|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
However, I understand the pressures placed on the Minister by the retabling of my noble friends amendment, even after the debate in Committee. I
17 Oct 2006 : Column 734
I hope that the Minister will strike the right balance; that he will employ legislation that does not impose solutions from the top down, but which enables local authorities to take responsibility from the bottom up. I look forward to measures that instead of imposing one size fits all legislation, will encourage local communitiesthe bedrock of societyto use their commissioning role to foster integration and interaction through legislation that gives them the freedom to adapt to and grow with the people who make up those communities.
In speaking to other amendments, I will try to be extremely brief. These amendments require some serious consideration. Given that the key factor that drives extremism is isolation, we, as legislators, should be searching for ways to develop a sense of belonging and a sense of community in our young people. How do you promote leadership and develop an ethos in a school unless you have opportunities to involve each pupil on common ground and, if space allows, as one group?
I understand the arguments proposed this evening for why collective worship should no longer be mandatory for sixth formers, and why pupils should be allowed to opt out of religious education. But while I have listened to the arguments, I do not accept them and do not support the amendments. Indeed, I find the juxtaposition of the Governments amendment and Amendment No. 104 with that of my noble friend Lord Baker rather strange. On the one hand we are seeking to encourage integration of children of different faiths, and then we have these other amendmentsAmendment Nos. 79 and 104 et althat would allow children to withdraw from worship and withdraw from religious teaching. Surely, we should be encouraging teaching of different faiths in order to support genuine integration. We should listen to the wise words of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouthand how glad we are to hear from him tonight.
I want to say something that is extremely important regarding religious worship, and I think that we should be grateful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Turner and Lady Massey, for raising an issue which deserves our attention. The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, said that a large percentage of children do not actually take part in daily worship as required by the School Standards and Framework Act 1998. Section 70 of the Act sets out the requirements in relation to collective worship. I am not convinced that that is happening. I ask the Minister to tell us whether each day pupils take part in an act of collective worship.
That is hugely important. It is about bringing pupils together. I mentioned earlier the concern that exclusion creates isolation. More than ever today I think that we should continue with worship, and we should continue with educational training up to the age of 18, whatever forms and manners that might take. But as important is that schools should be encouraged to have an assembly so that pupils are given a sense of belonging.
I have thought about this a great deal. Indeed, only this morning, I asked a group of people in east Croydon, a number of whom are ex-teachers and school inspectors, whether, in their experience, we should expect our schools at all stages to have some form of regular assembly. The answer was overwhelming. It was unanimous.
Throughout all walks of life, in all activities, people, whether working with children, in the police or in business, have opportunities to come together as a team, as one. The benefits are invaluable. Why not use the assembly as an opportunity not only to inform but enthuse children and inspire them in a moral and social education? That is something that we should all support.
Although I do not support government Amendment No. 79 or the amendments tabled by the noble Baronesses, Lady Massey and Lady Turner, it is right to embrace the need for a school assembly to further the spiritual, moral, social and cultural education of our children.
Lord Adonis: My Lords, this debate has covered such a wide range of issues that, to do them all justice, I would need to emulate the Reverend Marion Tugwood of New Mills, Derbyshire, who this summer preached the longest sermon in history. It lasted 48 hours and five minutes. In reply to the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, that may constitute a genuine recorded miracle. I am happy for him to investigate and report back to the House.
Not having such powers myself, I hope to be a great deal briefer. In that attempt to be brief, let me proceed directly to collective worship. Government Amendments Nos. 79 and 151 implement the change of policy that I announced in Committee in response to an amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, supported by my noble friends, to give sixth-form pupils the right to withdraw themselves from collective worship. I believe that that change is supported across the House and I commend those amendments to your Lordships.
I also agree with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth, who we are very glad to see in his place this evening, that the new right of withdrawal should not be exercised casually. We will give careful thought to how DfES guidelines can assist schools in achieving that and we will consult with the faith communities. In response to the JCHR report and the issue of Gillick competence, the report
17 Oct 2006 : Column 736
Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, I am loath to intervene, but, perhaps because I was speaking at 90 miles an hour, I should like to clarify that the truth is that we do not support the government amendments to withdraw from worship.
My noble friends Lady Massey and Lady Turner would like to go further still and abolish collective worship altogether, putting in its place a new requirement to take part in an assembly to further pupils spiritual, moral, social and cultural education with no requirement, as now, for that education to be wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character.
I deeply respect the views of my noble friends, and I know that other Members of the House share them, but the Government do not feel able to support those further amendments. Assemblies and collective worship are important elements of school life in establishing their ethos and collective character. For those under 16, we believe it right that they should be required to take part unless their parents specifically wish otherwise; and it is in accordance with the values and traditions of the majority in this countryalthough I accept not by any means allthat such collective worship should be of a broadly Christian character, allowing also for the proper celebration of other faiths as appropriate.
