Schools Bill [HL] - Report (2nd Day) – in the House of Lords at 6:45 pm on 18th July 2022.
Moved by Lord Harries of Pentregarth
101: After Clause 67, insert the following new Clause—“British values(1) In any statement relating to British values for education purposes at primary and secondary level in England and Wales, the Secretary of State, OFSTED and any other public authority must include—(a) democracy,(b) the rule of law,(c) freedom,(d) equal respect for every person, and(e) respect for the environment.(2) Any statement under subsection (1) must refer to British values as “values of British citizenship”.(3) The values listed under subsection (1)(a) to (e) must be taught as part of citizenship, at the first to fourth key stages. (4) In subsection (1)(a) “democracy” includes—(a) an independent judiciary,(b) in a Parliamentary system, a Government that is accountable to Parliament,(c) regular elections, and(d) decentralised decision-making, accountable at an appropriate level to the electorate.(5) In subsection (1)(c) “freedom” includes—(a) freedom of thought, conscience and religion,(b) freedom of expression, and(c) freedom of assembly and association.(6) In subsection (1)(e) “respect for the environment” means taking into account the systemic effect of human actions on the health and sustainability of the environment both within the United Kingdom and over the planet as a whole, for present and future generations.”
I beg to move Amendment 101 on British standards, which stands in my name and those of the noble Lords, Lord Blunkett and Lord Norton of Louth, and the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher.
The Ofsted chief inspector, Amanda Spielman, has said:
“When it comes to British values, we often see an oddly piecemeal approach, which too seldom builds the teaching into a strong context … we see a lot of wall displays and motivational assemblies, but not much coherent thinking about how a real depth of understanding can be built through the academic curriculum”.
British values have to be taught in schools, but there is a fundamental problem at the moment about them being taught.
The Minister has been kind enough to see me twice and I thank her very much for that. The last time I saw her, she said that she thought that any problems—I think it fair to say that she would recognise that there are problems—could be addressed through changing the guidance given to schools. However, the problem goes much deeper than that.
When teaching British values was first introduced in 2015, some people here will remember that it met with quite a lot of opposition. That opposition may have been totally unfounded, but the fact is that it met opposition from those who objected to the whole concept of British values, as though it implied that British values were superior to other values, as well as from certain sections of the Muslim community. Whether or not that opposition was justified, it was there and, sadly, it has persisted to this day. That is one of the main reasons why I am bringing this amendment forward. We need to try to overcome that opposition and dissipate it. I believe passionately that the teaching of British values is absolutely fundamental to our education system, and it is not being done well at the moment.
I will give your Lordships an example. A friend of mine is from a left-wing political family and feels very committed to helping teachers teach British values in schools. However, when he mentions this to some of his teacher friends, they, as it were, back away from him in suspicion: “What are you doing, being involved in something so chauvinistic like this?” So, there is a suspicion and a hostility that needs to be overcome by many teachers and many pupils.
My amendment seeks to address this, first, by a very simple change. Instead of simply talking about British values, it talks about the “values of British citizenship.” There can be all sorts of interesting arguments about British values. Like Jeremy Paxman, you might think that one British value is a sense of humour or irony; no doubt Chinese and Russians have their own sense of their own values. However, when it comes to citizenship, that is a very clear legal concept. If you sign up to be a British citizen or you are born in this country and are a citizen by birth, there are quite specific values—or there ought to be—associated with being a citizen. They may be better or worse than being a citizen of China or whatever, but they belong to our society, and it should be quite clear in schools what these are.
That is the first change. There is a second change that my amendment would make compared with what is taught already. The present system of values concentrates on the fact that people should be respected whatever their beliefs or lack of beliefs. That, of course, reflects the worry in 2015 about religiously-based terrorism, which is why that was put in in that form. However, that resulted in something rather less rounded than it ought to be and rather skewed, and one fundamental value was left out: that there should be equal respect for every person. As I said when I introduced this in Committee, in our society, one counts for one. You get just one vote, not more than one. The law has to treat people equally whether they are wealthy or poor. Every government department has to treat people equally. That is an absolutely fundamental value, and it should be clear in the teaching of British values, as it is in my amendment.
Secondly, in the present set of values we have this rather loose phrase “individual liberty”. We need something much more precise than that, and which is clearly defined in both national and international law. It is a simple word: freedom, which goes alongside democracy, the rule of law and the equal worth of every single person.
There is an addition to my list which is not in a usual list: respect for the environment. This is partly because people feel very strongly about that these days, and it would also help to gather the interest and support of young people who are being taught British values in schools. One fundamental failure of the present system is that it is not at all clear who should be teaching British political values in schools, and my amendment makes it clear that it should be taught as part of citizenship education. As a result, citizenship education, which at the moment is not at all well done, would have much more substance to it and there would be a mutually reinforcing relationship between citizenship education and the teaching of British values.
My amendment is a simple one. There are 12 words in the present list of values that have to be taught, and my amendment would increase that by four words, to 16. Admittedly, I do include definitions, because it is very important that it should be clear in schools that children are being taught about liberal democracy, not the kind of democracy they have in Russia or that they might claim to have in China, where of course they do have elections. There are certain characteristics of liberal democracy which I have put in those definitions.
