Monday, 18 July 2011.
Arrangement of Business
Committee (7th Day)
Relevant document: 15th Report form the Delegated Powers Committee, 13th Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights.
Amendments 89 to 90 not moved.
91: After Clause 29, insert the following new Clause—
“Marks to be published at Key Stages 4 and 5
Where a student is awarded a grade in an examination at Key Stage 4 or Key Stage 5, and that grade is based on an underlying mark, that mark shall be disclosed to the student, and this information shall also be made available in or with any data set that include the grades awarded in such examinations.”
My Lords, again I have received a very satisfactory e-mail from the Government on this subject. My object here is merely to try to persuade the Government to release more information about the actual marks obtained by students in examinations.
If you are trying to use data to evaluate schools, having things divided into grades is very inconvenient and is a very coarse measure of student achievement, which therefore tends to produce rather coarse judgments of how well individual schools and students have done. It is much more helpful to have the detailed grades. If the Government allow more access to government data in respect of not just universities but schools, that will help parents and whatever intermediaries they use—I declare an interest as the editor of the Good Schools Guide, which uses a lot of government data—and it will greatly improve the information that can be passed on to parents. Generally, it will also improve people’s understanding of where a school is. To have a C-D boundary—or even an A-B or B-C boundary—and to judge schools on how many children they get to one side or the other of that boundary is a very coarse way of measuring the performance of a school, which might be one mark either way. What is interesting is where the preponderance of the students are on a much finer scale.
I am encouraged that the Government are thinking of making this sort of information available. The information may not sink in with employers very quickly, but that will happen eventually. The Swiss publish individual marks, so that people can see where they are on a scale out of 100, and Swiss employers now understand that the mark is more important than some artificial boundary that has been inserted in the middle to say whether someone is a C or a D. I think that this would be progress for everybody, and I am very glad that the Government are prepared to contemplate moving in this direction. I beg to move.
My Lords, I ask the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, to enlighten me, as I do not know much about what goes on in schools. Certainly, as someone who was once a university teacher, it never occurred to me that the marks meant anything at all. Is it the case that the pupil is given a mark by the teacher but the pupil does not know the mark and is instead given a grade? Is that what actually happens now?
Certainly, what used to happen in universities was that, essentially, you gave students marks and, if those marks corresponded to certain grades but there were not the desired number of people in the grades, you just changed the marks. In other words, the marks were meaningless. What does it mean to be given a mark of 80? It means nothing at all; it is not a measure of achievement because we could have given a mark of 0.8 or 0.08 or anything else. What matters is first how the students are ranked, and you then need some other measure of their achievement, which I do not believe is given in any way by either numbers or grades.
Can the noble Lord at least tell me what actually happens in schools? When someone marks the student’s papers, would the student know what grade they would get if they knew the mark? Are the marks adjusted to get to the grades, or are the grades adjusted to make them come out the way that they ought to come out?
My Lords, perhaps someone will rescue me if I get this wrong—there are several experts here—but, generally, rather than the marks being shifted, the grade boundaries are shifted, so you do not know what mark the C-D boundary is until the assessors have gone through the whole process of marking the papers and assessing how the students have answered the questions so that they can see where the level of difficulty lies.
The importance of knowing individual marks is that the information allows you to look more finely at how students have done and how a school has done. That would enable, for instance, parents to look at the results in a norm-referenced rather than criterion-referenced manner, if that was a judgment that they preferred to make. At the moment, you cannot say whether a child is in the top 10 per cent nationally, because you only have very coarse information as to where the grade boundaries are. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Peston, that there is no significance to the marks themselves—it is all a matter of relativities and rank and order—but my proposal would start to give us more and better information about schools. What use we can make of that information is down to our individual ingenuity.
I would like to add another question. Is the purpose of this to compare schools? Is that the point? What you need therefore is some ruler which enables you to say that this school is more successful than that school “because”. I do not understand what you put in the “because” bit.
My Lords, comparing schools is a complicated business and you have to take all sorts of things into account. Exam results are part of that. To have the marks finely graded makes them a better part of measuring how schools have behaved. When the system gets used to it, such information will be better for students in that they could show that, for example, they are in the top 1 per cent nationally or that they only missed a C by one mark. In either sense, students would benefit from being able to display them.
Students can get the marks under certain circumstances now. If you ask for a regrade, you get to see what your marks have been but, because you cannot see everybody else’s marks or what the universe of marks looks like, there is very little you can do with that. So they exist but they are not disclosed.
My Lords, I want to make a couple of comments. First, much of the anxiety about the current grading system is because people have lost confidence in the way that the examinations are marked at the moment. I remember that, when I was doing O-levels and such-like many moons ago, there was much more confidence in the marking system and the legitimacy and accuracy of the examination boards. Maybe that was misplaced but that was certainly how I was brought up. Perhaps the scandals in recent times about the quality of the marking and so on have raised concerns and people want to dig deeper to know the underlying marks, which is understandable.
I am anxious, however, as to how this would work in practice. If the grades and the marks are published and if some children will only be two or three marks below the next grade up, if you run that parallel system of marks and grades, you will engender a lot of new appeals because anyone who is a short step away from the next grade up will flood the market with appeals. Unless we have a mechanism for managing that, therefore, there will be more discontent than satisfaction. I am not sure the system can run in parallel in the way the noble Lord is proposing. It may be, however, that the famous e-mail, which I should have seen but have not, spells out what the Government intend and will satisfy those points.
My Lords, my noble friend has made strong arguments for making comprehensive, transparent information on exam results and school performance available to all and we are committed to increasing the amount of information available so that people can build their own measures and reach their own views about progress in the education system. We have already published more information than ever before.
The 2010 tables enabled users to download the school-level data underlying the table so that they could carry out their own analyses. In January 2011, school spending data were published alongside performance information. In March 2011, we published school-level information on attainment in individual GCSE subjects. As has been stated, in relation to exam marks, the candidates do have the right to request their marks. In practice, awarding bodies do provide marks—and, where requested, exam scripts—to schools and candidates. That means, for instance, universities can ask applicants to provide individual marks in order to differentiate performance within a grade.
In relation to publication of marks in data sets, we want to make as much information as possible available about exam results, and we are happy to commit to considering the practicality of obtaining and publishing marks as part of the national school-level data we are releasing. I understand my noble friend will be speaking to officials about this at a meeting on 25 July.
However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, has said, there will be practical issues that we need to consider. Collecting individual marks rather than just grades would mean a significant increase in the quantity of data that the department would need to collect and process, which we would need to ensure we could manage without undue cost. That said, although it is the Government’s intention to collect and publish as much information on qualifications as we can, in relation to having both marks and grades it is the case that the same mark on a harder paper would represent better performance and it would not always be fair to candidates simply to add up the raw marks to give the overall result. A uniform mark scale puts all those raw marks on the same scale, which is then converted into the grade boundaries.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, mentioned confidence in exam awarding bodies. Ofqual was established by the previous Government to improve and strengthen confidence in the standards of exam awarding bodies. Ensuring that that confidence is restored is what Ofqual has at its heart. It may of course be that our memories of the olden days when everything was so much better have somehow managed to make us feel that it was better; I seem to remember from my days of A-levels that there were still quite a lot of queries to the boards, but we were much more intimidated in making those queries.
I hope that, with the assurance that we will give serious consideration to the practicality of publishing marks as part of the school-level data that we are making available to all, my noble friend will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
I have a quick question. Is there a measure that is easily understood and easily available to judge the progress that schools make in improving a child’s education? The Committee was discussing comparing schools. Is there a quick and easy measure that is easily accessible to say that this school is particularly good at taking children from one level to another, rather than judging all schools by one standard? Does that make sense?
My Lords, the difficulty is that the key stage 2 and key stage 1 data that are published are so coarse. The idea that you can effectively chuck children into one of three pots at the age of 11 and sensibly use that as a measure of anything is not something that I am comfortable with. If there were a better assessment, a teacher assessment, of where children were on a finer scale, you would have something that you could more reliably use to chart progress. Because of the coarseness of the base indicators, you can really only measure these things when large numbers of pupils are involved and the coarseness evens out. At the level of a primary school it is really pretty difficult, but at a big secondary you can get somewhere. Perhaps the Minister has something to add to that. I hope that the Government will consider releasing more and better data as part of what they are doing to improve the value-added indicator, which is a pretty important part of looking at how schools do.
Amendment 91 withdrawn.
92: After Clause 29, insert the following new Clause—
(1) Section 70 of SSFA 1998 (requirements relating to collective worship) is amended as follows.
(2) For subsection (1) substitute—
“(1) Subject to section 71—
(a) each pupil in attendance at a foundation or voluntary school of a religious character shall on each school day attend an act of collective worship;(b) community, foundation or voluntary schools which are not of a religious character and Academies that are not religiously designated may hold acts of collective worship at the discretion of the governors.(1A) Governors should be under an obligation to consider representations made to them by pupils and the parents of pupils as to whether or not schools or Academies hold acts of collective worship under subsection (1)(b).”
(3) In subsection (2) for “community, foundation or voluntary school” substitute “foundation or voluntary school of a religious character”.
(4) In subsection (3) for “required” substitute “permitted”.
(5) In paragraphs (1) to (4) of Schedule 20 to SSFA 1998 (collective worship) for “required” substitute “permitted”.”
My Lords, I declare an interest: as an honorary associate of the National Secular Society; as a Buddhist, which I have been since the middle of the 1970s; and as founder and first chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Human Rights Group from 1976 to 1997 and as vice-chair ever since. The group has always been very active in the defence of freedom of religion or belief, which includes the freedom not to believe, a right that is impaired by the compulsory participation in acts of collective worship in our schools.
Under the School Standards and Framework Act, a school can apply for a determination that the requirement for Christian collective worship is not to apply but then it has to conduct an act of collective worship in accordance with the tenets of some other faith. That would be decided by the SACRE, as I understand it, under the provisions of paragraph 4(1) of Schedule 20 to the Schools Standards and Framework Act, presumably at the behest of the governors. Here I would like to ask my noble friend whether the SACREs were considered for abolition under the bonfire of the quangos and why it is considered necessary to retain them rather than leaving schools free to get their own advice on matters of religious worship and education. Whatever the decision may be, it is almost certain to be contrary to the beliefs and practices of the majority of the population served by the school in today’s multicultural society.
If the line of least resistance is taken, and the Christian act of collective worship is retained, the arithmetic is clear. Only 17 per cent of men and 26 per cent of women believe in a God who created the world and hears their prayers and then left us to get on with it. Atheists and agnostics account for 28 per cent of men and 17 per cent of women, while over one in five say they believe in something but they are not sure what. Fifty-seven per cent of the population practically never go to church, and another 5 per cent attend less than once a year. The further 17 per cent who attend at least once or twice a year probably include mostly people who attend weddings, christenings or funerals, not because they believe but as acts of conformity or out of courtesy to friends or relations. I imagine that if people were asked the same question about mosques, temples or gurdwaras there would be many occasional attendees at those establishments, for much the same reasons.
These statistics make it clear that the compulsory act of predominantly Christian worship in schools is grossly out of step with the attitudes of the majority of the population and probably the majority of the people in the areas served by most schools. Those people have no opportunity to express their opinion under the provisions for local referendums in the Localism Bill, since even if a petition to end compulsory worship complied with the conditions prescribed, the local authority would have to determine that it was inappropriate under Clause 47(2) of the Bill as contrary to an enactment—the Schools Standards and Framework Act already cited. Nor could the head teacher or governors lawfully decide not to have any act of daily collective worship, though some try very hard to avoid the duty. In its last report on the work of the SACREs, Ofsted wrote plaintively:
“SACREs monitor levels of non-compliance by reading Ofsted’s school inspection reports but have limited success in persuading LEAs to make compliance a priority”—
that is, compliance with the collective worship duty.
Amendment 92 recognises the reality of the situation by allowing governors to decide whether or not to hold acts of collective worship and obliges them in doing so to consider representations made to them on the question by pupils and parents. This would be in the true spirit of localism, unlike the top-down statutory obligations imposed on schools by the compulsion to hold daily worship since the Education Act 1944. The obligation to consider such representations is applied to academies as well as to community, foundation or voluntary schools.
As I understand it, academies are free to decide for themselves whether to indulge in collective worship, how frequently and how the term “worship” is to be defined. I applaud that comparative freedom, but the academies are not consulting their pupils or parents and seem to be uncertain where to draw the line. For example, Birkenhead High School Academy, for girls aged three to 19, holds an assembly on Mondays and Fridays at which they,
“raise pupils’ awareness of particular festivals and celebrations”.
I would call this religious education rather than worship. This same academy hopes that,
“parents of all faiths and beliefs, and none, will want their children to take part, but they are, of course, free to withdraw if they wish to do so”.
There may be less reason for parents to exercise this right, which is already part of the law, when the assembly is only called an act of collective worship but does not in fact require subjection to a supernatural being.
In Amendment 93, the pupil, not her parents, is the one to make the decision. In its 28th report in 2005-06, the Joint Committee on Human Rights said:
“Children enjoy the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion under both Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Article 14(1) of UN Convention on the Rights of the Child”.
I would add that paragraph 2 of Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights provides:
“No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice”.
It may be argued that parents have the right to withdraw their child from an act of collective worship, which is Birkenhead academy policy, and some do, but as the JCHR points out, under English law the child has an independent right of his or her own to make the decision if she is of sufficient maturity, intelligence and understanding. In the Gillick case, the House of Lords decided that a girl under the age of 16 has the legal capacity to consent to medical examination and treatment, including contraceptive treatment, if she has the intelligence and maturity to understand the nature and implications of that treatment. A child who is compelled to attend an act of collective worship must be considered to have the same capacity to understand the nature and purpose of worship, and thus to make up her mind whether to attend it, whatever her age. The JCHR recommended that schools should grant the right to withdraw from collective worship to any child found by them to be “Gillick competent”.
Amendment 93 eliminates the bureaucracy and controversiality of the decision that would have to be made by the school about “Gillick competence” in every individual case because it is left entirely to the discretion of the child. With respect to the JCHR, if the child says that she wants to opt out, it is better to take her at her word rather than force the child to undergo tests of “Gillick competence”, a concept that even adults may find difficult to grasp perfectly considering that it had to be decided by the highest court in the land.
As a less satisfactory alternative, Amendment 94 lowers the age at which pupils are allowed to make the decision to withdraw from collective worship from the sixth form, as it is now, to 15, which is an approximation of the advice of the JCHR.
The noble Lord the Leader of the House told me that this House is the only legislature in the world which includes ex officio representation of clerics, and that may be one reason why Britain is the only democracy in the western world to prescribe a mandatory act of worship in non-religious publicly funded schools, and a daily one at that. I certainly hope that we can put that right in this Bill, and that where such an act is retained by a school, after consultation with parents and pupils, attendance should be a voluntary option. I beg to move.
My Lords, I wish to speak to Amendment 97 in my name. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for his eloquent and informative introduction to this group of amendments, and of course I agree with the issues he raised. I, too, should declare an interest as secretary of the British Humanist Association and a patron of the National Secular Society. I wish to speak mainly as someone who has been involved in teaching in various schools over a number of years. I should make it clear from the beginning that I think that a daily gathering—an assembly, if you like—of the whole school is of immense value. Such gatherings can be informative, uplifting and inspiring, and they do not need to be Christian.
I have taken part in many assemblies in my time and have noted that often in those assemblies Jewish, Muslim or Hindu children sat in the classroom outside the assembly because they did not wish to participate and were doing very little, as far as I could make out. Schools are not churches, synagogues, mosques or temples. They are places of wide learning, and I am disappointed that—despite opposition from educational practitioners and a government commitment to free up schools from prescriptive rules and regulations—a repeal of the duty on all schools to participate in a daily act of worship that is “broadly Christian in nature” is not included in the Bill. This is surely an outdated law.
The law, in theory at least, impedes a school’s ability to provide assemblies that are not Christian but may be based on moral and ethical precepts. Some of the best assemblies that I have taken part in or witnessed have been based on such moral and ethical themes. For example, I remember an assembly on the theme of friendship. In it the story of Ruth from the Bible of course came up, but so did many inspirational texts. Pupils contributed their own views and readings about friendship. Such assemblies would have been technically outside the law—a law that is consistently flouted by schools. Why have that law?
The law also violates the human right of freedom of belief for children. As I have said, Christian-based assemblies exclude pupils from other faiths. My amendment would replace the requirement to conduct collective worship with a requirement to hold assemblies that would further the,
“spiritual, moral, social and cultural education”
of children. Assemblies should take account of the many faiths, religions and beliefs in one school. If the law were to be changed, shared values found in different religious beliefs, including humanism, could be explored and be based on our common ground of humanity. This would represent a new entitlement for pupils, unlike the current requirement to provide Christian collective worship. The law is outdated. Why keep it?
My Lords, I have put my name to the amendment. I want to tell you of my own two experiences of collective assemblies—not collective worship.
When I was a child in India, the school that I went to held an assembly every morning. It was not for worship but for learning. We learnt much more, as the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, has said, about how to be good people, good citizens and good human beings than we would have done with one faith. My second experience was later in life when I went to a Methodist college, where we were made to go to chapel every day. It took place in the middle of the day, so that one could not arrive late. The teachers would go round the classrooms making sure that none of us girls was skiving. I am not saying that this happens now in schools, but quite often in those assemblies anti-Hindu and anti-Muslim sentiments were expressed. That left us with a very bitter taste. Frankly, I never understood what Methodism was about until I came here and worked with Methodists in my area—they do much good work. However, we did not know that and we did not learn about the good things. We were told only about the belief system.
