Clause 72 - Interpretation of Part 6

Part of Education Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:45 pm on 15th January 2002.

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Photo of Andrew Turner Andrew Turner Conservative, Isle of Wight 4:45 pm, 15th January 2002

I congratulate the Minister on his bravery in trying to bridge the gap between myself and the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough. I would like to take a few points further.

Clause 75 makes it clear that the Secretary of State must secure that certain functions of the national curriculum, including religious education and worship, are provided in nursery classes. With the exception of nursery schools and funded nursery education, it makes it clear that those requirements apply to nursery classes in primary schools. If the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough felt so strongly about religious indoctrination, as he put it, in early years education, I am surprised that he did not table an amendment to delete the requirement.

I find it extraordinary that the hon. Gentleman described what I was saying as requiring the promotion of faith, because it does not. The promotion of faith may be one intention with which, for example, the Roman Catholic Church establishes a playgroup in association with a Roman Catholic primary school, but the point is about religious education. There is no gap between us on that. I do not see any danger of indoctrination in the valleys or other parts of the United Kingdom, but I worry that he does

not seem to appreciate that, although the early learning goals and desirable outcomes do not specify a curriculum in detail, they specify some points about what the Secretary of State is putting a considerable amount of money into and the reasons why she is doing that.

I noted carefully the comments of the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough, but I am concerned that he is once again showing a certain hostility to religious education. The amendment would do no more than requiring all nursery schools and early years settings to do what the best do—that is not an unreasonable aspiration—and give a basic understanding of, for example, the Christmas story, if they are in association with a Christian school or if there is no prevalent faith in that setting, or other stories where the provision is by another faith group.

In response to my hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Mr. Grayling), I accept that there is a danger of over-regulation of the early years system. Indeed, I said as much in a debate in Westminster Hall. However, the spiritual development of youngsters is one of the most important functions with which we can assist, and I am concerned about the conflict between an all-embracing, a la carte view of religious education, which is far more than youngsters of that age are usually capable of accepting, and a clear understanding of the faith in which they have been brought up or, if they have not been brought up in any faith, the prevalent faith in this country. That said, the Minister has succeeded, at least, in bridging the gap between him and me, although the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough is still perhaps a little way off. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.