I very much hope that the Minister, even at this late stage, will have second thoughts about this and see the compelling force of the argument. I believe that there is good support for the amendment—at least, I hope there will be—from all around the House. I beg to move.
I support the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, and declare my interest as the honorary president of the Association for Citizenship Teaching—and I put on record that I will adhere to normal sartorial values on Wednesday.
I will speak very briefly, because there is still a long way to go this evening, in support of the amendment. It follows on from the Ties that Bind recommendations of the Select Committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, back in 2018; the Justice and Home Affairs Committee’s investigation into the “life in the UK test”, published just a few weeks ago; and the ongoing desire to align the Department for Education—sadly now without the guidance of Robin Walker, who was deeply committed to citizenship and who was actually shifting the templates a little—and Ofsted, which is not aligned at all with what the DfE says or what we thought Ofsted had understood four years ago. It is a very strange juxtaposition.
I just want to put on record that we need to understand and be clear about the difference between personal development and citizenship education, which incorporates an understanding of the broad values of being a citizen in the United Kingdom, as well as the practical measures that make it possible for our democracy to function properly.
At this moment in time, given the clear need for respect from one politician to another, whether it is on ITV or Channel 4, we need to reinforce with our young people one simple message. We may, as your forbears, have got into a terrible mess and our democracy may well be extremely fragile—as I was saying last week, quoting the noble Lord, Lord Hennessey—but the future is in your hands, as the next generation, and beyond. Unless we guide and provide a framework and a landscape by which those young people understand what is happening in our democratic process, we will have let them down, because they will think that what they see on their televisions and what they read in their newspapers at the moment constitute the values that we espouse. They do not.
My Lords, I offer very strong support for Amendment 101, so eloquently moved by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, and spoken to by my noble friend Lord Blunkett. It offers a coherent system we can unite around. Other countries have their written constitutions; we do not. The Americans also have the Gettysburg Address—easy to teach, easy to understand. In this amendment, we have a coherent system of basic principles of democracy, human rights and equality and the modern imperative of care for the environment. This whole subject, taught as a unity, is particularly important for non-faith schools also, which have a less coherent framework than the faith schools. We are a diverse society. We have several faiths and beliefs and we need a framework that we can cohere around, such as the values of British citizenship in this amendment. The Minister would be doing the children of this country a great service if she were to accept it.
My Lords, I will briefly add to the chorus of approval for this amendment moved by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries. He talked about the problems attached to British values and how they have appeared to exclude some people. What he is trying to achieve is truly inclusive.
I add my voice in particular on sustainability. All of us in this and the other House have been circulated Sir Patrick Vallance’s briefing to MPs on the challenge of climate change. Looking at that, and at the scale and urgency of the challenge from those presenting, it was clear to me that what is missing is public behaviour change. I am absolutely convinced that the key to unlocking that lies in our schools and with our young people, as the demographic which is most enthusiastic about this and can reach into everyone’s home and start to shift our behaviours.
The education company Pearson recently published its School Report, which showed that 50% of school leaders want to teach this—a glass-half-full/glass-half-empty figure. We have had a strategy from the Government which said they wanted schools to do this. Only half of school leaders are planning to do so. We need to do more, including this.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 105, the purpose of which is to ensure that parents can discover what their children are being taught in school. They must have access, we say, to the materials deployed in class.
It arises because some commercial providers of materials in the sensitive field of RSE and health have tried to stop parents getting access to materials which they have provided for use in class. Requests to see material have been met with the assertion that it is protected and exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act by reason of commercial confidentiality. In other cases, copyright has been raised. In some instances, schools have simply refused point blank. That is what the amendment is aimed at.
The noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of River Glaven, who put his name to this amendment, regrets that he cannot speak because he is elsewhere on a prior engagement. On our side, we are grateful for the two meetings we have had with my noble friend the Minister and officials. They have been constructive; we have made progress and received an encouraging letter on Friday.
I remind the House that in the foreword to the 2019 statutory guidance for RSE and health education, the Secretary of State wrote:
“We are clear that parents and carers are the prime educators for children for many of these matters.”
Later, the same guidance says:
“Schools should also ensure that, when they consult with parents, they provide examples of the resources that they plan to use as this can be reassuring for parents and enables them to continue the conversations started in class at home.”
That is where we start, but we need it to be met and we need to go further.
In some schools, I am sorry to say, ideological beliefs are being asserted in these lessons as though they were fact. Biological facts about sex are consciously confused. Novel ideological beliefs are asserted as fact when they plainly are not. We have provided my noble friend the Minister with alarming examples of this. Parents must be confident that what their children are taught in this area and others is factually correct, evidence-based and not misleading propaganda.
