy to sign up to this, but more difficult to see exactly where are the levers that will make sure that it is implemented. I welcome it; it has got us out of a difficult position in this debate. I very much hope that the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Baker, will be accepted by all churches in future years.
I ask the Minister to flesh out what he expects to change. What is his evaluation of the two previous attempts to bring this about without legislation? What powers will be needed to make sure that we end up in a different position from the present one? Quite honestly, if schools look as they do now in five years' time, we will not have achieved our objective. Schools are some of the most cohesive institutions in our community—more so than almost anywhere else. Schools have not caused the problem we have at the moment; schools have mitigated its worst excesses. Do not blame schools, but look to them for a solution. It behoves us to say to schools: thanks for what you have been doing, but what can we do to help you be more effective in promoting social cohesion?
My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, may I point out for the record that existing Catholic schools have something approaching 30 per cent of pupils who are not Roman Catholic?
My Lords, I have listened carefully to the various views expressed about community cohesion in the debate, and I feel that something is missing. The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, has just mentioned in passing the principle of shared values. Community cohesion without shared values is not of much use. In saying that, I wish particularly to point out one factor. Let us not beat about the bush, we are concerned about Muslim schools more than we are about the existing faith schools. We have heard over and over again that everyone likes to send their children to faith schools because they are more disciplined, they have uniforms and they hold to old-fashioned values. That is fine, and we are not worried about that. But let us consider very strict schools such as Jewish Hasidic schools, and then we should be worried, as we should have certain worries about Islamic schools.
I assume that they will be single-sex schools, a point which no one has mentioned. There is nothing wrong with single-sex schools, but are we sure that gender equality will be taught in these schools? Gender equality may be a subject in girls' schools, but will it be one in boys' schools? There is no point in fudging the issue because we all know that this is an issue. Whether you come from India, from Pakistan or any other Islamic country, this is a major issue and I think it is about shared values. In this country, we do not want to lose the way we treat everyone—women, men, girls and boys—in a faith school.
My Lords, Members on these Benches also support the amendments, and your Lordships will not be surprised to hear me say that. At every stage of this Bill amendments have been tabled from these Benches on the duty to promote social cohesion, despite the fact that in Clause 33(6) there is already a duty on foundation schools to promote it. We tabled an amendment to put the duty on local authorities, with their more broad-brush powers that affect whole communities. In Amendment No. 11, to be debated later, we also seek to put the duty on admission forums rather than just have it in guidance. So noble Lords will not be surprised to see that we support Amendment No. 7, which started life as a duty to promote well-being but now has had the duty to promote social cohesion added to it. However, we will have the debate on well-being in a few minutes' time when we come to Amendments Nos. 8 and 9.
If you ask an Irishman how to get to Tipperary, he will answer you by saying, "Well, I would not have started from here". I too would not have started from here. It is probably well known that I, like many noble Lords, would prefer the state and religion to be separated and for our schools not to be of any denomination. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, has rightly said, we are starting from here. We have faith schools, many of them extremely good schools and popular with parents. But what we have to do is to persuade them to serve the whole community as much as they possibly can and to open their doors to those of other faiths or none. The question, of course, is how that is done. Indeed, the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Peston, also occurred to me: does a school have the capacity to actually affect social cohesion in its community other than—I stress this—by addressing its admissions policy?
The noble Lord, Lord Baker, emphasised the burden on the inspectorate produced by this amendment. I agree that it is a heavy burden, and I want to ask about the benchmarks. How are these things to be inspected? The noble Lord, Lord Alton, suggested that it would be done through the self-evaluation forms that the schools have to fill in. I am concerned that schools that do not want to open up their admissions to those of other faiths and none are not let off the hook by Ofsted.
It is not enough to make federations, however loose or close, with other schools. It is not enough to outreach into the community. At Report stage we enjoyed hearing the noble Lord, Lord Alton, tell us that Catholic schools do such outreach, but such work is not enough. These schools have to open up their admissions to people of other faiths and none. I am somewhat doubtful whether some of them want to do that at the moment, and, even if they do, unless things change, whether people of other faiths and none will want to go to those schools. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, that schools can be part of the solution. They are not necessarily part of the problem of social integration, but they certainly can be part of the solution. That is why we welcome these amendments.
My Lords, I am very pleased to return to this debate with an amendment that is the result of the best spirit of consensus. I begin by thanking all noble Lords who have supported the amendment, beginning with my noble friend Lady Carnegy of Lour. However, it is thanks largely to the efforts of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, that the amendment before us has materialised, and thanks to the combined efforts of the noble Lords who signed up to the amendment that such consensus has been achieved. I do not think that the media or most people in the world outside have any idea, or will ever know, much of what has gone on behind the scenes over the past week, which is what has brought us to this consensus. We were expecting a government amendment but are pleased that one has not surfaced. Following the remarks made by the Secretary of State for Education after Report last week, we on these Benches were very wary of any kind of quota system. While I am sure that the Minister would have handled it responsibly, we are not so confident in his potential successors.
Briefly, Amendment No. 3, in my name, is a probing amendment to ensure that new schools will be expected to set out in their proposal their plans for fostering community cohesion. I am sure that the Minister can assure me that that would be a matterof routine. These amendments offer a hugely constructive way forward in how greater integration of faith schools can be achieved. While it is the integration of faith schools that has come under scrutiny in recent weeks in public debate, it is clear that the successful future of a cohesive society cannot be the responsibility of faith schools alone. That is why I am so pleased that these amendments will apply to all schools, not just faith schools, and will form part of their inspection regime. It is right that this is an enterprise taken on by all in the education system, and, I should add, by all of us outside the education system as well.
The amendments germanely link well-being to community cohesion. I applaud that sentiment. It is clear that the future well-being of our nation depends on greater integration and interaction within communities. That is the right step forward. It is incumbent upon all of us to ensure that these measures are introduced and applied with some rigour. Community cohesion among the next generation of young Britons is of critical importance and we should expect all faith communities and those without a religious faith among us to set an exemplary example. I for one, in my personal capacity, shall be watching this like a hawk.
In the context of this Bill, I believe that this amendment strikes the right balance between parental choice, school autonomy and community cohesion through social responsibility. The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, is absolutely right. This is going to be a local effort. It is about involvement with parental governors, which has to be the right way forward.
These amendments provide the perfect incentive to engender social responsibility. Legislation is at its best where it expresses an expectation of a standard, provides an audit on that expectation and trusts people to act upon it themselves, and yet achieves that without the complex rigidity of a quota system. I am proud to have been able to assist in its success and I am pleased that the Minister has been able to abandon his previous position and give his support to this side of the debate. The motto of these amendments could well be, "Integration, not intervention". I ask noble Lords to support these amendments, which will enhance the efforts of schools in playing their crucial role in spreading the values of tolerance that will foster community cohesion.
During the passage of the Bill we have had a full, open and often very frank debate about an extremely important and, for some, very difficult subject. We should thank my noble friend Lord Baker for initiating the debate. This is a classic example of this House, as it is currently constituted, being free to express a whole cross-section of views, openly and without fear or favour.
My Lords, we are debating Amendments Nos. 7, 19 and 24 separately from Amendment No. 12, the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Baker, which concerns admissions to faith schools. But, as Amendment No. 12 has the same genesis, if I may put it that way, I need to explain how we have got to where we are with these amendments.
When we debated the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Baker, at Report stage, I emphasised the importance that the Government attach to all schools, including faith schools, promoting community cohesion. I should say to my noble friend Lord Peston—who I am delighted to see has joined us in our deliberations—that the Bill already makes reference to community cohesion, specifically in respect of trusts and the new types of schools that will develop as a consequence of the Bill. I draw his attention to Clause 33(6) of the Bill which states that new foundations shall have requirements on them which, in carrying out their functions in relation to the school, must promote community cohesion.
My Lords, I have a feeling that my minor contribution was not understood. The point I was trying to make is that you get community cohesion by going to the same school as your friends. Once you start siphoning off people, it will get rid of community cohesion. I may be arguing erroneously but my point was that the school promoting community cohesion is not a feasible strategy; it needs to have in it a full range of children. I may be wrong. I am not really allowed to join in now anyway because I have spoken once, but that is what I was tryingto say.
My Lords, I believe that it is perfectly possible for schools, including faith schools, to promote community cohesion in exactly the kinds of ways set out by my noble friend Lady Morris when she quoted from guidance issued by the department. Of course, we want to see that take place to a higher degree in future.