Section 394 of the Education Act 1996 allows community schools and foundation schools without a religious character to lift the broadly Christian requirements for some or all pupils when the local standing advisory council on religious education judges it appropriate to do so, having received an application from the head teacher. Before making such an application, the head teacher must consult the governing body, which in turn may want to seek the views of the parents. We believe this strikes the right balance, and we do not intend to propose any further changes.
In his Amendment No. 9, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth proposes that school improvement partners play a role in assisting the governing body to prepare and develop the religious character of a faith school. We see an important role for the external validation and monitoring of the faith aspect of a faith schools worka point made by the noble Lords, Lord Dearing and Lord Sutherland.
17 Oct 2006 : Column 737
On staffing, government Amendments Nos. 54, 146 and 149 follow the constructive dialogue that we have had with faith communities. First, they allow the head teacher of a religious foundation or voluntary controlled school in England and Wales to be a reserved teacher, appointed specifically to guide religious education in accordance with the tenets of the schools specified religion. Almost all voluntary-controlled schools are Church of England schools, and we agree with the Church of England that it should not be necessary for a voluntary-controlled school or a foundation school to convert to voluntary-aided status simply to ensure that its head teacher is appointed with a view to promoting the ethos of the school. We have therefore tabled these amendments, which have their genesis with the Church of England.
Secondly, the amendments allow voluntary-aided faith schools in England to make a case for extending the faith requirement to the appointment of any employee who is not a teacher, where there is a genuine occupational requirement. This, again, is a beneficial flexibility to reflect the changes brought about by workforce reform, particularly the much wider use of support staff in schools. It would be perverse if faith schools were discouraged from appointing pastoral assistants rather than fully qualified teachers, for example, simply because they cannot extend the existing power in respect of a faith commitment for that particular post.
On Lord Bakers amendment, as it will for evermore be known, let me first reaffirm the Governments commitment to support faith schools when they provide good-quality education and are desired by parents, as they so widely are; we have had many testaments to that from all sides of the House this evening. We pay tribute to the immense contribution that the faith communities make to our education system and to supporting members of their own faith in developing their talents to the full, and through education instilling a proper sense of citizenship and social responsibility.
The issue is community cohesion. A whole host of factorsnot least the existence of good schools, including good faith schools, which serve communities that have had to put up with weak or failing schools for too longcontribute to community cohesion. A large
17 Oct 2006 : Column 738
In doing so, we follow the Church of England, which made a significant policy statement last month. In response to clear parental demand and following one of many reports by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, the Church of England is seeking to increase the number of its schools in areas where there are few or none at present, particularly at secondary level. In doing so, the Church of England has announced that all new C of E schools will offer at least 25 per cent of places on the basis of local preference, not faith preference alone. The Government warmly welcome this policy.
The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Baker, would extend on a mandatory national basis this25 per cent requirement to all new faith schools. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has considered this proposal very carefully, and I am in a position to say that, subject to our judging there to be a sufficient consensus for such a move, the Government will bring forward an amendment on Third Reading along the following lines. We do not believe it right for there to be a mandatory national25 per cent requirement in respect of all new faith schools. However, we wish to give local authorities, in their role as guardians of community cohesion, a power to require that new faith schools have admissions policies which include the offer of at least 25 per cent of places on the basis of local preference, not faith preference alone.
We also wish to confer a reserve power on the Secretary of Statea power, not a dutyto act in this matter where a local authoritys decisions give rise to a sufficient body of local objections to oblige him to consider the issue. We intend to consult on the precise way in which these provisions will be framed.
I hope that this will be taken as a significant move by my right honourable friend and the Government to meet the concerns which have given rise to the noble Lords amendment. But let me make clear four points which I know are of concern within the faith communities, and which have been set out eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and others, in the debate.
First, there is no question whatever of places being left unfilled where there is parental demand for them. The requirement would simply be to offer a proportion of places according to local preference, as opposed to faith preference. If these places are not taken up, and if there are faith-preference applicants who wish to take them, they will of course be welcome to do so. Equally, there will be no obligation on anyone to apply to or attend a faith school. There will be no quotas and there will be no bussing.
Secondly, there is no question of requiring this admission arrangement in respect of existing faith schools where it does not already apply. However, I should stress that it applies in a very large number of faith schools at the moment; that is the answer to the points raised about practicability. This will remain a matter for the faith communities and their schools to determine. I give a categoric assurance on behalf of the Government that this is not the thin end of a wedge which would affect existing faith schools and faith communities against their wishes. Only brand new schools offering additional places will be affected.