The time has come to widen the remit and allow schools to focus on the needs of all the children in the school, because I do not believe in children withdrawing from a morning assembly. If you start to do that and the parents start to withdraw their children, you do not have a group spirit. The attitude is, “These people are there and those people are there. These children will not be coming”, and so on. That is a very retrograde step. It should be compulsory for all children to attend an assembly in the morning, and that assembly should be such that it is meaningful to everyone. I do not understand why the principles of various faiths or religions cannot be used in that assembly instead of just the dogma, the doctrine, or whatever, that people feel that there should be. If we had other faith preachers come now and again to speak at an assembly, it would bring everybody together much more.
That is even more important now than it has ever been, because we have separate faith schools. We are allowing different faiths to have their own schools. At one time, we had just Church of England schools, because they were the first to provide education for poor children. That is an historic and wonderful thing. People do not even know that that is why they came about. Catholic schools came about because so many schools did not accept Catholics. Jewish schools came about because so many schools did not accept Jews. Times have changed. Everyone accepts everybody, and we should be furthering that, not denting it.
I, too, declare an interest as a bishop of the Church of England. It will not surprise your Lordships to know that I resist the amendments in this group. As a preliminary, I say that we easily encounter in this kind of debate the myth of neutrality, with the idea that the amendments might lead us into a distinction between church schools—or, at least, religious schools—and religiously neutral schools. That is a common myth: that we would have religious schools and non-religious schools. I am not sure that we have a basic philosophical agreement on that point; I do not want to pretend that we do.
It is unnecessary to change the law, which seems to be working well. We have the existing safeguards; we have the possibility of withdrawal. The fact that so few parents use that right of withdrawal suggests to me that most parents think that it is working pretty well. A generous experience of spiritual and religious reflection goes on in assemblies; obviously, I go to a lot of them. In them, I experience not just Christian worship but spiritual reflection. I know that that is one possibility under the amendments, but it is the religious and spiritual element that is really important. If we take religion out, we have lost the key domain.
I had no intention to intervene in this debate, but the right reverend Prelate said that he thought that the current law was working well. I have no doubt that it may be from parents’ perspective, but when Ofsted inspections of schools take place, do they not often find that the daily act of collective worship is not taking place? From the point of view of the practicality of the school, it is not working that well. I am not aware of huge numbers of parents complaining that the daily act of collective worship is not taking place. People like school assemblies, but if, for practical reasons, it is hard for them to come off because there is not a big enough hall, parents are not complaining in large numbers.
I just point out the statistic that 98 per cent of primary schools have a daily act of worship. The noble Lord is quite right that in secondary schools the figure is not as high as that: it is between two and three acts of collective worship a week; on other occasions, the school is meeting for an assembly purpose. That is what I mean by the generous interpretation of religious and spiritual reflection, which is crucial.
Secondly, the system of opt-in rather than opt-out would drive a wedge into our schools which would be regrettable. We could find social division. As it is, there is a difference between collective worship and corporate worship. Collective worship is a gathering of everyone who is together in a certain place at a certain time, such as a school. Corporate worship is when people opt into the faith and want to go to a church. Therefore, we have a collective gathering which allows youngsters to experience something and not just learn about it. As we are legally charged with promoting the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils and society, experience matters, and the candle, the singing, the prayer, the stillness and the silence, which are so often present, are all part of the experience of the spiritual, which is part of what we are required to provide.
Thirdly, there is the problem of a wedge appearing between two different types of school. One of the glories of our system is that it is an integrated church state system or a system of church schools within the state. It works well because it is integrated and, if we drive a wedge by saying that there are church schools over here and non-religious schools over there, we will deny ourselves something rather precious about the British system. There is much more that I could say but I will not go on.
Lastly, let us remember that in 2010 the Office for National Statistics said that 71 per cent of the population of this country still want to identify with—I think that that is the phrase—the Christian religion. If we are swapping statistics, 86 per cent of people in this country go into a church at some point during the year, but if 71 per cent want to identify with the religion, that would seem to indicate that most parents are happy with the way that we go about things at the moment. We have a good British compromise and, if we rock the boat with this, I do not know quite where that will lead. I think that it will probably be to our detriment.
My Lords, I support the contributions of my noble friend Lady Massey and the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, to this debate. In my view, the law as it stands is a legacy of a society which is unrecognisable compared with the one that we have today, with its wide variety of beliefs and traditions. The Bill provides an ideal opportunity to modernise an outdated and overly prescriptive law, and the amendments give us the opportunity to do precisely that.
Although it is true that parents have the right to withdraw their child from collective worship, for many parents this is very unsatisfactory because it means that the child may feel excluded and separated from their classmates, and this can have a very damaging effect, particularly on very young children. In some respects, I speak from personal experience in that regard. My mother was a Roman Catholic and my father was not, but they insisted that we went to state schools, and my mother filled in the appropriate forms to the effect that I was a Roman Catholic. Therefore, when I went to school, instead of going in with everyone else, I sat outside the door. It was thought right and proper that I should be separated from the rest of the children. I remember being very upset about this, getting home and saying to my mother, “They don’t really like me, you know, because I’m a Roman Catholic”. Perhaps that is one reason why I grew up to be a secularist. That is by the way but the fact remains that it is not a very good solution simply to say that parents can withdraw their children. Much better in my view is the kind of assembly envisaged by my noble friend Lady Massey, which is available for everybody. People can attend irrespective of their religion or no religion.
I turn to the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. Amendment 92 would at least ensure that conducting an act of worship was made optional for schools without a religious designation, and Amendment 93 would make attendance at worship optional for all children. However, the less satisfactory amendment from my perspective is Amendment 94, which would lower the age at which pupils may withdraw themselves from collective worship from sixth-form age to a default age of 15.
The three amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, would certainly be an improvement on the present situation, and we now have an opportunity to reform what I think is a very outdated way of looking at collective worship. I therefore hope that the Government will be prepared to respond suitably to these amendments.
My Lords, I have no interest to declare save that in previous pieces of legislation I have tried to achieve exactly the same objectives that my noble friend is trying to achieve today. I agree with what he is saying. I also agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, that it is important that children are able to make decisions for themselves about something like this. We are not just talking about a piece of religious education; we are talking about worship. I wonder whether the proponents of the out-of-date law as it stands would feel the same way if this were a Muslim country and Christian children were being asked to worship in the way that Muslims do, even though they did not espouse that faith.
The noble Baroness, Lady Turner, also put her finger on the fact that this is completely out of date in our multicultural society. If it is true that academies have the freedom to decide whether or not to do this and maintained schools do not, that is not right.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a Christian. I am concerned about these amendments. Currently there is a legal requirement on all schools to have a daily act of collective worship of a broadly Christian nature. As has been said by a number of noble Lords, parents have the opportunity to withdraw their children from these acts of worship if they so wish and that seems to make perfect sense. These amendments erode this requirement.
Collective worship is important for two reasons. First, it is a visual recognition of the Christian heritage of our country—it is a Christian heritage. It enables children of whatever faith to engage and better understand this heritage. Secondly, it is an opportunity for children and young people to explore their own faith. For some children, that may be their only opportunity to understand the Christian faith.
I am Catholic and my family were Catholic but they were not practising. I first came into contact with the Catholic faith and Christianity by going to a Catholic school. The majority of youngsters at that time at the school were not Catholic. I might have been ahead of my time ecumenically but I went to half-past 9 mass as a Catholic and, because my neighbours were Baptists, at 11 o’clock, I went to the High Street Baptist Chapel in Abersychan and even took part in Sunday school anniversary singing “Jesus wants me for a sunbeam”.
The point is there was a good feel in the school and people took part in the collective act of worship. Some of the amendments undermine parents’ primary right as the educators of their children. Indeed, Article 2 of the First Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights says that parents have a right to educate their children on their own religious and philosophical convictions. Amendment 93, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, would alter this requirement for all children to attend collective worship from one which is compulsory, unless parents withdraw them, to one which is voluntary. The importance of collective worship would be undermined and children might choose due to peer pressure not to take part in the daily act of collective worship.
The distinction is clear in the Act about collective worship versus religious education. These amendments tackle the issue of collective worship rather than education. I am struggling to see the noble Lord’s point about how this impacts on parental choice, because parents are free to have an act of worship with their children outside school, but more importantly how it impacts on religious education if it is a collective act of worship.
Parents have a right to decide on their children’s education and, if they choose for their children to take part in a collective act of worship, which the law of this country so prescribes, they are entitled to exercise that right. I do not think we are entitled as legislators to change that.
Amendment 93 affects sixth-form students who might choose to withdraw from a collective act of worship, but other pupils may do so only if their parents agree. The amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, would increase the number of children able to withdraw themselves from collective worship because it would include all pupils over the age of 15. Again, this dilutes parents’ rights in relation to their choices of how they wish their children to be educated.
Amendment 97, tabled by my noble friend Lady Massey, would abolish the requirement that collective worship, except in schools of a designated religious character, should be of a broadly Christian nature and change it to one whereby assemblies should not include any religious worship. Barely two hours ago, over 100 Members of your Lordships’ House stood up in the Chamber just down the corridor and took part in a collective act of worship, and the other House did exactly the same. If it is good enough for Members of both Houses of Parliament to take part, because the law so prescribes it, why is it not suitable for our children to do the same?
Yes, indeed, and a number of Members did not come into the Chamber. It is right and proper that they should be able to exercise that right. Equally, parents on behalf of their children can exercise the same right under the law as it stands. My noble friend said earlier that the law was flouted and therefore asked why we have it, but there is a law which says you should not drink and drive. Would we imagine abolishing it because some people flout it? This morning I saw two people driving cars while using their mobile phones. Again, that is against the law, but because the law has been broken, should we take it off the statute book? Of course we should not. I do not think that that arguments carries any weight.
For the reasons I have given, it is worth while to maintain the collective act of worship in our schools and I believe it is right that that collective act of worship should be Christian in nature for the reasons I have argued. Other noble Lords may have different views, and it is important that we should respect each other’s views. The present law allows for that.
My final comment is this. One of my oldest friends, the late Leo Abse, represented Pontypool and Torfaen in the other place for over 30 years and was probably responsible for more social legislation than any Back-Bencher in the history of the British Parliament. His final words to his constituency Labour Party when he announced his retirement were these: “Tolerate everything and tolerate everyone, but do not tolerate intolerance”. I believe that these amendments lead to a degree of intolerance. I am sure that that is not the intention, but it is where I believe they will lead.
My Lords, I start by declaring an interest, or in my case a lack of interest, in that I am an atheist. I regard all religions and religious doctrines as simply nonsensical—tout court nonsensical. Over the past few years I totally opposed the Government, who I supported, in their total misuse of public money in order to increase the vast number of religious schools in this country. It is a source of pride to me that I never once voted with my own Government on that extension and waste of public money, and I stick to that view.
Referring to my noble friend’s remarks just now, only once in my 25 years in your Lordships’ House, I ended up in the Chamber by mistake and I could not get out because the doors were locked, so I was present during the act of spiritual worship or whatever it is called. I have to say that I regarded it as one of the weirdest experiences I have ever had, in a life that has included a great many broad experiences. I could not believe what I was observing, and I say that in terms.
Having said that, I am as committed as anyone in the Room to freedom of thought, belief and expression. I have never spent any time trying to persuade anyone who was religious that they should not be. Quite to the contrary, I would regard it as a disaster in our country if our young people were not brought up to read the King James version of the Bible, one of the greatest works of literature in our history. I discovered the other day on Google that there are several other versions of the Bible, and they are so bad that they must have been written by people with the prose equivalent of cloth ears. I gather that they are more correct translations of the Hebrew, but compared with the King James version, I would not allow any child to read them.
I have no difficulty whatsoever in our children knowing about religion, but I insist that this has nothing to do with religious education. I want people to know that there are many religions. Indeed, speaking as an atheist, I think that the more religions they know about, in my view, the less likely they will be to believe that any of them can be true, because how can you have so many if they are all true? Not long ago, the Chief Rabbi made the terrible mistake of saying, “Of course, we have different religions, but we all worship the same God”. The Orthodox Jewish rabbis said, “No, we don't”, and the Chief Rabbi—mistakenly, in my opinion—withdrew his remark.
Therefore, the question is not one of religion; it has nothing to do with whether you are a believer. I reiterate my point that I am not seeking to persuade those of you who are believers that you should not be—that is your choice—but the act of assembly in school, which is vital to the unity and whole atmosphere of the school, should be conducted on a totally non-religious basis.
I would go further. My view is that the assembly should be conducted largely by the pupils, not by the head teacher or other teachers. To give an example, if it were my choice, every day I would have one of the pupils talking about some great figure in the world, their courage and what they achieved, such as Aung San Suu Kyi or the woman who is being threatened with being stoned to death by the Iranians for sticking up for what she thought was right. Pupils in schools could choose those great figures, and that is exactly the atmosphere that I would want to develop—plus the bit about someone telling the school that the first 11 lost at cricket yet again, and so on, which was certainly my experience of school assembly.
As my noble friend Lady Massey brought to our attention, the whole point of the gathering is that people meet together for the sake of producing a decent spirit in the school in which religion should have no part to play, other than that people should be aware of other people’s multiplicity of opinions and views. I would have no objection if, one day, one of the pupils who spoke decided that their address would be to say why they were a Christian, a Jew or a Muslim, but they would be saying it only as a contribution to general discussion not as a formal religious matter.
Times have changed. We need to know that the world is full of different people. When I went to school, I did not know that there were any blacks around at all. There were no blacks to be seen in any of the schools where I was. I was happy, when my children went to the local comprehensive, that they knew that there was a vast range of different people in the world. I am certain that they benefited enormously from that.
I am not certain that I like the detail of any of the amendments, and I say to my noble friend that I hope that we can come back at Report with something that we can divide on so that we can at least test the opinion of the House.
The important thing is the gathering at the beginning of the school day which unites the school and does not divide it.
My Lords, I confess myself to be a little confused that the exigencies of the arrangements of this Room have led to my sitting on the government side, but I will do my very best to use this to illustrate the point that, in a perfect world, people can sit anywhere and have decently held points of view without being called nonsensical for them.
I also want to say to the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, that I will make it my resolution to work as hard as I possibly can to show the other face of Methodism for as long as we know each other. In response to my noble friend Lord Touhig—I must say that he is my noble friend, although he is sitting opposite me—I just want to mention that, although the first line of the hymn that he sang at the Baptist Sunday school anniversary is “Jesus wants me for a sunbeam”, I happen to know that its last line is,
“You in your small corner, and I in mine”,
which is pretty much what this debate seems to be turning out to be like.
This is a terribly important debate and the points of view that I have been hearing are necessary and are to be engaged with, but I just feel uncertain that they sit comfortably within the scope of this Bill. I feel that this proposal would take a stance against the historic position. Let us remind ourselves that the 1944 Act, which brought this collective worship idea into being, was really an attempt to bring together the provision of schools by a variety of bodies, most of which were Christian. It is still the case that the Church of England has a significant stake in secondary education and a predominant stake in primary education. Therefore, we are talking really about history and culture—this is who we are and this is our identity—and I do not at all want to discount other religions or other points of view.
I listened to what was said by the noble Lord, although apparently I am not being listened to myself, but I just feel that the demonising of collective acts of worship is not consistent with my experience of actually performing them. In the hundreds of different kinds of school where I have led assemblies all over the world, I can promise you—perhaps I should not promise, as there are bishops here—that, in any school where I have been a governor or led a school assembly, I have never met antagonism, objection or dissent about what is being offered.
In the East End of London, one of the two schools for which I have responsibility attracts 60 per cent of its pupils from a Bengali population. People send their girls to the school because it has a religious basis and they want the structures that go with that; there is no proselytising and, if there were, the people doing it would be on the carpet. In the boys’ school where I lead collective acts of worship, I am conscious of the range of religions and I suppose that there are people of no religion. That does not worry me in the slightest. We can conjure up an idea, we can play with a thought and we can ground that thought in the traditional religious position, indicate that there are other ways of looking at it and then call for a silence—which is what I do—during which people can think their own thoughts according to their own inner light. There are ways of doing these things without us getting into this silly antagonistic position.
In response to my noble friend Lady Massey, who was my mentor in bringing me into the House of Lords—she wanted a religious person to see if it was all right, but now that we are sitting on opposite sides I am not so sure about that—I just feel honestly that we are making more of this than needs to be made. It is not a problem in the experience of the schools that I know about, and I know about lots and lots of schools. Let us have the debate another day. If a consensus emerges from a debate dedicated to this subject, then let us see what we have to do about that, but piggy-backing the subject on this Bill seems to me to be inappropriate.