As to admissions, in our earlier debates I welcomed the Church of England's decision that its new schools will offer places within their local community in addition to those made available to declared Anglican families. I said that if there was a sufficient consensus for such a policy—and I was careful to say "if there was a sufficient consensus"—then the Government would be prepared to introduce a local authority power, but emphatically not a duty, in respect of admissions to other new faith schools. I undertook that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State and I would consult with the other political parties, with MPs and Peers with an interest in this matter, and with the leaders of the faith communities before deciding on our way forward.
We have undertaken those consultations. Having done so, as the House is now well aware, we have decided that the best and most effective way to promote community cohesion is to lay a duty to promote community cohesion on the governing bodies of all schools. This will of course extend beyond faith schools, whether new or existing, and will embrace all schools whatever their admissions policies. We believe that this will make it far more effective.
My noble friend Lady David and the nobleEarl, Lord Onslow, asked about the definition of "cohesion". An effective definition is already available in the documentation issued by the Home Office in its publications on community cohesion. This defines "community cohesion" as,
"the appreciation and positive valuation of the diversity of people's different backgrounds and circumstances", and the development of,
"strong and positive relationships...between people from different backgrounds in the workplace, in schools and within neighbourhoods".
That takes up the theme of the noble Lord, Lord Baker, about relationships between people from different backgrounds in the workplace, in schools and within neighbourhoods.
I believe that the whole House would agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, that those are immensely worthwhile objectives which we should be seeking to promote and it is to the advantage of our society that they should be advanced in schools and there should be some teeth behind the promotion of those duties. That is why the new duties will be supported by new inspection requirements—to give them that force.
My right honourable friend and I are grateful to all those who have helped us to develop an effective way forward, which is encompassed in the amendment before us. The noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, who speaks with the authority of a former chief inspector, set out the case for this approach most powerfully. We also appreciate the support of the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and my noble friend Lord Ahmed. I also thank the leaders of the faith communities, who are strongly supportive of this approach.
Ofsted also endorses the proposed approach—both the new duty on schools to promote community cohesion, and the new role for Ofsted in monitoring it. I have discussed this issue in detail with Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools, Christine Gilbert, who was until last month chief executive of Tower Hamlets Council and so brings considerable personal experience to bear in this area. In her confirmatory letter to me she says:
"I welcome your proposal that Ofsted should be asked to judge the extent to which learners contribute to community cohesion; and that in doing so we should assess both the education of pupils and how the school works with others in the community to achieve this.
I believe that it will be possible for inspectors to make a judgement on this matter by drawing on evidence including, but not restricted to, self evaluation from the self evaluation form (SEF); and that this will be possible while retaining the overall balance and focus of the inspection".
We have the powerful endorsement of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector and, taking up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Harris, about how this will be reported through to Parliament regularly, the chief inspector makes an annual report to the Secretary of State which is laid before Parliament and which encompasses all of the areas of Ofsted's inspection activity during the course of the year. Ofsted also publishes periodic thematic reports and we believe that this would be an appropriate area for one of Ofsted's reports in due course. They are of course published and subject to debate in this House and in the other place.
In response to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Baker, on the steps that the Government take to follow up Ofsted reports, he will know that the Government have not been dilatory in following up the Ofsted report in respect of the particular private Islamic school in Sussex that he referred to. There was a full parliamentary Statement on the action that Ofsted and the Government have taken in response to that report and we believe that the public authorities have risen to their responsibilities in that regard. I should stress that David Bell's remarks, which the noble Lord cited, were in respect of private Islamic schools and it is precisely in those schools that we have powers of enforcement where they do not meet the required standards. In the particular case that he mentioned, we have made it clear that we are ready to exercise to the full those powers of enforcement if the standards of education do not meet the required level.
My Lords, the report that the noble Lord refers to by David Bell specifically referred to inadequate standards in private schools and it anticipated that the Government would react. That report has not been debated in this House as far as I know and the Government have taken no action upon it. If the noble Lord's amendment is to be effective there must be action upon the report.
My Lords, that is simply not correct. Where Ofsted reports unfavourably on the standards in a private Islamic school, enforcement action follows and there are set procedures to ensure that that takes place.
Thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, Ofsted already reports on the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils, assesses personal development and well-being and evaluates learners' contribution to the community. In doing so, inspectors already pick up on aspects of a school's work which contribute to community cohesion; the measures we are debating build on that. However, having an explicit reference in legislation will, we believe, ensure that all schools will be held to account for their contribution in this important aspect. My department will work with Ofsted to determine what changes will be necessary to the inspection framework and supporting documents, such as the self-evaluation form, to make this a reality.
The new focus on community cohesion through school inspection will enable the tremendous work that is already taking place in many of our schools across the country to be recognised and shared. For example, we know of a wide range of school-linking projects: children and their families from diverse ethnic, cultural, social and religious backgrounds who might normally not meet because they live inand attend schools in different areas are able to work and play together through joint assemblies, visits and activities. Many schools also encourage visits by leaders of other faiths to increase understanding of different religions. To cite one example, the Tower Hamlets Inter Faith Forum is working in partnership with secondary schools and the local standing advisory council on religious education to develop a model for supporting religious education and community cohesion across the borough by encouraging faith leaders to visit schools. Three schools are currently piloting the project, and the borough is looking to take this forward more widely.
The new focus for school inspection will also identify schools that need to do more. Here I pick up the remark of my noble friend Lady Morris about there being an impetus to defined activities which will see that the duty to promote community cohesion is taken seriously. Schools should do more through their curriculum delivery, including education outside the classroom; they should do more through developing partnerships and effective working with other bodies; and they should do more through the professional development of staff, among other things.
Prompted by Ofsted's findings and by recommendations on areas for improvement, schools will be expected to take appropriate action. They will need to reflect the progress made on these actions in updating the self-evaluation form. The school improvement partners will challenge and support the school in making any necessary improvements, and schools will need to inform parents about this progress through the school profile.
We believe that this is an effective way forward. We are extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, for bringing Amendment No. 3 forward, and I strongly commend Amendments Nos. 7, 19 and 24 to the House.
My Lords, before the Minister sits down, can he explain what would happen if a school was top of the exam league but failed to make any effort to promote community cohesion? Would it be closed down? What punishment would there be? What effect could anyone have if that were the case, which is perfectly possible?
My Lords, Ofsted would report accordingly. It would give the school a very low grade on its action to promote community cohesion, and the school would be expected to produce an action plan setting out the measures it would take to meet the concerns expressed. There are clear practices on critical Ofsted reports, and they would apply to the full in such a case.
My Lords, the amendment relates to Clauses 7 to 14 about competition for establishing new schools. Throughout the passage of the Bill, we on these Benches have been arguing in favour of local authorities having as much right to put forward proposals for new schools as any other organisation or institution. In Committee, my noble friend Lady Williams argued very coherently for promoting a level playing field between local authorities and other organisations and institutions that are, particularly under Clauses 7 and 8, encouraged to put forward proposals for new schools.
In Committee and at Report, we tabled amendments to open up the competition between local authorities. We also argued for the deletion of Clause 8 which, as we argued then and continue to argue, imposes unduly restrictive constraints on local authorities. Clauses 7 and 8 are only about putting forward proposals for a competition for a new school. Decisions are then taken as to which of the proposals may go forward. We have been arguing that local authorities should have the right to put forward a proposal for a community school on the same sort of basis as the other institutions being encouraged to do so by this Bill.
Clause 8 was inserted as part of a set of compromises agreed within the Commons. It essentially allows local authorities to establish community schools only when that local authority has achieved the top rating of excellent in the local authority performance ratings. Only 11 authorities out of 145 have achieved that rating. Local authorities are otherwise allowed to put forward a proposal only with the permission of the Secretary of State, and then subject to a lot of further conditions relating to the proportion of foundation and voluntary-aided or controlled schools already existing in the area. We seek on this occasion not to eliminate Clause 8 but to ease the criteria so that authorities getting the top two ratings in local authority performance assessment will be allowed to put forward proposals for community schools.
The amendment would retain the Secretary of State's control over proposals put forward by authorities achieving only a fair or poor rating. We thus meet the criteria of one objection put forward at Report to our proposals then, when the Minister said:
"I do not accept that a local authority should have an unfettered right, however bad its track record, to promote schools which it more directly manages. A local authority with a poor track record should commission those with better prospects of success—be they a parents group or an education foundation—to take on the task by means of a trust or a voluntary-aided school or an academy".—[Hansard, 17/10/06; col. 674.]