I understand that my noble friend will write a public letter to schools to explain that matters of copyright and confidentiality should not be raised as barriers to parents. We understand that the ministry is working on guidance on the specific topic of transgender issues. On our side, we are grateful for this, and for the indication that my noble friend will consult stakeholders to take this forward. As she knows, my concerns are not limited to the specific issue of RSE and health; the problem spreads wider—hence the terms of the amendment. On our side, we appreciate that schools are in a sensitive position on the front line of what are now called culture wars. There will be practical issues to address, but a way forward must be found. Parents must have access to and confidence in what their children are taught across the curriculum. Our amendment raises an important point of principle.
That said, I look forward to hearing in due course what my noble friend has to say.
My Lords, I speak in support of the amendment just spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Sandhurst, to which my name has been added. I thank the Minister for the meetings we have had; I think we have made real progress. She completely understands the issue and is doing what she can within the constraints she has to try to move this forward, and progress has been made, but there are still things to do. That is why it is worth this debate and worth hearing further words from her from the Dispatch Box.
I was first drawn to this issue because I thought it was merely an issue of copyright. The example that had been brought to my attention was materials not shown to a parent because of copyright; the education curriculum was being delivered by a third party which had copyrighted the materials. I thought it was as simple as that. The Minister has now made sure that, legally, you can do that, and all heads will be told—and a lot of work will have to be done to make sure that all heads realise that and act on it. But the more I look at the issue, the more difficult it appears.
Where we have curriculum content over which there is very little disagreement, the issue almost never arises because parents do not particularly want to see curriculum content all the time. It is in these tricky areas, particularly in PSHE, where there is no national curriculum content, that the real problems arise. There is no doubt that some of the issues which have since been brought to my attention and I have had the opportunity to look at have arisen from real differences of opinion and breakdown of relationships between the head teacher and the parent.
That is the problem at the core of this. If it gets to the point where there is an argument between the parent and the head teacher, and the head teacher is saying that the parents cannot look at the materials, that relationship stands little chance of being mended. That is the real risk. It happens only where content is contested, which makes the problem even worse. That is why it is important to sort this out.
I hope the Minister will agree that the contention has to be taken out of some of the curriculum content. The issue that I was interested in, as was the noble Lord, Lord Sandhurst, is the teaching of sex, which I believe is biologically based. Some of the materials that I saw that were being withheld from parents were hugely contentious, and many parents—quite reasonably, to my mind—would not have wanted them to be taught to their children. It is a complicated issue, and there are three main issues. First, parents should have the right to see the materials; secondly, copyright is irrelevant as a barrier to them doing so; and, thirdly, we are looking to the Government to offer some very clear guidance on subject content as far as these contentious issues are concerned.
I completely understand that we do not want to get to a position where parents demand to have the right to see every note that a teacher is going to use in a lesson. When I was a teacher, I would have been horrified if I had had to show my lesson notes to the parents. That is not where we want to be. We are talking about a broad understanding of the curriculum content so that parents and teachers can be the joint educators of children, especially in these important areas. I reassure the Minister that I completely understand the need to draw professional boundaries, but at the moment parents are being pushed into challenging those professional boundaries because they cannot have access to the materials at the first ask. I am grateful to the Minister for what she has said so far in the letters to us, and I hope she can go further.
I support the amendment by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries. The argument has been forcefully made today, and I think it is unanswerable. We are all in favour of the values of British citizenship being taught. We know it is not being done well, and I genuinely think that the way forward that he points to would offer a better chance of getting everyone on the same side for a common goal.
My Lords, I have also put my name to Amendment 105. I commend the noble Lord, Lord Sandhurst, and the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, on their work on this issue, which has been very important, and the Minister on listening and moving forward.
I start off with a bit of a caveat, because a lot of good things have been said: as an ex-teacher, I too am only too aware of the dread of pushy parents intervening in the minutiae of school, turning up and demanding to see this, that or the other. More seriously, we know what happened when a group of activist parents gathered outside Batley Grammar School and demanded to dictate what the curriculum was. That is not what this is about at all.
The context for the Government, which is very important, is that at the moment, because parents cannot see this material, it has been left in an informal morass of people hearing stories and getting particularly worried. Parents have had to resort to freedom of information requests to see third-party materials, and that really is not helpful. There is a rather excellent exposé by Milli Hill entitled “Worrying truth of what children are REALLY learning in Sex Education”. We are leaving it up to journalists to do these exposés. That just worries parents, so we have to grab this back.
Most parents think that, when their children are being taught about pronouns, that is helping with their English grammar, but then, when they read in the newspaper that it has something to do with policing language and gender ideology, they understandably worry. They worry when they hear about the affirmation of radical medical interventions, such as the amputation of sexual organs. These things are really scary. I urge the Government to grab hold of these horror stories and deal with them. I would like to see them acting on this very important issue.
There are matters that go beyond the scope of Amendment 105. The issue of parental access and teaching materials talks to a problem of parents feeling that the curriculum on contentious issues is being politicised. There is an excellent new report from Don’t Divide Us called Who’s in Charge? A Report on Councils’ Anti-racist Policies for Schools, which I will pass on to the Minister and I hope she will even meet the authors. The reason why I refer to it is that I do not want people to think this is just about the gender ideology issue. It is a sort of broader feeling that many parents have that there are third-party providers creating a political atmosphere in school, and that even schools themselves are doing the same. That raises problems of parents’ trust in what is being taught to their children.
