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Faith Schools: Imported Hate Material

Volume 727: debated on Wednesday 18 May 2011

Question

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to ensure that school inspectors are trained to prevent proliferation of imported race and religious hate material in faith schools.

My Lords, new arrangements for inspecting maintained schools, academies and free schools are being developed, and relevant training on aspects of pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development will be provided to inspectors. Specialist inspectors who undertake work relating to independent faith schools are soon to receive more detailed training to enhance understanding and awareness of the hate material that they may encounter under exceptional circumstances. We are sending a clear message that extremism will not be tolerated in schools.

I thank the Minister for that Answer but I wonder whether it is not too little and may be too late. Will he promise us that he will address two problems? One is that the inspectorate has so far failed to detect extremist material—for example, that sodomy should be punished by killing. Perhaps the problem is that there are at least two distinct inspectorates. The second problem is that there seems to be a failure of safeguards in part-time religious schools, which seem to have slipped through the net. Will the Minister assure us that safeguards will be put in place—for example, to prevent the excess use of physical discipline in part-time schools?

My Lords, lots of points were wrapped up in that question. This is a complex area. I agree with the noble Baroness’s two underlying points, the first being about the need to make sure that inspection is rigorous and that inspectors are trained to know what to look for. Part of the problem is, as the noble Baroness says, knowing what to look for. In spite of the best regulatory frameworks, that will remain a problem but we are addressing it. I agree that the point about supplementary schools and physical chastisement needs to be looked at. A report was published last year by Sir Roger Singleton. He discussed its findings with my ministerial colleagues—particularly the point about physical chastisement. They are reflecting on that and working out the practical implications of his recommendations.

My Lords, recent incidents of religious hatred in Scotland have been a wake-up call for the Scottish Government, and it is to be hoped that they will reintroduce some of the measures that they abandoned in 2007 to tackle sectarianism across the west of Scotland and beyond. I recognise that religious bigotry and sectarianism do not respect devolved and reserved areas in our constitution but will the UK Government, with the Minister speaking on their behalf, support in any way that they can the national efforts being made in Scotland to send sectarianism into the dustbin of history?

My Lords, the noble Lord makes an extremely good point. Unfortunately, hatred and bigotry come in many shapes and sizes and we must all be very wary about thinking that they come in only one. We take this matter seriously and are looking at what further measures may need to be taken. I should be very happy to learn from whatever practice there may be in Scotland to make sure that, between us, we do everything that we can.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the inspectorate is only the second line of defence? The first line of defence is the teaching staff in schools. Can he tell us what is done to protect the teaching profession from the arrival in it of people likely to inculcate religious hatred, and what steps are taken in training teachers to enable them to combat that phenomenon when they meet it?

My Lords, there are a number of lines of defence: inspection is one and parents and the wider community are another. Clearly, teachers are a further line. There is also the issue of ensuring that teachers are not guilty of spreading hate material and the kind of thoughts and ideas that none of us would want to see spread. We are carrying out a review of teachers’ professional standards, and we have asked them to look at how those standards can be used to guard against extremist conduct and the promotion of extremist beliefs by members of the teaching profession.

What guidance is given to inspectors in detecting teachers who apply the Salafist doctrines that are infecting Pakistan’s madrassahs? How do they look for that kind of teaching, and what reports has the Minister had on the results of those inspections?

As I said in my Answer, Ofsted is looking at the way in which it trains and will be carrying out pilots of its new inspection regime in the autumn. It will also be setting up a group within Ofsted that has more specialist expertise in knowing what to look for. As regards my noble friend’s precise questions, I do not know the specific way in which it is training. I would be happy to ask the chief inspector of Ofsted to speak to the noble Lord and then to answer his questions directly.

My Lords, I am interested that the focus of the question is on faith schools and does not include community schools, particularly academies and free schools that seem potentially to be less regulated and accountable in this area. For Church of England schools, there is a framework—the statutory inspection of Anglican schools—which makes specific mention within the grade descriptors to community cohesion and to all children feeling valued and included, regardless of their theistic or non-theistic life stance. Is the Minister aware that, were there to be a proliferation of race and religious hate material in a church school, it would be regraded as “inadequate” and would prompt a diocesan intervention? Does he agree that high-quality RE, which supports mutual understanding and valuing, limits the impact of that hate material? Would he therefore agree that any reduction in the capacity to develop such high-quality RE within the wider curriculum is to be deprecated?

My Lords, I very much agree with the core point made by the right reverend Prelate about faith schools. It highlights the reason why one has to be careful of generalisations. One-third of all our schools are faith schools. One has to be careful not to spread across an entire sector concerns that one might have about a subset. I also know that Church of England schools have a particularly good record in promoting strong community cohesion and addressing some of these issues in precisely the way that the right reverend Prelate outlined.

My Lords, why, then, in the Education Bill are the Government removing the requirement on inspectors to report on children's well-being and community cohesion? Are these not the very factors that are relevant to the issues of race and religious hatred that noble Lords have raised today?

We believe that the Ofsted regime that we propose to put in place will enable inspectors to check for precisely these points. We are extremely hopeful that the additional training that I talked about will enable the sharper focus that we need to be applied.