My Lords, I am very pleased that I gave way to the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths. It was a humane contribution to a discussion that was otherwise beginning to polarise. I do not have interests to declare of the kind that others have declared. I am not a card-carrying member of any secular society or indeed of any church or religion. I suppose that my interest, if I have one, is that I was once a professor of philosophy of religion. In that context, I learnt that there are all sorts of philosophies, and on the whole the one that I liked best was that of David Hume, who taught me a bit of pragmatism. For example, I have discovered pragmatically that if you want a seat that allows you to take part at Question Time and you are a Cross-Bencher, you have little choice but to attend worship in the main Chamber. It is between me and my conscience what I am thinking when all that is going on, although I am not quite as clear in my mind as perhaps some of my noble friends are.
In this context, the reality—and this has been happening for a number of years—is that in many schools assembly is withering on the vine. In other schools, the assembly is very important because they have either a statutory or at least a common religious character that is accepted in the community. There, the assembly fits very well into the day’s activities and, by and large, the parents respect it.
I reiterate an additional point that the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, drew out. If you were to replace assembly completely by fiat and say that assemblies must not take place, that would be a rational position that I would understand, although I would not share it. However, if you do that, you need properly to sort out the alternative. The one thing that assembly does is to engage the emotions of young people, which, sadly, is what we have failed to do with much of the curriculum. There are a variety of alternative ways of engaging the emotions of young people and, for some, religious worship in the community is one. Therefore, I would be very reluctant to get my tanks lined up and say, “Shoot it out of the Bill now”. If, as a matter of evolution, assembly is withering on the vine—which, I believe, is the reality—alternatives will, in an evolutionary way, begin to emerge, and that would seem a wholly satisfactory way of changing the situation in our schools. However, without further discussion and without a further clear picture of the alternative, I would not want to support the amendment.
My Lords, I think that my noble friend Lord Griffiths, who is temporarily sitting on the other side, is very disarming but I disagree with him about the relevance of these amendments. I am sure that many people in this Room and outside share the view that a moral and spiritual dimension to school life is essential. I personally think that it is essential for school students to join in a morally and spiritually uplifting act every day. The problem is that, if it is a Christian act, quite a lot of children are not Christian and some are not of that particular sect of Christianity. Those children are deprived. When I went to school, the children who were withdrawn sat outside, as has been said, and I do not think that that is what school is about.
Of course, I have absolutely no objection to children learning about Christianity. It is one of our glorious traditions which I do not happen to share but, like my noble friend, I am very glad to have known the King James Bible and, for that matter, the Bible of Tyndale. I would have no objection at all to my children experiencing a Christian religious ceremony or a collective act referring to the Christian approach. What I really think we should move away from, for all the reasons which have been given and which I shall not repeat, is a sectarian approach to morality and spirituality. We really cannot allow our children in this wide, diverse world to think that only one way to truth is the right way, that only one morality is right and that only one spirituality has any validity. Therefore, I am extremely happy to support the spirit behind all these amendments.
My Lords, I think I should try to sit in a different seat in future, because every time I sit here I seem to be last or near-enough last in the batting order in trying to speak. Last Wednesday, there was trouble and the Government Whip intervened and effectively stopped me from speaking—despite the fact that I was unaware of how to work these things. Fifteen speakers were in favour of that type of amendment. I was against it and was frozen out. I do not know how we find a way of trying to balance things. I should also like to speak. I am not going to declare an interest, because I take exception to folk expecting me to declare my religion before I speak on an issue. If you consider my Sundays, you might get a clue.
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, rhymed off a lot of substantial figures that seemed to prove that religion in schools was dying, that all sorts of statistics showed that folk did not bother and that we were heading for an atheist or a non-believing society. If that is the case, why is there enthusiasm for coming forward with amendments such as this that seem to flog a dead horse? I do not understand, if Christianity and religious belief are dying on their feet anyway, why we are trying to bury them.
At the risk of being controversial, what we have here is aggressive secularism. This is not a contribution to a debate based on tolerance. I agree with my noble friend Lord Peston that tolerance should surely be at the heart of any discussion such as this. I would never dream of stopping someone else from practising their religion or proselytising, as the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, said. People are people and will do their own thing.
I can tell noble Lords that there is confusion and wonder among many in faith communities who have chosen to go to and use these schools. My noble friend Lady Whitaker was definite about the situation that she would choose for her children. That is absolutely fine, but the people who send their children to faith schools for collective worship and gatherings are surely entitled to have their point of view. There is a feeling that I am picking up—
That is technically true, but it forces them to accept assumptions—I shall not be provocative and say that they are based on hostility—that are certainly not sympathetic towards school gatherings based on Christian beliefs. This should surely be about tolerance. If people want to change the way that things are, surely they should go about convincing people of that. I really do not understand, because no one in this Room has a mandate to talk about removing the basis of collective worship within schools. I should certainly like to see a politician standing for election along the corridor try to advocate some of the beliefs and authoritarian elements in these proposals.
I appeal to colleagues: if you want to change things, try to persuade; do not dictate or try to lay down such conditions from on high. Whether colleagues like it or not those are the unforeseen consequences. I agree with my noble friend Lord Touhig that it is not the intention of noble Lords to be hostile to faith schools on the basis of collective worship.
I shall say another couple of quick sentences in a mood of co-operation. My noble friend Lady Massey said that schools are places of learning only. Among a whole host of things, I accept that. However, the religion that I belong to—the Roman Catholic faith—believes in the trinity: home, school and church. We do not believe that schools are there for learning only.
In fact, I did not say that schools are places of learning only. I would support schools that have a wide learning experience, such as culture, the arts, sport and so on. Learning is not just about academic learning. Learning is moral, spiritual and so on. I was trying to say that schools are not churches, temples, mosques or synagogues.
The Catholic schools that I know, and which I have the most experience of, incorporate all the various subjects that my noble friend mentions. There is nothing wrong with that. I go and speak to modern studies classes and I assure my noble friend that their opinions are extremely varied. These schools encompass everything. They get involved in fair trade, mission work for Africa and raising funds. They do terrific work based on their faith and it should not be mocked. I believe that if people choose to say that school, home and church are a trinity, they are entitled to do so. I very much oppose the amendments.
Before we continue, I should say that this has been a fascinating debate and I rather sense that we could carry on all afternoon, but I am rather taken with the idea of the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, that we should try to schedule a debate on this topic where we would have more time to discuss it. In the context of scrutinising amendments in Committee, though, I wonder whether we might just hear from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lichfield who was trying to get in and then move on to the opposition winders. Would that be acceptable to the Committee?
If I may just interject, strong arguments are being made on all sides but I would like to make one assertion. It is important for children to have some experience of the numinous, of the higher power, of the spiritual life, if you like, in their childhoods, but particularly for some children who have a lot of chaos in their lives. Many young boys, for instance, growing up without fathers, children whose parents are separating or children whose parents suffer from issues around substance misuse do not have a strong sense of belonging to a family. As they go through life, a few of them may enter the care system. Often they move on from there with very little support. A significant number of those who do not have that support from a family may end up falling by the wayside in various ways. For some of them to be able to look back at an experience in their childhood when they felt at one with a group and had some contact with a god or a numinous sense of something beyond themselves, for a few of them in their adult life that may be an important experience where they can look for their own redemption and find somewhere that they can belong, though one means or another.
What concerned me in what the right reverend Prelate said is that we are not really discussing whether there will be one kind of spiritual practice in schools or another. I think that he was saying that if we go along with the amendments, his concern might be that in many schools it will start withering on the vine and there will simply be a formal gathering but not with this spiritual, reflective sense of a contact with a higher power. That may be what he was driving at.
May I just respond to the Minister? The Government are quite wrong. This is the second occasion on which they have sought to curtail debate, but that is not their role. Members are entitled to take part in the debate as widely as they need to or want to. The Government should stop trying to intervene and control the timetable of this Committee by telling people not to speak.
My Lords, we need not just information, but a little guidance as this Committee stage could go on and on. I think that we all accept that.
The problem with my noble friend’s comment just now is that, alas, as we heard earlier, one or two people have personal experiences of finding the whole business of sitting outside an assembly or religious occurrence in a school very disturbing. This is something that we all need to take into account. This issue has gone on and on. I was remembering, as the noble Lord, Lord Peston, was on his feet, having these arguments in the Communications Committee. However, we managed eventually to come to a satisfactory conclusion and we moved on.
I declare an interest as a newly appointed vice-president of WATCH. As all of you will know, my interest is likely to be in seeing more women priests and women bishops around the place—that is what WATCH stands for.
There is a hugely important role for assemblies, whatever you call them. Think of the BBC and the way it puts over all the different religions and none. That is what we need to see not least because—this is my one point that I will make and then sit down—it is crucial that we all learn about all religions and none, and that we all realise how wide a grouping of religions there have been and still are in this world. Somehow they have all got to learn to live with one another. The more that we can educate children to understand other people’s points of view and other people’s ways of sorting things out or “reification”—a word which I must use as I have found it fascinating ever since going, rather late, to study sociology at LSE; I thought that religion would not come in at all there, but not a bit of it—which means explaining that part outside of yourself which you cannot explain. So it is even necessary in social science.
We need such things not least to try to reduce the number of wars as a result of misunderstandings between races and between religions. We are changing, but do we really want to go this far to make something completely different, with all the unintended consequences which the right reverend Prelate has mentioned and which my noble friend mentioned just now? There are a lot of unintended consequences from changing the law.
My Lords, I thank those who set out so clearly the reasons against religious assemblies for schools. I shall go on thinking about those reasons and some of my best answers will come in the bath tonight.
Several noble Lords have said that religious assemblies are way out of date. I am not so sure about that. I have got to leave my duties here on Wednesday because one of our home regiments is coming back. Apparently, when they come back from Afghanistan and the local population want to greet them, the first thing they think should be on the agenda is a religious service. So there we have the youth of today opting for a religious and corporate act of worship in order to express what they want to say.
I cannot help feeling also that the surroundings of this Room have something to tell us about our own history. Is what we see around us all out of date? I do not think so. It has been a constant feature that people have suggested that religious assemblies for children are divisive and divide up communities. That is not my experience at all. On the contrary, I see constant cohesion in welcoming people of all different ethnic groups and faith groups and managing that. I often go to assemblies where children are given a major part in running it. It is a regular part of our diet for someone to get up and say “I am a Jew; this is how it happened to me” and so on. Muslims, Buddhists and other parents are usually very keen to have their children come to assembly. The assertion that lots of children sit outside is just not true. I remember a couple of Jehovah’s Witnesses but, apart from them, there are very few people who sit out.
We are agreed on both sides of this debate that assembly is a good thing. What divides us is whether it should be substantially Christian. My own opinion is that the great advantage of a religious assembly is that it gives us the opportunity to give worth to worship that goes further than the latest fad from the head or from the local authority, that gives not just a sense of the numinous but of someone beyond our daily matters who can guide us with regard to the values that our society should be built upon. I do not think any age is too young to start that struggle of saying, “If we want a cohesive community, if we want tolerance, truth and honesty, where do those values come from?” I think many of us in this Room would say they come from God, and that the authorised version of the Bible is not only so impressive because of the style of the writing but also because of the content.
There is much more to say but I am against those who say that Christianity is just one of our religions. It occupies a more important place in our constitution than that. If we are having debates about the constitution, we should not just nibble away at one side of it without seeing that it affects all the others as well.
My Lords, if there is one thing that is clearly agreed in the Committee this afternoon, it is the value of the assembly as a way of showing that the school has a sense of community. There is much good in the amendments put forward, but at the same time we should not forget that church schools happen to be extremely popular with parents, even those with no religion or religious beliefs of their own. Church schools are not popular by accident. If we wish to move from the current position, let us say in Northern Ireland, with mutually hostile but strongly religious schools, to something of the idealism put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, and the noble Lord, Lord Peston, we need to think very carefully about what we will put into this mix of idealism and discipline that appears equally in these amendments.
My Lords, church schools are extremely popular, especially with ethnic minority parents. They feel that there is more discipline and they are better controlled, and there is usually a uniform. Most ethnic minority parents like that. I am not sure it is because of collective worship and we should bear that in mind very carefully. If we take out the word “worship”, we have had things about spirituality and about Christian heritage. It is very important that children from anywhere and everywhere learn about the Christian heritage of this country. That is fundamental: if we do not know anything about the Christian heritage of Britain we do not know about Britain.
I would also like to point out that this is the most irreligious country I have ever come across. The people in this country are not religious and they do not even pretend to be religious. If collective worship is your idea to bring up a generation that will be more religious, it will not, because it has not done so. As far as the worship in the Chamber is concerned, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Peston. I went once; I could not go again, simply because it is so ludicrous. Turning your back and showing your bottom is just not on. I would never do that. I do not mind a few words thanking God et cetera—that is fine. I have no problem with any religion, or no religion. I was brought up to believe that all faiths, all religions, are pathways to God and they are equally valid in that sense. I have no problem with that, but there has to be a limit to how we deal with these issues. Certainly there are old people here and people of a generation who are used to that kind of thing. For me, it was very strange indeed. We talked about peer pressure. Peer pressure works here as well.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, that, during the years that I spent in voluntary work in Maidenhead, my closest allies were the Methodists and I have long since learned how good they are. I now judge people not according to what I learned once but as they present themselves to me. However, I would say that the Catholics suppress women, and hundreds of thousands of women die in childbirth. He may not like that, but I do not care.
Behind me is a portrait of the judgment of Daniel. Actually, I think that it should be a portrait of the judgment of Solomon, given today’s debate—
My Lords, I would have finished it by now if the noble Lord had not intervened.
There is an extremely wide range of views on this important issue, as I knew there would be, and, like others, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Avebury for raising it. In considering the current system and the way forward, the Government’s guiding principle is that the arrangements for collective worship should be flexible and fair to pupils and parents as well as manageable for schools. The requirement for a broadly Christian collective worship is a long-standing one, which I think was the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, who referred to it as our Christian heritage. A similar point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Burry Port.
If I may declare an interest, as other noble Lords have, I am the son of a Methodist mother, who herself had to go to chapel three times a day on Sunday, and of a father who was a chorister at Westminster Abbey and so went to church almost every day for six years. As a result of that, we had no church at all in our household because I think that my parents suffered from overload. However, as a kind of historian—or a historian manqué—I think that it is difficult to write out the role that the church has played in education and in the history of our country for many hundreds of years—
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
My Lords, I remind noble Lords that there is a problem if mobile phones are switched to silent in that they still interfere with the sound system. Therefore, can noble Lords please ensure that their mobiles are switched completely off so that we do not get a buzzing noise? I gather that the Minister was in the process of winding up.
My Lords, I cannot apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Peston, for my hubris but I shall do so later.
The Government believe that this educational experience makes a valuable contribution to the spiritual and moral development of all young people and not just for those who attend religious schools. That view is shared by many parents, who still expect their children to understand the meaning of worship as well as to have an opportunity to consider spiritual and moral issues, and to explore their own beliefs, whether or not they hold a faith. The right reverend Prelate referred to some statistics published in September 2010 by the Office for National Statistics, which suggested that 71 per cent of the population still identify themselves as being Christian.
In response to a specific question that I was asked, academies are covered by the provisions on collective worship. Parents can withdraw their children from collective worship if they wish to do so, and sixth-form pupils also have this right. The Government consider it appropriate for parents to exercise these rights on behalf of children of compulsory school age, and we respect the right of parents to have their children educated according to their religious and philosophical beliefs. We would expect that, in exercising this right, parents would take account of their children’s views.
The law also requires schools to provide an educational experience of collective worship that is relevant to all pupils, no matter what their background or beliefs, ensuring that the collective worship is presented in a way that benefits the spiritual, moral and cultural development of all children and young people. In addition, under Section 394 of the Education Act 1996, schools have the freedom to apply for a determination from the local authority if they judge that it is not appropriate for the requirement for collective worship to be of a broadly Christian nature to apply to their school.
Therefore, overall we believe that the current system of collective worship is sufficiently flexible and fair in making provision for a variety of different perspectives and attitudes to collective worship without imposing unnecessarily complex arrangements on schools. I understand the range of views expressed but I intend to take the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Burry Port, that this is an important issue to which we may need to return in a different context. With that, I ask my noble friend Lord Avebury whether he feels able to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, we certainly will have to return to this matter in a different context but we will have to do so on Report, because we are not going to resolve it here this afternoon. As your Lordships will understand, we cannot have a Division on it. However, there are certain things on which we can agree. First, all noble Lords who have spoken have said that an assembly is a good idea—that all the pupils should come together as one and partake of a proceeding that has a moral and ethical dimension. Even the noble Lord, Lord Peston, would go as far as that, although he might not wish to add the word “spiritual”.
I point out that some among us are atheists—that is, we do not believe in a supreme being who is directing our procedures and telling us how to behave—but we believe that there are moral and ethical codes that should be common to the whole of humanity and we want them to be taught in assembly. We want children to have, for example, the virtue of tolerance, which has been mentioned. How can we have tolerance when children are separated into different kinds of religions, even if, as the Minister has just said—
I am in the middle of a sentence. I shall give way when I finish it. How can we have tolerance when children are separated into different kinds of religions, even if, as the Minister has just said, there can be a determination that allows the act of worship to be of a non-Christian character, which just means that it will presumably be of a Muslim or Hindu character, thus separating the children who belong to those schools even further from their contemporaries in the mainstream Church of England schools?
I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Will his tolerance for other people’s points of view stretch to engaging with schools that have the type of collective activity to which he is objecting? Would he care to consult them and get some measure of how they feel before we get to Report?