I therefore query Amendment 101, on British values, despite the brilliant speeches we have heard in support of it. I was initially attracted to this amendment. After all, it mentions
“freedom of thought, conscience and religion … freedom of expression, and … freedom of assembly and association.”
These are my passions; I go on about them all the time. I thought, “Great—can we get them into schools?”. But when I talk about freedom of expression, freedom of conscience and freedom of religion, these days I am often written off as some sort of alt-right lunatic who—
There we go. I am written off as someone who wants free speech only in order to come out with hate speech. I say this because even something such as free speech is contentious. I do not think that trying to use an amendment such as this, including the word “citizenship” to get around the fact that there are contentious arguments about values, will resolve the problem. I wonder whether I can be consoled by those who tabled this amendment that it is not about avoiding a political argument via using the law. It could end up politicising the curriculum.
For example, I disagree with the proposed new paragraph on “respect for the environment”. We have to take into account that Section 406 of the Education Act and schools’ legal obligation to remain impartial can be compromised by things that people in this House are passionate about politically but that maybe should not be in schools.
That finally gets me to my concerns about Amendments 118B and 118H, which call for
“a review into teaching about diversity in school curriculums”.
I am concerned about their emphasis on British history including
“Black British history … colonialism, and … Britain’s role in the transatlantic slave trade”— not because I do not think those things should be taught, but we have to ask whether this is being promoted for historical or political reasons. The recent controversy over the OCR syllabus on English literature being changed, when we had the works of Keats, Thomas Hardy, Wilfred Owen and Larkin removed, was justified not on literary merits but on the basis of an emphasis on ethnicity, diversity and identity. That kind of politicising of the curriculum does not do any service for the pupils we are teaching and is making parents rather suspicious about what is going on in schools.
My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment 118A in my name. Before I make any substantive remarks, I say on the record that, on perhaps the hottest day ever recorded in this country, this Chamber is cooler than the Central line; I was on it this morning. I never thought I could put the House of Lords and being cool in the same sentence. I want to thank a few people who have helped me put these remarks together: L’Myah Sherae, Alfiaz Vaiya and Simon Dixon in Stella Creasy’s office.
Only through a freedom of information request by the Guardian newspaper do we know that UK schools recorded more than 60,000 racist incidents in the last five years. Many people, including black community and education leaders, accuse the Government of failing to meet basic safeguarding measures by hiding the true scale of the problem. For example, the data from the Guardian excluded 80% of England’s multi-academy trusts. The scale of racial incidents in schools is therefore probably much worse, causing one academic working in this area, Professor David Gillborn from the University of Birmingham, to conclude that we have a racism epidemic in our schools.
What does racial discrimination look like in our schools? It might be plain old racial abuse or, worse still, racial bullying. The overwhelming majority of this would be student to student. But there are other types too that can easily be characterised as institutional. Take what occurred to Child Q in east London, for example, whom I am led to believe was taken out of her exam by teachers to be handed over to the police and strip-searched, including the removal of a sanitary towel, while they looked for drugs. What type of empathetic educational culture allows that to occur? Imagine for a second a school culture that would allow your daughter, your granddaughter, your niece or your friend to be treated in such a way.
Yes, this might be an extreme example, but it can happen only in the culture of that environment. There are many other examples too. A parent came to me and said that her son was distressed after being at school and the dinner lady saying to him when he was being animated, playing with his friends, “Why are you behaving like animals? Why can’t you behave like those?”, “those” being a group of white children. The parent went to the school to meet the headmaster and told them the story. The headmaster said, “It was nothing serious, just a misuse of language. Oh, and by the way, your son was late for school yesterday.” Nothing occurred.
Another example was when a parent came to me and said: “Simon, the headmaster said to my face that my child has the word ‘trouble’ written on the top of his head when he walks into a class. That is what the teachers think of him.” She said that surely that was not fair. How could he be perceived that way when he goes into a new class? The head teacher said that her son had to change so people would think differently of him.
How does this culture play out to black children? We know, because questions have been asked, such as those asked by the YMCA. Some 50% of young black kids asked said that racism, including teacher perception, is the biggest barrier to their educational success. The data somewhat proves them right unless we feel that black children are predisposed to bad behaviour. How do we adequately explain that they are six times more likely to be permanently expelled? Other groups, such as Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children, are nine times more likely to be expelled.
I was struck by what was said by a very talented young author, Jeffrey Boakye, a black English teacher and broadcaster, who argued that some schools are unsafe for students marginalised by race. There is a prevalence of black children who are subject to adultification or demonisation.
My amendment is not a silver bullet but it helps focus people’s attention on—the first rule of thumb—acknowledging that there is a problem and having a plan to deal with it effectively. My amendment would require Ofsted to monitor school compliance with the equality legislation, ensuring that schools which fail to tackle the tens of thousands of instances of racial discrimination are identified and changes are made. I know that the Minister might come back and say that there is scope for equality in Ofsted inspections. Clearly it is not working otherwise we would not have, as one academic said, an “epidemic of racism” in our schools.
