Education and Society - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:19 pm on 8th December 2017.

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Photo of The Archbishop of Canterbury The Archbishop of Canterbury Bishop 3:19 pm, 8th December 2017

My Lords, the time has passed and we have had such comprehensive summings up from the noble Lords, Lord Watson and Lord Agnew, that I shall seek to be very brief, picking up one or two key themes and responding to some questions. However, I want to say how pleased I am to join an earlier comment about the choice of Coventry as the City of Culture, having lived there for 15 years.

I should also like to defend myself against the misuse of technology, which I was rightly rebuked for by the noble Lord, Lord Giddens. I was actually looking up the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, on the Greek of the first chapter of Hebrews which, unlike him, I cannot remember. I plead guilty. Just to correct one thing that needs to be put on record, a group of bishops may be called many things but, contrary to the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, never virtuous—at least, I have never heard that.

I add my thanks to those of the two Front-Bench spokesmen, when they commented on the quality of the debate, to all who have contributed so thoughtfully and widely. The thing that struck me most is that the overall theme is the complexity of the educational ecosystem. Therefore, we must be careful not to seek to be too tidy. This was picked up by several noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Gadhia, Lord Parekh, Lord Puttnam and Lord Rees. We need adaptability and imagination, as the need for education will vary from one place to another and from one type of child to another. We should not bet everything on one horse. We need to reimagine what the educational system should look like but, to pick up another common theme, it must reinforce the mental, emotional and spiritual health of all, especially in the early years, and be effective and light on bureaucracy, particularly with special needs and those of high ability.

One thing not mentioned in the summing-up speeches was a powerful series of comments on the status and role of teachers in our society and the need to improve it significantly. It is difficult, it is a cultural change, but it needs to happen if recruitment is to be as the Minister sought to encourage. Another comment that struck me in general terms through much of the debate was summed up by one of two Sanskrit quotes—it cannot be every day that that happens, and one feels a sense of sympathy for those recording the debate—from the noble Lord, Lord Parekh: that aspirational education liberates you. If we want nothing else, it is that people should be liberated for a future that enables them to be all that they can be.

Many of the other points that I would have wanted to make have been picked up in the summing up, and I will not take the House’s time at this late hour to repeat them. One that was not taken as fully as it merits was apprenticeships. From my experience as bishop of Durham, I think that one question about apprenticeships is a slight tendency towards a dependency culture by employers. We were constantly being told in our schools—and I hear it still in church schools—that they want people who are “work ready” when they come to be employed. I always challenge them, as I would challenge this House, by asking who here was work ready on their first day of employment. It is the duty of employers to invest in their employees to take them from the first day of their employment to the last, long or short, and build up their skills.

We also have not heard picked up the global issue of education, which I thought was a powerful point, and one that is often seen in the activities of DfID, with notable success, particularly in areas of conflict and post-conflict, with which I am deeply familiar.

That brings me to some of the questions. The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, raised the challenge of a commission on the pay of vice-chancellors, with some amusing comments on which I shall reflect as I go back to my palace. I am sure that I could see his tongue firmly in his cheek, although what he suggests would help me to fill the empty hours of my week.

Selection by faith is a serious question, but I have recently been brought to think afresh about it through challenges from within our own education team. I have always been against selection by faith, and I am very pleased that the majority of our new schools do not have it. But the point was made to me as recently as yesterday that, in areas where there is a concentration of ethnicity, whether white or other, particularly in urban areas, where you have one place with one group and another with another group—and I have lived in places like that—choosing by distance alone can actually be a very severe barrier to integration. Therefore, we need to combine the different pressures in how we think about selection to ensure that our schools are homes and nurseries of integration; that is why I talk of a complex ecosystem. In that way, people leave school—as, by the grace of God, my children did—completely blind to issues of ethnicity, with their best friends being all sorts of people. That will be the experience of many people here, and is to be encouraged. I take the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and others. By the way, as a matter of fact, our last survey suggested that the actual practice is that less than 25% of our secondary schools filled more than 50% of their places on the basis of faith criteria.

The noble Lord, Lord Storey, raised the question of out-of-school settings and unregulated schools. I am aware of that issue; we were highly involved in discussions about it. Our problem with such regulation is not that we are in favour of bad, abusive or ill-maintained schools, in which children are indoctrinated in unhealthy ways; it would be strange if we were. Our problem is with the sheer burden of the bureaucracy. How the rules were put forward a couple of years back—and I had some pretty robust discussions with a number of people, including the previous Prime Minister, on this matter—would have ensured that everything down to really quite small Sunday schools in villages around the country would have to be registered. That is not the proposal of those who are in favour of the idea, but there is a danger that, if you are in favour of regulation, every problem looks as though it needs a rule book. We have to look to solve the problem, which I agree is a genuine one, rather than to set a blanket standard that, without any discrimination, hits every kind of effort to work with young people around this country.

The noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, picked up a number of points, on some of which I think I will need to reply to her in writing. I entirely agree with the point about education and worship space in IDP and refugee camps. It is important that the space is there. I was mesmerised in August, in a refugee camp in northern Uganda for South Sudanese refugees, right up on the border, when I saw several trees with numbers on them. When I asked what the numbers were, it was explained to me that they were the numbers for the classrooms set up by a head teacher who was himself a refugee. I asked, “How big was the school?”; the answer was, “750”. Then, “How many in each class?”; they said, “70”. And, “What materials?”; they said, “None”. It bears out the hunger for education but also the need for refugee administration to involve better facilities. The Yazidis are, in a sense, off the main line of debate, but it is certainly something that we have been advocating for and will continue to do so.

The noble Lord, Lord Baker, with his enormous experience, brought up, as we would expect, a powerful and extraordinarily insightful comment on the nature of UTCs and of technical education. I think that my right reverend friend the Bishop of Ely answered that to a large degree. We are passionately committed to that, but we are also passionately committed to making sure that schools are not isolated but form communities. That is why we are so enthused by this first experiment with the school that has specialist technical education, humanities education and special educational needs all on one campus, bringing people together and enabling them to learn and profit from each other.

Finally, as my last comment, I re-emphasise what I said in my opening comments, which is the enormous gratitude that we all owe to every school, whether it is a church school, a faith school or none of the above. I know that better than most. My personal experience as a vicar, as a rector at St James Church, in Southam, Warwickshire, was that the local secondary school was a comprehensive. Virtually all our children went to it. I was elected a parent governor and, later, chair of governors. I worked enormously happily and with great benefit to myself with the self-avowedly atheist head of that school—not a church school, not a faith school—for seven years. It is a school to which our children owe so much. It would be ridiculous to suggest that anything that I have said, or that anyone else has said, this afternoon is a form of dissing non-church schools. That school had what has also featured in a number of speeches this afternoon: a strong narrative—Aristotle featured so often that I am almost tempted to refer to the noble Lord, Lord Aristotle.

The absence of a strong value-based and moral narrative in a school was mentioned by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Chartres, who also referred to Aristotle. By the way, his speech emphasised again what a blessing it is to this House to have him back. He said that, without that sense of strong narrative, we are cast adrift on the sea of individualism that leads us absolutely nowhere.

This has been an extraordinary debate, as I expected it to be. It has been a great privilege to have been able to initiate it, and I am hugely grateful to the whole House and to those who have come in on a Friday to serve the House today as they always do so faithfully. I beg to move.

Motion agreed.

House adjourned at 3.35 pm.