On this occasion, we accept that those with a poor track record should not be allowed to enter the competition. We ask that those with a good track record—the good and the excellent—should be allowed to do so. This amounts to approximately 100 of 145 authorities, cutting out those that have a poor track record.
I stress again that we are arguing only about who may put forward proposals for the competition. The competition then goes forward, and it is not necessarily the proposal put forward by the local authority that is chosen. The local authority is one of the contestants and the competition is decided bythe adjudicator. We argued last time that local authorities, elected democratically by those who pay council tax—a good part of council tax pays for schools in the area—should know what the local community wants. It is right and proper that they have the chance to make known what they thinkthat is.
I also find it astonishing in the week after the Government have published their White Paper on local government, which asks local authorities to take more responsibility, that in the heart of the Bill we have a clause that prevents them from taking responsibilities which I believe are their democratic right. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support what my noble friend has just said. To me it is astonishing that the House has virtually emptied, having given itself great satisfaction in passing an amendment—or at least getting the Government to agree to it—about promoting community cohesion. Many have left the House at the very point at which the issue of how many community schools are going to survive in this country comes to the centre of the debate. What an astonishing paradox that is.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, pointed out, the tremendous achievement of our comprehensive, local authority schools has been precisely in creating community schools. The whole idea of comprehensive schools was to bring about such cohesion, because faith is not the only issue that might divide a society; there is also class, income, background, gender and race. Over the past 40 years, these community schools have made an astonishing contribution to community cohesion in this country.
Having satisfied themselves with putting a couple of words into the Bill—with, admittedly, as the Minister has articulately pointed out, some obligation on the inspectors to ensure that that means something—a part of this House then leaves before the crucial element of the Bill is discussed: how many of our community schools will be permitted, under the Bill, to survive.
In our amendment we are proposing something simple. The local authorities that could be permitted to put forward a proposal for a new community school or community special school should include not just the very thin group at the top that are described as "excellent", but the rather broader group described as both "excellent" and "good". I must ask your Lordships to consider for a moment whether we are applying those criteria to all the other schools that will be part of the pattern of education under the terms of the Bill. The Edinburgh study published in May 2006 pointed out that the academies so far in existence, despite all the extra money that has been lavished upon them, had achieved less than a 1 per cent improvement on the position of the associated previous community schools. I pointed out to this House only recently that the closest parallel we have to the proposed trust schools, the charter schools of America, have actually produced less successful standards in literacy and numeracy than the schools they succeeded.
We have pointed out from these Benches that the single most successful educational system in the whole of Europe, according to the OECD—a pretty independent and impeccable source—is the comprehensive system in Finland. It is far ahead of virtually any other European country and sadly a long way ahead of this country. It has been argued that Finland is a small country. Yes, it is. It is also amazingly cohesive and educationally successful.
We have tended not to look too closely at the relatively better results of our Scottish colleagues, in terms of the proportion going on to higher education, staying on, achieving in schools and so on, in what is still almost entirely a genuinely comprehensive system, not one that has been raddled by political football matches in the way that has been in true in the rest of the United Kingdom.
My first point is that we ought to consider above all—I believe that the Minister is very concerned about this and always has been—what constitutes a good school. Surely the criteria we apply to good schools, whether trust schools, academies or CTCs, should also be the criteria we apply to community schools. That means we should include the good alongside the very small group called "excellent", and that should be true across the whole spectrum of education.
My second point has already been made effectively by my noble friend Lady Sharp of Guildford. What is proposed runs directly contrary to the promises made by the Government in the White Paper on local government. In it we give local government some extra, rather unattractive, powers to impose fixed penalties. In this Bill, we take away from local authorities a much more significant power, the power to run a substantial number of schools in their own communities, thereby making a joke of the Government's recent promises to devolve much more power to local authorities.
Thirdly, on community cohesion, the noble Lord, Lord Baker, is right to say that words, admittedly supported by the inspectors in this case, are not much of a substitute for a structure of education that puts the community and community cohesion at its heart. We are trading a serious system for a passel of promises. Fourthly, but not least important, we have a serious problem of trying to attract enough good teachers to stay in our schools and enough even better teachers to take on the huge responsibilities of headship. We know that, at least in London and other great cities, it is now extremely difficult to find a good head teacher.
In our previous debate on community cohesion, as in so many debates on this Bill, we once again placed responsibility on the teacher and on the head teacher. If you add up the responsibilities that we now place, morally and legally, on head teachers, it is hardly surprising that so few people are willing to come forward to bear such huge burdens, with so little assistance. The evidence is clear that without the support of local authorities and their inspectors and the support that one gets from a good county hall, it becomes even harder to become a head teacher—and that becomes a very lonely activity indeed. We have not begun to thank our teachers and head teachers for the huge endeavours that they have made and for their successes that they have to their credit, whether in secular or faith schools.
We have a brilliant, articulate and extremely helpful Minister. If he was not there, this Bill would have had a very much rougher time getting through the two Chambers of Parliament. As the noble Lord, Lord Peston, whose honesty always gets the better of him, has implied, quite a few passionate critics of the Bill have decided that the better course is simply to stay away and let it happen, because they feel that it would be futile to try at this late stage to change it by more than minor ways.
In my view, this Bill will prove to be a disaster. There will be constant competition under it. The fine words about fair admissions and all the rest are, I am sure, sincerely meant, but they will turn out to be in conflict with the deep, underlying principles of the Bill, including sponsorship of trust schools, introducing the private sector, and so on. It will be very difficult to square that circle.
I end on a personal note. It is incredible that a Labour Government should be bringing forward this Bill. It is more than incredible; I find it heartbreaking.
My Lords, I join the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, in paying tribute to the outstanding work of our head teachers and teachers in all types of schools up and down the country. I see that work day in and day out. I visit schools frequently and make no discrimination between the successes of different categories of schools. All of them are equally community minded, whatever their formal legal status, and it is absolutely right that we should pay tribute to them. It is fair to say that no Government in recent times have given them more practical support than this Government in terms of resources to enable the profession to succeed, its pay, its training—and in terms of its numbers, given the sheer size of the teaching profession, which has grown substantially in recent years and is vital to teachers being able to do their jobs.
So I hope that those big issues of principle that the noble Baroness mentioned do not turn out to be the great divisions that she described. I continue to believe that many of her concerns are due to misapprehensions as to the design and effect of the policies that we are talking about. She repeated the view, which she articulated powerfully in Committee, that only community schools—that is, schools in the legal category of community schools, which is simply one characteristic of their governing bodies' formation—could be relied on to act in a community-minded spirit. I deny that contention. There are effective schools in all categories that are extremely good at promoting community cohesion.
I also pointed out to the noble Baroness that a disproportionate number of schools that offer low standards of education—which, frankly, neither she nor I would find acceptable for local communities—have the legal status of community schools. If only we have the determination to be bold in this area, it is absolutely within our power to see the development of many more successful schools serving communities honestly without fear or favour in the way that she would wish. We could have many more such schools if we were prepared to see the further development of mission by schools, including more flexibility in their governance, which is what trust status brings about.
My Lords, I draw to the Minister's attention that the amendment is precisely about the authorities that are rated by his own department and by local authorities as being either excellent or good. We are not talking about what are admittedly poor schools, whether in the private sector, among academies or, for that matter, among local authority schools.
My Lords, with great respect to the noble Baroness, that is precisely what we are talking about. The Secretary of State will exercise his discretion in deciding whether or not to allow competitions to be entered into by community schools, precisely with a view to seeing that current weak or failing schools are replaced by ones with a much better prospect of success. That is where most of these competitions are going to come from.
If I may say so, I think that the noble Baroness is confusing the status of the local authority in terms of its performance assessment, which is a judgment on the local authority at large, and the precise set of circumstances that apply in respect of the individual school competitions, many of which will be to replace existing weak or failing schools. With regard to the latter, it might be absolutely appropriate for the Secretary of State to wish to see a greater diversity of proposals coming forward rather than for the local authority to promote a community school where the set of circumstances surrounding the school to be replaced would lead the Secretary of State to judge that other proposals would have a much better chance of producing a successful school.