I was going to come on to the question of who is entitled to make this decision. I do not believe that there can be, as I think the noble Lord said, a diktat from on top, which is what we have in the Education Act 1944. This should be a matter for the schools themselves, and they should consult the parents and the pupils. If you want localism, if you want the decision to be made freely by the people who are intimately concerned with it, the pupils and their parents, this is the right way to do it.
I also detect some division among us as to whether it is indeed the parents or the children who are entitled to make the decision. I pointed out that the JCHR has ruled on this. In the Gillick case, it decided that a child was competent to make very important decisions concerning her treatment, particularly whether or not she should be entitled to ask for contraceptive treatment at below sixth-form age. The committee’s age of Gillick competence was likely to have been 15. However, as I argued, any child who says that this is his or her belief and that he or she does not wish to take part in the act of worship should be deemed competent to do so. Therefore, no age is stipulated in my amendment.
We are not going to resolve this today, as I said at the beginning. However, I would say to the right reverend Prelate that this is going to happen in the end. If I may quote St Augustine:
“Petant aut not petant, venire habet”—
whether they like it or not, it is going to come. Sooner or later we shall get rid of the act of compulsory worship in schools, and the sooner the better. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 92 withdrawn.
Amendments 93 and 94 not moved.
Amendment 95 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
Amendments 96 to 98 not moved.
Clause 30 : Duties to co-operate with local authority
99: Clause 30, page 32, line 17, at end insert—
“( ) Where a child has a special educational need, a school must demonstrate co-operation with other agencies to ensure the child’s needs are supported holistically.”
My Lords, I wish to speak to Amendment 99, tabled in my name, regarding issues around the duty for schools to co-operate with other agencies. I also thank the Minister for the opportunity he gave me nearly four weeks ago now to meet him and to summon his officials to discuss this matter in more detail, and for the letter that he subsequently sent me on the issue which, thanks to the vagaries of the post, arrived 14 days after it was posted. Tempus fugit but apparently not for the postal service.
The co-ordination of services for children with SEN, including those with a learning disability, is an approach for which the disability sector has been calling for a number of years. Co-ordinated support is a holistic approach that ensures that disabled children and their families are at the centre of the services that are aimed at improving their access to a full and meaningful life. The amendment tabled in my name aims to retain the duty on schools to co-operate with external agencies, which the Bill in its current form seeks to remove. Even the Government’s own SEN Green Paper refers to the importance of multiagency working and the role of partnerships in delivering the best outcomes for disabled children. By removing the duty to co-operate, I fear that the Government are sending out completely the wrong message, and I encourage Ministers to return to the aspirations as set out in the Green Paper.
However, in his recent letter, to which I referred earlier, the noble Lord, Lord Hill, advised me that new inspection requirements for schools will be explicit about disability and SEN. As these inspectors will include the,
“leadership and management of the school”,
the Government hope that schools will fully consider their responsibilities when working with external partners and other agencies in the interests of the children concerned. Perhaps to pre-empt all this, there was a meeting last Thursday with the noble Lords, Lord Laming, Lord Low and Lord Touhig, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Walmsley and Lady Benjamin, to which I was invited but was unable to attend because I had to go to hospital.
The noble Lord, Lord Laming, has received a letter from the Minister. I hope he does not mind if I quote the words:
“I said that I would need to consult Ministerial colleagues, but confirmed that I intended to return to this matter at Report Stage”.
Therefore, although of course I am very happy to listen to others, at the same time when the time comes I shall withdraw my amendment.
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Rix, has indicated, the Minister generously met a group of us last week. I think we would all agree that we had a very useful meeting where we were able to express our thoughts fully and the Minister was responsive to our concerns. As the noble Lord, Lord Rix, said, the Minister has since written to me and indicated that he has given the matter further thought. The letter is written in what I would call careful language, perhaps even a touch cautious, and therefore no bunting is to be unrolled as yet. However, I am sure that I speak on behalf of the group when I say that we are extremely grateful for the Minister’s thoughtful approach to this and we look forward to returning to this on Report.
I point out to the Committee that my noble friend Lord Storey has withdrawn Amendment 100ZA, but for some reason that has not appeared on the Marshalled List. That amendment is probably the reason for the reference in the Minister’s letter on the Health and Social Care Bill. It related to the possibility that the new welfare public health boards might be more appropriate organisations for schools to co-operate with when it comes to children’s well-being. We have been persuaded that it might be more appropriate to lay that amendment to the health and Social Care Bill when it comes to us.
That future legislation, besides the SEN Green Paper that will undoubtedly lead to further legislation, is one of the reasons why it was suggested to the Minister that the Government might consider waiting and not making this change to legislation just at this moment, but might instead leave the potential for that change until we know what is coming in the legislation that follows the SEN and disability Green Paper and what will transpire in the Health and Social Care Bill. It makes sense for the Government to keep our powder dry for the time being and postpone any decision about removing the duty to co-operate until we see what legislation is coming down the track and how that might be affected by this idea.
My Lords, this might be the right moment to ask the Minister to tell me in his reply—or, more probably, in correspondence afterwards—what progress has been made in implementing the requirements to identify children suffering from dyslexia and that range of specific difficulties? They were legislated for in the previous Parliament but that has not necessarily as yet been implemented. I would be grateful if he could let me know in advance of Report.
My Lords, we had a good debate on this issue on the second day of Committee. I do not intend to detain the Committee very long, other than to say that the Minister has been extremely helpful and thoughtful. We had a good discussion.
One point came out in that discussion but not when we debated this in Committee, although it is mentioned in the Minister’s letter. He says that he has various things to consider:
“I said that the Government needed to be mindful that individual head teachers and college principals and their collective professional associations had all expressed support for the proposals in the clauses”.
He indicated in our meeting with him that there had been objections around the country to the duty to co-operate. I have not come across that, and I do not know whether other noble Lords have. We were surprised by it, so perhaps we might look at this again on Report.
The Minister was certainly in a listening mode and said to us that most schools are now co-operating. That is a good thing, but the current legislation ensures that those which do not co-operate are obliged to do so. I do not remember who made the comment when we debated this issue on the second day in Committee, but they said that this is one bit of bureaucracy that we should welcome. I am sure that the Government will listen to us, and I do not doubt that the Minister will reach the right decision when we get to Report .
My Lords, it is encouraging to hear that the Government are approaching this in such a careful and thoughtful way. The Secretary of State has made a commitment to look at education systems around the world in order to learn from best practice. I understand that in Finland it is normal for social services and the education system to work in close partnership with each other. Perhaps, if it is easily accessible, the Minister might like to provide some information about this for the Committee, or at least look to see whether what they do in Finland is relevant to what might work best in this country.
My Lords, I rise briefly to thank the noble Lord, Lord Laming, my noble friend and other noble Lords for taking this matter up with the Minister on behalf of almost everyone in the Committee after the earlier debate on this subject. It is clear that they were speaking for all of us. On the withdrawn amendments of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, I think that the proposal is a good idea and may well sit better in the health Bill when it finally comes. However, the duty on schools to co-operate would require them not only to co-ordinate with the local health authority at the strategic level, but also in relation to individual children and the packages that they need, whereas the well-being boards will look at services more broadly. The duty to co-operate is still necessary in order for schools to work with other agencies in relation to individual children.
I thank the Minister for his willingness to discuss this issue. All noble Lords in the Committee believe that were it in his gift, I am sure that the matter would not be proceeded with at this time, but obviously and rightly the Secretary of State has to make the decision. I therefore ask the Minister to give us an assurance that we will be clear about the Government’s intentions before we get to Report. Clearly, if the Government decide to proceed with this, Members of the Committee will want to think about their approach at the next stage.
I will be brief. I can say yes to the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes. We will be clear before we reach Report; we need to be. I have given that undertaking to the noble Lords I met with and I am happy to repeat it. I am grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Rix and Lord Laming, for what they said. I was glad to have the chance to meet them and we will meet again—I will not finish that line.
I will have to follow up the point made by my noble friend Lord Elton and write to him. Ditto, I am not sure about the position in Finland, but we will look into it.
Again, I am grateful to noble Lords for meeting me. I have undertaken to discuss this further, which will probably be in September but before the Report stage. On that basis, I hope we can move forward.
My Lords, I am very grateful to everyone who has spoken. I hope that the Minister can write to me during the Recess because I am going away in the first week in September, when the Bill might well reach its Report stage. I should certainly like to be able to discuss this with the Minister or with my colleagues, if that is possible, before we actually reach the next stage. However, with the Minister’s assurances ringing in my mind, I am happy to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 99 withdrawn.
Amendment 100 not moved.
Clause 30 agreed.
Amendment 100ZA not moved.
Clauses 31 to 33 agreed.
Clause 34 : Duties in relation to school admissions
100A: Clause 34, page 33, line 15, at end insert—
“( ) In section 84 (code for schools admissions) in subsection (2) after “other matters” insert “which ensure fair access to opportunity for education”.”
My Lords, I stand to move Amendment 100A and speak also to Amendments 101A, 103ZA and 107B in my name.
This is a very important clause in this Bill and it proposes to introduce a number of changes to admissions. I am sure we all agree that admissions and the way children are admitted to school really matters. It matters in ensuring that everyone gets fair access to a good education and that matters in terms of helping to improve social mobility and ensuring every child gets the best life chances, regardless of their background. The international evidence upon which the Government are drawing to support their moves to give schools much greater freedom also makes clear that, while those freedoms can improve levels of attainment in schools, they only do so in the context of a system that is both accountable and also in systems which have an inclusive admissions system, meaning that the schools have a comprehensive intake across the ability range. That is the balance of the international evidence—not freedoms on their own but freedoms in the context of accountability and inclusive, comprehensive intakes for all schools.
The Secretary of State is making a number of changes with this clause which in our view add up to a significant weakening of the admissions system from the point of view of parents and children. This causes me concern that it will be harder for parents and children to get fair treatment. First, the clause removes the powers of the adjudicator to direct a school or local authority to change its admissions practices when the adjudicator has judged that they are in breach of the admissions code. Secondly, it removes the power of the adjudicator to choose to look more widely at admission practices of a school or local authority when the adjudicator receives a specific complaint. Thirdly, the clause abolishes the local admissions forums which bring parents and others together to resolve issues locally. That prevents all complaints from going to the adjudicator.
I shall come on to the amendments in relation to the adjudicator in a moment. First, I want to concentrate on ensuring that admissions are fair in the first place—that is that children have fair access to good education and training, whatever their background. Amendments 100A and 107B are similar in effect to Amendment 103 in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Walmsley and Lady Brinton, and would place a duty on the Secretary of State to ensure fair access through the admissions code.
We want all children to be able to access schools that are good or better. Schools that are highly performing are often very popular and it is crucial to ensure that access is fair so that children from all backgrounds can benefit. With the fragmentation of the education system that will follow if this Bill becomes law in its entirety, it is more important than ever before that systems are in place to ensure that those admissions are fair.
Where a school is an academy, it is its own admissions authority, setting its own admissions arrangements, hopefully within the admissions code. For community and voluntary controlled schools, the local authority is the admissions authority. Given the Government’s direction of travel towards making ever-increasing numbers of schools into academies—already more than a fifth of secondary schools are academies—it is not hard to envisage a future in which most or all of our 20,000 schools are their own individual admissions authorities.
I cannot get beyond thinking that this means that parents and pupils will face a baffling and utterly opaque situation, with all the schools in their area operating different admissions criteria. Parents who are most articulate or who know the system can perhaps work it to their advantage; others—for example, those for whom English is not a first language or who are less engaged in the education system—will lose out. When the Minister replies, can he please explain in detail how a parent would navigate such a system? Will not parents inevitably apply to as many schools as they can, and will not that in itself cause gridlock, with schools processing many more applications than they have places? Will not parents be in limbo, with no one co-ordinating that process? I am informed that in many local authorities this is already the case. Parents whose children currently do not get into their preferred choice of school are at a loss to know what to do and the local authority cannot do anything to help.
It may be a good thing to give more freedom and autonomy to schools but, as I said earlier, with that freedom should come accountability and safeguards. Without those safeguards there is a risk that highly localised admission arrangements could result in what Barnardo’s has described as “selection and segregation”, with some children missing out unfairly.
Last year’s schools White Paper supported a local authority role to ensure fair access but, as this clause would get rid of the duty to have an admissions forum, the Government are abolishing the mechanism to enable local authorities to do that. These amendments would ensure that the Secretary of State had an overarching duty to ensure fair access to education and training.
The new draft admissions code uses the word “fair” 26 times, including the line:
“The purpose of the Code is to ensure that all school places for maintained schools … and Academies are allocated and offered in an open and fair way”.
It is good to note the Government’s commitment—at least, on paper—to drive fairness, but if that is the case it would surely follow that the Government would be keen to support these amendments, which give the Secretary of State a statutory duty to ensure that admissions are fair.
Amendments 103ZA and 101A would respectively reinstate the power of the adjudicator to direct admissions authorities—that is, academies and local authorities—to change their policies where they had been found not to be in compliance with the admissions code. Amendment 103ZA goes further. It would require the adjudicator to put the views of parents at the heart of his decisions in exercising his powers.
Currently, as I said, the school adjudicator can specify appropriate modifications to the admissions arrangements, whether they arise from objections or not. He can protect those modifications from being changed back for up to three years, and the admissions authority in question can be made to comply with the adjudicator’s decisions forthwith. Clause 34 would remove all those powers. At the moment, the school adjudicator steps in to challenge and remedy non-compliance with the admissions code. Surely, if the Government are serious about fairness in admissions, a control needs to be in place to ensure that, where admissions criteria or processes are not fair, they are identified and corrected. There is a need to ensure that somebody is responsible for seeing that they are corrected and it should not simply be left, as I feel sure the Government will argue in a moment, to schools to do that of their own volition without any need for any monitoring. Last year, 92 per cent of complaints heard by the school adjudicator were from parents. Where these complaints were upheld, the school adjudicator could direct the admissions authority to change. As I said, under the Bill that process will change.
In one sense, the Bill is also contradictory. On the one hand, it extends the right of parents of academy pupils to go to the adjudicator and lets parents from anywhere—not just the school in question—to make a complaint. On the other hand, it removes the school adjudicator’s powers to do anything to overturn malpractice. Therefore, under the Bill more parents can now complain to the school adjudicator but he or she can do less as a result of the Bill. I just wonder whether the Minister thinks that this will empower parents or do the reverse.
Clause 34 also abolishes admissions forums—the local bodies made up of parents, local authorities and schools—which oversee the admission arrangements in an area. I cannot see any valid reason for cutting parents out of that process of having some kind of say on the way that admissions are handled throughout an area. Parents will have nowhere to go except to the school adjudicator, whose powers are being seriously diminished. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have Amendment 103A in this group. What concerns me is that someone should have oversight as to whether fair access is going on. I am most grateful to the Bill team for sending some notes about how the school admissions and appeals code works and how the Bill seeks to change that. I was very exercised about the fact that, as the note states:
“School admission arrangements are set two school years before pupils enter the school by the schools’ admission authority, in line with the Admissions Code”.
Of course, the authority must have consulted about those arrangements beforehand. That makes it very difficult for parents. If they apply to several schools two years before their child moves schools, they then have to scrutinise the admissions arrangements of all the schools to which they apply in order to make sure that they are happy with those admission arrangements. This is not the case just under the Bill, but is the case now, before the Bill goes through. The arrangements are very difficult for parents to navigate.
The note also points out that:
“Parents, local authorities, other schools or the Secretary of State who have concerns about the admissions at a maintained school can ask the Office of the Schools Adjudicator … to investigate”.
I very much welcome the fact that this power is being extended to the parents of children who want to go to academies. However, the problem is that many local authorities are not doing the job of scrutinising admission arrangements terribly well. It is therefore left to parents to make the complaints and appeal. If all the schools in the area are academies, parents have to look at a whole lot of different sets of arrangements.
The note that the Bill team kindly sent us points out that:
“Local authorities will still be required to report annually on local admissions”.
The Bill states that they do not have to report to the adjudicator, but they will have to report. Therefore, my first question to my noble friend is: to whom do they have to report? It does not say in the note. However, I have a clue here in the way that the note continues. It states:
“The Chief Adjudicator will still be required to report to Parliament each year and, as now, base his findings on a range of sources, including having access to local authority reports from their websites. The local authority reports will still focus on key issues for local parents and others with an interest in access to local schools”.
My question, therefore, is: does the chief adjudicator or any parent just have to go to the website of the local authority to find out what the arrangements are and whether there have been any appeals, or what the problems are? The whole system is not at all parent friendly. It is not access friendly or social mobility friendly, given how important social mobility through education is to my Government.
What I want to do in Amendment 103A is give a reciprocal duty to the Secretary of State to take this information from the chief adjudicator, who is reporting to Parliament, and act on it if he identifies trends of injustice happening, perhaps across the country. The difficulty with the proposed arrangements is that any adjudicator looks only at the appeals in his own area. Let us be clear that we are not talking about appeals from parents who did not get their child into a school; we are talking about appeals being made 12 months before parents even try to get their child into a school, and two years before the child goes there—or not, as the case may be. These are appeals against the nature of the arrangements.
