Academies Bill [HL] — Report (2nd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:45 pm on 7th July 2010.

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Photo of The Bishop of Lincoln The Bishop of Lincoln Bishop 4:45 pm, 7th July 2010

My Lords, I imagine that your Lordships would expect me to intervene to speak in particular about the clause on religious character, but I have a couple of other comments to make on this group of amendments. By virtue of the scars that I bear from the age of 11, I am not particularly a fan of selective education. My primary school appealed against my having passed the 11-plus, which these days would probably be actionable under human rights legislation. I am Bishop of a diocese where the county still operates a selective system, but I am still not a great fan of it. My instinct is to support any amendment that is likely to result in the Academies Bill not giving selective education a fairer wind than it already has in some parts of the country.

I do not particularly want to go there. However, I will speak to the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. I take his point and I tabled an amendment to that subsection in Committee. You might think that we would be all in favour of any proposals that freed up the potential for church schools to recruit their faith members from as wide a field as possible. However, I can only reiterate what I have said at various stages of the Bill: we are in the business of providing schools not to accommodate those who are paid-up members of the Church of England, but rather to be instrumental in providing first-class education in some of the most deprived areas of the country. We can say only that if there are no limits on the ability of a school to admit pupils geographically, our ability to deliver on our title deeds in education-which are now nearly 200 years old-would be seriously attenuated. So I am very anxious that there should remain in the Bill a clear understanding that there should not be any attempt to liberate the admissions policy to accommodate just any pupils from anywhere.

More important is Amendment 32B in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. My comments on this are threefold. First, some of us have been urging on the Government, in respect of several clauses in the Bill, that the avoidance of doubt might be a good idea, and so to include something even if it is implicit elsewhere. Let us make it explicit in the Bill. I have a great deal of sympathy for any amendment which seems to be about the avoidance of doubt. Let us give the governing body the chance to make a clear statement as to whether it wishes to continue as a school of religious character. Secondly, however, this could become very difficult. In Clause 3(2), (3) and (4), on foundation schools, there is a requirement to consult the foundation before an application for academy status is made. I am getting rather confused about this. If we pass this amendment, at which stage does the governing body say that it does not want to be a school of religious character any more? If it then consults the foundation, which is by definition committed to the religious character of the school, I can see only confusion here.

My most important point is the third one. I have tried, as have other noble Lords, to avoid using the Bill as a vehicle either to expand or dilute the particular existing character of a school. There may well be a case for doing either or both of those things, but this is not the way to do it. The Bill is about something quite different in terms of the overall structural arrangements made for our schools in the future. I therefore urge the Minister to resist Amendment 32B, if for no other reason than that he would thereby be resisting a Trojan horse approach to the Bill. Although a Trojan horse proved successful on one occasion, as those who know their ancient history will realise, nobody came out of it with much credit.