For those reasons, we do not believe that the amendment should be supported. The clause as drafted puts the details in regulations, and the draft regulations specify that only authorities with an annual performance assessment rating of four should be allowed an automatic right to promote community schools in competitions. For other authorities, as I said, the Secretary of State may well give consent for community schools to be entered into competitions, but we believe that that judgment should be made on a case-by-case basis, specifically because we want to see effective action taken in areas where standards are low and where there is insufficient diversity in the provision of schools. We do not believe that it is inappropriate for the Government to play that role in areas where educational standards have not been sufficiently high or where choice for parents is inadequate. For those reasons, we invite the House to disagree with the amendment.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. I point out again that the amendment relates only to whether local authorities are allowed to put a proposal on the table. By no means are these proposals about always replacing poorly performing state schools. Frequently, they will be proposals for a new school where housing estates are expanding on the edge of a large community. As we know, somewhere in the region of half a million new houses are due to be built in the south-east of England. Many new schools will be required to meet the needs of those housing estates. As I said, the competition will be open to anyone to put forward proposals, and the question is whether the local authority should be allowed to put forward such proposals.
We have whittled down our amendments. We have accepted the Minister's view that poorly performing local authorities should not be allowed to put forward such proposals. We now propose to him that authorities which are rated either good or excellent in local government performance terms and are judged to be performing well in general should at least be allowed to put forward proposals.
These are democratically elected local authorities. Why do we have elections? We have them so that people represent us locally when it comes to spending our council tax on such things as education. It is right and proper that such local authorities should be allowed to have a view on what best represents their interests; it is right and proper that they should be allowed to put forward such proposals. If they did so, decisions would be taken by the schools adjudicator, outside the range of the local authority concerned, because the authority would obviously be an interested party if it had put a proposal on to the table.
It is demeaning to local authorities which are generally judged to be performing well to suggest that they should not be allowed to put forward such proposals. We would like to test the opinion of the House on this issue.
My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 5 I shall speak also to Amendment No. 6. I am a secularist and a humanist. I am an honorary associate of the National Secular Society and a vice-president of the British Humanist Association. However, I believe in the right of everyone to believe in and to practise the religion of their choice. I am glad that we live in a very tolerant society and I want to keep it that way. I think that those without religious beliefs also have rights, but I object when people with religious beliefs seek to impose those views and their lifestyles on people who do not share them. That is particularly unacceptable when it comes to employment. Our amendments are all about that.
Unless Clause 37 is amended or removed altogether, discrimination based on religion will become lawful for head teachers in voluntary-controlled religious schools that are controlled by local authorities and for teaching assistants in faith schools controlled by churches. In future, if this clause stands, it will permit the requirement that head teachers be reserved teachers and it will be possible for them, however talented, to be discriminated against on grounds of their religious opinions, their attendance or not at worship, and even their private lives where none of those issues has hitherto been of any concern.
What is the reason for those changes? The Minister referred to the,
"constructive dialogue that we have had with faith communities".—[Hansard, 17/10/06; col. 737.]
What consultation has there been with those representing persons who could be disadvantaged? Surely the person appointed should be the best qualified professionally to do the job rather than one who is or claims to be religious? What transitional provisions will there be for those already employed in regard to transfers or promotion? Even assuming head teachers' security is not threatened in their present appointments, the career progression of non-religious teachers will be blighted. Competent and aspiring teachers will not be able to seek promotion unless willing to become, or at least pretend to become, a believer in an appropriate religion.
Clause 37 also makes it lawful for there to be discrimination on a religious basis in regard to non-teacher posts in voluntary-aided schools. It may be claimed that that will not apply to all non-teaching jobs because of the requirement in employment regulations that there should be a genuine occupational requirement, but the extent to which discrimination is permitted under the requirement is largely untested. Many of the staff involved will be relatively poorly paid. Alternative jobs in the same locality may be hard to find and the difficulty and expense involved in challenging an attempted reclassification may be almost impossible for them. Moreover, reclassification of such jobs, perhaps calling them pastoral assistants, if they are told to hand out prayer books, may be fairly easy for an over-zealous religious administration.
From such inquiries as I have been able to make in the limited time since the Bill was amended to include Clause 37, I gather that there has been no consultation with the teaching unions, or with the GMB, the union to which many of the non-teaching staff belong, and yet those changes will affect many employees, immediately in some cases and into the future. They would appear to be contrary to the EU employment anti-discrimination directive and also possibly to the requirements of our own sex discrimination legislation. It is understood that Catholic schools are already having difficulty in recruiting sufficient head teachers of their faith. I also understand from the general secretary of the National Union of Head Teachers that there is already a shortage of head teachers. Indeed, he says, the situation is reaching crisis point, and he asked whether the Government are aware of that.
Church attendance has been declining and that trend seems set to continue. Clause 37, unless removed or amended, will increasingly privilege a dwindling group of religious teachers while discriminating ever more acutely against the majority who are non-religious. That is even more unacceptable in the light of the stated government policy that new faith schools should be inclusive and should offer places to pupils from the families of other faiths or none. The funding will come from taxpayers, an increasing number of whom are secular.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle, speaking on Report at cols. 718 to 719, seemed proud of the fact that the Church of England schools are community schools. We heard more about that this afternoon. He referred to them as neighbourhood schools. He supported the idea of25 per cent of places being available to the new schools on the basis of local rather than religious priority. I am sure that many noble Lords were pleased to hear that. Of course we welcome the idea of neighbourhood schools, but that is surely all the more reason for not discriminating when it comes to employing school staff. Surely professional ability, commitment and competence must be the criteria on which school appointments are made.
If the Bill becomes law, including Clause 37, in a short space of time all the new faith schools will employ, in any capacity, only staff who are or profess to be believers in their faith. Then it may gradually become the norm in existing faith schools, which will add to the divisiveness that the Government are anxious to avoid. I hope that the Minister will agree to reconsider the clause and that there will be consultations with the unions representing those who are likely to be disadvantaged before proceeding further with the changes envisaged.
The Minister this afternoon paid tribute to the outstanding work of head teachers and teachers generally. I hope that he will bear in mind those achievements when considering the clause. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have put my name down to the amendment. I have been involved in race relations since the mid-1960s, when we had the first Race Relations Act. During the 40 years that have elapsed, we have constantly sought to try and make it impossible for people to discriminate in employment on the basis of race. We have fought against the notion that a certain type of job requires a certain person of a certain colour. Here we are looking backwards and saying that all jobs could be requiring a certain person of a certain faith. I find it extremely strange that we should be sitting here today and debating the issue. I thought that once we had put it to bed in race relations we would have put to bed the whole notion of discrimination on the basis of jobs.
The idea should be that if we want an RE teacher we can say that if the person is not of the faith that they are going to teach, it may be difficult for them, but I was an infant teacher with the ILEA and it asked for no requirement of any kind. Although it was a Church school, I was allowed to teach RE in the school. Now we are saying that all sorts of people could be discriminated against in jobs in a faith school, I feel that this is another serious reason for reconsidering what we are doing and where we are going. What will come next? I know that today we will not allow the provision to pass. Proper consultation should have been held with the unions. I am amazed that they have not raised a hue and cry: they should have. I hope that the Minister will take note.
My Lords, I rise to support my noble friend's amendment because I believe that we have created a tangled web here and that it does not have any place in law. I have two brief but important concerns. First, if this were law, people may be inclined to pretend to be something that they are not—that is, religious—to get the job or to retain a job. The reality of the clauses is a signal to faith schools that they can build requirements into job specifications, leaving the unsuccessful candidates to bring tribunal cases challenging the faith school. As we all know, appeal cases are very difficult. There is no statutory agency in this case to provide support for claimants. That is why I am so concerned to support my noble friend's amendment.
My Lords, my name also appears on the amendment and is attached to a letter that the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, addressed to the Minister and the Secretary of State, dated
First, I must point out that, although the clause may not be contrary to the letter of the employment directive, it is certainly contrary to its spirit. For that reason, it is highly objectionable. From speeches already made from every Bench of this House, your Lordships will understand that it is a matter of tremendous concern that the Government should have introduced proposals such as this, which run contrary to what we have all agreed are ways to remove discrimination throughout Europe—in this country, in particular.
The first question that we asked the noble Lord and the Secretary of State was what consultation there has been about the proposals. We now understand from the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, that the trade unions principally concerned in the matter knew nothing about them until the last moment.
My Lords, that is simply not true. They were thoroughly consulted, as I shall set out in my reply.
