Education and Society - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:20 pm on 8th December 2017.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative 12:20 pm, 8th December 2017

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to be able to take part in this debate, which was so splendidly introduced by the most reverend Primate in his own inimitable way. It is also a great pleasure to be able to follow a former much-loved Archbishop. I know something of his work in United Learning because Lincoln Minster School is one of the schools over which he had overall responsibility.

It is approaching 50 years since I last was a schoolmaster. I spent 10 years in various schools, and I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Adonis is not here now because much of my teaching and most of my learning was in Grimsby. It was a different age in every possible way. My noble friend Lady Shackleton, who, again, is not here at the moment, spoke movingly about the family and the effect of family breakdown on children’s lives. I taught throughout the 1960s—a difficult era—but in those days there were commonly accepted norms and standards, and most children attending schools were the children of two parents who were of different sex and married. I make no value judgment; I merely state a fact.

Now we live in an age in which the moral compass by which life was lived in those days and for some considerable time afterwards no longer functions. That moral compass has been destroyed—I am glad to see the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, in his place and nodding at this point, because he made a powerful point here—by social media. Whatever advantages social media and the internet have brought to our lives, there are also—I speak of the grandfather of four grandchildren—very real dangers. There is a downside that we have to combat.

It is in that context that I will make a few remarks about what should be the ultimate purpose of education today. It should be to educate, both from the point of view of learning and emotionally, the citizens of the future. What we need to come out of our schools are responsible young people who take pride in their country and who, reverting to something that the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, said earlier in the debate, imbibe through their learning what this country is all about. How increasingly necessary that is going to be after 2019 when we begin the tortuous process of extracting ourselves from the European Union.

What is a responsible citizen? Above all, someone who has a sense of community cohesion and an obligation to serve that community. This is why I am delighted to be a supporter of Church of England schools and what they have brought to our nation over the years—the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, referred very eloquently to this. We have to recognise that there is a continuing responsibility on these schools, and of course others, to teach the lesson contained in the words of the King James Bible, which the noble Baroness referred to so lovingly—it is of course also one of the epistles for the day; is it for Trinity 20?—in 1 Corinthians 13:

“Faith, hope, charity … but the greatest of these is charity”.

We need young people who have a sense of belonging to a community and a sense of obligation to commit to that community. Citizenship education should be given a far higher priority than it is at the moment.

I want to end on another point that has been referred to by several noble Lords during the debate, and it is one to which I attach enormous importance: it is not a failure if our young people do not go to university. Vocational qualification is itself a noble aspiration. I have the honour to be the founder chairman of the William Morris Craft Fellowships. Just a week ago we had our 30th annual fellowship awards—we have been going for 30 years now—where young crafts men and women are rewarded not only for what they have achieved but for their potential. One of the obligations upon a William Morris Craft Fellow—a fellow for life once appointed—is to go out among the young and encourage them to aspire to master one of the crafts.

The word “apprenticeship” has been bandied around quite a bit during this debate, but true apprenticeships are those that give rigorous training over a long period so that the young person concerned can indeed be a master of the craft. As we move to 2020 and beyond, if we could have young people, despite all the diversions, problems and threats of social media, coming out of schools equipped to be not only good citizens and members of their community but masters of whatever they have studied and whatever vocation they have followed, we would indeed be achieving a great deal for the educational system in this country.