If the adjudicator can only look at arrangements in his own local area, who is going to look at trends? For example, an education provider may have a lot of appeals against the admission arrangements in one part of the country, another lot in another part of the country, and yet another lot in a third area. The adjudicators in those three separate areas can only see the problems brought to their attention in their own areas. Who is going to identify that there are trends of injustice in that particular chain of education providers? It is important not just to have, as the Explanatory Notes tell us, a requirement on the chief adjudicator to report to Parliament each year. We need a duty on the Secretary of State to take the information and ensure that the arrangements his department have in place are providing fair access for children all over the country, no matter what sort of school they go to.
My Lords, I want to speak to this group of amendments in part to avoid speaking in a clause stand part debate not only because that is more efficient but because, I have to apologise to the Committee, I will need to leave in around 20 minutes in order to fulfil a speaking engagement. If I miss the Minister’s response, I apologise. I hope, nevertheless, that it is in order for me to make some comments.
In many ways, I think that Clause 34 is possibly the worst clause in the Bill. I know that there is some stiff competition for that accolade, but the issue of fair admissions is of vital importance. In passing, I want to thank Chris Waterman, who has done some excellent work on and analysis of the issue for us.
The reason I say that fair admissions are very important is because I support diversity and more competition between schools. As moves are made to increase choice and accountability and thus to drive competition in that way, it is all the more important to ensure that admissions are fair and every child is given an equal chance to attend the good schools so that, in the end, parents are choosing schools and not the other way around. It is on that basis that I strongly support Amendments 100A, 102 and 103 because they seek clarity on the overarching aim of fairness in school admissions. They seek to improve the situation presented in Clause 34, but in the end they will not fix the problem. The problem is that Clause 34 makes the job of the adjudicator pretty toothless by taking his powers away.
Paragraph 168 of the Explanatory Notes makes the position clear by stating:
“Subsection (3) restricts the powers of the school adjudicator. It repeals section 88J of SSFA 1998 which requires schools adjudicators, upon referral of a specific matter concerning a maintained school’s admission arrangements, to consider whether it would be appropriate for changes to be made to any aspect of those admission arrangements”.
Similarly, the notes in respect of subsection (4) state that it,
“removes the requirement under section 88P … for local authorities to provide to the adjudicator reports on admissions to schools in their area”.
Why do I think it is so bad to remove these two powers? As my noble friend Lady Hughes said, every school is potentially an academy so every school is potentially its own admissions authority. That means a confusion of the arrangements faced by parents. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, made a strong argument in that cause. There are numerous oddities in the arrangements of schools. We have oddities of scale in areas such as South Hertfordshire, with its particular preference to parents from Islington because of some historic arrangement, as well as partial selection—something I had to wrestle with at some length and which was very odd.
In the constituency in which I used to live, the school of Budmouth, a very popular school, gave particular priority to children from the village of Chickerell for some historic reason. It was difficult for people struggling to get their children into the school to understand. There are issues of siblings. There are issues of faith, which I do not want to get into for fear of stimulating a very long debate. There are issues of children of staff. How will staff be defined? If we are true to some of the themes running through the Committee, staff might be defined just as teachers. If we go down that road, we should include all school staff, but then a parent whose children a school might want to attract might get a job for just an hour a week helping out as a member of the support staff and then, magically, their children would be allowed priority. It is very important that we get that definition right.
The problem of coherence is already an issue with voluntary aided schools and academies being their own admissions authority. The admissions forums—fora; I am struggling with my Latin—are now being abolished in subsection (2)(a), despite the fact that they provided some co-ordination and tried to ensure that local unfair anomalies did not emerge. It is a retrograde step to get rid of them as we move into even greater proliferation of arrangements.
In many ways, the simplicity of the new code, which is currently being consulted on, will create massive local complexity, for the reasons I have described. That is a view held among many admissions officers, which is why I support Amendment 101A, with its focus on the views of parents. With every school its own admissions authority, as their resources come under pressure—as they are at the moment, for understandable reasons—fair admissions must remain a sufficient priority for the admissions code to be consistently adhered to by every school and admissions authority. We know, through the work of the Sutton Trust, that even with the current tougher admissions regime in place at the moment schools still find covert means to attract children who are more likely to succeed and discourage those less likely to attain five A* to C-grade GCSEs.
The removal of subsection (4) of section 85A of the 1998 Act, under Clause 34(4) of the Bill, removes the policing of admissions and the requirement of local authorities to report to the schools adjudicator—effectively, the prosecutor—all admissions arrangements. I was interested in what the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, had to say about around where they would report to. It seems clear to me that, in the same way that the police get in touch with the CPS if an offence might need prosecuting, local authorities should report to the school adjudicator.
The removal provided for in Clause 34(3) removes the teeth from the adjudicator making changes to admissions arrangements to ensure compliance. It is obvious to me that if we are to have a fair admissions system, the person in charge must have the power to get the admissions arrangements changed to make them comply with the law—we are talking about the law. The measures that Clause 34 will remove are necessary.
Finally, it is worth reminding the Committee why the current rules came in. In 1998, when the Department for Children, Schools and Families—as it was then—commissioned a look at the admissions arrangements in three local authority areas, the abuses found included: schools asking parents to commit to making financial contributions as a condition of admission; asking about the marital, occupational or financial status of parents; and ignoring the priority for admission that schools are legally obliged to give to looked-after children. Other cases uncovered included schools giving priority for places to family members who were not siblings and interviewing children before making an admission decision. Those are not fair practices. They allow schools to select parents, and not vice versa. For that reason, I very much support Amendment 101 and would support omitting Clause 34 altogether.
My Lords, Amendment 102 addresses a variety of concerns I have in relation to the relaxing of duties of schools regarding the admissions process for children with special educational needs, including those with a learning disability. My concerns are clearly shared by other noble Lords in the amendments that surround mine.
Schools must be held to account for their admissions policies and the way they operate these policies in practice. If the parents of disabled children are to have full confidence that their children are not being discriminated against in terms of admissions, schools must be aware of their obligations under the Equality Act 2010 and make the reasonable adjustments required. In the interests of openness, transparency and the genuine empowerment of parents, the second part of my amendment would set out the rights of parents in appealing and complaining against admissions and oblige schools to publicise these details.
It is often said that information is power; I want parents to have easy access to the information to which they are entitled when it comes to challenging unfair decisions by schools over the admission of their children. However, in his letter to me to which I have already referred, the noble Lord, Lord Hill, advised me that parents and others would still have the option to make their objections known to the school adjudicator. There are also proposals to include academies and free schools, which of course I welcome. No doubt he will explain more in his response to these amendments.
I support the objectives in the noble Lord’s amendment. However, in voluntary aided Catholic schools and academies, the governing body is the admissions authority. Currently it can determine admissions on oversubscription criteria based on a child being a Catholic or a non-Catholic and so on. These schools are required to, and do, comply with the Equality Act 2010. I am a little concerned. Does he think his amendment, if accepted, would remove the right of the governing bodies to determine the admissions criteria based upon the existing principles?
My Lords, I would also like to speak to this group of amendments. I support the amendments moved by my noble friend. I shall be brief. I think that the details of the amendments and how they would affect the legislation have been made quite clear. I would like to carry on where my noble friend left off in considering what underpins this.
At first look, the system of the adjudicator and admissions forums might seem quite complicated. It clearly is a bureaucracy in the sense of the word and there are things going on there that seem to be relatively complex. However, I think that the Minister has to go back and look at why this arrangement was made. If those amendments improved the working of the adjudicator, I would not have a problem, but it is really quite clear that the powers of the adjudicator and the admissions forum are very much reduced by this.
Three things underpinned the introduction of the adjudicator. When the Minister replies, will he be able to tell us how his Government are going to deal with these three problems if he removes the power of the adjudicator? The way that the last Government dealt with these three problems was through the system of admissions forums and the adjudicator. Take them away if you do not like them but it would be disastrous if nothing was put in their place, for three reasons.
First, I go back to this great complexity of the system, when schools are their own admissions authorities, and indeed when the adjudicator system was brought in there were far fewer schools that were their own admissions authorities than is the case now. I was not in favour of any school being allowed to be its own admissions authority, save for faith schools. Indeed, I was not in favour of the move by my own Government to allow academies to be their own admissions authorities. As we now move towards having more schools in that category, it will get worse.
I can recall a particular example of a London borough where parents could show that their children were no school’s first choice. They managed to miss all the admissions criteria of every school in the borough. They might not have been a boy for single sex schools, they were not of the faith for faith schools or they did not live close enough to those schools which chose proximity as a criterion, or they were not in the right catchment area. That may seem an exaggeration and I am not saying that it happened everywhere, but there were boroughs in London where the complexity of the admissions arrangements was so great that some children never met the criteria. This is going to be complicated, and the thought of parents having to manoeuvre their way through the system seems to me to be the worst way to start your child’s secondary education. It is not what should be motivating parents.
Secondly, I will say quite forcefully that history shows that schools behave badly in this respect. They seek to improve their own chance of coming higher in the league tables or doing better in examination results. I can understand why, and along with all former Ministers I plead guilty to constructing a system that puts so much pressure on schools to do well in the performance tables that sometimes their behaviour runs counter to what they should be doing. When schools choose their admissions criteria, historically they have not been about taking the poorest, the least able, the most underperforming, the worst behaved and those from unsupportive families. They are the most difficult children to bring up to the key levels. I do not say for a moment that there are no schools and head teachers who are doing a really good job in this respect, but there is no history of schools setting up their admissions criteria in order to take on the most difficult children. Indeed, they set up criteria that will bring in those who have the best chance of succeeding.
I have listened carefully to what the Government have said. Whether the pupil premium will change schools’ behaviour remains to be seen. But, to be honest, if it does not then it will be too late because the infrastructure that provided some protection will have been removed. I do not believe that the pupil premium will suddenly make schools change their admissions criteria so that they take on these children in order to get the money because I do not think a bit more money will make much difference. I just do not buy the idea that, all of a sudden, the historic behaviour pattern of schools arranging their admissions policies in order to take children that will put their school in a good light will change just because of the pupil premium.
The third problem that the adjudicator was trying to solve is also the most important. I accept completely that the starting point for the Government is the wish to devolve powers to schools, and in many ways I think that some of these developments are good, timely and will serve us well. But I do not understand how being able to choose the children you teach is a freedom you deserve to have. It is not a freedom that should belong to schools, it should belong to parents. This will give schools the freedom to choose rather than parents the freedom to express a preference. I felt strongly as a teacher, and I feel strongly as a politician, that the job of teachers in schools is to teach the children they have. They must get their heads down and do their best by the kids that come through their doors. Any effort and energy put into changing the sort of children who come through your door and get on to your register is wasted. What you should be doing is working out how best to teach them. That is what being a teacher is all about; that is what being a school is about. I never brooked the idea that one way of raising standards is to change the admissions arrangements, but that is the way we have forced schools to behave in recent years.
More important than that is that admissions is the only part of a school’s behaviour that can detrimentally affect the ability of a neighbouring school to improve, and that is what bothers me most. Even if you do not agree because you believe that a school should have the right to choose the children or have its own oversubscription criteria—which is essentially the same thing—and even if you think that is a freedom they need, you have to accept that that freedom sometimes makes it so difficult for neighbouring schools to raise standards because they get the children that are not in the over-subscription criteria after schools exercise the freedom. The whole of our education system is littered with schools that are really trying with some difficult children for whom life is made more difficult because of the admissions arrangements of a neighbouring school. That is the case whether you like it or want it or think it ought to be.
My question to the Minister is: if you take away the last Government’s mechanism for solving the three problems what are you going to put in place? The problems are: first, the complexity of the system, even more so now that every school has responsibility for its own admissions arrangements; secondly, the behaviour of the schools, given that it has been proven that schools will endeavour to take the children that are easiest to teach; and, thirdly, the need to protect those schools whose chances of increasing or improving standards can be detrimentally affected by the admissions arrangements of a neighbouring school.
My Lords, I support the idea that schools should have discretion in relation to admissions policy but it should be a clear, publicly stated admissions policy. Out of that, however, come two difficulties, one of which is the possibility of anarchy. The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, indicated how that was the case. As a young, innocent parent who came to joust within the Inner London Education Authority, longer ago than I care to remember, there was an element of anarchy in the system. As a parent, if you were not savvy or did not know x, y and z, you could not crack it. There is an issue of anarchy here. If every school has its own admissions policy and there is no co-ordination, parents will find themselves in an anarchic situation but will not quite know it. The knowing and the well attached will do well. The second danger is fairness and unfairness. The point has been made and we need someone to take responsibility for saying whether or not cumulatively these admissions policies add up either to anarchy or unfairness. There may be better ways of doing it. The best way is having many excellent schools, but we are where we are.
I draw quick comparisons with universities. There was a risk of anarchy in admissions systems a number of years ago as a number of universities expanded in the 1960s and thereafter. That anarchy was dealt with in part through creating UCAS, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service. For example, there was an agreement that you could not apply to both Oxford and Cambridge, and that if you wanted to apply to one of them, you had to apply earlier. Rules were worked out so that people knew where they were.
On the question of fairness, and here I put a direct question to the Government, in universities there is a sudden interest in fairness and access and OFFA may well have its powers increased to deal with a set of financial regulations about how universities are funded. It is interesting that in one educational context regulation and the imposition of fairness and unfairness is taking place, and yet in schools the same question of fairness is going in the other direction. We need consistency here.
My Lords, I look forward to what my noble friend has to say because I share some of the concerns of other Members of the Committee. I think it is important that we should continue to move schools admissions towards fairness. As the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, has pointed out, this is not the history of schools. They have always been interested in finding ways of covert selection. The history of the last 10 years or so has been a gradual winding back from that. We even have Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School, that great Catholic school in west London, removing some of the most objectionable means of social selection which were in its admissions criteria. There are other examples of progress throughout the UK.
The Anglican church has been very helpful in what it has done to make schools fairer. However, it is a process that goes against the natural inclination of schools and governors. Once parents capture a school, they tend to want to keep it captured. I find it hard to understand how the proposals in the Bill will improve fairness. At this point, I shall sit down and listen to my noble friend.
My Lords, I will be brief. I am grateful for the Minister’s reassurances that children in the care of local authorities will continue to have first priority in school admissions. I am looking for a further reassurance on this occasion. I think we all agree that when the state takes a child away from his family, the least that the state can do is ensure he gets the best education possible. We know that that has not been the case in the past. There is great instability in many of these children’s lives, particularly when foster placements break down in the middle of the school year and a child has to move to a new area and a new family. Teachers have told me that these children end up in the poorest schools because no places are left in the good schools by the middle of the year. I hope that the Minister can offer me further reassurance on this matter. I have missed the letter on admissions that might have already answered the question. How will he know that these children are continuing to receive priority? I should be grateful for information on that and I look forward to his response.
My Lords, perhaps I may make a brief intervention because, obviously, one supports a great deal of what has been said, particularly on fairness and ensuring that the least well provided for children are given not only a fair, but a more than fair, chance. I thought that one of the bases on which academy status was to be granted was a clear understanding that academies would take a proportion of these children. If that is the case, how will that be ensured?
My Lords, I start by responding to the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, and recognising her commitment to fair access and the points made by a number of noble Lords. I hope we can accept that there is common ground between us and that there is nothing more important than working to make sure that all children and young people have a fair opportunity for excellent education and training. Part of the answer, as the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, said, lies in increasing the provision of good places. We are not there yet, but that is one of the underlying principles of what the Government are trying to do in their reforms—trying to give schools more autonomy and encouraging more diverse provision. That is, in a way, the other side of the coin to extending autonomous schools, about which noble Lords have concerns. We can address those concerns, but it is the drive towards greater autonomy and variety that will, over the longer term, provide a greater number of better places and deal with the underlying problem with admissions, which is that there are not enough good places.
I shall pick up on the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, and put the scale of the problem into context. In February, the schools adjudicator gave evidence to the Education Select Committee in another place. He said that,
“the vast majority of admissions authorities … if they are breaching the rules, don’t mean to be doing so”.
In 2009-10, there were 151 decisions, in the context of around 5,500 admissions authorities, in more than half of which the complaint was not upheld. I say that just to provide a little context.
I understand the concern expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes of Stretford, and others about the changes. I contend that the changes are slightly more modest than they have been painted. There clearly is a change in extending the remit of the adjudicator to cover academies and free schools, which I think has been widely welcomed. I think that will provide reassurance across the piece and help answer some of the questions about how government policy applies to different kinds of schools. In addition, for the first time parents will be able to complain directly to the adjudicator about admissions arrangements at any state-funded school. Our revised admissions code proposes to make it possible for anyone, rather than just a prescribed list, to refer admission arrangements to the adjudicator. I hope that that will be welcome too.
The adjudicator’s decision will remain binding and will carry the full force of law, but I recognise that the Bill removes the ability of the adjudicator to impose a particular modification of a school’s admission arrangements. Why then are the Government proposing this change? The core argument is that we think that responsibility for putting mistakes right should rest with the admissions authority. In practice, there are a number of ways in which an admissions authority can implement the adjudicator’s decision and put it right, and that is where the responsibility should lie. We are also clear in the revised code that is out for consultation that admissions authorities must make any amendments “without delay”. There is no doubt that schools or local authorities have to amend their arrangements in line with the adjudicator’s ruling, but we want schools to take responsibility to put right what they have got wrong.