My Lords, all I can say is that the trade unions have now said that they object strenuously.
My Lords, I am sorry, but there is a difference of opinion between us on this, because the noble Baroness has spoken to trade unions during the past couple of days and has their authority to make statements on their behalf in the House. If the noble Lord is now saying that the noble Baroness hasgot that wrong, there is, at the very least, a misunderstanding between us on the question.
My Lords, this is a very important point. We met our social partners with whom we discuss these matters, which includes teacher associations, last Thursday, and they were supportive of the changes that we were making. They had been consulted about the matter previously, so they had previously supported the proposals. Because they read the coverage given to the matter last week, when they were updated on the amendments laid in the House, they were also supportive last Thursday.
My Lords, the noble Baroness tells me that she has consulted at least two of the principal trade unions and that they have both expressed their opposition to the proposals. We cannot deal with these matters across the Floor of the House when there is such a fundamental conflict of evidence between us. We shall have to refer to what the trade unions have actually said, not what the noble Lord tells us they have said behind the scenes or in consultation. As I say, there is a conflict of evidence that we cannot resolve in this debate.
We would like to know what other consultations, apart from those with the trade unions, the Minister has undertaken, because the process between the appearance of the proposals on the Marshalled List and their embodiment in the Bill was rapid. I do not believe that sufficient opportunity has been given to all those concerned to consider the effects that they may have. What research has the Minister and his department conducted on the effect of the proposal on employment in rural areas, which the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, mentioned? Where there is no choice of employment, it will be very difficult for teachers and there will be a particular difficulty for those who aspire to be head teachers. My noble friend Lady Williams was during the previous amendment paying tribute to head teachers and saying how difficult it was to secure really good ones. The Minister and his Government will make it far worse, because he will rule out many people who are still best qualified to match the needs of the appointments.
What study has been made of the likely effects of the Minister's proposals in areas where the local school is the only employer of any size and those losing their jobs or unable to obtain jobs because of the proposals in the clause are likely to suffer severely? Perhaps he would also answer the question put obliquely by the noble Baroness: how is a judgment to be made about a genuine occupational requirement? So far in this debate, it has been suggested that we do not know how far that will extend, but it will certainly mean that the jobs of teachers are under threat. Will it then extend from them to other people in faith schools? How does the Minister justify that under the employment directive?
Well, my Lords, the noble Baroness objected when I last spoke, saying that if I had not taken part in the whole of the earlier debate, I should not speak. I am just being nasty to her in the hope that she does not say it again. In case that she does not understand that I am being nasty to her, I am.
My intervention is largely interrogative. When I read the Bill as it is before us, before the amendments, it was difficult to follow precisely the meaning of Clause 37. My main hope is that my noble friend will be able to tell us that it does not mean what it seems to mean. So, if I may, I shall put my speech as a series of questions.
My first question is: if we take a religious school of a particular religion that is advertising for a geography teacher, where I can see no religious content as relevant, will it be legal in the advertisement for the job to specify that only people of whatever faith—whether Jewish or Muslim—need apply? Will that be legal from now on—or, at least, will it be legal at the interview to say, "Oh, by the way, apart from having a degree in geography, are you actually a believer in the religion of the school?"? It is difficult to see from the Bill what is the answer to that question. Our fear is that that will be legal, which is why the amendments had been tabled.
If we go even further, and talk about the school caretaker, will the school be able to ask the school caretaker, "Are you Jewish?"? If the reply is, "No, Jews are not caretakers. That is not the sort of thing that Jews do, so I am not Jewish", can the school then say, "You cannot be in this school"? My hope is that the Bill does not allow anything like that to occur—sorry, that was meant to be a joke.
My Lords, it is a gratuitous comment. I must emphasise that a large number of Jewish schools have a huge number of non-Jewish teachers and staff who do an excellent job, including teaching Romeo and Juliet.
My Lords, if I may say so, that is the whole point of the amendment. The point is: will it be legal for people to change from that position? Why would anyone want to? That is what I do not understand: where is this coming from? Why was the Bill changed to move in this direction?
When I was at school, I was taught maths by a Communist. We knew that he was a Communist because he had a hammer and sickle lapel button—this was during the war. It was legitimate to do that sort of thing in those days. I do not recall any of our maths teaching being distorted by the fact that we were being taught by someone wearing a hammer and sickle and I cannot understand why the teaching of the main subjects in the school should have any relevance to the religion of the teacher.
It may well be that I am being ultra-sensitive here and that my noble friend will say that that cannot possibly happen. One of the great ways in which we have moved forward in this country—very much under new Labour, let me say—is that people are meant to get jobs according to their merits and being the best candidate for the job. The old-boy system, which many of us, when we were young, knew dominated what went on in the world—that should now include the old-girl system—has, at least to some extent, gone. It is certainly not acceptable to make it explicit.
I remember when I was starting as an academic that there were certain professors whom, if you could not get them to support you, you could not get an academic job at all. Those days have now gone. I am merely asking the Minister to assure us that that is the case. For example, I would honestly expect that the head teacher of the Catholic school would be a Catholic. I follow my noble friend in being in favour of religious freedom and that would not offend me at all. However, let us assume that the best possible person for the job was not a Catholic. Are we absolutely certain that person should never be considered for the job? I am just not sure. But certainly for the ordinary teachers, let alone the people who do the other work, this should not run.
My last point in asking where this is coming from is that, to my pretty certain knowledge, the one religion for which this has never been a problem over a long period has been the Church of England. The Church of England, on the whole, has tried to appoint the best possible teachers for its schools, just as—and we were discussing this earlier—it has been much more welcoming and much less concerned about whether all of the pupils are Church of England believers. I repeat: who is driving the desire to do this sort of thing? My hope is that the Minister will be able to say to us that there is no problem here and that none of the existing legislation which is meant to stop sexual discrimination and other forms of discrimination is now, in some sense, removed. I am hoping he will tell us that and I wait to hear his answer.
My Lords, I shall intervene only briefly because reference has been made to Church of England schools. A lot of the fears that have been expressed are unfounded; these are two very modest amendments. They clarify the situation in regard to controlled schools, where the majority of those on the governing body are not Church members or foundation members, and the majority of the governing body would have to agree that the head teacher could be a reserved teacher. Currently under the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, governing bodies have not been able formally to take into account the religious belief and practice of a candidate, but they have been able to appoint on the basis of the person's fitness and ability to preserve and develop the religious character of the school. So if the governing body feels that in order to do that, they have to be a believer, this would allow them to do it.
The second part of the provision refers to aided schools and reflects a situation where what has in the past applied to teachers now needs to apply in some circumstances—again with the support of the governing body—to classroom assistants and others who were not covered by the previous legislation. So it is a tidying-up amendment. I say very firmly that it has certainly not been the intention of my colleagues in their discussion with the Government to havea negative impact on the circumstances of the employment of anyone working in a Church school, or indeed to be discriminatory in the way that it is applied. I hope I can allay some of those fears and I am sure the Minister will do so as well.
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, for giving us the opportunity to debate this issue properly. Noble Lords will recall that when this issue came before us extremely briefly at an early stage of the Bill, I said nothing about it because it was grouped with a whole lot of other amendments about faith schools and the very fundamental matter of whether the school assembly should be of a broadly Christian nature. At the end of a three-hour debate, I felt it right to confine my comments to those issues.
However, if the noble Baroness chooses to put this amendment to the vote, we on these Benches will support her, and not because we misunderstand the situation as it now stands—with due respect, I think that perhaps one or two noble Lords do misunderstand it. The situation now is that we have the 20 per cent reserved quota and that is not being increased. The Government's measures, as introduced by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Peterborough—as the noble Lord, Lord Peston, might know if he had been here on Report—allow the composition of that 20 per cent to be changed slightly.
I know of very few faith schools that do not already have a head teacher of the faith. Therefore, I really wonder why this is needed at all as regards head teachers. What does concern me is that a well qualified head teacher might be passed over for a less well qualified head teacher who is of the faith if this post is chosen to be reserved by the school. At a time when we are desperate for really good head teachers with the qualities of leadership, inspiration, understanding of young people, hard work, creativity and innovation about the curriculum, we do not want to exclude anybody who is really well qualified to lead a school just because they are not of the faith.
