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Lord Baker of Dorking: My Lords, one of the gravest mistakes made by the Government in 1997 was to let it be known that they would consider sympathetically state funding for more religious schools. When I was Secretary of State for Education, I had no requests from either the Anglican Church or the Catholic Church for new schools. In fact, several were being closed at the time. I did receive requests from evangelical Christians, from Muslims and from
 
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Jews. I turned those requests down. I did not do that because I am a humanist. Indeed, I am an Anglican. I went to a Church of England primary school, Holy Trinity up in Southport. We went to church twice a year and were taught some Bible stories. I was certainly told that I was not one of the elect, but my experience framed the sort of Anglicanism with which I am comfortable. There was no passionate intensity or proselytising zeal; rather there was devotion, kindness and forgiveness.

I, too, believe that there should be a spiritual aspect in children's education. Indeed, in the preamble to the Education Reform Act, which I put on the statute book, there is a recognition of the word "spiritual"—it is in the very title of the legislation. I ensured that that was implemented in the Bill by providing for local community SACRE committees to come together to agree the terms of religious observance recognising all religions.

I regret that the Government have adopted their policy because I think that the new faith schools—rather unlike the one that I went to—have become very exclusive. That is what they wanted to do and that is what their proponents wanted from them, which is regrettable. So what can the Government do? First, they should not give approval to any more faith schools. Secondly, I hope that they will say to those schools that have been approved that they expect a quota of at least a third of students admitted to be drawn from other religions. I would give the schools two years to comply. The Government are quite versed in quotas—they are rather keen on them—in other aspects of the education system, so this will not be an unfamiliar process for them. If the schools do not reach that target within, say, two years, the funding should be withdrawn. Thirdly, these are the most selective schools in the country. The Government have recognised that. In one of the concessions that Mr Blair made this week he said that faith schools would no longer interview parents. However, that is a meaningless concession. The communities know where the faith schools are; the teachers know where their pupils are going to come from; and many can be selected by surname rather than by interview.

I do not speak in any way from an anti-religious point of view, as I have made clear. However, particularly in a week when our society in Britain has been under considerable pressure in one way or another, those communities and religions that have come to our country, which we welcome, should accept that they should live within the broad British tradition—and that broad British tradition is one not of exclusion but one of inclusion, of tolerance, of forbearance, of hearing the other person's point of view, of give and take. Those are the qualities that we should be promoting today in our society; we should not be dividing children at an early age on account of their religion.

7.42 pm

The Lord Bishop of Liverpool: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, for introducing the debate.
 
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I begin by declaring an interest—more than one—in that I chair the governing body of a new city academy, which is to open formally this Friday. It is the first academy to be jointly sponsored by the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church in Liverpool and it is the first academy to take the environment as its specialism. It serves the local community and arose out of the New Deal for Communities programme. The Churches became natural partners with the local community because the Church in Liverpool—as elsewhere—has a proven and trusted track record in education.

Contrary to what the noble Lord said, faith-based education is not about propaganda or indoctrination. It simply recognises that the exploration of faith throughout the curriculum is integral to the formation of the whole person. As human beings we possess a variety of faculties—mental, emotional, physical, moral, spiritual and social—and an education that engages with all these capacities serves to educate the whole person, critically and spiritually. So I beg to differ with the noble Lord, especially with his view that religion should not be taught in schools. I have just returned from America, where I met many people who deeply regretted that particular stance being taken in that country.

In a multi-faith society, where religion can be all the more important to the marginalised, it is best that such faith schools are invited into and sustained within the state provision so that there can be proper monitoring of the curriculum, proper access for the local neighbourhood, proper accountability to the community and proper integration into our society. Unless you are going to outlaw private faith-based schools, such schools in the minority communities are here to stay and show every sign of growing. Surely it is better to have such schools within the state provision as a means of integration and cohesion than to keep these schools and their communities on the margins of our society.