Thirdly, in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Richardsonand I pay tribute to the work of Methodist schools as well as other faith schoolsthe Government have no intention of obliging faith schools to insist that a certain proportion of pupils profess the faith. Many existing faith schoolsincluding Methodist schools, I believedo not, and there is no obligation on new faith schools at present to have faith-based oversubscription criteria. Indeed, a large number of new faith schools have no faith-based oversubscription criteria whatever now, including new schools currently being established.
Fourthly, local discretion will be for real. If a local authority receives a proposal for a school where more than 75 per cent of admissions would be based on a faith criterion, and it believes that this would be consistent with community cohesion and wishes to approve the new school to open on that basis, the Secretary of State would exercise his reserve power only where he had well founded concerns about such a policy in respect of the individual school and community in question. Equallythis is in response to the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsleyany admissions requirements would hold for only as long as the local authority wished them to do so. The local authority could of course change its view over time.
I hope that the policy I have set out is able to secure a reasonable consensus across the House. My right honourable friend and I will continue to discuss it with noble Lords individually, the two opposition parties and the faith communities before we table a precise amendment. I hope that on that basis the noble Lord, Lord Baker, will not feel that he needs to press his amendment.
Lord Baker of Dorking: My Lords, I want to thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this quite remarkable debate. We have heard from Catholics and Protestants, from Methodists, atheists and agnostics. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, that it is a great pity we heard no voice from the Muslims, since there is no question of driving them into a corner. A dialogue must start somewhere, and it could perhaps start in your Lordships House.
I want to thank the Minister for his very significant statement tonight, which is a major change in government policy from the position that was taken in July. It is a thoughtful response to a difficult problem. There is no easy answer to itas everybody has discovered in this debatebut if one is concerned
17 Oct 2006 : Column 740
As I understood it, taking in what the Minister said, there will be a power for local authorities to establish a proportion or quotanot a dutyand a power for the Secretary of State to intervene at some stage under certain circumstances. Clearly, the House would like to examine these amendments when they are tabled next week and to work out their important consequences. At first sight, they seem to move very close to my position, so all the barbs that have been made against me tonight can be directed in future against the Government as well. I am glad to have some allies in the target area.
The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth: My Lords, it is a great pleasure for me to say that I had a good lunch, and look forward to having a good dinner. I am grateful to your Lordships for your good wishes on my temporary return during a gap in treatment. I assure your Lordships that I will be back. I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Baker, for my poor maths. When I was a Guildford rector the treasurer told me, after a few months, Dont bother to add up your monthly expenses cheque, Kennethyou always get it wrong.
This has been a rich and varied debate that could go on and on for hours. I want to touch very briefly on four aspects of it. First, I remain entirely sceptical about the amendment in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Baker, Lord Skidelsky and Lord Taverne, for reasons that I have already given that are shared by other people around your Lordships House, including the noble Baronesses, Lady Walmsley and Lady Buscombe. I hope that the kind of signals given by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, to other noble Lords who do not share that view will pacify them and contribute to further debate.
I echo the words used earlier by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, that this is only part of the picture. Faith schools cannot possibly carry the weight of all our social issues and problems. It was good to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on Roman Catholic schools, and from the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, in his knockabout speech. We may disagree on faith and reason, but the Popes speech in Regensburghijacked because he opened his mouth in a particular Byzantine directionwas really about a new deal on faith and reason in the West. Whatever our religious views in the post-modern world, that provides many of us with much food for thought.
When I was a small boy, I learned most of my theology from an old priest who was a chaplain in the trenches, and whose theology was formed by that experience. He once said to me, The purpose of theology is to prevent religion degenerating into superstitionwords that the noble Lord, Lord
17 Oct 2006 : Column 741
However, there has been a slight air of unreality in parts of tonights debate about faith schools. There are 4,700 Church of England schools, while there are 35 Jewish schools, six Muslim-maintained schools and 100 independent Muslim schools that could become maintainedwith many of all those oversubscribedso we are not comparing like with like. Perhaps I may say, without intending to be patronising, that we need to handle minority faith communities with a bit of care and, dare I say, love.
Secondly, I welcome the government amendment on staff at foundation or voluntary schools with religious characterthat is easy. Thirdly, collective worship has been the Aunt Sally of tonights discussion. As I think the Minister said, the current provision is to have half Christian and half other faiths in community schools. What an enrichment that would be. It would have been an enrichment for the school that I attended if half the acts of worship had been of other faiths. I would have learnt so much more than simply having conversations with the little lad sitting next to me who was from the local Jewish community.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|