I am also a bit concerned about some of the other posts that might be included in the Bill. Some of these posts are not well paid and the people applying for them may find it quite difficult to move or to go elsewhere to get those jobs. I do not accept the arguments that this is going to mean that thousands more teachers are going to be discriminated against. But we are nothing if not consistent on these Benches and when the School Standards and Framework Act came before Parliament in 1998, we sought to delete Sections 58 and 60, which brought in these quotas in the first place. We are against these quotas and we continue to be so. Just because this changes the quotas, that does not make them any more acceptable to these Benches.
My Lords, I appreciate the strength of feeling of my noble friends against faith schools generally. That is a perfectly proper view for them to hold and I respect it. With respect, however, I point out that they have hugely exaggerated the impact of these amendments. I hope I may explain how, but itis simply not correct that there has not been consultation.
Voluntary-controlled schools are religious schools. They are schools which are maintained almost entirely by the Church of England because of their faith character. The issue at stake is a legal uncertainty about whether the head teacher of schools that are already Church of England religious schools can or cannot be appointed with reference to a faith requirement. As the right reverend Prelate said, it appears that it is possible to do that at the moment but it is not absolutely clear. This amendment clarifies the fact that a Church of England voluntary-controlled school is actually able to appoint its head teacher to maintain the ethos of the school.
However, even under this amendment, and this is at the discretion of the governing body—of course the governing body will make a decision about whether this is going to lead to a dearth of candidates—it is highly unlikely that a governing body is going to pass over an outstanding candidate because of the faith requirement if they believe that the need could be met in a different way. The amendment allows only heads to be reserved teachers, even in voluntary-controlled schools, where they also teach religious education, which particularly meets the point of the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, who said she could accept that there would be a case for it where these teachers in question teach religious education, but not beyond.
It is specifically because of that factor that we allow these reserved posts to come about. The case which has been made to us particularly applies to primary schools because a large proportion of voluntary-controlled schools are primary schools. Not having this flexibility at the moment is making it difficult for small primary schools, which are a large proportion of voluntary-controlled schools, to adequately arrange their teaching staff to ensure that they have sufficient teachers who can maintain the ethos of the school and teach religious education in those schools.
To reiterate the point of the right reverend Prelate: if a school chooses to appoint the head teacher as a reserved teacher, this appointment will count towards the one-fifth of the teaching staff who are already permitted to be appointed as reserved teachers under the 1998 Act. I know the noble Baroness does not approve the 20 per cent requirement at the moment but this does not expand that requirement at all.
I believe that this is a modest amendment which clarifies the existing law in respect of faith schools. There is no great plot here to introduce faith requirements for the head teachers of other schools. I would also like to stress that our proposal will include transitional provisions in the commencement order for Clause 37 to provide that the change toSection 60(6) will not take effect for any non-teaching staff in post at the date of commencement. The unamended Section 60(6) will continue to apply to such staff, and also to head teachers who are in post at the moment.
The other amendments that I have tabled refer to staff other than teachers to whom it is now permissible to apply a faith test. The case for those amendments is very simple. Since the 1998 Act, particularly in the past two or three years, there has been substantial reform of the workforce in schools to provide for many more support staff and to encourage schools to diversify their workforce so that a wider range of staff can carry out the wider range of activities that we want to see. That includes, not least, the Every Child Matters type of agenda, which will require pastoral staff and all kinds of other support staff. We also need staff to carry out the clerical and administrative jobs that have hamstrung teachers for too long.
As those reforms have taken place, we have been concerned to ensure that voluntary-aided schools are not unduly restricted in their capacity to use a religious test in appointing support staff who have a pastoral mission directly related to the school ethos, in exactly the same way as they can appoint teachers.
My Lords, does the Minister not accept that schools can very easily implement the greater flexibilities of the workforce agreement without restricting such posts to members of staff of a particular faith?
No, my Lords, I will not. It is perfectly reasonable for a school to believe that pastoral duties should be conducted by a member of a particular faith, but under the law at the moment it can impose that requirement only if the member of staff is a qualified teacher and not support staff. That is ridiculous inflexibility because it does not restrict the right of faith schools to discriminate; it simply says that they can discriminate only in favour of teachers.
The amendments would enable voluntary-aided schools to take advantage of the wider workforce reforms that enable support staff to play a bigger role, and to apply the same test to them. But the crucial point is that schools must do so only where they believe there is a genuine occupational requirement.
My Lords, the phrase "genuine occupational requirement" is precisely what I was asking the noble Lord about. Let me give an example. Regrettably, there is a need for remedial English teaching in some secondary schools, which will undoubtedly involve assistants. Will it be legal to bring to bear a person's faith in deciding whether to appoint them as an assistant? The noble Lord has not answered me with a straight yes or no.
My Lords, I cannot say yes or no, because it would depend on the individual job description.
My Lords, it is quite commonfor schools to appoint people with multiple responsibilities, as the noble Lord will know when he visits schools. However, to exercise this power, there must be a genuine occupational requirement.
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, asked about consultation. We consulted our social partners some time ago through the workforce agreement monitoring group, which includes the NASUWT, the Association of School and College Leaders, the ATL, the PAT, the GMB, Unison and the T&G. The official who services that group sent me an account of its meeting last Thursday and the previous meeting during which it discussed the issue. I shall read it out so that the noble Lord can see that there has been full consultation:
"We initially discussed this with partners some time ago, and they were supportive of the measures being taken. However, they were somewhat alarmed following the misleading reports last week"— in the media, following the campaign against this proposal, to which my noble friend referred—
"so we updated them at WAMG last Thursday as to what the amendment actually did. They were all content—NASUWT commented that they were at a loss to see what all the fuss was about. They all recognise that these were minor amendments that were a sensible response to ensuring remodelling took place in VA schools, and that VC and religious foundation schools were not unnecessarily hamstrung as to what role their head could play".
That is the reality. I invite the House to stand by these changes.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response but I am not entirely happy about it, and other noble Lords have also raised questions. In particular, I cannot see why there seems to be an acceptance that it would be possible to exclude very good head teacher candidates on the basis that they were not of a particular faith. We want head teachers with ability and the necessary professional qualification rather than their necessarily always having the religious one. I am not convinced by the Minister's response that that would always be the case.
There is a great deal of legal uncertainty about the term "genuine occupational requirement". It seems that in plenty of cases there would be a reclassification which would have to be tested at an employment tribunal, and perhaps beyond, because the individuals concerned would be relying on the EU non-discrimination requirements and so on. All that would impose on individuals a great deal of difficulty and expense.
I am surprised at the Minister's remarks about the unions. The information I have had over the weekend is that there is a great deal of concern about the amendments to Clause 37. I quoted the general-secretary's remark that there could well be a "crisis situation" because of a shortage of appropriate and suitably qualified applicants for head teacher posts. He asked whether the Government understood that the amendments to Clause 37 would make the situation that much more difficult. In addition, I understand that the GMB is very concerned about the pressure that will be exerted on non-teachers.
I am not terribly satisfied about what has been said this afternoon—so much so that I feel inclined to test the opinion of the House.
moved Amendment No. 7:
Page 28, line 24, at end insert-
"( ) The governing body of a maintained school shall, in discharging their functions relating to the conduct of the school-
(a) promote the well-being of pupils at the school, and (b) in the case of a school in England, promote community cohesion."
On Question, amendment agreed to.
moved Amendment No. 8:
Page 28, line 25, leave out from "discharging" to "have" in line 26 and insert "those functions"
My Lords, I am pleased to bring these amendments to your Lordships' House. At Report, in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and my noble friend Lady Morris, I undertook to consider further how we might address the role of schools in promoting pupil well-being. This includes, among other things, their responsibility to deal with bullying and other bad behaviour by members of the school community. When we first considered this amendment in Committee, we said that we were concerned about placing statutory duties where levers already exist. We argued that Ofsted already inspects schools, using a framework that requires consideration of the delivery of the five outcomes in Every Child Matters, and that school improvement partners would also support and challenge schools on their contribution to the five outcomes.
However, following the extremely productive debate we had on Report, with excellent contributions from many noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and my noble friend Lady Morris, I was persuaded that there is real value in sending a message to teachers and other professionals working with children that raising educational standards and promoting pupil well-being are mutually reinforcing. Stating unambiguously in primary legislation that school governing bodies have a clear duty to promote well-being will help to speed the delivery of the undoubted premium on school standards that arises from the improved well-being of pupils. For all those reasons, we are glad to bring these amendments forward. I beg to move.
