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Schools: Integrated Communities Strategy

Volume 790: debated on Tuesday 24 April 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what contribution schools can make to the policies outlined in their Integrated Communities Strategy green paper.

My Lords, schools play a critical role in promoting integration and widening opportunities for all communities. Many schools already do this successfully, creating inclusive environments where our children are able to learn the values that underpin our society. We want to ensure that this is the case for all schools and other types of education setting. This is why, as part of the Green Paper issued in March, we announced a strengthened package of support for schools and measures to deliver quality education across all settings.

I thank my noble friend for that encouraging reply. Given that the Integrated Communities Strategy commits to supporting schools,

“to increase diversity to ensure they are more representative of their wider area”,

and in light of the evidence that religious selection by schools divides children along not just religious lines but ethnic and socioeconomic lines, with potentially worrying consequences for society, what are the Government doing to ensure the promotion in schools of the universal humanist values of the secular enlightenment and to break down barriers between children of different religious and cultural backgrounds?

My Lords, in addition to promoting the fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law and individual liberty, all schools are required to promote mutual respect and tolerance of those of different faiths and beliefs. As part of teaching a broad and balanced curriculum, all state-funded schools are required to provide religious education. Turning to integration, the Integrated Communities Strategy sets out a package of measures to help increase integration among children. It includes working with admissions authorities, where we are piloting five areas to increase diversity of pupil intakes, funding the schools linking programme, which is twinning schools of different faiths, and strengthening expectations for all new free schools on how they improve integration further.

My Lords, as the Minister is aware, the Select Committee on Citizenship and Civic Engagement, ably chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, published its report last Wednesday. We were able to comment on the Green Paper at the end of our deliberations, including the staggering revelation that the Government had failed to mention citizenship education at all in the strategy document. This is a rhetorical question: how can the Minister persuade his colleagues in the Department for Education that schools cannot meaningfully contribute to shared British values, to the integration that we seek and to the aspirations he has laid out this afternoon if they are so uncommitted to citizenship education in our system?

My Lords, I commend the work of my noble friend Lord Hodgson and his fellow members of the committee that has just reported. I extend an invitation to any of those members to meet me to discuss their recommendations and any criticisms that they have of our handling of this area. One of the most vital parts of the future of this country is to ensure that schools become the integration engine for our society. We are doing a lot to achieve that. Citizenship is part of the key stages 3 and 4 curriculum and, as the noble Lord will know, recently in our integrated strategy document we encouraged a number of additional methods to push this further forward.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the underlying cause of religious extremism is the aggressive assertion that one system of belief is better than another? Will he further agree that, while we are all free to believe what we like, schools should emphasise respect for different faiths and the exploration of the many commonalities between them?

My Lords, most dogma is based on ignorance, therefore a good education system is important because it tackles ignorance. All state-funded schools, including faith schools, have a legal obligation to promote community cohesion and to teach a broad and balanced curriculum. They are required to promote the fundamental values of democracy, the rule of law and individual liberty, as I mentioned in answer to an earlier question. We are looking at the moment at how faith free schools can pay more attention to how they attract pupils from different faiths and backgrounds.

My Lords, the Green Paper highlights the fact that 60% of minority ethnic pupils are in schools where they are in the majority. It goes on to say:

“This reduces opportunities for young people to form lasting relationships with those from other backgrounds and can restrict pupils’ outlook and education”.

Yet last year’s Conservative manifesto contained a pledge to remove the 50% cap on faith schools admissions. Surely all our state schools must be open, inclusive, diverse and integrated, and never exclusive, monocultural or segregated. The duty of the education system should not be to emphasise and entrench such differences in the eyes and minds of young people but rather to emphasise the common values, to which the Minister himself referred and which we all share. Will the Minister give an assurance now that the backward step of removing the faith schools cap is no longer government policy?

My Lords, the matter of the faith cap is still under consideration, so I am afraid that I am not able to give the noble Lord the assurance he seeks at this moment. However, referring to the recent Integrated Communities Strategy document; on education specifically we are addressing eight separate issues which all link to integration: admissions, the free school point I made a moment ago, school linking, fundamental British values, independent schools and registered schools, out-of-school settings and home education. All of them are addressed in this document, and we seek to ensure that integration remains at the heart of our policy.

My Lords, I note that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, has been trying to get in for some time and has graciously given way each time.

I am most grateful. Do the Government know what is being taught in our some 2,000 madrassas, which are not inspected by Ofsted, and which teach Muslim children about Islam and to recite the Koran for perhaps 20 hours a week? If the Government do not know what is going on there—and Written Answers to me confirm that they do not—should they not find out?

My Lords, we gave additional powers and budgets to Ofsted in January 2016 to carry out inspections of what we might consider to be unregistered schools. In that time, they have inspected 208 out-of-school settings. They identified 51 as being unregistered schools in the formal sense, and have closed 44 of them. There are seven still under active investigation. We have just renewed the contract with Ofsted to carry on the work. I accept that it is a problem, but we are alert to it and we are investigating it.