This is not just about safeguarding children in our schools, important as that is. Surely this is about giving children an opportunity to flourish; to be the best they can be and have a sense of belonging. This amendment gives us that opportunity and the framework for that to happen.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord in what I thought was a very moving and profound contribution. My Amendment 118M takes us back to the role of regional schools commissioners, which we touched on in Committee. Commissioners have enormous power but they are civil servants and act on behalf of the Secretary of State, who remains accountable for their decisions. Each regional schools commissioner is supported by an advisory board, and they have a wide range of responsibilities including intervening in academies that Ofsted has judged inadequate, intervening in academies where government is inadequate, and deciding on applications from local authority maintained schools to convert to academy status.
In the schools White Paper earlier in the year, the Government stated that they would be changing the name of the regional schools commissioners to regional directors. A new regions group has been established within the noble Baroness’s department, which is bringing together functions currently distributed across the department and the Education and Skills Funding Agency. In Committee my noble friend Lord Knight raised a question about regional directors, as part of his thinking on what an all-academy schools system might look like in practice, particularly relating to the accountability of multi-academy trusts. He referred to the fact that many think academies insufficiently accountable. He felt that the advisory boards that regional schools commissioners have might be one way of strengthening accountability, particularly if they had a majority of local authority people on those advisory boards. The Minister was not very encouraging, I have to say, at that point.
I want to come back to this, because it seems to me that the review the Minister is now undertaking must take account of the relationship between academies, multi-academy trusts and regional directors. The direction of travel is that, by 2030, all schools will be academies. In essence, the Secretary of State is taking direct responsibility for each school in the English school system. In reality, the regional directors will take on that responsibility on behalf of the Secretary of State. Those regional directors are nominally civil servants, although they are not really civil servants in the way we think of them because they are external appointments. The sort of people who are appointed are not career civil servants; they are people who have come mainly from outside the system, as far as I understand it, so to call them civil servants is misleading in many ways, because it suggests they are functionaries directly accountable to the Secretary of State. The reality is that they take on huge powers. My argument is that they need to be more accountable to the system. I think the Minister should spell out in more detail the role of these regional directors. Recent research on Twitter—this is where we get information about them—shows that five of them have announced themselves on Twitter setting out their responsibilities. Each of them says that they are now responsible for children’s social care. I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm if that is so or not. Does it mean, for instance, that these regional directors will be taking a lead on the regional adoption agencies? If there is an inadequate judgment under the Ofsted inspection of local authority children’s services framework, what is their role there? Do they have intervention powers?
What are the transitional arrangements between the regional schools commissioners and the regional directors? Will the regional directors be responsible for maintained schools that are not going through the academisation process as yet? I agree with my noble friend Lord Knight: there should be much greater transparency about what regional directors do, with the role of the advisory boards beefed up. There is actually a strong case for them becoming statutory agencies in the end, given that so much power is going to be given to them.
My substantive question to the Minister is: given the review she is now undertaking, will she assure me that the relationship of the regional directors and their accountability will be part of that review? She may argue that this has all been settled in the White Paper following Sir David Bell’s review but, given the scale of the change in many schools, which are going to be forced to become academies, I do not think that is the answer. We need to see much more accountability about how the system is going to operate. I hope that the Minister will be able to respond on that.
My Lords, before speaking to the amendments, I want to quickly say how much I agree with Amendment 101 on British values from the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, and Amendment 105 from the noble Lord, Lord Sandhurst. I do not see it as an issue of culture wars or whatever—parents should see the material that their children are being taught. I am quite surprised that we cannot do that. When we had parents’ evenings, the textbooks and the material that we were using were freely available for parents to look at. It was quite an important aspect of those meetings, as well as children’s work being on display. I hope the Minister can answer this issue about copyright because that seems to be a red herring.
On Amendment 118H, the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, is absolutely right: there should be a review of diversity in the curriculum. When you ask about black studies or black history in school, you get a list and you might find a black author or an Asian poet on it, but there is no guarantee that that is actually taught in schools; invariably, it is not. I want that audit on diversity to be carried out so that we know exactly how our curriculum should be developed.
I will come to the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, at the end, if I may.
I have a slight reservation with the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman. We do not have a national curriculum: it is not taught in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland, so it is not national. It is not taught in academies or free schools. It is taught only in maintained schools, so it is not a national curriculum.
I like the fact that academies and free schools have the freedom to devise their curriculum and I wish that freedom were given to maintained schools as well so that schools can devise their curriculum to suit their particular circumstances or issues. I gave an example to the Minister only today: Liverpool was the centre of the slave trade and I know that in academies in Liverpool they will do a unit on the slave trade, but it is not part of the maintained school curriculum. Maintained schools should be free to develop their curriculum.
The noble Baroness’s amendment lists the things that should definitely be part of this mandatory curriculum. They are probably the right ones. Financial management should be taught. Certainly, some personal, social and health education issues should be taught. I have a Private Member’s Bill on water safety, because I believe passionately that that should be taught in schools. Yes, there are things that should be taught, but let us not be prescriptive now. What we need is a review of our curriculum. It has not been reviewed for 10 years and we need to do that—for all the reasons we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman. So this is an important amendment but it is perhaps too prescriptive.
The amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, is interesting. It will probably happen—it has to, does it not, in the future?
The amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, is very important. If I may say so, I am quite emotional about it. He is absolutely right: we have to be sure that black, Asian, Jewish and other minorities in schools are completely part of the school community and that they do not in any way face some of the issues that the noble Lord told us about. I add only that there is light at the end of the tunnel. There are some wonderful examples of lots of schools where the school community is made up of a whole range of pupils from different ethnic groups who work, play and respond together. I do not want to think that some of the schools that we know about are what our English education system is really like. However, it is right that we do what the noble Lord suggested, and that would make us feel more comfortable and relaxed about what is happening in our schools.
I will be very cheeky and ask the noble Lord to use “head teacher” rather than “headmaster”. To my mind, the former is not gender-specific.
That is my party’s view on those amendments.
My Lords, I will speak very briefly on Amendment 118B.
For generations, there have been interventions that have looked at education, but what needs to change is to make schooling applicable to everyone. What is always missing is where the black child fits in. We have only to look at the scandal around the Windrush generation and the lessons that have not been learned, and the injustices that occurred back in 1948 and still do in the present day.
Back in the 1960s, Bernard Coard wrote a book called How the West Indian Child is Made Educationally Sub-normal in the British School System. The British school system has failed children in schools following the immigration of their parents into this country, and the racism they suffered in education in some cases continues to this day.
In my opinion, the majority of children in pupil referral units are from the black community. Children are sent there for many reasons, and racism is high on the agenda. Once children are placed there, you could say that is the end of their education, life chances and prospects. We can see this in the Prison Service and with employment opportunities.
The Schools Bill needs to look at education for all. Education is supposed to equip you for the future, and for you to understand who you are and that your background matters.
Racism was laid bare during the pandemic. We saw that the first casualties to have died of Covid-19 were from the black and Asian community. This was highlighted as part of my review.
Unless the Government look seriously at the impact of racism in our schools on education and wider society, we will back discussing the same agenda in years to come.
To touch on black history, it does not address the curriculum in education. I believe that decolonisation is the way forward. The Stephen Lawrence foundation will be working on this moving forward.
Wales is looking at education and the changes that are needed to the system. This is a start. What are the Government looking to do in the other devolved nations? Following on from the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, I wish that we would take the racism that happens in schools a lot more seriously.
My Lords, I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, that regional schools directors are civil servants. I am sure my noble friend the Minister will confirm that there are no proposed changes to that. During my tenure they were all directly answerable to me on behalf of our Secretary of State. I tried very hard to ensure that we had a mixture of skills in that group.
When I was the academies Minister, the national schools commissioner had been a teacher, then a headteacher, then the chief executive of an academy trust, so he had a very good understanding of the whole culture. We had another very good regional schools commissioner who had been the head of local authority social services and so on, but we also had permanent civil servants. My mission was to bring them all together. They all reported to me, and we met as a group regularly so that there could be a transfer of ideas between them. I do not think there are any plans for that to change.
My Lords, I am speaking to the two amendments we have in this group: Amendments 118G and 118H. I thank my noble friend Lady Lawrence for making some extremely salient points which I will refer to subsequently.
To the noble Lord, Lord Storey, I would like to explain that Amendment 118G will require every academy to follow the national curriculum. We have the list of things we would like to talk about because of the inherent contradictions we have found in this Bill. We have been trying to work around them and are attempting to fill the gaps as best we can. As the Government were clearly intent on a sweeping approach, we felt it was imperative that those issues be included in the national curriculum.
Amendment 118H would compel the Secretary of State to
“work with the devolved administrations”, as noted by my noble friend Lady Lawrence, to launch and publish a review into teaching about diversity in the curriculum and
“to ensure that teaching of British history includes but is not limited to … Black British history … colonialism, and … Britain’s role in the transatlantic slave trade.”
The English education system could learn a great deal from Wales in this matter. Our new curriculum will be launched this September. The new mandatory elements of the curriculum, in particular the teaching of the experiences and contributions of people from minority backgrounds, will broaden the education of every child in Wales so it better reflects the experiences of the whole population of Wales. Educating young people about the experiences and contributions of minority ethnic peoples in Wales, past and present, will promote lasting change aimed at tackling broader inequalities within society. I urge the Minister to support this aspect of our range of amendment suggestions.
In conclusion, we also support Amendment 101 proposed by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, and other noble Lords. The values of British citizenship should include important elements, not least democracy and the rule of law—an important lesson learned by some Members of the other place in recent weeks.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, for explaining her amendment to us. I am liberal rather than post-modern; I believe in the objective being one united society where we are all equal, rather than in the fractured values which her amendment proposes. It is really important that what we teach in schools covers all our experiences and all the threads that make up the UK. The English ought to learn a great deal more about the Welsh and Scots, for a start.