My Lords, I rise with great pleasure to welcome this pair of amendments, along with Amendment No. 7 which goes with them. At the risk of sounding a little ungracious, perhaps I may say that they have been a long time coming because they result not just from our debates on bullying and other issues related to well-being in the current Bill, but right back to the yawning gap left in the Children Act 2004 when Members on these Benches tried to ensure that schools were not just inspected on the extent to which they contributed to the well-being of the child, but that they had such a duty in the first place. I think that all noble Lords have accepted the importance of the well-being of the child as a factor in how well that child will do in his education, and that these amendments will fill that gap.
On Report, in hinting that he was about to bring these amendments forward, the Minister said that he felt they would meet my concerns on the issue of bullying—and they do to a great extent, but not completely. That is not to say that I do not welcome them—I do. But I should like to explain what I mean.
The amendments refer to the well-being of children. In my speech on Report, I said that I felt that the references to bullying already set out in the Bill are not sufficient because they focus on the school's behaviour policies in relation only to children, but that what is needed is a set of policies that would affect the whole school's ethos and the whole school community—adults and children alike—to generate a climate of mutual respect between children and other children, adults and other adults, and adults and children.
There is an issue that I should like to bring to the Minister's attention concerning the modern technology that allows short video clips to be posted on the internet, particularly on a website called YouTube. I understand that it is being used to bully teachers. Children are bullying teachers by taking pictures of them without their permission, sometimes in not very flattering situations or when they are actually being abused by the children, and putting them up on the internet along with some very derogatory personal comments. This includes the homophobic bullying of teachers by children.
Although I warmly welcome this group of amendments and what they do in relation to children, they do not cover some of my concerns about adults who work in a school. If one adult bullies another adult, disciplinary measures may be taken concerning the standards of the adult's behaviour. However, those professional disciplinary measures do not apply to a child. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us in responding to these concerns what might be done to encourage schools to generate a climate of mutual respect so that this sort of thing does not happen again. I am not asking the Minister to ban it. We can ban far too many things, and a ban on something to do with the internet is completely unworkable. But I would like to hear the Minister's thoughts on what can be done about this serious and important issue.
My Lords, on the treatment of school staff, which I take to be the noble Baroness's concern beyond these amendments, I am advised that although the amendments refer to the well-being of pupils, the duty to promote well-being applies to the governing bodies of schools at large. We regard it as inconceivable that they could be acting in accordance with those duties if they did not also take account of the issues referred to by the noble Baroness—the maltreatment or bullying of individual members of staff. So while the amendment is couched in terms of the well-being of pupils, I hope that the wider concerns she has outlined, the force of which I appreciate, are also met. But, as she says, there is always a limit to how far one can go in legislation. We can impose duties on school governing bodies and school leaders, but ultimately we have to trust them to act in the best interests of their communities.
Putting the duty of well-being into the Bill will have a declaratory force, but when it comes to issues such as the treatment of one member of staff by another, we have to trust to the good sense and leadership of head teachers and their management teams.
moved Amendment No. 9:
Page 28, line 30, at end insert-
"( ) In this section "well-being"-
(a) in relation to a pupils at a school in England, means their well-being so far as relating to the matters mentioned in section 10(2) of the Children Act 2004, and (b) in relation to pupils at a school in Wales, means their well-being so far as relating to the matters mentioned in section 25(2) of that Act."
On Question, amendment agreed to.
moved Amendment No. 10:
After Clause 39, insert the following new clause-
"INDEPENDENT REVIEW OF ADMISSION ARRANGEMENTS
(1) The Secretary of State shall, within three years of the passing of this Act, appoint an independent body to review the arrangements in England relating to the admission of secondary school pupils and to make recommendations as appropriate.
(3) The Independent Review Body's remit shall include the workings of admission arrangements under Part 3 of SSFA 1998 (as amended by sections 39 to 54 of this Act) and new enactments under section 39(1) to (3) of this Act, and in particular it shall consider the degree to which admission arrangements are helping, or otherwise, to promote social integration, diversity and community cohesion.
(4) The Independent Review Body shall invite representations and evidence from-
(a) teacher associations; (b) local authorities; (c) parents and governors; (d) pupils in secondary schools; (e) employers; and (f) such other persons as it considers appropriate.
(5) The Secretary of State shall provide the Independent Review Body with sufficient resources to enable it to commission research into the workings of the new admission arrangements and their impact on community and social cohesion.
(6) The Independent Review Body shall report to the Secretary of State within two years of being appointed and the Secretary of State shall lay the report before Parliament within six months of receipt together with proposals detailing how he intends to implement its recommendations."
My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 10 I shall speak also to Amendment No. 11. This is a repeat of an amendment we tabled on Report and I have to say that my arguments in its favour have not changed. Members on these Benches contend that the Government are introducing, through this Bill and the new draft admissions code currently under consultation, very considerable changes in admissions procedures. These new arrangements have been introduced precisely because the Government are worried about the degree of social segregation that has been emerging as a result of the current admissions arrangements. Since the Government now propose that more schools should be in a position to control their own admissions within the context of the local admission forum being subject to adherence to the new code of practice, and since research shows that allowing schools to be their own admissions authority has in the past led to greater social segregation, there is a strong case for reviewing how well the arrangements are working after they have bedded down for two or three years.
On Amendment No. 11, the Minister explained at Report stage that admission forums are specifically enjoined in the new draft code of practice to promote social equity and to serve the interests of local parents and children collectively. In Amendment No. 11 we argue that these duties should be in the Bill rather than buried in the code of practice. As foundation schools are specifically required to promote community cohesion in Clause 33(6), and the new provisions in Clause 38 will require all maintained schools to do so, it is all the more logical that admission forums—which are much better placed to make such an aspiration a reality—should also have this duty provided for them in the Bill.
I return to Amendment No. 10. The Minister has rightly said that an individual admission forum would look at the effect of the changes in their own areas and submit reports to the new schools commissioner, and that the commissioner would review the reports and then submit his own report to Parliament on how far the forums were achieving fair access after the new arrangements had been in place for two years. After the first of those reports, it would be appropriate for the Government to decide whether they needed a further independent review. We contend that since one of the main purposes of the Bill is to ensure, as stated in Clause 1,
"fair access to educational opportunity", and since in pursuit of this objective the Government are introducing far-reaching changes to admissions procedures, it is only right and proper that a full, independent review of these arrangements should take place once they have had a chance to make their mark. We do not consider that the new schools commissioner, as an official employed specifically to make these things happen in the department, can be seen as sufficiently independent to conduct such a review. We need to commit ourselves now to such a review, not down the line in two or three years' time. Given the degree of concern about social cohesion that has emerged in our debates, we need an independent review even more now than we did before. I beg to move.
My Lords, the noble Baroness said that she was making exactly the same arguments that she made on Report. I will make exactly the same arguments in response—
My Lords, I apologise to the Minister. I know that he wants to get on, but I have a couple of—I promise—brief points to make. I commend what my noble friend Lady Sharp said, not least to those who voted in large numbers for the amendment that concerned the whole issue of community cohesion. That is because they are expecting the inspectors to have a remarkable impact. Some of us hope that that will be so, some of us are rather more sceptical. Certainly, an independent review two or three years down the road would ensure that we would discover how far the commitment to community cohesion existed in fact—in the way in which, for example, schools conducted themselves on admissions. If we believe that, then there is nothing to worry about with an independent review. If we are a little uncertain, then an independent review will enable us so to arrange and change the legislation to ensure that what the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, and other people have so eloquently demanded is actually going to happen.
My first point is that those who are relying heavily on some of the amendments being made ought, in order for the Bill to carry the weight that they are giving it, strongly to support an independentreview, which carries no political baggage. It is a straightforward request that we look again at what we have just done.
Secondly, as somebody who, like the noble Lord, has been a Minister, I am very struck by how little feedback there ever is from legislation. We pass often sweeping and very thorough legislation—I am referring not just to this Government but to any Government—but we then almost never follow up to see what has happened and how far that legislation has been justified. That is one of the reasons why we keep putting new Bills in—to replace the holes in the previous Acts. Anybody who believes, as I am sure the Minister does, in research, study and careful looking into the facts of what has happened ought to support an independent review, because we have very complicated admissions arrangements in the Bill. We also have transparent ones, but ones that are in some ways likely to conflict to some extent with each other.