For the record and in response to the point made by my noble friend Lady Walmsley, I would like to reassure noble Lords that we are not changing the arrangements relating to parents’ right to appeal about the admission of their child to a particular school. It is important to be clear on this. Parents will be informed of their right to appeal by local authorities in their annual prospectus of local schools, and in writing by the admissions authority where a child is refused admission to one of their preferred schools.
The noble Lord, Lord Rix, proposed that the Secretary of State should have a power to inspect a school’s admissions code to ensure compliance with the Equality Act. The Secretary of State does have a power to ask the adjudicator to investigate admission arrangements. In addition, local authorities already see every school’s admission arrangements and have a duty to refer any and all that they suspect to be unlawful to the schools adjudicator. On the issue of schools’ duties under the Equality Act, the code includes a reminder to all state-funded schools that they have a duty to comply with the Equality Act.
The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, asked about looked-after children and admissions. The White Paper restates our commitment that looked-after children will continue to be guaranteed a place at their first choice school, and the requirement for them to have top priority in admissions criteria will remain in regulations and the code. That applies equally to academies and free schools through their funding agreements.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, raised a point about fair access and said that the Bill narrows what the adjudicator can look at in a complaint. Under Section 88(1) of the Schools Standards and Framework Act 1998, the adjudicator can continue to use his discretion to look beyond the complaint referred to him and make binding decisions if there is a breach. I agree with her points about fair access, which were also alluded to by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley. I hope that through initiatives like the pupil premium, and in other ways that we are looking at through the code as to whether academies would want the discretion to use the pupil premium as an admissions factor, we will help tackle some of the issues about reaching out to the most disadvantaged children. The draft admissions code is designed to ensure fair access, and local authorities are under a duty to exercise their functions with a view to ensuring fair access to opportunity for education and training.
Amendment 101A seeks to ensure that the views of parents and the need to ensure fair access are the prime considerations when the adjudicator specifies modifications to a school’s admissions arrangements. The adjudicator’s role is to make independent binding judgments about a complaint in line with what is in the admissions code and admissions law. That gives certainty to admission authorities, parents and others about the basis on which a decision is made. We think that it would go against the principle of independent adjudication to include a presumption that the views of one party might trump the views of another. That might weaken the adjudicator’s impartiality and focus on evidence, and therefore we are not convinced by the amendment.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, was concerned about the loss of co-ordination by local authorities as schools become their own admissions authorities. However, local authorities will continue to co-ordinate applications from parents in the normal applications round for their area. There are no plans to change this at all.
With regard to admissions forums, one reason for removing the requirement to report rather than abolishing it is that if people want to set up an admissions forum or some other kind of local organisation, they are perfectly free to do so. We know that forums currently have the power to write reports to the adjudicator. In 2009-10, 14 reports were received by admissions forums, of which seven were beyond the deadline for responses. Forums also currently have the power to object to the adjudicator. Only five objections were received from admissions forums in 2009-10 out of a total of 151 objections overall to the adjudicator, and four were from the same forum. That is not to knock them all, but I refer to the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, regarding concerns about pieces of machinery that do not necessarily add anything. The evidence for what forums contribute in practical terms is at best mixed.
We believe that the existing system, both in the school admissions and appeals codes and in legislation, provides safeguards. The changes overall are relatively modest and in some respects they extend the remit of the adjudicator. With that, I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response and I also thank other noble Lords who contributed to the debate. As everyone has said, the issue of admissions and how schools make decisions when they are oversubscribed is incredibly important. We all share aspirations regarding fair access, particularly so that children from poorer backgrounds have the opportunity to get the best chances by going to good schools.
The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, raised the question of the reports that will still be required by the local authority and the adjudicator. They are important and she raises a significant question about who will look at those reports in the round across the country and come to a view about any further changes that may be necessary in the light of how schools behave. It is very important to have that perspective across a whole range of areas. However, the reports will not help parents at the time. They will be too late for parents who want to complain about the way in which a school conducts itself, necessary though they will be for that broader perspective. The noble Lord, Lord Rix, alerted us to the possible consequences for disabled children, and that remains a concern for us.
The contribution of my noble friend Lady Morris was characteristically powerful and crisp. Her question about what the Government would put in place of the school adjudicator and admissions forums has not really been answered, other than the Minister saying that he does not feel that these changes are as significant as some of us believe.
There are three principles embedded in this issue, as there are in other parts of the Bill. The first is: what are the Government doing in relation to the balance between the opportunity for parents to constructively challenge the system and the power of schools to make determinations across a whole range of issues? As elsewhere in the Bill, what we are seeing here is a shift in the balance away from parents and local communities towards individual schools. That balance will be tipped further as many more schools become academies with the power to determine their own arrangements. Several noble Lords have raised the point, but we have to keep coming back to it because we are not talking about the system as it is now but how it will be in the future. That shift in the balance of power, if you like, is significant and reflects what we are also seeing in relation to exclusions policies and the power to complain to the local commissioner, which we shall talk about later. The Bill shifts the balance in a number of important respects, and that is a matter of great concern.
Secondly, I need to ask if the following is a reasonable principle. A situation can arise in which the schools adjudicator may have decided that a particular school is operating its admissions contrary to the admissions code. The school is doing what my noble friend Lady Morris said schools often do: it is behaving badly for reasons we understand. In those circumstances, the school adjudicator decides that the school has not complied with the admissions code, but what the Government want to institute is that it will be for the admissions authority to decide what action needs to be taken in order to implement the adjudicator’s decision. I want to raise the question of whether it is reasonable, when an admissions authority is found to be knowingly contravening the admissions code, that it is for the school to decide what action it needs to take in order to comply. I cannot think of another situation where, if an organisation is doing the wrong thing in terms of lack of compliance, it is for the organisation itself to decide what it needs to do to put it right. It is a principle I cannot relate to.
Thirdly, I think I got the Minister’s words correct when he said in his summing up that the schools adjudicator will be looking, as he does now, at all school admissions arrangements and following them up. I wonder who will do that in the future, particularly when many more schools become academies and thus their own admissions authorities. Is it to be the Secretary of State? Are we really being told that the Secretary of State will have the capacity to look closely at the admissions arrangements of tens of thousands of academies across the country; that if they have been admonished by the schools adjudicator, the Secretary of State will check that their admissions practices comply with the code and follow up in detail that they have done what they said they would do? Are we really saying that without the schools adjudicators—it is not just one, but teams covering the whole country—the Secretary of State will be able to ensure that schools are complying with the code? I do not think so.
Despite the Minister’s genuine attempt to reassure us, I am afraid that we may well return to this issue on Report, but for the moment I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 100A withdrawn.
Amendments 101 to 102 not moved.
103: Clause 34, page 33, line 33, at end insert—
“( ) In paragraph 5 of Schedule 11 to the Equality Act 2010 omit paragraphs (a) to (e).”
I shall speak also to Amendments 140 and 141 in this group. I was fascinated by the previous debate on admissions, when many wise and challenging things were said. My noble friend Lady Morris, I think, said that we have a system littered with schools trying to do their best but fighting a losing battle because of other local schools selecting pupils. We heard some comments about schools selecting parents, rather than the other way round. I know that the Church of England has recently been looking at this and I hope for some clarification on its thinking.
The Minister talked about autonomy and variety. Autonomy and variety will not solve all the issues in front of us concerning admissions. I want to talk about faith schools. My first amendment to the Academies Act 2010 would prevent academies and free schools with a religious character discriminating on admissions; my second would prevent voluntary-controlled faith schools which convert to academy status from increasing the priority of religious criteria in their admissions policies.
As my noble friend Lady Hughes said earlier, admission to school is extremely important. We know that many state-funded faith schools use their legal privileges to have highly selective admissions criteria, giving preference to the children of parents with particular beliefs. Academy schools which have converted from state-maintained faith schools are, of course, their own admissions authority, and they religiously discriminate up to 100 per cent in admissions. Free schools with a religious character may discriminate in up to 50 per cent of admissions. Will that remain the case? Will that be the case for looked-after children who do not have the same faith as the school they want to go to?
Discrimination by faith schools can cause segregation along both religious and socio-economic lines. Professor Ted Cantle, author of a report into community cohesion in Blackburn, describes religious schools as,
“automatically a source of division”,
in the town. In other areas, faith schools that are their own admission authorities are 10 times more likely to be highly unrepresentative of their surrounding area than faith schools where the local authority is the admission authority. Separating children by religion, class and ethnicity is totally opposed to the aim of social cohesion.
In addition, voluntary aided faith schools have, on average, 50 per cent fewer pupils requiring free school meals than community schools. Pupils starting at faith schools are also, on average, more academically able than pupils starting at inclusive schools. That is because faith schools’ selection criteria mean that they usually—not always, but usually—take fewer deprived children and more than their fair share of children of ambitious and wealthier parents.
I share an office with a colleague from Northern Ireland, who constantly asks me: “Have we not learnt the lessons from faith schools in Northern Ireland?”. All schools should include and educate pupils of all beliefs together so that they can learn about and from each other, instead of being segregated by their religion. Prejudice was mentioned last week in Committee. I heard that homophobic bullying is more likely to happen in faith schools. The amendment to the Equality Act 2010 will stop maintained schools—voluntary and foundation schools—with a religious character from discriminating in admissions by removing the opt-out from the Act.
Any religious discrimination in admissions is against the ideal of an open and inclusive school system. No state-funded faith school, including academies, should be permitted to discriminate in their admissions on religious grounds in any circumstances. My first amendment would rule out religious discrimination in admissions to all new academies. If the complete prohibition of religious discrimination in the new academy and free school system cannot be achieved, and my first amendment does not pass, my second amendment would ensure that voluntarily controlled schools which had not previously been permitted to discriminate could not begin to discriminate on conversion to academy status. I beg to move.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 138. I like faith schools and I want parents to be able to choose them, whether or not they are of that faith. I share the distress of the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, at the idea that schools become ghettoes for their own religion. Wherever that is widely practised it has been disastrous. Northern Ireland in particular and also the west of Scotland are examples of where this has caused and causes continuing division and strife that we do not see in the rest of the UK.
I am loath to sound authoritative on the English and Welsh system, but I know something of the system in the west of Scotland. It is a complete travesty to say that the tragic history of the west of Scotland has been caused by, exacerbated by or would be solved by the removal of Catholic schools. If he has some time, I will give the noble Lord a history lesson on prejudice in the west of Scotland.
My Lords, I would be delighted to share tea with the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, if I get the chance, but I would say that those in charge of a number of Scottish universities have spent many years refusing me information about which schools their students attend on the grounds that, if it is known that a student at a Scottish university attended a Catholic school, they would be subject to discrimination and harm as a result. If that is the kind of society which the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, is happy with, I differ from him.
I think that separate education is not desirable. On the other hand, I recognise that a religious school with no pupils who follow that particular creed would be a very strange animal indeed. I propose a compromise which has been reached on a large scale in the Anglican community that schools should be open for around half their pupils—in many cases more—whose parents are not of that religion but who accept that they want an education in that religious tradition.
The noble Lord’s amendment states:
“(2) Notwithstanding subsection (1), an Academy with a religious character may require all pupils admitted to the school to take a full part in the school’s religious life”.
Has he any idea how that would work in practice? Does he realize the division and animosity that that could cause by imposing the ethic on a Catholic school which now becomes 50 per cent Catholic and 50 per cent mixed variety? What right would the Catholic 50 per cent have to impose their point of view on the 50 per cent who are not Catholic? How would that be policed?
My Lords, that phrase comes from the admissions criteria for Ampleforth, which is a well known Catholic school, where it works extremely well. Parents who want to send their children to a Catholic school should accept that it is a Catholic school and that it will educate its children in the Catholic religion. I send my children to an Anglican school. I am not religious myself, but I entirely accept that my child is being brought up within the context of school as an Anglican. I value that tradition of education. Again, it is perhaps an illustration of the conditions in the west of Scotland that such a thing is inconceivable to the noble Lord. For me, it is just ordinary. I beg to move.
My Lords, my name is also to Amendment 138. For me, these two paragraphs together describe the ideal nature of a faith school when it has the freedom of being an academy. Subsection (1) makes the point that a faith school should not in any way have admission criteria that insist that all children shall have some kind of allegiance to the faith of that school. We have all heard stories about parents suddenly turning up at a church in the last few months before their application to a school that happens to be the best school in the area and a faith school. That is unfortunate; it distorts what should be an open choice by parents of a good school that has a particular ethos. Subsection (1) is inclusive and says that faith schools would be inclusive. Around half the children they took would share a commitment to their faith, but the other half could be of any faith or no faith.
I strongly believe in subsection (2). Exactly as my noble friend Lord Lucas said, if parents have chosen a Catholic school, an Anglican school, a Jewish school or a Muslim school for their children, they must respect the traditions of that faith. It is not a secular school; it is a school of that faith. They should be included in the general ethos of the school and pay tribute to the customs within it that reflect its faith. My experience and that of noble Lords who spoke earlier reinforce this; parents of other faiths welcome the ethos of a Christian school, and perhaps parents of other faiths will welcome the ethos of a Muslim or a Jewish school as well.
Parents are looking for a school with strong values, and if those values are based on faith, the parents will accept that. The success of faith schools has been widely demonstrated by their popularity and their academic success.
My Lords, I support my noble friend Lady Massey on Amendments 103, 140 and 141. I do not accept Amendment 138. In fact, I seem to recall that the bishop in the Anglican Church in charge of education recently announced that he would welcome the idea that people not of the faith were accepted into religious schools. That should be welcomed.
I am sorry, but I will continue, if I may. In view of what I said, the noble Baroness will accept that in no way can I accept the subsection (2) in Amendment 138, particularly where pupils would be accepted into religious schools who were not themselves religious. I do not see how subsection (2) could in any way be accepted; it does not seem sensible. If people are being accepted who are not of that religious faith, why should they be expected to participate in the school’s religious life when it is not of their particular faith and it was known that they would not be of that faith when they were accepted into the school?
The right reverend Prelate who laid this challenge was sitting next to me until a little while ago, and he got into serious trouble in some quarters for saying what he did. We take very seriously the possible ghettoisation of our country’s schooling, and we are constantly thinking about it. Perhaps we all skirt around the fact that we live in one of the most educationally divided countries in the world, and the fault lines run deepest between rich and poor rather than between one religion and another. We ought not to forget that.
We in the church are not new to this. It has to be remembered that for two generations, the Church of England provided thousands and thousands of schools for the poor, while our successive Governments were still saying that the poor did not need educating. Then to accuse us of ghettoisation is a misremembering of history.
As noble Lords have pointed out, the trouble is that many of our schools have prospered and some of them have then forgotten the challenge of being there for the poor and for everyone, and have enjoyed the prosperity that has come through the beliefs that we propagate. The National Society research shows that a predominantly strong ethos and overall high achievement go together. That, of course, leads to a challenge: what do you do with that prosperity and success?
In my diocese in the West Midlands, which contains some of the poorest wards in the land, the church schools are in the most deprived areas. London is an exception—we must keep remembering that. If you go to West Bromwich, Wolverhampton, Stoke or other such places, who are the professionals working still in the centre in education? It is the churches. I resist these amendments simply because to get from A to B—I think we are all agreed about A—needs a certain flexibility and a bit of freedom locally on which these amendments are too restrictive.
Perhaps noble Lords would not mind if I read out the figures to counteract some of the impressions that have been given. The vast majority of church schools admit pupils from the local neighbourhood, regardless of faith background. The largest group of Anglican church schools is the 2,500 voluntary controlled schools, and they are entirely open. On neighbourhood admissions, the 42 academies, bar the six in London, are open on a neighbourhood basis; and the 77 new schools of the past seven or eight years are also mostly based on neighbourhood admissions. In the next smaller category, voluntary aided schools are allowed to prioritise faith criteria. Out of the 2,100 voluntary aided schools, 1,950—roughly 90 per cent—are overwhelmingly neighbourhood schools, including those with up to 100 per cent Muslim pupils. As to voluntary aided secondary schools, 100 out of 160 are oversubscribed, and the question is what we do about that. I agree with those who disagree with me on much of these matters that that is a real problem. However, only a tiny number of schools in this category admit pupils only on foundation places; I think that there are 11 such schools in the whole country. Just over one-third of voluntary aided schools admit more than half of the intake on foundation places.
Therefore, we are overwhelmingly a neighbourhood school enterprise and I hope that we will be given the challenge that noble Lords rightly want to give. However, we should be given the flexibility to continue to say that neighbourhoods differ and that strategies that may work in one place may not work in another.
My Lords, I looked at Amendments 138 and 140 and was troubled and confused. After listening to my noble friend Lady Massey, I am worried again. She knows me well enough to know that I have no wish to misrepresent her in any way, but she seems to be saying that, in her view, faith schools are more likely to be homophobic, do not take youngsters from poorer backgrounds and are therefore more middle-class. If that is what she is saying, I am sure she genuinely believes it, but perhaps I may suggest—taking the point made by the right reverend Prelate—that she moves out of London and travels around the country to see what faith schools are actually doing in some of the most deprived communities in our country.
I am sorry to interrupt my noble friend in full flow but I must say that what I said about the issue of homophobic bullying in faith schools was a quotation from someone in this Room. It was not my impression—I quoted someone who averred that this was the case. On his second point, I am not saying that all faith schools are of one particular calibre, I am saying that some schools undoubtedly experience what the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, said, that parents move to the grandparents’ house or to the end of the road to get into a particular school, which remains firmly ghettoised, if I may use the expression.