One of the fundamental problems, illustrated in the dispute with OCR over its poetry curriculum, is that we have allowed our examination system to become far too narrow. Yes, a thread of the undisputed greats in literature ought to run through things, as well as the thread of our history that used to consist of learning the names and dates of kings but is actually rather more interesting. Within them are the stories of us all—and that really ought to be us all.
To manage that within a school curriculum, you need a lot more freedom than we allow people at the moment, not less. We should not have a national curriculum that says, “These are the five things that you must teach”, but one with the ability to stretch broadly, bring things in and illustrate them and, as the noble Lord, Lord Storey, said, enrich people’s local experience with things that mean something to them. I support the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, in his endeavours.
My noble friend Lord Sandhurst will know that I am very much with him on his amendments, and I am delighted to find myself with the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, in what he is asking for. The noble Lord says that he is surprised to discover that the Lords is cool. For those of us who come from the west, we walk in every day past a notice that says, “Peers entrance”. Indeed they do. The problems he outlines remind me a lot of what goes on with sexual abuse in schools. The answer is to face it, look at it and really be interested in, not afraid of, what is going on. We should be confident that we do not want it to be that way. We should not expect quick solutions so that we can forget about it, but know that this will take us a good long while to sort out and that it has some deep roots. I would really like to see the Government take some steps in the sort of direction the noble Lord proposes.
I thank the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, for Amendment 101. As he knows, we support the principles at the heart of this amendment and agree that teaching staff and leadership in schools need to understand the important role that fundamental British values play in our society and beyond.
I think he is making two points: one about curriculum content and one about the quality of the delivery of that curriculum. The Government believe our current arrangements provide a sound basis for this. As your Lordships know, schools have a duty, as part of providing a broad and balanced curriculum, to promote pupils’ spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development. Those principles are embedded in the Independent School Standards, teacher standards and Ofsted inspections.
As to the comments on the environment, our ambitious sustainability and climate change strategy publicly addresses the importance of teaching about the environment. This includes teaching topics related to climate change, covered within the citizenship, science and geography national curriculum.
We have prioritised helping schools to remain focused on recovery from the pandemic. This is why we undertook in the schools White Paper not to make any curriculum changes during this Parliament. The noble and right reverend Lord referred to the comments of the Chief Inspector of Schools about what she and her colleagues had seen in schools on the teaching of these subjects. We expect schools to take those comments very seriously and respond to them.
As the House is aware, Ofsted is undertaking a review of personal development teaching in schools in England, which will include consideration of citizenship education, will involve an analysis of inspection evidence, and will end with the publication of a national report on this later in the year. As I indicated to the noble and right reverend Lord when we met, we are aware that there have been a number of curriculum changes since the current guidance on promoting fundamental British values in schools was issued, and we will consider whether and how to reflect those changes to improve and strengthen the guidance. I would be delighted to work with the noble and right reverend Lord, and those who agree with him, to ensure that we do so in the best way possible.
Turning to Amendment 118A, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, I confirm that Ofsted, as a public body, is required to adhere to the public sector equality duty, including in exercising its inspection functions. Ofsted published an equality, diversity and inclusion statement in 2019 outlining the specific consideration that it had given to this duty in developing and finalising its inspection arrangements. As I said in response to the earlier amendment, inspectors are required to take account of pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development, and how the needs of the range of pupils are met. Through the key judgment on quality of education, inspectors assess the extent to which the curriculum meets the needs of all pupils, including those with special educational needs and disabilities, and those who are disadvantaged.
The personal development judgment highlights the importance of the role of schools in equipping pupils to be respectful citizens. It also takes account of the school’s promotion of respect for different protected characteristics. Through the leadership judgment, inspectors consider how the school fulfils its legal duties, including those under the Equality Act. The noble Lord may be aware that in the national professional qualification for leadership there is an important section on leadership in relation to the culture and values within a school.
Turning to the second aspect of the amendment, I confirm that inspectors will take account of provision directly run by schools, provided that at least one child from those schools attends that provision. Inspectors do not, as part of a school inspection, assess the quality of the various clubs and activities that are delivered by third parties on a school’s premises. Doing so could act as a disincentive for schools to offer such services, which parents value greatly and children benefit from.
I will now respond to Amendments 118B, 118G and 118H, in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Chapman, Lady Wilcox and Lady Lawrence. Turning first to the proposal to introduce a requirement for academies to follow the national curriculum, I have already emphasised that we value academy freedoms. The freedom for academies to set their own curriculum is fundamental.
The national curriculum exemplifies high-quality, good teaching practice that is well understood by teachers and provides baseline guidance from which academies can innovate. Our current model allows all state-funded schools to go above and beyond the national curriculum specifications. While maintained schools must ensure that they teach at least the content of the national curriculum, academies have more freedom to innovate across the curriculum and focus on the specific needs of their pupils. It is paramount that the Bill does not restrict curriculum freedoms, to enable schools to adapt their curricula carefully, based on the specific characteristics of their pupils, to ensure that the education delivered will be more equitable for all.
