|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Paul Goggins: I admit freely that this is a much more complex issue than[Interruption.] I am saying that I fully agree that the reasons why faith schools perform better are complex; one cannot say just that it is because they are faith schools. None the less, the facts speak for themselves: faith schools' results are more impressive than the average.
People choose faith schools because they complement their own faith and values and because they tend to do rather well. I acknowledge that it is unacceptable for parents who simply want to access a higher quality of education to claim falsely that they adhere to a faith or denomination.
It is understandable when parents do that, but not acceptable. That is why the Government's drive to ensure that high-quality education is available in all schools is so important, so that in academic terms all parents can be happy to send their children to any school. That aspiration can unite all Labour Members, and thatrather than removing the traditional right to attend faith-based schoolsis the answer to the abuse of the system.
Glenda Jackson: The hon. Gentleman talks about the infinitely higher standards at faith-based schools. Is he really arguing that the boards of governors of faith-based schools would deny the opportunity of that quality of education to 20 per cent. of their intake because they did not share that faith? I have to be honest: that strikes me as a somewhat irreligious approach to our children.
Paul Goggins: I made the point clearly that, on average, in Roman Catholic schools, for example, 20 per cent. of the children attending are not Catholics. In practice, many religious schools are far more inclusive than some hon. Members have suggested today.
One argument for quotas that is urged by supporters of the new clause is that quotas would lead to greater inclusion and integration in places such as Oldham and Bradford. I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) said that. I acknowledge that we need policies to promote inclusion in all our towns and cities, but desirableindeed, crucialas those aims are, they would not be delivered by a restriction on school admissions. In practice, it would be a recipe for disaster. Despite what my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras said, I believe that it would mean bussing children in and out of communities, which would do absolutely nothing for social cohesion.
All faith schoolsall schoolsshould demonstrate a practical commitment to inclusion, but that should be done by local agreement, not central determination and diktat. I welcome the fact that the Government are to issue new guidelines to school organisation committees to promote greater inclusion.
A further argument urged by supporters of the new clause is that faith promotes bigotry. They pray in aid, of course, the example of Holy Cross school in Belfast. Along with all Members of the House, I am sure, I condemn the bigots, but it is disingenuous to say that, because of such episodes, all faith schools promote bigotry and should have their position undermined. I do not accept that faith is the enemy of inclusion. Indeed, in my experience some of the best faith schools are outward rather than inward looking, and help their pupils to engage with and understand the wider world around them.
Fiona Mactaggart (Slough): Does my hon. Friend agree that it is very often when faith schools can show how religious teaching promotes tolerance, which the scriptures of all the great faiths do, that they can help to challenge the intolerance that people sometimes associate with their faith, because of associated sects and so on? We have seen that in the Muslim and other communities.
Valerie Davey (Bristol, West): I taught religious education in a state school, and I know that one can teach inclusion. However, it is difficult for young people to believe in inclusion when it is taught in a school that is exclusive.
Paul Goggins: I hope it is apparent from my remarks that I do not believe that schools should be exclusive in that way. [Interruption.] Hon. Members may scoff, but I am arguing strongly for schools to be inclusive. However, I also argue that a school's admissions policy and the way in which it organises inclusiveness should be left to that school. Such matters should not be determined in this Chamber, by this House of Parliament, with the results handed down to all schools in all circumstances.
Paul Goggins: I want plans and policies to be worked out locally to suit the circumstances of local communities. Faith communities and secular authorities should be involved in the discussions about developing schools and frameworks for education that reflect the needs and aspirations of local communities. We cannot produce such schools by laying down frameworks and quotas in legislation, as that approach would mean that there was no flexibility at local level.
I am determined to finish with no more interventions, and I shall only take a few seconds. I repeat: all schools should, of course, be required to demonstrate a clear commitment to inclusion. However, that cannot be achieved by introducing a quota on admissions that effectively would deny many parents what is a legitimate choice for their childrenan education in a faith-based or denominational school.
Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough): First, I am delighted that we are having this debate. The quality of some of the contributions so far has demonstrated the need for it. I also thank the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) for taking up the new clause, and for the measured way in which he introduced the arguments in favour of it.
There are divisions among hon. Members of all parties on this matter, which people approach from different points of view. However, whenever a difficult matter arises in the House, specious arguments are raised to destroy what should be the basis for a good debate. The hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) did himself and his party a disservice by arguing that what is a very small amendment to admissions policy would destroy Church schools.
The counter argument was also madethat many schools have children who are from other faiths or who have no faith at all. Although the Roman Catholic Church, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Muslim Council of Britain have said that they want the proportion of such children in each school to be between 10 and 15 per cent., it has been claimed that diluting the purity of faith schools will cause them to be destroyed suddenly. I do not believe that those two arguments can go together in a sensible way.
The right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras mentioned that my personal beliefs were different from his. From that perspective, may I point out that no faith worth its salt could hold that to bring in children from other faiths, or none, would so challenge that faith that it would be destroyed? Any faith that held such a view is not worthy of the title.
We are coming to the heart of the argument. The Churches may be extremely concernedalthough I do not believe that they arethat, by including in their schools children of different faiths or of no faith, their whole mission would be destroyed. However, the state should not be wholly funding schools to support a Church's mission. A Church's mission is for the Church itselfit should not be the objective of state funding in our schools.