Education and Society - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:47 pm on 8th December 2017.

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Photo of Lord Judd Lord Judd Labour 12:47 pm, 8th December 2017

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking most warmly the most reverend Primate not only for giving us the opportunity for this vital debate but for the very challenging and thought-provoking way in which he introduced it. I also put on record how moved I was by the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Sacks. It had real resonance for me because I went to an independent school where, at the time that I was there, a third of the boys were Jewish. I came to respect deeply the Jewish culture and the importance that it placed on education and on values. I think that a very important part of my education in those formative years was being at a school like that. I might just say that this is why I have become so particularly and profoundly sad about the policies of the Israeli Government.

One thing that really worries me in my old age is the confusion between citizenship and consumerism, and I think that it is a confusion that is sometimes quite deliberately fostered. I was discussing the issue with an old friend the other day who said, “Frank, be fair; you have never had more questionnaires or opportunities to express yourself than you get under the consumerist culture”. I said that this was completely beside the point; the point about citizenship is what should be the questions, not where I should put the ticks on the questions put by those who set the tests.

The other thing that I am deeply concerned about in my older years is the importance of the nature of citizenship. I was so glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley, made the point that she did about the vital global dimension to this. One thing that children must understand throughout their education is the total interdependence of the global community.

The other thing I will mention in terms of my anxieties is the confusion between the terms “education” and “vocational training”. For an awful lot of people, I do not think that there really is a distinction—and there is a very profound distinction. While vocational training is vital—that has been emphasised in this debate—it is not education, necessarily. Education is about the whole person and about enabling youngsters to become what they might be, in every way. If I can just put it briefly, in a colloquial way, I would be very happy to live in a society where, when the plumber comes to fix a leak, you find yourself in a conversation about a recent production in the local community of Bach or a performance of a Shakespeare play. I am afraid that, too often, when we talk about vocational training, what we are in fact talking about is destiny, and thousands of our youngsters not having the opportunity to realise their full potential as human beings and just being prepared as useful contributors to the society that confronts them.

The other step that I will mention, very strongly, is mental health. Schools are de facto a nerve centre for detecting poor mental health and the problems of broken families, child abuse and acute poverty where it applies. Many schools take this challenge very seriously and I believe that we should give them all possible support.

I do not think that we should leave a debate like this without facing up to some of the underlying challenges in the wider structural way in which our education is provided. The problem of selectivity is a divisive factor. I came from an independent school, but I am the first to realise that we do not debate or discuss often enough the social divisiveness of an independent sector—people buying privilege in education to make sure that their children monopolise the power structures of society. We need to face up to this question. The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Carey, made some very telling points about the partnerships that are going on—but I am sure that he would agree that it is a much more deeply challenging issue than just this.

We have to look at selectivity in our education system. If I may say so—as someone who was really encouraged by the most reverend Primate’s speech—I think that the Church of England still has a lot of work to do on this. I detect that 70% of its state secondary schools still select on religious grounds. I think it is fair to say that some 30% select most of their pupils on religious grounds. In the kind of society in which we live we have to look at the implications of that in terms of social divisiveness. I say that as an active member of the Church of England and as a grandfather whose grandchildren have all started their education in church schools. Why did they start their education in church schools? We must not slip into dogma. They did so because their parents saw that the liberal education and all the ideals we have been talking about were being particularly well nurtured in church schools. That is perhaps a paradox, but it is real.

Finally, do we inadvertently let school assemblies become divisive, too? I am tremendously struck by the work going on in Scotland between the Church of Scotland and the Humanist Society Scotland, which has developed the concept of a time for reflection when, together, all children, whatever their background, can reflect on common problems and common values and begin to explore some of the most sensitive and difficult subjects that will face them in life.