I come to perhaps my most important point. It is well known in this House that some of the crucial changes that the Government have made to the Bill, under considerable pressure from Back-Benchers in their own party as well as in other parties, were specifically to the admissions arrangements. Quite a lot of concessions were made in that regard. It is therefore important that we know how far those concessions are going to be carried out.
In case anyone doubts that this could happen, I shall quote briefly, but also very relevantly to the amendment that we have just discussed, with regard to the issue of good and excellent local authorities. At Second Reading in another place, the then Minister, Ruth Kelly, said:
"I have given commitments to Members that any local authority with a good track record that proposes a new community school should be able to have that proposal considered".—[Hansard, Commons, 15/3/06; col. 1472.]
That was not brought forward in our previous debate but it was a specific promise by the Minister that does not appear to have been fully carried out.
For all these reasons, I strongly suggest that we should give weight to an independent review to ensure that the various promises, changes and arrangements that have been made should actually stand the tests of fact, of research and of study. I strongly support my noble friend in moving the amendment.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, has just made a speech rather similar to the one I made just a few days ago when I asked the House to support an independent review on special educational needs. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, has said that her party is nothing if not consistent. It would have been so nice if her party had thought about this in terms of consistency. Indeed, in the Commons only last week her party had a debate on whether there should be a major review of special educational needs. The response from the Liberal Benches by the shadow Minister, or the cross-party—I think she is called—shadow Minister for children and the family, was that there should be. It is deeply unfortunate that the Liberal Democrats are now asking us to support a major review of this kind on admissions, but seemed unable to support us on something so hugely important, which in the Commons they were crying out for only last week—a major review of special educational needs.
My Lords, I apologise for intervening before the noble Baroness, Lady Williams. After the very nice things she said about me earlier, the last thing that I would want to do is to discourage her from speaking. I am only sorry that on this occasion we cannot agree with the amendment. It is not that we disagree with the objective, but we believe that it is met by the arrangements put in place by the Bill as it stands. The changes that we have made will ensure that the admissions system is kept under proper review, both locally and nationally, which is the concern of the Liberal Democrats in this matter.
Locally, the core membership of admissions forums represents a wide range of interests in the local admissions process, including schools. The reports of the admissions forums will reflect these different perspectives, ensuring that their decisions are not swayed by the views of a single group and are properly representative of the views of local stakeholders. In addition, admissions forums must act in accordance with the new school admissions code of practice. The guidance given to admissions forums gives them an unambiguous responsibility for ensuring that the admissions system promotes social equity. All schools must comply with the admissions legislation and the new school admissions code and must also have regard to the advice given to them by the relevant admissions forum. As well as that, local authorities and other schools will act as a check on the operation of unfair admissions practices. Local authorities may produce their own reports, if they so wish, and they can refer admissions practices that they regard as unfair to the adjudicator. Locally, we believe that the system is kept under proper review by the arrangements in the Bill.
Nationally, I agree with the noble Baroness that there should be a proper process of evaluation and review. That is provided for in the role of the schools commissioner, which is a new role—the first schools commissioner has just been appointed. Integral to the role of the schools commissioner is that they should promote fair access and report on it. I quote from the schools commissioner's job description. His role shall be to,
"monitor and promote fair access, including through producing a two yearly national review of fair access, based on national data and the annual reports provided by Admissions Forums on their local admissions arrangements and how they impact on fair access for different groups".
We are committed to there being a proper process of national evaluation and reporting. In our earlier debates I undertook that the Government would submit to Parliament the reviews that come from the schools commissioner, so we believe that the objective of the noble Baroness is met without setting up an additional independent review process over and above that we have already provided for in the role of the schools commissioner. I hope that our objectives are shared. We believe that the ends of the noble Baroness are met by the Bill and that there is no need for these further provisions.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his response. I say to the Conservative Benches that on our Benches we take account of the particular circumstances of the case. On the advice of a good many of the organisations involved in special educational needs, including the Special Education Consortium, we felt that it was appropriate not to ask in this particular instance for an independent review. On other occasions we have supported such reviews. On this amendment, we continue to feel that there would be a good case for a fully fledged independent review to look at these substantial changes in admissions procedures. I am very sorry that the Minister has not seen fit to agree with us. In view of the hour, the sensible thing would be not to press the amendment. I therefore beg leave to withdraw it.
My Lords, it is after 6.45 pm—
My Lords, it is a convenient moment after 6.45 pm. The noble Lord's party has asked me to repeat this Statement. I am here only because the Opposition parties have asked for this Statement to be repeated. It has been known all afternoon that at a convenient moment after 6.45 the Statement would be repeated and that, with permission, I intend to do.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Baker is making the point that this is not a convenient moment after 6.45. He would like to move his important amendment. I move that we should now deal with Amendment No. 12 and immediately after that go to the Statement. We have seen on several occasions that Statements do not have to be made exactly after the given time. I have been in this House for quite a long time now and I have seen amendments being debated at length and Statements being made even an hour later. I sincerely hope we can take my noble friend's amendment now and then the Statement.
My Lords, I support what has been said by my noble friend. After all, this is a matter for the House. Many of us have sat here all afternoon and it seems to me that it would be greatly unfair to a number of people—and to my noble friend Lord Baker in particular—if his amendment was not now taken.
My Lords, I watched the first two or three minutes of these exchanges on the monitor and I thought it was right for me to come into the Chamber. The normal practice is quite clear: as from three o'clock this afternoon it was known that the Statement would be taken at a convenient time after 6.45. As the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, will know, "a convenient time" is not an ambiguous phrase; it means, quite precisely, that when the group of amendments being discussed at 6.45 is completed, we then move on to the next business. If we were now unilaterally to change this practice by an argument in the House, it would not only be a question of changing normal practice but of seriously inconveniencing a lot of people. Some people are interested in the Education and Inspections Bill; others are extremely interested in the Statement; and many others, including people from outside—midwives, I might say—are very interested in the Unstarred Question which we have down for the dinner break. This would be seriously delayed if we went on to the next amendment.
I strongly advise the House that we should continue in the normal way. No one more than I would have been utterly delighted if we had moved more quickly on the Bill. Sadly, that is not within my power. As we have no means of adjudicating on this issue—although we have a splendid Lord Speaker on the Woolsack—if we carry on with this discussion we will simply delay matters further, with the same outcome. I suggest that the House continues with the next business.
My Lords, I do not want to inconvenience the House but many noble Lords present at the moment have sat through most of the education debates in which important and vital matters have been discussed. It is generally agreed that the amendment I seek to move is central to the whole debate about inclusion in schools. Quite frankly, I think many noble Lords would like the debate to continue now. It may not be for the convenience of the House to have the Statement at some time after 6.45. It is for your Lordships to decide whether you want to hear the climate change Statement now. The Statement could be taken later but the Chief Whip made a great point of saying that it is for the convenience of Members. I think that for the convenience of the majority of Members present the debate on Amendment No. 12 would be more interesting. I beg to move Amendment No. 12.
My Lords, before the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, replies, I would simply say in support of the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Baker, that there has been coherence to the debate thus far and most noble Lords anticipated that we would come to a conclusion on these questions before the dinner break. Many of the points that would need to be made during the course of the debate have already been made on the group of earlier amendments, so it is not an unreasonable proposition that is being put.
My Lords, I do not want to get involved in this. It is a matter for the business managers—and the business managers agreed that this Statement would be taken at a convenient time after 6.45, otherwise it would not be taken. As my noble friend the Chief Whip has stated, there is also the dinner break business to be considered. I do not think one can count the amount of interest by the number of people in the House. Plenty of people have been waiting for this Statement all day. They keep stopping me in the Corridor and asking me questions about it that I have not been able to answer but I am hoping that I can answer. I intend, with good will, to follow the rules that have been explained to me and to repeat the Statement that was made in the other place by the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
My Lords, if this is self-regulation we are going to make a laughing stock of ourselves. For hours, the annunciator has made it absolutely clear to all and sundry that the Statement would be repeated. It is being repeated not because the Government want to do it—although I am willing to do it—but because in this House the Opposition Front Benches requested that it be repeated. That is the position; it is at the request of the usual channels of the two major opposition parties. That is why I am here and that is why I intend to repeat the Statement. There is no other choice. With self-regulation there is no alternative.
My Lords, I have been helpfully advised by the Clerk that the noble Lord cannot move Amendment No. 12 because Amendment No. 11 has not yet been moved. In the absence of Amendment No. 11 being moved, I am afraid we have to proceed.