The Church of England is committed to inclusiveness. This historic position was re-emphasised recently in the report of the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, to the Church of England. We see evidence of this all the time, with, for example, members of the Jewish and Muslim communities choosing to send their children to our schools because faith is integral to education and explicitly respected. Again, my own academy has an admissions policy where priority is given to local young people within the New Deal area regardless of their faith affiliation. Residence is the only qualification, apart from special needs. Indeed, two-thirds of all the new Church of England secondary schools serve disadvantaged communities. This is consistent with our historic ideals of being biased to the poor.

The origin of the Church's involvement in education was to serve the children of the local parish, and especially the poor. It is true that, as the state rightly took responsibility for the education of the nation's children, the scope of the Church's involvement consequently narrowed. Now that the Government have opened wider the door to a new partnership with
 
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the Church and other faith communities, we are recovering our original mandate to serve the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods. Parents choose faith schools, especially in those areas of multiple deprivation—and I speak from a diocese of which 45 per cent of the parishes are in urban priority areas. I am delighted that we include the school of the noble Lord, Lord Baker, in the diocese of Liverpool at Holy Trinity, Southport. These faith schools are in some of our most deprived areas, and parents from these deprived areas choose these schools because of the standards they achieve, the values they share and the commitment of the staff—which, in many cases, is strengthened by the very faith that is integral to the education of the whole person.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I respectfully remind your Lordships that this is a timed debate and that Back-Benchers have been allocated three minutes. This means that when the clock shows three minutes, speakers are actually into their fourth minute.

7.47 pm

Baroness Morgan of Huyton: My Lords, this is a valuable, if short, debate. I am particularly pleased to speak after the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool, because I am very interested in the new Francis of Assisi school, to which I shall turn in a minute.

I begin by asking what parents seek when they are looking for a school for their children. I think we basically agree that, ideally, we want it to be local, with a great head teacher; with a strong ethos and clear social and behavioural norms; with clear boundaries and disciplinary codes based on punishment and reward which are understood and operated by all the adults; with good relations between the staff and students; with a strong pastoral system; with high and/or improving standards and high aspirations set for all the pupils; with strong expectations of parental input into the school and openness to parents; and with it being a part of the community. If a school has got all of the above, the chances are that it is oversubscribed.

But in which schools are these attributes to be found, especially in inner cities? I think we need to recognise that they are often found in faith schools, particularly in inner cities. That is not, by any means, the case in all faith schools—and absolutely not only in faith schools—but something is going right in many faith schools. Often this is a combination of a strong ethos permeating the whole school. That is not necessarily, or even primarily, a specific faith ethos; it is wider than that. I think the effect of being a voluntary-aided school can help in a couple of ways. There are more freedoms, both real and often just perceived, for the head and the governing body. That tends to attract the best of both.

I have to confess, however—this point has been raised by other noble Lords today—that I feel uneasy about two aspects of some faith schools. First, the selection procedures must be fair and transparent, but we all know that at times that is not the case. I welcome
 
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the proposals to end interviews, but I think we need to go further. Secondly, I am nervous of single-faith intakes in a minority of schools. These cannot help to promote tolerance or cohesiveness. That is why the Liverpool academy is so exciting. As someone who went to school in Liverpool, I think it an amazing step forward to have Anglican and Roman Catholic education brought together.

I am also interested in the longer-term prospect that academies and trust schools may allow for multi-faith schools, going even wider than the Liverpool experiment. I talked recently to an MP who was concerned about the number of pupils in his constituency going to independent Islamic schools. He said that the parents largely wanted what they called moral and decent schools—schools with rules, respect and results. They did not, for the most part, necessarily want independent or even mono-faith schools. Therefore, I hope that one outcome of the current discussion of the schools White Paper will be to allow the prospect of new schools in the state sector that can meet this demand and offer high-quality education to more pupils in a multi-faith way.

7.50 pm


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