The Government feel that a review of the English curriculum of the nature suggested by the noble Baronesses is unnecessary. We are already clear that teaching subject-related diversity can be and is being achieved. The national curriculum theme at key stage 3 entitled “Ideas, political power, industry and empire: Britain, 1745-1901”, covers these topics; further, all key stages can include teaching on these topics. Black history can be taught across the curriculum. It can include the role of the countries of the former British Empire in both world wars, and the part that black, Asian and minority ethnic people played in shaping the UK in the 20th century.
In the most recent survey of history teachers by the Historical Association, the vast majority of schools—around 87%—reported having made substantial changes to their key stage 3 curriculum in recent years to address issues of diversity. These also include other dimensions of diversity, such as the inclusion of women’s, disabled people’s and LGBTQ+ histories and working-class histories, as well as wider world history and the inclusion of black and Asian British history.
In relation to Amendments 118B and 118G, we outlined in our schools White Paper that our priority for this decade is to increase standards in literacy and numeracy across the country. This is vital for children to be able to access a broad and balanced curriculum. Changes to the national curriculum would create an instability that would detract teachers’ time from these priorities, at a moment following the pandemic when they have never been more important.
I turn to Amendment 105 in the name of my noble friend Lord Sandhurst and the noble Baroness, Lady Morris. It is right that parents are able to engage with their children’s curriculum. We want to make sure that happens in all cases, but we need to take sufficient time to consider whether we might go beyond the requirements we already have in place without unintended consequences, especially for the majority of schools, which we believe have good relationships with parents. We are concerned that there could be a risk that schools will be burdened by excessive requests or will avoid teaching legitimate topics to avoid confrontation.
I was pleased to meet my noble friend Lord Sandhurst and other noble Lords recently and have set out the current legal position in a letter, which I placed in the House Library. I will not repeat the detail but we are clear that schools should engage with parents when drawing up the curriculum. More specifically, copyright does not prevent schools showing teaching materials to parents. There are also detailed requirements in relation to schools making parents aware of what is being taught in relationships and sex education. Schools should not enter into contracts with providers of teaching materials that may restrict their ability to meet those requirements.
I believe that clarifying the current position will help drive down the number of instances where schools refuse to share materials, such as those shared with me by my noble friend. We will write to all schools in the autumn, once they have reopened, to set out a clear expectation that schools respond positively to any reasonable requests from parents to view curriculum materials. We will ensure that the content of the letter is available publicly to help inform parents’ conversations with schools.
We will also consider over the summer whether further action is needed. The statutory guidance to schools on teaching relationships, sex and health education, and engaging parents in the development of curriculum materials, was published following a formal external consultation. There were over 11,000 responses, which shows the extent of public interest in the issue, so we need to give any further changes proper consideration. I plan to host a round table for parents and teachers early in the new term to ensure that we can start the conversation and get the balance right.
Beyond those early actions, we are working with the Equality and Human Rights Commission to make sure that we are giving the clearest possible guidance to schools on transgender issues and will be carrying out a full public consultation on that. Given the complexity of this subject, we need to get this right, but it will take some time to develop. We hope to be able to publish new guidance in 2023, which will sit alongside the clear and comprehensive guidance we have already published to help schools better understand their duties in relation to political impartiality.
I turn now to Amendment 118M in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. We are committed to becoming a department that thinks, acts and partners much better locally. That is why we have established a new regions group which is aligned to the nine regions used elsewhere in government and will allow us to deliver a joined-up approach across departmental priorities. Regional directors already take key operational decisions delegated to them by the Secretary of State for Education, and are accountable to him for those. In doing so, they operate on the basis of a transparent decision-making framework, which is available on GOV.UK. Regional directors work closely with local authorities, including helping to facilitate school improvement support, on academy conversions and supporting and challenging them to fulfil their statutory duty to secure sufficient school places. In taking decisions, directors are advised by their advisory boards.
The noble Lord asked specifically about the role in relation to children’s social care, so, just to be clear, I say that in creating the regions group we reflected feedback we had had from stakeholders that we had worked with, which was that they were often having to talk to three different teams within the department. The idea has been to bring those teams together in what we hope will provide a single point of contact, and be more efficient and effective for those that we work with.
With that, I ask the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, to withdraw his amendment, and other noble Lords not to move theirs.
I thank all those who spoke in support of my amendment, and I listened with great interest to those who spoke so powerfully on a whole range of amendments. I thank the Minister for what she said, and for the offer to meet her to talk about guidance, but the problems are more deep-seated than just changing the guidance. One point that I want to correct is that I do not believe that my amendment involves a change of the curriculum; after all, fundamental British values have to be taught at the moment. This is not changing the curriculum; it is just exactly listing the values, to gain greater support from teachers and pupils.
I do not intend to divide the House tonight, although I know that there is very strong support all around it from all parties and I have not lost confidence in this amendment. A new Government are coming in in September, we have the Third Reading in September, the Bill still has to go to the Commons after us, and I believe that the reasons in favour of this small but significant change are so compelling that it eventually will be picked up by one Government sooner or later. With that, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 101 withdrawn.
Amendments 102 and 103 not moved.
Consideration on Report adjourned.