Education and Society - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:23 am on 8th December 2017.

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Photo of Baroness Bottomley of Nettlestone Baroness Bottomley of Nettlestone Conservative 10:23 am, 8th December 2017

Once again, we are all greatly in the debt of the most reverend Primate. As with his words on British values last year, which many of us reflected on throughout the year, so today his words about education are deeply important at this moment. Speaking as someone whose three children—and six of our grandchildren—attended the same church primary school, I warmly applaud the work that faith schools do to create the citizens of tomorrow and the work that they do for the local community.

One hundred years ago, my grandfather wrote a book, Education and World Citizenship. He worked closely with the father of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and went on to found a series of programmes under the Council for Education in World Citizenship. This lies precisely at the heart of the issue that education is about not only skills and qualifications but preparing the citizens we need for tomorrow.

I would argue that over many decades we have deeply failed very intelligent children from impoverished backgrounds. My early professional years were spent in Brixton, Peckham and Bethnal Green, where children did not even take A-levels. Teaching reading and writing was described as imposing middle-class values on working-class children. A wonderful book produced by a team from the Maudsley, Fifteen Thousand Hours, showed that the dimmest, least-achieving children at one school did better than the most able children at a bad school. Sir Keith Joseph, my noble friend Lord Baker and many others in this House worked hard to improve the curriculum, achievements and teaching, and we have seen a dramatic change in the ability of young people to fulfil their potential, but it is still not enough.

I also applaud the most reverend Primate’s words about education being not only functionalist. The Chief Inspector of Schools, Amanda Spielman, whom I greatly admire, spoke only the other day about the importance of not reducing education to a functionalist level. She said that our job is,

“to prepare young people to succeed in life … broadening minds, enriching communities and advancing civilisation”.

If noble Lords come with me to the University of Hull—it was never going to be long before we got there—they will see on the main staircase a wonderful engraving with the words of Winston Churchill:

“Religion has been the rock in the life and character of the British people, upon which they have built their hopes and cast their cares”.

In today’s multicultural, multifaith world, this issue is more complex, but there is no institution better than the Church of England, and the words of the most reverend Primate, to lead us forward.

As the chancellor of the University of Hull, I speak with great pride of this anchor institution in an impoverished region. The university believes in transforming the individual as well as positively impacting society. It is place based in an area which in the past has had low aspirations and low achievement, but the university is globally engaged.

Last year, I invited the most reverend Primate to visit Hull during its year as the City of Culture. I do not think that he was able to fulfil that invitation, but I am delighted to say that two weeks ago the Queen came. She opened the new medical school and met all those involved in the City of Culture event. I say that as the news comes through that Coventry is to be the next City of Culture, and I know that the most reverend Primate has very close connections with that city. The ability of such things to give people hope, optimism and a sense of collaboration is quite remarkable.

The University of Hull trains doctors and nurses in a modern, patient-based, community-focused manner. It leads entrepreneurial activities and has pioneered environmental, maritime, renewable energy projects, bringing prosperity, skills, investment and success. The City of Culture status has given inspiration, encouragement and energy to the city and the individuals who live there. The university has a leading department on modern slavery. Last year, Kofi Annan came to speak there. Its campaign, “Hidden in Plain Sight”, tackles the current situation of modern slavery, focused on by the Prime Minister. It is place based but globally engaged, and it is a model to so many.

The most reverend Primate reminded us of the importance of teachers and head teachers. The head teacher is the closest thing to a magic wand in education, and I applaud all those new routes into education—Teach First, Now Teach and many others. There is no more important obligation than preparing the next generation.

When the House starts in another place, the prayer asks that we govern wisely and avoid “love of power” and “desire to please”. Research, innovation, the fourth industrial revolution and all the great achievements of our universities are important, but if we do not have the wisdom, the judgment and the moral basis to make decisions, we will be lost. At a time when democracy is fuelled by social media, soundbites and the short term, it is all the more important that we retain a moral compass, a faith-based approach and the principles of citizenship.