I am very grateful to my noble friend for clarifying that point, because it is important that we fully understand her views on this. I am glad that I gave her the opportunity to explain in more detail what she believes and understands. I accept her final point. I have been the governor of a faith school and there are instances where people move around in order to try to get their child into a faith school.
I am troubled and confused about Amendment 138. It states:
“No Academy may select more than 50% of its pupils on criteria based on religious characteristics”.
It goes on to say that those who attend will be required,
“to take a full part in the school’s religious life”.
It seems to state that half the school population should not be of any particular faith but that all the school population must take part in the school’s religious life. To my mind, that is wrong. I strongly support the view that parents should have the right to withdraw their child or children from the religious life of a school if they so wish. At the moment, Catholic schools that convert to academy status retain their existing admissions arrangements. The amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, would mean that 50 per cent of the pupils would not be admitted on the basis of faith. This makes no sense whatsoever and is really discriminatory. My noble friend Lady Massey made the point about public funding for faith schools. The Catholic church, like others, pays a great deal of money towards supporting its own schools in any event. We should bear that in mind.
Amendment 140, moved by my noble friend Lady Massey, states,
“admission arrangements for the school should make no provision for selection on the basis of religion or belief”.
I am sure that it is not my noble friend’s intention, but that would put at risk every Catholic school and faith school in the country. What is the point of having a Catholic school, or a faith school of any kind, if there is to be no provision based on faith, belief or religion in deciding the admissions policy? I am sure it is not her intention—I am sure it would never be the intention of my party—to close every faith school in the country, but that is the risk of this amendment.
My Lords, I remind the Committee that the issue of parents who try to move into areas near schools is not confined to faith schools. I remember the distant days of people of the most surprising political background being able to afford houses near Holland Park because it was not a bog standard comprehensive. That has gone on for quite some time in a variety of communities; it is not confined to faith schools.
I support Amendment 138. The direction of travel is the right one, to open up the community, and it seems compatible that those liberal churchmen and women whom I know would want this. There may be a practical problem. If this is seen as a restriction in terms of faith background, I am not sure that Muslim schools would be able to fill all their places. We would have to be a bit careful about that formulation. On the second part of Amendment 138, if we have faith schools, that seems to me to be part of the deal. If my parents had decided to send me to a sports academy—God forbid—part of their understanding would have been that I would spend hours in the gym and on wet, cold, miserable sports fields. Although I might never have forgiven them, that would have been part of going to that kind of school. The same applies to technical schools and other sorts of schools. I think it not unreasonable that a faith school with a particular ethos and direction should say to parents, “You understand that this is how we do things here”. Then you inspect them independently and see whether they do it in a fair and reasonable way.
My Lords, I support what the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, has said, and I support Amendments 138 and 140. I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, in her characteristically charming way, may have gone a little far in wanting to end all faith schools in our country. The view I have taken consistently in my political life is that one should live with the existing faith schools and make them more inclusive, but I have always resisted the creation of new faith schools. When I had responsibility for these matters, I did not approve an exclusive faith school, and I think it was a mistake on the part of the Labour Government in 1997 to open up that possibility again.
Why do I say that? During the war, I went to an Anglican primary school in Southport. I loved it. It was a Victorian building and I had, as the basis of such education as I have had, a Victorian education. The school was right next door to the church. However, religion was not thrust down our throats. We went to church twice a year, at Christmas and at Easter. Of course we started each day with a hymn and a prayer, but everyone did that in those days. It was really a community school and embodied for me the great attractions of Anglicanism. Belief was a comfort rather than a passion and there was a welcome absence of fervour. It was, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lichfield said, a community school which included everybody. My closest friend was a Jewish boy who was the son of a refugee. When I went to see his family, his mother explained the Jewish faith to me. I believe strongly that in schools, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists should all sit alongside each other, play alongside each other, eat alongside each other and go home on the same bus together, because that way lies tolerance, understanding and forbearance. If one moves away from that, one creates intolerance and all the troubles of a divided society.
It was interesting to hear the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, speak, because he recalled the debates we had four years ago when the policy of the Labour party, I am glad to say, was that in all new faith schools, 25 per cent of the pupils should come from outside the faith. It was a view expounded by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, in the House of Lords, and I shared it. It was not shared by the leaders of my party, but they were mistaken in that. They are not always mistaken, but they were mistaken then. I campaigned with the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, to support the view. Unfortunately, the Labour party was rattled by a quite unscrupulous campaign by the Catholic church—I see the noble Lord is nodding so he must have been part of it—in which it tried to pretend that this would undermine all Catholic schools in the country for ever. But it was only for new Catholic schools, and the Catholic church had founded only two new schools in England since the war. The Catholic church thought that with all these Poles coming into the country, there would be lots more Catholic children in future, although I think that that particular ambition has been dashed. It was a quite unscrupulous campaign and the Labour Party gave in and surrendered.
The amendments were drawn up. I had seen the amendments ready to be tabled saying that new faith schools should ensure that 25 per cent of their intake was from outside the faith. During those debates, the present Archbishop enunciated the policy of the Anglican church, which has been developed by the right reverend Prelate today, and said that for new Anglican church schools, 25 per cent of the intake should be from outside the faith or of no faith. That has now been extended to 50 per cent, and I do not disagree with that at all. It is the best way to go forward.
If, during the next five to 10 years, we see the establishment of faith schools, particularly of the new faiths in our country, we are going to have very exclusive schools that I think will create divisions in society, particularly in our towns and cities. I favour very much the idea of all new schools at least being inclusive and extending that slowly to all schools. In fact, that is the reality. Very few Catholic schools today have 100 per cent Catholic pupils, so they are part of the policy. Why do you not announce it? There must be a direction somewhere from on high that you do not. The Anglican community of faith schools is very inclusive today—by nature, it always is. As the right reverend Prelate said, some of these schools are 100 per cent Muslim but they still have the rigour of teaching that comes from a belief. That is very important.
I know that I am not going to persuade the Minister to agree with us because I think that they are going to approve some new faith schools. I must say that that would be a profound mistake.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. Many of us have a strong interest in faith schools. I speak as a practising Anglican. I am heartened that on the whole the debate has not reinforced the view that we would take comfort from the ghettoisation of schools. They should be able to exist in our society, give of their own merits and receive of their own experiences from other citizens of different faiths. Some of the most impressive schools that I have seen—without exception, as it happens—have been Anglican schools that have a high Muslim component because that is what has happened to the demography in that particular area.
I want not to prolong the debate but to widen it slightly into a different consideration that can also be met by Amendment 138, to which I am sympathetic. If I may avert to the interest of noble Baroness, Lady Hughes of Stretford, in wider issues of community cohesion, on which she has a strong record, many of us would be committed to that.
It has always seemed to me that the debates that we have about multiculturalism are often misconceived. The ideal that I want is people who believe in something and have a body of beliefs that they exemplify and wish to express along with fellow believers in their own school. They thereby have an ability to look within their own community but at the same time reach outwards to other communities. They are not doing it in an exclusive or inhibitory way; they are saying, “This is what we stand for but we listen to you, respect you, welcome you in and enjoy having you as participants”. I therefore feel strongly that as our society evolves we ought to be getting to a position where people may have their inner beliefs that will differ in many ways, or their own particular characteristics, but at the same time they are prepared to share a common citizenship, a common space and a common respect. The way that these amendments are conceived may help us to lead towards that. There should be no ghettoisation but a sensible inclusion—that is the way that I hope this debate is now going.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow my noble friend, as he says in this debate. My noble friend Lady Massey has cited Northern Ireland. If you want, and I normally do, we can go back to 1176 when the Welsh allowed Pembroke, otherwise known as Strongbow, to first invade Ireland, and that was the start of the Troubles—English and Norman interference in Ireland. It is a long-term issue.
What is coming across to me from the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and certainly from my noble friend Lady Massey, is that faith schools—especially Catholic schools, it seems—are an inherently bad thing; they do bad things and they are not good for society. Among colleagues here there is a certain detachment from reality because that is not how they are perceived outside. It is completely unfair—
It may be that the noble Baroness has not heard me clearly. I am saying that inherent in these amendments is the idea that faith schools are a bad thing. Folk may not like that, but that is what is coming across loud and clear. For instance, there has been no answer to the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, who quickly picked up the point that the trait of moving house is not confined to faith schools or Catholic schools; it seems to be a trait throughout a whole host of schools. Yet, there has been no mention of that or any drawing back of the implication that this happens only in Catholic schools.
Society is evolving. Last week, I revised my opinion of the noble Lord, Lord Baker. I certainly remember him from the 1980s and I did not like his politics, but last week I thought that he was great. However, this week I have revised my revision and he is back to being a bad man again. Certainly for 800 years we kept the faith in Ireland, I can tell you. In saying that there should not be any more faith schools, the noble Lord, Lord Baker, makes a point and he is asking us to trumpet it. I think I mentioned last week that there is a fairly large Roman Catholic school in Scotland where, if my memory serves me correctly, about 10 per cent of the pupils are Muslim. It is working and it is great—it is doing well for everyone.
I have mentioned the phrase “detachment of reality”. I say to noble Lords who have tabled these amendments and who have spoken in the manner that they have: let society evolve and let things happen. No one should take active steps against what they see as the badness in faith schools. I say to noble Lords in all sincerity, honesty and frankness that the more you try to enforce this, the higher the wall will go up, because there has been a lack of trust that is based on British history over the past 500 years. I am sure that noble Lords will be glad to hear that I shall not go into all that, but that lack of trust is based on 500 years of British society. One thinks particularly of the Catholic community. If noble Lords try to enforce it, it just will not happen. They should go the way suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Baker, of letting things evolve, although I disassociate myself from his wish not to build faith schools. On the other hand, if you make a big issue of it, that may happen anyway, and if so, and if that is what people want, that will be a good thing. However, I do not accept that faith schools are a bad thing.
The amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, is completely unworkable. It would cause strife and animosity and would make the original ethos of the school seem dictatorial towards the new component of the school. That would take us back. I say again that if we want to move forward, the way ahead is consensus. We should convince people that going in a particular direction is right. Go that way and all the community will come together. Go in the opposite direction, and the community will be divided.
My Lords, I am as eager as anyone else to help the Committee to move on quickly, so I shall be brief. I was not going to intervene at this stage but, having been Minister for Education in Northern Ireland for two and a half years, and during my watch having authorised the institution of the Lagan integrated school, I feel that I have an interest that I should put before your Lordships.
The most heartening things that I have heard have come from my right reverend friend the Bishop. As I see it, the process of integration is already going on in established faith schools. It seems to me that what we do not want behind the movement for these amendments is an animosity towards religion. We want an animosity in favour of good education, and here I endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, said. In other words, a good school is always going to be a magnet. Whatever its theological background, people are going to move there to get their children into it, and the same applies to a school that is not a faith school. You are not going to end that with any amendment of this sort. It is in fact competition working its influence on the educational market. Therefore, I say only that if we are to have amendments at Report they should be designed to foster, rather than smother, the movement to inclusivity within faith schools that we have seen, and which I believe to be thoroughly healthy.
My Lords, this is our second debate this afternoon on faith. Like the last one, it has been thoughtful and stimulating. I want to start with the comments of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lichfield who reminded us first about the tradition of the churches and other faiths providing education being a longstanding one in our country. He also wisely warned us against the dangers of generalisation.
There have been a couple of times this afternoon where we have teetered on the edge of generalisation, and the right reverend Prelate sensibly and calmly brought us back from that. He also used powerful evidence to show the contribution that faith schools make. It is the Government’s position that they provide high quality school places and, as we have heard from a number of noble Lords, that they increase choice for parents and that they secure better results overall, which is one of the reasons why they are popular with parents.
Therefore, my starting point in replying is to say that I will, perhaps not surprisingly, be arguing for the status quo. We think that faith schools should be able to teach according to the tenets of their faith and to have admissions policies that reflect that ethos. The right of parents to have their children educated in accordance with their religious beliefs is enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights, as we have heard, and we are committed to maintaining that right. The exceptions in the Equality Act that have been discussed today exist to allow faith schools to continue to provide education in an environment conducive to their religious ethos and in accordance with parents’ wishes. We see no reason to remove them.
However, those exceptions do not mean that schools with a religious character can discriminate at will. All maintained schools and academies must comply with the schools admissions code, as we have already discussed. They may give priority to applicants of a particular faith only when oversubscribed and they must admit all applicants without reference to faith-based or any other criteria when they cannot fill all their places. Schools with a religious character, irrespective of their faith, are subject to the same checks and inspections as all other schools and, as the right reverend Prelate pointed out, many of these schools have a very good record of reaching out to their local communities and promoting diversity. I remember that Church of England schools score more highly on community cohesion than community schools, which is a fact worth reminding ourselves of.
So far as maintained schools converting to academies are concerned, we set out the principle at the time of the Academies Act that they should convert on an as is basis. Therefore, the process of conversion to become an academy is not in itself a way of increasing the number of faith places available. New academies, including free schools—this is a question I was asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen—will be able to apply faith-based admissions criteria only to a maximum of 50 per cent of their pupils and, again, only if they are oversubscribed. We were clear about that at the passage of the Academies Act, and I am happy to restate that today.
Overall, we see no reason to change the operation of maintained faith schools and academies. As many noble Lords have said, things are evolving in their own way. They are popular with parents, they are beneficial for pupils and they are an important part of the education landscape. However, we recognise that we need to strike a balance. That is why, with the expansion of the academies, we have been careful to ensure that there is no overloading of the system with religious-based schooling, which is why we have put in the 50 per cent limit.
I think we have struck a fair balance and that faith schools have served us well. I would therefore ask the—
I agree entirely with the position the Minister has outlined. I just want to invite him to explore one point on which I think the Committee would like some reassurance. It is the point raised, to some extent, by the noble Lord, Lord Baker. The position that the Minister has just defended is the position as it was up to 10 or 15 years ago, and a lot of schools with faiths other than those which we are used to seeing are now coming into the system.
I remember at a meeting or two ago of this Committee that the Minister gave an assurance that he would not let creationist schools go ahead, and that is a religion. Yet his opening comments, however, were about the degree to which a religion is right to teach their faith in school. As we move forward—and there are more schools with a religion other than those with which we are familiar—how worried is the Minister and what actions is he taking to make sure that the position he is at ease with now continues?
My Lords, I take the underlying point. In my comments, I made reference to the importance of inspection. That is not simple, because inspectors need to know what they are looking for if they go into a faith school where one might think there is cause for concern. It is not always straightforward, but inspection is one way of addressing this.
As to setting up new schools and free schools, about which noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, have concerns, oddly enough I think that because that whole process is being set by and overseen by the Government from the outset—we have due diligence and ways of exploring these questions, which we will do carefully and rigorously—that area is of less concern than perhaps that of independent schools and maintained schools. I am not at all dismissive of the point that the noble Baroness raises. I hope that inspection and the Secretary of State’s powers on academies to make sure that everything is operating correctly will provide some reassurance. We should not stick our heads in the sand about the issue. I was headed towards asking the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, to consider withdrawing her amendment.
My Lords, as ever, this has been a fascinating and wide-ranging debate. We are evolving in this, but evolution sometimes needs a little helping hand. I accept the historical role played by the church in education but we have become a different society from the one that we were many years ago. I continue to have fears about ghettoisation. Of course I am not seeking to close faith schools. I am not sure how I gave that impression. I am just seeking to ensure that faith schools are more open, and I have some sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Baker, in all this.
In following up the question of my noble friend Lady Morris, which I was also going to ask, I hope that the Minister has no fears that some free school could be set up somewhere and designed solely to promote a faith of one kind or another. I am not so convinced of that. I accept the historical influence of faith schools, and I am not seeking to go back on that. However, we have to continue our vigilance about our schools—be they faith schools or otherwise. As always, I would wish to strike a balance. I hope that at some point we can discuss with Members of the Committee of all faiths some of the issues that came up in my previous amendment and try to reach a greater understanding. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 103 withdrawn.
Clause 34 agreed.
Schedule 10 : School admissions: consequential amendments
Amendment 103ZA not moved.
Schedule 10 agreed.
Clause 35 : Duties in relation to school meals etc
103ZB: Clause 35, page 34, line 4, at end insert—
“(1B) Subsection (1A) shall also apply where a local authority in England sub-contracts out the provision of school meals.”
My Lords, I shall be very brief, and I am grateful to the Minister, who has written to me on this matter. My amendment simply sought to make sure that the provision in the Bill relating to charges for school meals included situations where the local authority was contracting out the provision of the meals as well as providing them by directly employing people to cook them. The Minister has assured me in a letter that that is the case. I just want to get that commitment on the record. It states:
“Sections 512ZA and 533 of the Education Act 1996 provide powers for local authorities and governing bodies to charge for school lunches—they are still responsible for this if they contract out the delivery of the meals. Clause 35 of the Education Bill will not change this, so all school meals, whether delivered by a contractor or by the local authority or governing body will be covered by the clause”.
On that basis, I will not move the amendment.
Amendment 103ZB not moved.
Clause 35 agreed.
Amendment 103A not moved.
104: After Clause 35, insert the following new Clause—
After subsection (1)(g) of section 173 of the Licensing Act 2003 (activities in certain locations not licensable) insert—
“(ga) on the premises of a school or college”.”
I support the amendment and have read the helpful letter from the noble Lord, Lord Hill. I restate how much I agree that getting schools to apply for licences in the past has been a very unwieldy way to get them to put on fairly simple forms of entertainment. I very much support the Live Music Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, to which the letter of the noble Lord, Lord Hill, referred. I am very pleased to hear that the Government will be supporting it in its progress through Parliament. That obviously goes much wider than dealing with live music in schools; nevertheless, it will be helpful.
When I said to my colleagues that I was also very pleased that the Government had committed to looking at the Licensing Act 2003, they said, “You’re going to regret saying that, because it took us for ever to get a half-decent balance on licensing music and alcohol provision. Good luck to you”. My instinct is that we should look again at the Licensing Act. I am pleased that the Government will be doing that, and I look forward to that debate.
My Lords, my name is added to the amendment. I just say to my noble friend that, although I urge him to continue to look kindly on removing the need for licensing from schools and colleges, perhaps this is an opportunity to look more widely at some of the other places where young people need licences, such as small sports clubs, and so on, where if they have even a radio playing in the background, they must get a licence. We need to encourage young people, not make life more difficult for them. I hope that, in their consideration of the issue, the Government will look more widely than simply schools and colleges.
My Lords, I know that many in this House share my noble friend's view that public performance of music should not be licensable in schools. We agree that schools currently face unnecessary bureaucracy when they organise events such as school plays, concerts or swimming galas, and we are taking steps to address that. We heed the warnings of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, but we have announced our intention to consult on Schedule 1 to the Licensing Act 2003, which currently regulates the public performance of live music and performance of other creative and community activities, such as dance, plays, film and indoor sport. Our intention, subject to the consultation, is to deregulate those activities as far as possible in schools. That is possible through secondary legislation.
The Government have also expressed clear support for the Live Music Bill introduced by my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones, which completed its Committee stage on Friday. I know that, because I was there. It seeks to deregulate in certain circumstances the provision of live, unamplified music in most locations and live, amplified music in workplaces such as schools, as well as licensed premises such as public houses, subject to restrictions on audience size. These planned changes will free schools from the unnecessary bureaucracy they currently face and allow them to use music in a sensible way to deliver the best possible education for their pupils. On the basis of that reassurance, I hope that my noble friend will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
Amendment 104 withdrawn.
Amendment 105 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
106: After Clause 35, insert the following new Clause—
“Duty to provide for the needs of high-ability pupils
In determining the nature of their educational provision, all maintained schools, Academies and free schools must have regard to meeting the special learning requirements of children within their admissions group who have or subsequently demonstrate high ability or aptitude for learning.”
My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments 107 and 119. Given the hour, I will try to be brief. These amendments relate to points I made at Second Reading about the importance of providing a proper learning environment in our schools for children of high ability and high aptitude. Although they all relate to that, they are not consequential, and therefore at subsequent stages of this Bill it may be appropriate to consider them separately. I must also make it clear that none of these relates to the admission procedures of schools. In the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, they talk about how best to teach all the children who come through the school door.
Amendment 106 puts a duty on schools simply to provide for the needs of high-ability pupils. I use the terms “high-ability” and “high-aptitude” because I want to make clear that we are talking about latent as well as demonstrated capability. It is clearly important that standards are high for all children and we make all schools excellent, but we must make sure that the most able children are properly catered for. This is an argument about fairness, that these children, like all children, should be able to fulfil their potential. It is also an argument about what is important for the nation because the most able children are those from whom our future leaders in all spheres of activity often come. If we are going to compete on a global stage, we need to make sure that the most able children have the highest possible standards against global competitors. We need that to apply to children in the state sector, not just those children who are able to go through the private sector.
The amendment does not prescribe how schools should make educational provision for high-ability children but clearly one of the most common ways of doing that is through streaming or setting. The latest figures from Ofsted are for 2006-07, and suggest that 14 per cent of children in primary schools are setted or streamed, excluding PE. In secondary school that rises to 46 per cent, but that means that 54 per cent are not setted or streamed. Interestingly, in maths 78 per cent are setted or streamed, in contrast to 51 per cent in languages and only 34 per cent for geography. The question that that raises is why standards are considered less important in geography or languages than they are in maths. If streaming or setting are appropriate to deal with high-ability children in maths, are they not equally important for other subjects, particularly for those children who need to get high grades in a number of subjects in order to progress to the best universities?
This is not the time for a long debate about this. I recognise that there are counterviews, including the argument that other children benefit from having high-ability children in the same class. The counter to that is that there is evidence that both sets of children can benefit if they have teaching best suited to their aptitude and ability. In any case, it is important for the whole of society that the most able children are allowed to excel. Putting this duty on schools without prescribing how they do it would require them to address the question of how they are providing for the needs of the most able children and allow them to defend whatever method they believe they have to fulfil that requirement.
Amendment 107 is a further thought on that subject. It recognises that not every school will have sufficient numbers of high-ability pupils or the resources or skills to provide a high quality set or skill catering to their needs. There is evidence that you need a group of 20 or more high-ability children in order to have peer group pressure and indeed to afford the teaching resources to focus on their learning environment. This amendment would allow a number of schools in an area to group together to provide a high-ability learning environment for children from across those schools, just as now a school in one area may provide Russian A-level because not all schools can provide that. Pupils from other schools go to that one school for their teaching. That method would allow schools to group together to provide a high-ability class, and the amendment recognises the practicality that subsidised transport may be required to enable children to get from one school to another.
This is not about admissions criteria, though. These schools would all be mixed-ability admissions, and it would be for teachers within the school to decide which children could benefit from being part of a high-ability group. It would not be set at a specific age. As has often been said, children develop at different ages, so this would allow for children to be moved into the group at any age that was thought appropriate for them to benefit from it. It would be a practical way of allowing that need to be met.
Amendment 119 would require Ofsted in its school inspections to inspect how schools were performing the duty of providing a learning environment for high-ability children. It would therefore follow on from Amendment 106 in making that part of the criteria that Ofsted would use in evaluating schools.
I hope that these amendments are reasonably straightforward. I am looking for the Minister to indicate the extent to which the Government are sympathetic towards these aims and the extent to which legislation in this form would be helpful so that we can take a view on whether and how they ought to be pursued on Report.
My Lords, I vigorously support Amendment 107, on which my name appears. It would be even better if subsection (1)(c) in the amendment included the words “independent schools” after the word “academies”.
Speaking on an earlier amendment, I laid stress on the importance of partnerships between independent and maintained schools. Nowhere is co-operation more likely to be valuable on both sides than in the areas covered by the amendment. In subjects like science and maths, independent schools can really help to raise standards and prospects for high-ability pupils overall because of the successful results that they achieve. In modern languages, for example, almost 50 per cent of top grades go to pupils from independent schools. Let that expertise be shared widely in order to break down even more of the barriers between the two sectors. Independent schools see themselves as part of our national education system. Their inclusion in co-operative ventures of the kind envisaged by the amendment would be greeted by them with considerable enthusiasm. For those reasons, I support Amendment 107.
My Lords, I have a great deal of sympathy with the intention behind these amendments, but I have a few issues about the solution to the problem. I want to ask a particular question that the Minister might address in her response. In the past we assumed that very bright children will succeed despite school and that we should not put in a place a system where they could succeed because of their schooling. I am very much in favour of the proposal that all schools should try to meet the needs of all their students. I have often thought that the most able 2 per cent to 3 per cent of young people in this country have special educational needs in the broadest sense, and that they need to be supported. So I am entirely on board with the idea. I welcome the debate, and although I will have to look at the amendments more closely, raising the issue is a good thing and this should be a feature of our education system. We should ask schools to address the particular needs of this group of children just as we ask them to look after the less able.
I welcome what the mover of the amendment said in terms of not wanting to go back to selection, and I can see that the amendment is not about that. However, I think that there must be a more imaginative approach than creating what is essentially a high ability stream within a school. I am no great researcher, but I know that all the evidence shows that separating children in schools is not the best way of raising standards. With reference to the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, work has been done about children working with those in the independent sector. I remember an innovative scheme that was set up under the Excellence in Cities programme in Manchester. Sixth-formers from state schools took an undergraduate module with students from Manchester University, or it could have been the Open University, I cannot quite recall. That was not an isolated scheme.
All I would encourage is more general thinking about how to provide for really able children who need to be pushed. What, in the first part of this century, can we do that has not been done before to raise standards? I would be much more interested in using new technology to set up master classes with the best in the world, even if they are located on the other side of the world. We should free this debate up in order to be more creative than we have been in the past, and therefore my question for the Minister is this: why did they abolish the Young, Gifted and Talented Programme? It was the one scheme that made every school in this country identify a number of students who were thought to be gifted and talented. It brought about cultural changes in schools; some schools had said, “We haven’t got any bright kids”, while others had said, “We’ve got too much on our plate with our struggling kids”, so there was a group of children whose needs were not being met. Over the years that the programme was in operation, we began to change the culture of every school in the country. It was not perfect, but it got on to the agenda in every school that the needs of the most able, by ability or aptitude, also have to be met. It was sad that the Government chose to abolish and destroy the programme, which would have been a good hook on which to continue the debate. I would not mind an explanation of why it was done and what will take its place.
My Lords, perhaps I can just warn against being too prescriptive. It is important that schools do this in a way that is most appropriate. I certainly join others in encouraging schools from different sectors to co-operate with each other, but I will give just one example of why I think this is so important. I have two grandsons, one of whom is brilliant in English and terrible at maths, while the other is terrible at English and brilliant in maths. They both came from the same gene pool. A child might be in a high-ability group for one subject but not for another, so we have to let schools take account of that.
My Lords, I know that we are short of time, but I would like to interject that when we talk about giftedness, we are not just talking about academic ability. Schools should be urged to recognise that some children are immensely gifted with their hands, with technology, at sport, in music and so on.
My Lords, I recall articles published in Scientific American and New Scientist not so long ago which looked at chess grandmasters. The articles identified that they had spent so much of their lives playing chess that they had become geniuses in the chess arena and suggested that genius derived from people spending an awful lot of time doing whatever they were most passionately interested in. I should be grateful for an assurance from the Minister that, for example, a young man who is passionate about science can have the opportunity to study science at playtime and after school, and that the staff within the labs will make the equipment available for him to use. I should like an assurance that, where young people are passionate about using their hands or whatever, there will be the necessary flexibility and resource in schools for them to follow their passion and spend a lot of time doing it.
My Lords, I endorse the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, about the need for innovation in this area and, in particular, for linking up with local universities and perhaps local colleges. That is very important.
While we are talking about other areas—the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, mentioned children being brilliant at other things—perhaps I may get in a plug for something that will be happening in this country in October. I refer to the World Skills Competition, at which those who are brilliant at doing all kinds of things with their hands and so on will be exhibiting their skills. It is the skills Olympics. I hope that a number of Members of this House will go to ExCeL to see the exhibition.
My Lords, about 5,000 English sixth-form school pupils a year take Open University modules, which is a very good approach to this matter and something that we will come to on the 25th. Those modules are not reflected in the performance tables, and the data on the performance of these children are not available to celebrate their achievements and those of their schools, as I think should be the case. It should be possible for children who are capable of taking on these things to be allowed to expand and flourish, and for schools to be rewarded for that in a way that they understand—that is, through recognition and, indeed, money. At the moment, the YASS scheme seems to exist on the good will of schools and their interest in the attainment of their brightest pupils, rather than on any great support from the Government.
It is wonderful for me to find myself agreeing with my noble friend Lord Blackwell. I have often found myself in opposition to him but I think that he has struck a very clear note here and I am very happy to support him. Of course, I agree with other noble Lords that there are many ways of doing this, and mathematics taught as a mixed-ability subject can be very strong. I recommend my noble friend to the works of Professor Jo Boaler on that subject. We know from the Oxbridge admissions statistics how much we are generally failing in this area. We need to do much more to give the brightest children from the poorest backgrounds the education and ambition that they deserve.
However, as it is fashionable to talk about international comparisons, I also point out that Singapore reckons that half of its most crucial entrepreneurs were in the bottom 10 per cent at school, so it is not just the bright children who need our attention.
My Lords, this debate has been a model of brevity. We have got in an enormous number of points in a very short period. Perhaps we could learn something from that. Therefore, I shall not prolong the debate, given the lateness of the hour and the fact that most of the points that I was going to make have been covered.
The debate has underlined for me that the whole thrust of the Government’s future schools programme is based on school autonomy and that we are rowing back here in talking about schools needing to co-operate. Someone pointed out that local authorities used to provide some of that element of co-operation for specialist education, whether it was for specialist GCSEs and A-levels or whatever. We are trying to reinvent the wheel when some of those mechanisms were already there to provide at least some of that.
I very much agree with what has been said. I had a similar question to that of my noble friend Lady Morris concerning what happened to the gifted and talented scheme.
My only other concern relates to the wording of, particularly, Amendment 106, which talks about,
“high ability or aptitude for learning”,
as being the only area for which we should make special provision. Again, I very much agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, and others, who said that talent goes far beyond academic talent. If we are to pursue this, I hope that the mover of the amendment will look to broaden it out. I am not trying to water it down, but talents and gifts come in all sorts of forms. As much as we need leaders who are academically bright, we need sports men and women who are world leaders, and there are lots of different ways in which we want our children to excel and eventually to provide leadership in this country. Therefore, I have a concern about the wording of the amendment, although I think that there is an enormous amount of agreement around the Room about how we should go forward on this issue.
My Lords, education is about helping every child to make progress and reach their full potential, and that includes those pupils who have a high ability or aptitude for learning. There are many ways in which schools can support and challenge those pupils with the highest ability, including, as my noble friend Lord Blackwell pointed out, setting and streaming. Where setting is done well and is regularly reviewed, it can raise standards, and teachers are free to do this. He asked, if it was so good to stream pupils in maths, why it did not happen also in geography. The answer is the numbers taking those particular subjects. You need a critical mass for each subject in order to make streaming an effective tool.
Schools target their resources in the way that they feel will be of most benefit to their pupils. That could include the provision of extracurricular activities or outreach programmes with local universities or colleges. We have removed much of the ring-fencing of funds that restricted schools’ ability to make their own decisions about how to drive their improvement.
Today, in response to the Bew report, we have announced that higher level tests for year 6 pupils will continue to be available for schools to stretch the most able pupils, if they wish. We will consider how to incorporate results from these tests in performance tables to give credit to schools that support their highest attaining pupils. Within a slimmed-down national curriculum, it is possible for schools to design a wider curriculum that best meets the needs of all their pupils: for example, pupils with a particular aptitude for languages taking more language subjects.
My noble friends made the important point about children from disadvantaged backgrounds in particular. One of the key points about the pupil premium, which is given to support schools in helping those pupils, is that we have given schools the freedom on how to spend it. Schools could, therefore, use those funds towards additional support for high-aptitude or high-ability pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds to help them succeed. School governing bodies already have a duty to promote high standards of educational achievement and the well-being of all pupils at the school. I hope that my noble friend will understand that we are not attracted to a particular further duty.
In Amendment 107, my noble friend also seeks to promote greater co-operation between schools to provide for the needs of this group of children. We strongly support collaborative working between schools in the interests of their pupils, be those children with a particular interest, aptitude or need. As my noble friend said, there are many positive examples, such as schools providing a particular qualification at one school and pooling their interested pupils so that there are enough to warrant the course. We have had examples of Japanese or some specialist forms of learning where classes can be put together to provide a quorum to follow a particular programme. Schools have the necessary powers and freedoms to do this without new primary legislation.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Morris and Lady Jones, asked why we got rid of the gifted and talented scheme. It was actually the previous Government who took the decision to end the gifted and talented scheme. Our strategy for education is about raising standards for all pupils, and that of course includes pupils with natural ability or aptitude. As my noble friend said, those children are our future leaders in business, our future doctors and teachers, our future engineers and scientists. I agree with my noble friends Lady Perry and Lady Sharp that it is also about those with the creative and manual skills. I entirely endorse their enthusiasm for the World Skills Competition in October, where we will see some of the most skilled young people from our country and around the world. We must not forget the abilities and aptitudes in those practical skills as well.
Schools already have the necessary freedom to work together to ensure that all the pupils in their care get an education that stretches and develops them. That is backed up by accountability through Ofsted inspections. More performance information on the progress that schools make with the highest achieving pupils will be part of that. With those assurances, I hope that my noble friend will consider withdrawing the amendment and supporting our approach.
Before the noble Lord responds, I think that I am right in thinking that a Select Committee of this House, when discussing science education, drew particular attention to the lack of lab technicians and the difficulty that that posed for young people to spend time in the lab to do experiments. I encourage the Minister to consider that issue and consider what progress has been made since that report was published two years ago.
I thank my noble friend for her response and thank the other noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. Some extremely helpful and interesting comments came in this brief exchange. It is clear to me that the amendments could be improved, if they were to be pursued. Obviously, I will want to reflect on what the Minister said about what the Government are already doing and come to a view on whether more should be done that the amendments would encourage. We may want to return to them on Report but, for the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 106 withdrawn.
Amendment 107 not moved.
Committee adjourned at 7.52 pm.